News

A Note on Penultimate

Posted by Jamie Hull on 19 Nov 2014

Posted by Jamie Hull on 19 Nov 2014

We take a big approach to redesigns. We think that as devices become more powerful and operating systems change, our apps should follow suit. A week ago, we released an update to Penultimate, our handwriting app for iPad, that was meant to demonstrate our vision of where digital handwriting is headed. We did not do a good job.

Simply put, we released this version too soon. Our big ideas were overshadowed by usability issues and incomplete features. The complaints from the community have been loud and justified.

Here’s what we’re doing about it.

This week, we are submitting an update to Apple with the following improvements:

  • The drift feature returns with scroll speeds that match your writing speed
  • The zoom box will be resizable
  • Introduction of a sliding tray within a note to let you jump to specific sections easily
  • The ability to insert a page above or below
  • The ability to clear and delete a full page
  • Adding page breaks and page numbers
  • Note titles will be turned on by default (you can turn them on manually now)

We have heard complaints of missing notes and notebook. As far we know, there is no data loss associated with this update. In this new layout, each Penultimate notebook became its own long note. Scrolling through the note displays the notebook’s content. The sliding drawer that we’re introducing will let you easily navigate to any part of a note. Learn more about notes in Penultimate in our knowledge base.

We’re continuing to apply your feedback and enhance the experience. In the coming weeks and months you’ll see improved functionality and new features that will make Penultimate better than it’s ever been.

As a company grows, a common external perception is that it loses touch with the needs of its users, and events like this only further that feeling. This is fundamentally not true at Evernote. We’re sorry. We screwed up. We’ve heard your feedback, and are going to make things better. Once we’ve solved the immediate issues, we’ll change our process to make sure big new releases go better in the future. We do believe that we’re taking Penultimate in the right direction, but this was not the way to unveil our vision.

Redesigns are important, especially for an app like Penultimate. As technology races ahead, activities like handwriting are in danger of becoming nostalgic. We think Penultimate can play a significant role in keeping handwriting a vital part of our lives.

Thanks for your feedback. Keep it coming.

Jamie Hull
Vice President, Mobile Products

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69 Comments RSS

  • Frank

    Thank you for clarifying this publicly. It goes a long way in clearing the air.

  • Kristina

    Thank you!!!

  • Gilles Renaud

    just buy Goodnotes…and make it Evernote compatible
    Regards

    • Steve

      this would be by far the best thing EN could do. GoodNotes is easily the best handwriting app at the moment.

  • Temple

    This note should have come out on the 14th, when it was already obvious the update was a disaster. Evernote lost a lot of goodwill by 1) putting out an update that was so terrible, 2) being non-communicative for so long, as if it magically might get better, and 3) for censoring comments in the blog that were negative initially. We’ll see how forthright you are when I see how long it takes this negative comment to get past “the moderators”. I will report the results on Twitter and Facebook….

    • Scott

      Anything more than a knee-jerk response requires a bit of time to formulate. Staff provided some preliminary responses on the forums within a day of the release, which suggested they had their ear to the ground. Now, within a week, we have an official word (e.g., more than a forum post). I’d rather wait a week and get an honest and accurate response, then get some knee-jerk response that might end up being retracted or inaccurate.

      • Temple

        There is nothing in the note that should have taken a week to formulate, in particular the honest acknowledgment that they screwed up. Frankly, this shouldn’t even be necessary. Let’s be real. 95% of people reviewing have given it a 1-Star. That has been consistent since the day of the release. The acknowledgment should have come out then. More importantly, however, is how did this happen? Evernote is not a company working out of the garage. The admission above says they “put it out too soon” – how does that happen? There’s a process for doing this, and it has to include intelligent people designing, evaluating, testing, debugging, testing again, and someone in a position of authority reviewing it. If the reviews on the App Store are representative, if Evernote had, say, 10 people try it out with real live notebooks (which would be reasonable) before they sent out the update, then 9 would have said, “this sucks, stop the presses.” As a former COO of a company, if my customers reacted like this, I would be in tune with my business enough to know I had a problem Day One. I would be getting in touch with my Customers, saying I am sorry, and letting them know we were on top of it Day One or Day Two. I would have pulled the update Day One to stop the bleeding. I would have fired the person responsible for making the final approval to let it out the door. And I would have put the old version back on the App Store, where it had 4.5 Star Reviews. What I wouldn’t do is crap out a band aid solution because I was scrambling. What chaps me about this is I went to Customer Support twice on this and got zippo. They were not trained on how to deal with this until the fire had already gotten out of control.

        • Gan Sharma

          I am not too sure I want to go THAT far in criticism, but I was very disappointed when my negative comment was not published. (I was certainly harsh, but I don’t think I was disrespectful by any standard.) The truth is that the vision of discarding old and entrenched metaphors is extremely laudable, and Evernote is what it is because it dares to be very different. The price is pay is the occasional screw-up, I get it.

          But remember, Evernote, that censorship is the lousiest “old” metaphor. You aim to let people do “their best work” through openness, sharing and collaboration. Hiding negative comments detracts from that philosophy BIG time.

  • Alex

    How about support for bluetooth stylus from other brand, like Wacom?

  • Temple

    If the sliding tray doesn’t allow me to move my pages around at will like I could with the thumbnails before, then it will be a fail. The thumbnail view and the ability to move things around easy was one of the best aspects of the app….

  • Todd

    I appreciate you acknowledging that this update wasn’t good. My biggest issue with this release is that the screen is less responsive, meaning my notes are choppier and it’s harder to write clearly. I can work around the design features, but if I can’t write clearly and easily, I can’t continue to use this app. I look forward to your updates

  • Jibbs

    After reading the forums it is clear that people are not just looking for bug fixes. They, like me, are unhappy with the design in general.

    You say that you have not lost touch with your users, but you then continue to say you believe you are taking Penultimate in the right direction. The forum pages seem to indicate that there are very few people outside of the walls of your building that agree with you. This makes it hard to believe that you haven’t “lost touch.”

    Again, it sounds like you are telling your users what they should want instead of giving them what they ask for.

  • Ali

    Thanks, also if we can tag notes within Penultimate.

  • Chad Molen

    Please make other pens besides jot script able to be used like the 53 Pencil!

  • Mark

    Hi guys. Nice job eating crow. Keep up the good work.

  • Anthony Perez

    In the MEANTIME ALLOW USERS TO DOWNGRADE TO V5! This would allow continued productivity instead of handwringing and putting your update in the hands of others even Apple. This has been awful and unusable for a week. I have had to pull out my old sketchbooks and question the whole act of going digital cold turkey from my beloved leather wrapped moleskins…. Yesterday would not be soon enough. Thank you

  • Brant

    We know you guys worked really hard on version 6. I’m sorry that it probably feels like we don’t appreciate all the hard work that you do to make such a great product even better. Thanks for acknowledging some mistakes. Continue to lead us and help us get what we need before we ever know we need or want it.
    Don’t be discouraged. Make some changes and move on. You have lots of people that clearly love what you do!

  • Glenn

    Finally some response!
    But alas, probably too little too late….
    The beauty of Penultimate used to be that it felt like paper, but wasn’t. It *was* truly a digital notebook. With the update, it actually feels like we’ve gone back to the 1700’s and are writing on scrolls…huh??? Who writes on a long scroll of paper these days?
    My suggestion…update the toolbox, change the icons, etc., but bring back the functionality of a digital notebook.

    And why now with the update does my Evernote Jotscript no longer work?? Text is about 5mm from the nib – can’t write like this.

  • Alex

    If you want to survive you must give a choice to clients. No pressure with you new vision. Only soft change. So give us a chance to choice between old good PenUltimate and you not perfect vision as we just have seen.

  • John

    Thank you for clearing the air and listening to your users. I’ve always been a firm believer that so long as someone/a company admits their mistake and is truly committed to being better all past mistakes should be forgotten. You can’t move forward if you’re constantly living in the past. A mistake was made, now instead of rehashing that mistake (like some on here choose to do) focus on improving in the future. It’s not hard for app developers to recognize when there is an issue, users will let you know. It is harder to weed through the legitimate issues that need to be fixed vs issues brought up by users who will complain about damn near anything just to complain. Keep listening to your users, weed through the feedback, and keep improving. Thanks for the great products you make, and for commuting to improve the not so great ones.

  • Bob

    Nice that you address the screw up… We are human too and some of us understand other’s humanities. I was introduced to the new version right in the middle of a meeting with my leadership team and the product failed me. I cannot wait for a quick fix and then more fixes later. I need to be able to work now. Why not revert to a version that works (last pre-6 version) and work on this new product in the background? That will give me time to get back to work and you to take the time you need to to see if people really want the product you are changing this to by testing it with real customers and getting lots of valuable feedback before just forcing us to use v6. If forced to use this version and wade through updates until you have it the way you feel it should be, I will have to move to OneNote, which will mean my days of using penultimate and my premium subscription will not be renewed. Sad because I like both of these products, but cannot risk not being able to take the notes I need to keep in top of my job. Thanks for reading and considering my opinion and experience as you make this important business decision.

  • Simon

    I don’t see why we need the zoom box at all.. The previous method worked perfectly. We MUST have notebooks and pages..stacks or shelves of specific notebooks would be good too.
    It is puzzling why you have taken so long to reply to all the criticisms. Thanks for at last doing apologizing and acknowledging the BIG mistake. I am not confident at all that I am going to end up with anything better than version 5 with any improvements you make to six. I went back to 5 straightaway although I have lost some functionality.. I will really need convincing to “upgrade” .. As I expect ,any of your previous users will. You have lost goodwill and you need to provide some kind of trial of 6 for people to use before they upgrade.. If you are confident you new enhancements make the product better than offer a trial version to prove it.. I’m sure many users would even pay for some improve,net but not unless they get the opportunity to try it first…

  • Tamas Hak-Kovacs

    At last some response. It has been a case study how not to handle a product recall. Why don’t you let us downgrade to version 5?

  • Rex

    Please add back “all” of the page management functionality. We must be able to also move pages around as well as duplicate them in full. We also need to be able to move specific pages to other notebooks and export a specific range of pages as before. There is no logical reason anyone inside or outside of the development team can believe that by removing key, page organizing features can benefit a “note taking” app. A user above said it best… What you’ve done is equated to regressing in time to writing in scrolls.

    Please, I beg of you… Put all of the page management features back. I’m counting on you!

  • Rui Guerreiro

    This is sooo cool of you! Although I was disappointed with the new Penultimate, this note makes you look really, really good. High standards in every way is what we expect from companies like Evernote. You delivered it!

  • Mike K

    Way to own it! I appreciate all of your products, and your commitment to quality.

  • Russ

    Like many posters here, I was beside myself with the reduced functionality and the apparent disregard for the needs and desires of the user base, for this latest update. Thank you for clearing the air and please, get these improvements out ASAP. I have not used an actual paper note book for the past year + when I purchased penultimate with evernote premium. I have also sold this product to my friends and colleges because it was so awesome. Please make it awesome again!

  • Faust

    Thanks for the clarification. Some of my coworkers (including myself) agree the new design is really awesome. Keep the good work bringing the rather beta release of last week to a cool and functionally great professional tool.

  • ulrich

    Thanks for your feedback and explanation why penultimate does not work the same way I was used to.
    Please do your utmost to solve als occured problems. Penultimate is a very helpful and powerful tool – if it works !!
    Good luck and let us have positive news as soon as possible

  • Rich Hoyt

    Hold up – I really like the redesign. Keep the option to turn off the drift feature. And make the other retrograde changes optional too!

  • Allen K.

    Thanks for the update. It’s helpful to know something’s being done.

    I’m a software Product Manager too and have gone through radical updates before. Providing fixes isn’t the path. The path is this:

    1. Stand up the new technology next to the old (in this case, bring back the old version and keep the new one as well).

    2. Get feedback and adjust the new technology over and over and over again. Because the old technology is still being used, this buys you time. It also means your product and dev teams can get some sleep, which I bet hasn’t happened since you released the new version.

    3. Make sure the transition to the new provides minimal and temporary productivity interruptions. Provide a migration path.

    4. Make sure everyone knows you’re sunsetting the old app and when. (It’ll need to be a few months so that you can iron out the kinks/likes/dislikes of the new app).

    Having the legacy product out there for an extended period is a pain, but not doing it causes the problems you are experiencing. Not making sure there’s feature/productivity parity does the same and causes companies to go out of business (read about Wordstar and transitioning from DOS to Windows. You’ll notice there’s no such product called Wordstar any more…)

    Despite all my fist-pounding, I have been in similar situations and empathize. It’s been painful on my end–I’ve tried 6 handwriting apps since last Friday and sincerely hope I can go back to Penultimate.

  • Eggs Actly

    Too late for me. Already deleted Penultimate and found another note app.

  • Tumdipa

    blablala what Will you do about lost notes and booklets?

  • Tom

    Jamie,

    Overall, good posting. I appreciate the fact that your company has acknowledged the mistake of a premature release, and I am also happy that you are moving forward with repairs. The rest of this I intend as constructive criticism. Please heed it.

    1. You rushed to a release the first time. Your posting indicates you are rushing to a second release. The first rush was a mistake. Isn’t it a mistake to repeat the same activity again?
    2. You and your company have still not answered the hundreds of pleas of making the old Penultimate version available until the release is completed. Why? If there is a good reason, why not just state it?
    3. By my observation, as well as the feedback others have already posted here, your new release is only addressing parts of the lost functionality of the old version. Why? If you are sorry you lost touch with your customers before, why are you not listening to that part of it now?
    4. My suggestion is simple: re-release the old version until you have taken the time to make ALL of the necessary fixes to the new version and you have adequately beta tested it to make sure it meets customer needs and desires, then release it.

    Your announcement of an apology only goes part way. You need to rebuild the bridge to your customer base in a way that we will trust that you know what you are doing. Rushing to get a partial fix out is worrisome, and I fully understand why some people feel they need an alternative product rather than continue to ride the roller coaster with you.

    I have been a loyal customer until now. I switched to GoodNotes yesterday. It’s not to late for me to switch back, and I prefer to, but if this goes on much longer, I will have too many notes in another format and too much vested in another path. Give us all a reason to stick with you — I’m not quite hearing it yet.

  • Aaron

    Thank you for being open about this and providing the fixes and updates. It means a lot.

  • Elizabeth

    Better if these things don’t happen, of course, but this is about the most professionally I’ve ever seen a company handle a less-than-optimal product or major update release. (Although I am a huge Apple fan, it was far nicer than Apple’s habit of denying the problem exists until the mountain of evidence cannot possibly be ignored.)

    I do like some things about the update. I think the interface is far cleaner, I liked the unlimited access to the Paper Store for Premium users, and I actually don’t mind the (highly controversial) infinite-scroll layout rather than the notebooks with discrete pages. It does make more sense for digital writing; page divides are a relic of actual paper books. There’s got to be a better way to navigate, though.

    I’m a Notability user, but the integration with Evernote that Penultimate offers is attractive to me. I can’t use the app in its current form, for all the reasons you and your other users have enumerated. But, because I like Evernote and because you handled the faulty update well, I’ll give Penultimate a shot again in a week or two.

    Nice job on the clarification; it helped. Good luck on the update.

  • Luke

    i think this note is necessary but not sufficient. Lets see what happens with the new release – feels like a pretty tight timeframe to get all the problems resolved. My bet is we are 3 months away from a usable product

  • Aaron

    Thanks for the clarification and for letting us know we’ve been heard. That means a lot.

    That said, these kinds of posts seem to be a bit of a trend eh? Perhaps your QC workflows (or personnel) need to be revisited?

  • Ronda Scott

    Thanks to all for your thoughtful responses. For those asking for us to roll back to the previous version of Penultimate: Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just making Penultimate 5.0 available again for download. To take advantage of new features that newer versions of iOS can enable, we changed the way content is handled behind the scenes for Penultimate. This means Penultimate notes and notebooks are not backwards compatible. As mentioned in the above post, we hope to have an update for everyone in the next few days that addresses the biggest concerns you’ve reported here on the blog and to support. We very much appreciate your patience and believe when we’ve fully rolled out the new Penultimate as intended, it’ll be a great experience.

    • Franck

      Even with this “public” apology note, this is not acceptable to release an app in such a bad state.
      Thousands of users have been inconvenienced (the least we can say) and yes, there were data losses.
      The bare minimum you should do is to roll back V5 to let users who want it to revert to this nice and functional version, archive their work and decide whether they want to switch to V6.

      The new penultimate may be a nice experience. In this case make it a new app for people who want the latest
      model. V6 started as a disaster and I doubt you will recover from this soonish. And what if next year, the next Penultimate smart Senior Designer decides we should write from bottom to top?
      On oval-shaped paper? You are really crazy to persist in this wrong direction. If the App is not ready, pull it and when it is release it.

      This is a very good example of a bad design, bad software development process, and bad communication.

      Good luck for the near future

      I have now switched to using 2 or 3 different hand writing apps (Bamboo, NotePlus, GoodNotes) and they are as good as Penultimate V5.

    • Glenn

      Ummmm….I reverted to version 5 no problem.

      • Ronda Scott

        Hi Glenn,

        Thanks for your post. You might notice several features no longer behave as expected and/or are missing. For example, if you have used the highlighter function in your notes, the highlights will not appear in the notes ported back to 5.3. While technically you can revert back to older versions after you’ve updated to Penultimate 6.0, it is not advised.

      • Tamas Hak-Kovacs

        Glenn, please tell us how to revert back to version 5. Please!

    • Tamas Hak-Kovacs

      I reverted back to version 5 successfully. The nightmare is over, at least for a period of time.

  • Beck

    Thank you! I truly look forward to the updates!

  • Mike

    Yes it is nice that you are repairing some of the issues. But the main issue is that the new version simply doesn’t work. The palm recognition is now shocking and the actual writing skips to the point of being hardly usable. You can dress a pig up in all the pretty clothes you want……….but if this key functionality is not fixed……penultimate will still be a pig…..

  • Danny

    It’s good to know that you guys actually make an effort to try to improve on the Jot Script pen with Penultimate. I’m an early adopter and in fact only start to use it recently since I have purchased the pen early this year. It’s becoming more stable to use with Penultimate and hopefully can be as good as a Samsung stylus pen one day.

  • Michael B. Stewart

    In addition to everything else mentioned , I am left-handed and my hand keeps on hitting the soft keys placed on the left bottom hand of the screen. When I select that I am left-handed in the program please move the soft keys to the right hand of the screen so that I don’t keep on activating them. It is another thing driving me crazy.

  • Richard

    Hat tip to Evernote.

    This is probably the best “we screwed up” post I’ve seen in a long time. Your App is now on my wish list. I hope you don’t mind if I wait to install it for a couple weeks. 🙂

  • John

    In all of the points in the above note you talk about the features of the App but nothing is mentioned about connecting to the Evernote Stylus. It is now so poor I might as well use my finger.

  • Coos

    I appreciate the honesty in this blog, as well as the promise to expedite the first improvements.
    It was good to notice that Evernote-support reacted on my complaint / reactions forms.
    However I still miss two important improvements in the list above:
    – The possibility for resizing and rotating photos
    – Setting page type per page

    Hope that this will also be included in the next update.
    Success and thanks!

  • Rick

    I love EN. I tried to use penultimate when it first came out and looked at it several times since. As long as every note goes to EN and I can’t turn that off I’m out. I’m so entrenched in Noteshelf at this point it would be difficult to turn back anyway.

  • Gary

    And you might also have heard that many many many users want this on their iPhones, especially when the new big-screen ones make taking pen notes meaningful. And many many many of us have jumped to other apps which offer this, like Notability.

  • Ezra Hilyer

    As a longtime penultimate user, I was frustrated as were many other users, but this kind of transparency and honesty will keep me coming back.

  • Marc

    I am a new user, so my first impression has not been good. I am willing to give the update a try but can you please also provide an updated user guide.

  • Marco

    after update I have lost 2 notebooks and all relative notes. It is more than one year of job. How to retrieve them??? I am really disappointed.

  • David

    Thank you for promising to respond to the many flaws of the new version of Penultimate. Would you PLEASE place in the App Store the older version so I can install the older version until the new version gets fixed. This morning, I am supposed to teach 34 professionals how to use Penultimate coupled with Evernote. I cannot make the teaching presentation because of the new version. I need the old version NOW. I guess my only choice is to teach these professional how to use Angry Birds since Penultimate does not work. Do you think they will still pay me if I only teach Angry Birds?

  • JP

    Nothing about the Jot stylus fiasco ? Is that going to be fixed ?

  • Nathan

    Thank you for your honesty and willingness to admit your mistake .

    With that said, I must speak to one point. All the “fixes” you may implement to the zoom box will never address the fact that it is an inferior solution to the original full screen zoom. It use to make so much sense to pinch to zoom in exactly where you want to write. You could then add detail to drawings or just write fluidly. the zoom box, even in a resizable state, still suffers from the fact that you are limiting the users available writing space. In what universe is that better? Plenty of other handwriting apps have the same “feature” but the zoom box has always felt like cheap and lazy way to handle detail writing.

    PLEASE bring back full screen zoom!!!!!!

  • Csongor

    This post touched me deeply. But still not a word on android? Listening to the customers needs? I have no further questions.

    Keep up the good work!

  • ed

    Jamie,

    I appreciate the honesty here, but this extends beyond Penultimate.

    I am currently working with Support on an issue in the latest version of Evernote for iOS that irretrievably loses data for a business user that moves a note from a personal notebook to a business notebook – attachments are stripped out. 100% reproducable and the attachment is gone forever. Note History won’t retrieve it because the new iOS “move” mechanism does not place the personal note in the trash bin. It simply removes it from the personal account and copies only the body to the business account.

    You have my contact information if you want more info.

    Evernote has got to get serious about the beta process, and responding to bug reports in the beta process. I could name other serious issues caught in betas that lived on for 1-2 more App Store releases, but the current data loss issue is the worst I’ve seen and it is live today.

    Thanks.

  • Gary Pageau

    This is the type of care and respect for the user I have come to appreciate from Evernote. Thanks!

  • Gan Sharma

    As a well-wisher of Evernote, this is heartwarming. I WANT to use Penutlimate, and I look forward to the improved version.

    With 6,000 notes and growing at about 75 a day, Evernote is TOO important to me.

  • Tamas Hak-Kovacs

    I believe that there is one big hidden issue here that makes me nervous as a user even if you fix the biggest flaws. You do not seem to understand what a handwriting app should do. How can you say that you believe that you take Penultimate in the right direction?! Version 6 writing experience compared to 5 is similar to riding a horse instead of driving a BMW.
    Your vision of Penultimate is flawed, deeply flawed.

  • Tamas Hak-Kovacs

    “When you have such a great product, the last thing you want to do is mess with it.” Posted by Phil Libin on 07 May 2012

  • Raul Vinci

    The world will forgive you if you make this available for the iPhone 6 plus

  • Mike Campbell

    Jamie,

    Thanks for the honest and frank confession.

    I think all the feedback shows that you have a extensive, opinionated user base that has been incredibly clear on what they liked and did not like about the release. Evernote, as an organization, should be grateful that you have such a vocal base of users to give you such directed feedback.

    Please fix this and learn from the exercise. Please test and validate your release and ensure that things work properly prior to releasing to us. I suspect that the majority of us users can afford to give you one more chance, but personally, this is the last chance before I go off and look at alternates.

    Your users are using this product for extensive, real life data that they and you cannot afford to mess with.

    Good Luck…

  • TB

    This app always stood out because of its page paradigm. The newer “roll of paper” one is completely at odds with the way I used penultimate. The two finger scrolling just doesn’t work for me. Bring back the non-scrolling “page turn” approach! I paid for this and its gone!

  • Ronda Scott

    As mentioned in this post, there was an update to the Penultimate app. Version 6.0.1 is now available in the App Store. Read more here: http://blog.evernote.com/blog/2014/11/21/penultimate-update-now-available/