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Sunday, January 11, 2009

001 - iPhone Notes asymmetry

Case closed!

With the iPhone 3.0 software of June '09, Apple has rectified the situation!

I am able to write in Notes, send it by mail (or by SMS / MMS via the clipboard), edit it on another machine, send it back to iPhone (by mail or by SMS/MMS) and use the clipboard (from mail/SMS/MMS) to paste it into Notes again. Circle closed.

- Observe that if you send a text file to iPhone as an attachment, the iPhone clipboard works in the attached file. This would be free of email signature etc., so Mark All would include all, and not more (pun).
- However, for mails coming from the iPhone, you would have to copy into a text file, since Notes text is inserted into the mail in the iPhone. It's not an attachment.

This is the only way to do it: there is no synch of Notes files via iTunes.

So, the rest of this note is mostly interesting from a historical point of view.


This posting describes how I, with the iPhone built-in application Notes, am not able to iterate or polish a text, only park the original text in Notes. The text's best quality would be as a backup before it was mailed to myself.

That is, provided I (1) want to polish the text both on the iPhone and on some other machine (Mac OSX Tiger based, in fact) so I would need to pass the text between the two, and (2) I want to use the initial tool (like Notes, which I find quite likable) also on the n'th turn around, partly because it uses typing help, and (3) I want my Norwegian letters to survive a round trip.

(This post's title is as specific as my example here, finding a good generic title seemed hard.)


Not solved (I can write in Notes, but have to polish in Mail, since Mail will not "Archive attached text").

Beyond Notes

The fact that I have no 100% solution is unfortunate. I have tried ways to overcome. One variable here is to go to AppStore and try other text editors. So, now I have tried HTML E-mail, MagicPad, EasyWriter and Iconic Notes, Wide Email all with limited success. This means that none of them are able to do what I need - simply because, well - I'll try to explain:

How I may send a text file around to edit

The problem seems to lie in iPhone's asymmetric communication architecture (term invented here). There seems to be several ways to send application data around to edit locally. (Observe that I have not touched access rights here: a document sent off may of course still be edited even if that edit would be lost on a later overwrite - or the edit may be in a version "branch".)

E-mail of photos. This is possible with pictures, through the Photo Album file structure. Here's what I can do with an app called Sketches: Create a new sketch by importing some picture from Photo Album. Scribble on it. Then I may send it as mail (plus export to Photo Album, Twitter and Web Sharing). I now receive the mail on my laptop and work some more on the sketch. Then I send it back to iPhone. Here comes the crux: iPhone Mail lets me save the attached graphics file back into Photo Album! I can start Sketches again and continue with the sketch! If Apple had a similar system for texts I would not ask for more than the application that used this mechanism!

Synchronization by iTunes of photos. This will enable me doing exactly as above. But alas, only for graphics.

Synchronization by iTunes of Address Book. Yes, there is an info text field in there! But there is no editing help, and the "editor" is rather sparse.

Import by lap top's http-server and shared folders. This is how Iconic Notes does it. It's almost there, provided we know which txt file formats to use (for both Tiger and Leopard?) to have the Norwegian letters survive. Observe that also Iconic Notes exports files by sending them by e-mail.

Synchronization via third-party servers. Not discussed here, as I try to avoid tools with such solutions.

Reply to mails. I can always write notes, keep them inside the some-write application, send them by mail, receive them on another machine, edit, send back and then reply with the built-in Mail application on the iPhone. And I can, while in reply mode, press the home button and start the some-write application and edit a new text and send it to mail. Then that new text will be added as reply to the text in Mail reply. Some of the above mentioned apps may do this. But there's no moving of the mail into some-write for re-edit. However, as described, Apple will let third party "mail repliers" insert text where Mail reply would in any case do the same, more or less nicely. Some third party apps would use horizontal keyboard, html replies etc. But none is able to solve my problem.


So, the iPhone has an asymmetric communication scheme in at least two respects:
  1. It does not treat file types alike, as with photo vs. text (there is no txt type or other kind of repositories to fetch from, except images).
  2. Files may be e-mailed from any application, but there does not seem to be a general way to copy a file from Mail into the application again (or to fetch it from mail).
Apple's architecture for handling these kind of things is stringent indeed.


This post is purely based on clinical observations by me as an iPhone user.

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Øyvind Teig

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