Saturday, August 10, 2013

Notes App & the Case of the Disappearing Notes

The Case: Notes Mysteriously Vanish from iOS Notes App

The Notes App is a wonderful tool for capturing short notes, to-dos, ideas, etc. I'm a big user of the app, especially now that I can create Notes App folders, and have well over 100 notes. The idea of losing all these notes, turning on my iPad and finding they have vanished into thin air, makes me shudder.

Yet I see this very problem of lost notes crop up time and time again, reported by users in various iPad forums. It can be an incredibly frustrating experience, and, unfortunately, is incredibly easy to inadvertently bring about. Fortunately, we have here a happy ending – let's solve the Case of the Disappearing Notes.

The Clue: How the Notes App Syncs
The main clue to the lost notes is not intuitive: it has to do with how iOS syncs notes. iOS always uses your email address to sync your notes. If you accidentally choose to turn off this note syncing, iOS doesn't copy the notes to your iPad, it simply removes them! Fortunately (and this is the benefit of synchronization) copies of the notes remain in your email account. If you turn notes syncing back on, the notes will all magically reappear on your iPad!

Solving the Case: Watch what happens as Notes syncing gets turned on / off
Let's go through an example and see what happens when Notes syncing gets turned off and on.  We'll try to catch our Notes thief in the act!  (Although I refer to the iPad throughout, instructions equally apply to the iPhone and iPod Touch, although screens slightly differ.)

1. We'll start simply: our iPad has the vanilla Notes setup with no syncing.  All notes are saved locally on the iPad.  You can tell because the black title bar only a shows a count of notes.   The title bar does not say "Accounts", which it will if your Notes are synced.

2. Now to start syncing our notes.  Go into the Settings app and tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars. (Screen shows how it will look on your iPhone).

3. Then tap your primary e-mail account; in this case, Gmail.

4. This screen shows syncing options for your e-mail. Currently my notes I create in the Notes App are not synced. I want to change this.

5. I flip the syncing option for Notes to ON.  Now, I will have the option to create Gmail-synced notes going forward.  ( Notes I previously created will remain only on the local iPad and not be synchronized.)

6. Now when I return to the Notes app, the title bar includes the "Accounts" button. Notes syncing is now active.  We tap "Accounts".

7. The Accounts tab has a few options.  Basically, you can now choose to view/create Notes that are only on your iPad ("On my iPad") or Email-synced Notes (your email address the notes are synced to shows, in our case, "".  "All Notes" let you see all notes, regardless of category.  

8. We tap on the Gmail account.  No notes currently exist that are Gmail-synced. I'll create a short test note.

9. Now in our Notes list, we have our first Gmail-synced note. There is a count of 1 note in the synced account category (there are still 4 notes from before in the "On my iPad" other category).

10.  OK, the scene is set; we have a note in our synced-Gmail area.  Now let's turn off syncing and see what happens to the synced note.  I return to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Gmail e-mail account. I turn Notes syncing back to OFF.

11. With Notes syncing now set to OFF, I returned to the Notes app. My synced note has disappeared! All I see are my 4 iPad notes and no "Accounts" option. This would look the same even if I had hundreds of synced notes - they would all be gone!

12. My note may have disappeared on the iPad, but fortunately, it still exists in Gmail. If I log onto my Gmail account (above) on the left side you see the Notes folder, and in there is my note. This is a big advantage of syncing your notes with your e-mail account. Not only do you have a backup copy on your e-mail server, you can also get to your notes from other devices, such as a PC. (And if you change a note with your PC, the changes will synchronize on your iPad automatically.)

13. My lost note can be recovered by turning Notes syncing ON again.  Shortly afterward, your e-mail-synced notes, whether one note or hundreds of notes, will re-sync and appear again on your iPad.

14. Notes are syncing again, and my "deleted", vanished note has returned. The Case of the Disappearing Notes has been solved!

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