Moleskine Goes Digital: The Story Behind Evernote’s Smart Notebook

Xconomy National — 

Certain pairings make the world a better place. Peanut butter and jelly. Fred and Ginger. Pinot Noir and chocolate. Evernote and Moleskine.

That last one might not be familiar to you, yet. But a few weeks ago, the Milan, Italy-based publisher Moleskine introduced a new line of “Smart Notebooks” designed to be used in conjunction with Evernote, the cloud-based notekeeping tool. I’m an inveterate note-taker and a huge fan of both companies, so I immediately ordered one of the notebooks. (They’re priced at $24.95 for the pocket 3.5×5.5-inch version, and $29.95 for the larger 5×8.25-inch version.) I also got on the phone with John Hoye, director of partnerships at Evernote, to get the full story behind the collaboration. (A writeup of our talk is below.)

For the Smart Notebook, Evernote and Moleskine worked together to simplify the job of capturing your paper notes in digital form and saving them forever in your Evernote account. “There has been no easy way up to now to digitize [a bound notebook] unless you lop off the spine and scan it,” Hoye points out. “Most people who use Moleskine don’t want to destroy a notebook in order to make it digital.”

I’ll testify to that. Evernote’s solution is to turn the camera in your mobile device into a portable scanner, leaving the tricky parts—like cropping and squaring up page images—to software.

Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine

Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine

I’ve been playing around with my notebook and the upgraded Evernote iOS app for a couple of weeks now, and I think it’s a great example of the new kinds of hybrid physical-digital experiences that we can enjoy thanks to the mobile revolution. I like it because it starts with a common real-world experience—jotting or sketching in a paper notebook—and, through the medium of the smartphone, marries it with all of the Internet’s tools for organizing, sharing, and archiving your creations.

On the outside, the smart notebook doesn’t look special, except that it’s embossed with some cool Evernote designs. Inside, however, the pages are ruled using a special dotted pattern, and there’s also a bright green bookmark ribbon. To get your notes into Evernote, you use a feature of Evernote’s iOS app called Page Camera. (It’s only available for the iPhone, the iPad, and the iPod touch at this point—an Android version is on the way.) When you snap a picture of a finished notebook page, Page Camera looks for the dotted lines and the ribbon and uses those cues to automatically crop and straighten the image, which is then saved straight into your Evernote account.

As a fun bonus, the notebook also comes with some colorful “smart stickers” that you can apply to your notebook pages. You can customize the app to assign specific tags or categories to the page images when it sees the stickers.

Sketches from Italy - Saved to Evernote from my Smart Notebook by Moleskine

Sketches from Italy - Saved to Evernote from my Smart Notebook by Moleskine

Why would you want to copy your paper notebook page by page onto the Web? For all sorts of reasons. For one thing, Evernote’s optical character recognition technology means that your written notes will become searchable once you upload them. You can also share digitized pages with friends or colleagues, and organize alongside other types of media in custom notebooks. For example, I put the sketch at left into my Italy folder, which also contains photos, receipts, and itineraries from my recent trip to Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan.

There’s also just something cool and fun about the Evernote-Moleskine collaboration. It’s a best-of-both-worlds situation. It’s certainly possible to take notes directly on your smartphone or tablet—I’ve written about several of the top digital notes apps, and Evernote itself has bought two companies, Skitch and Penultimate, that offer fun tools for drawing and taking notes on your mobile device. But even on a top-of-the-line tablet like the iPad, you don’t have much control over things like the position of the writing tip and the width of your stroke. In short, there’s still nothing like putting pen to paper.

Especially in a Moleskine notebook. With their creamy high-quality paper, dark leather covers, and elastic straps, Moleskines are a delight to own and a pleasure to write in. Not only that, but they’re instantly recognizable—and reek of what brand strategists call “aspirational” appeal. Just buying a Moleskine notebook makes you feel smarter and more creative. If you walk into a coffee shop with a Moleskine under your arm, everybody assumes you’re getting ready to think big, caffeinated thoughts—which, by itself, can be enough of a boost to get you thinking more creatively.

Now, with the Smart Notebook and the Page Camera feature, you can take notes the way you always did, and still save and share them online. So the Moleskine partnership was a smart play for Evernote. But it could be just the first sign of what’s coming from the company. When I got on the phone with John Hoye last week, I asked him … Next Page »

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