If you’ve read any reviews for Evernote apps on different platforms like iOS or MacOS, you’ll immediately see some clear patterns in the user feedback. If you then check out the comments on blog posts about Evernote—for example, on Lifehacker—the picture of what the users want and the things that bother them becomes very clear. It seems obvious that Evernote doesn’t pay much attention to user feedback and hasn’t done a whole lot recently to improve the product. Otherwise, the team at Evernote would have already taken some action towards solving some of the following problems.
Dropping free features while increasing subscription prices
Recently, Evernote changed the free Basic plan significantly for the worse. For instance, it limited the number of devices to which users can simultaneously sync Evernote to only two. For most users, this just isn’t practical, especially considering the mere 60MB allowed for monthly uploads. The feature of forwarding emailing notes to Evernote was also dropped from the free Basic accounts, but the limited number of devices is the real nail in the coffin.
This naturally caused a backlash among the users and led many to start looking for still-free—or at least cheaper—alternatives. While some cite Evernote’s changes as being part of a calculated strategy to maximize on revenue, I highly doubt that removing free features improved the conversion rate to paid customers.
In fact, usually, it goes the opposite way: companies add premium features hoping that users will be enticed to upgrade from the free version. While Evernote has been adding features like crazy—more on that later—these new features could hardly be called “premium” and may even be turning users off.
Maybe it does make more sense financially to have a free 30-day trial with full features than to have an almost-unusable free plan. However, increasing the subscription prices surely hasn’t helped with the retention of the users either—maybe because, for many, they were already paying the most they were willing and able to pay.
Even Premium subscribers—who have essentially been the ones footing the bill for those taking advantage of the formerly-sweet free tier—are jumping ship. This may have something to do with the price of Premium subscriptions having been raised by over 50% (from $45 a month to $69.99). Adding insult to injury, Evernote has been unclear at best about when these changes are coming into effect for users by posting conflicting information on their website.
It’s no secret that Evernote has become a poster child for the feature factory—a place where the product is losing track of its core use and the product team is adding as many features as they can come up with as quickly as possible. The product team cranks out these features without actually thinking about how useful they will be or measuring what percentage of them are actively being employed by users.
In all the excitement, core metrics are forgotten, and the work gets sloppy. It seems clear from the feedback that the multiple features/menu items are overwhelming users, getting in their way, and causing cognitive overload. Let’s be real—are work chat, presentation mode, and reminders really must-haves for a note-taking app?
Very often, companies make the mistake of adding secondary features and trying to push underperforming features hard as opposed to refining, improving, and promoting core features. This tactic is a sloppy shortcut, and Evernote is making this mistake more and more. Despite the loyal following that Evernote has gathered over the past few years, these recent changes have got the company hemorrhaging users. Time will tell if Evernote has built a sufficiently loyal user base that will be persuaded to remain in light of these negative changes to the offered value, but the initial reactions are discouraging.
In my expert opinion, to solve the issue of cognitive overload, Evernote would be wise to identify primary core features, take a close look at those usage metrics, and either kill or hide underperforming secondary features. It would also be a good idea to rethink and limit what gets highlighted during the onboarding stage to avoid information overload.
Underwhelming performance and reliability
It looks like the Evernote core engine responsible for syncing has never been optimized for performance and reliability. The complaints about issues with lost data and taking too much time for syncing have been plaguing the company since its early days.
It looks like Evernote has never taken care of this issue and is continuing to ignore it. Unfortunately, if the issue becomes too serious, then Evernote will need to rewrite the core engine with the focus on performance and reliability, which won’t exactly be cheap, easy, or quick. It might be a massive undertaking, but considering the enormous amount of technical debt they have probably acquired, it would be a worthwhile investment.
Buggy formatting and editing
It is surprising that Evernote’s notes formatting and editing options still have so much room for improvement and leave so much to be desired. One would think that a note-taking app would have these core features of the product down-pat, but the truth is, it looks like they have been left in a half-baked state and never revised or improved upon (fortunately, users still seem to prefer it to the appearance of OneNote, which is notoriously ugly).
Keeping focus and not losing track of its core features and quality are at least as important as adding new features to the product—in fact, considering what most users have come for, the core features are far more important, and Evernote neglects them to its own detriment. Furthermore, it’s dangerous for the product team to keep ignoring users’ increasing negative feedback and complaints. There’s no way the product can succeed as a Swiss army knife—a cheap and flimsy attempt to be everything for everyone. The people have spoken, and what they want is a solid and reliable product that they can use across platforms.