Theory, the latest company from serial entrepreneur and former Apple and Bungie exec Peter Tamte, today released its inaugural product, Projectbook for iPad. Projectbook is a digital notebook, something other apps like Evernote have successfully offered, but the app offers a lot of unique features not found among its competitors. It also has a focus on instant, constant access that’s likely to be welcomed by mobile users who aren’t always able to track down a working network connection on the go.
Projectbook is the product of a year and a half of stealth work on the part of Theory, which spun out of Tamte’s other company Destineer when he realized that note-taking, in particular on the iPad, was a huge market that was only getting bigger, and that no one was properly addressing the major paint points of the space, in his opinion.
“The issue that I had when I started taking notes digitally is that I was taking notes digitally because I wanted to replace all my paper clutter,” Tamte explained in an interview. “But what I found was that my digital notebook only replaced my paper clutter with digital clutter, and now I had a problem, which was I couldn’t search my clutter unless I was connected to the internet, and I’m not connected to the internet in about a third of the places where I’m taking notes.”
So unlike a lot of the competition, Projectbook indexes and stores all of a user’s content offline and on-device. That’s a huge benefit for users who need offline access, since it even protects against accidents when trying to prepare in advance by storing specific things a user might need offline via tools like Pocket – even if they forget to line up a specific document or encounter an unexpected need for a particular note, it’ll be there, and it’ll be searchable.
Speaking of search, that’s another core aspect of Projectbook that Tamte believes sets it apart from other offerings. The entire platform is build around sophisticated natural language processing tech, which automatically identifies related notes as a user creates new ones, linking key terms to relevant documents and to-dos. A “Similar Notes” feature does sifts automatically, bringing forward relevant content even when it has been tagged beforehand, and an “Active Folders” feature essentially groups and organizes content without a user even having to set rules and conditions beforehand, as they often do with smart folders and other tools designed to group like content in email clients and other digital notebooks.
“People have had access to smart folders for a long time, but people don’t use them that much, I think because they just can’t wrap their heads around using boolean operators, it’s just too much work,” Tamte explained. “But everybody knows how to use Google. So our idea was, ‘What if we could make organizing your notebook as easy as searching the internet?’ and so with an Active Folder, you just type in the words you want, just as you would with a search bar.”
Projectbook also offers a tightly integrated Getting Things Done (GTD) tool, which creates to-do lists based on natural language identification of tasks within notes. Tamte said that another problem with a lot of other services is that they keep these features separate and siloed, or exclude them altogether, which makes little sense based on actual usage patterns. Much of note-taking is action-oriented, he suggested, with tasks naturally resulting from the process of collecting and taking down information.
Ultimately, Projectbook seems like a much more organized and purposeful version of Evernote, which Tamte believes should appeal first to business users, but also to students, stay-at-home parents, and anyone else who needs to keep their lives organized. Theory is also hard at work on additional apps that will bring Projectbook to Mac and iPhone, with iCloud syncing between the three, and then to other platforms beyond. That should help narrow the perceived gap in value between it and Evernote (which is free but charges a subscription fee for advanced features, while Projectbook is $1.99 at launch and $6.99 regularly) considerably.
Evernote is clearly interested in building out its platform’s natural language processing capabilities, too, as indicated by recent job postings, and the hire of Google data scientist Mark Ayzenshtat in April. But Projectbook is launching with access to the automated organization that tech provides as its core feature, alongside offline access. Competition aside, Tamte thinks this is a market that can and will support multiple players.
“Just about everybody who has a tablet takes notes on it, which means that the opportunity for whoever’s going to be participating in that market is gigantic,” he said. “It’s hundreds of millions of devices, it’s an unfathomable opportunity.”