Do we really need a separate app for this?
In the beginning
When we first released Gmail Notes in early 2009, there was no good way to attach notes to Gmail conversations. FYI, there were a few not-so-good, homebrew approaches:
- Draft messages, which can be hard to locate within conversations and can be accidentally sent.
- Reply messages to self, which cannot be edited once they are posted.
- Gmail tasks, which cannot be retrieved from Gmail.
- Bookmarking web sites (Delicious, e.g.), some of which provide an API that could be used to develop a note capability, but with unknown development effort and uncertain latencies.
- Web annotation sites (Diigo, Web Notes, etc.), which didn't work with ajax-based applications such as Gmail (maybe the do now?).
What about Google?
More recently, there was some hope that Google Keep would be expanded to work with Gmail. But so far, there's been no hint of that from Google.
Notes for GMail
One serious alternative to Gmail Notes became available in mid-2012. Called Notes for Gmail, this apps makes some improvements over Gmail Notes, including:
- Support for both Firefox and Google Chrome: We have adamantly refused to develop for Google Chrome, because we think the user interface options for Chrome extensions are much too limiting. Notes for Gmail, on the other hand, was originally released for Chrome, and now supports Firefox too.
- Embedded user interface: The Notes for Gmail user interface is overlaid directly on the Gmail page, whereas Gmail Notes runs in the Firefox sidebar.
- Automatic Labeling: Notes for GMail automatically adds a "notes" label to those conversations that have an attached note.
- Integrated search: Notes for GMail adds note search results to Gmail searches.
- Persistent SignIn: Notes for Gmail uses OAuth2 to request access the user's Gmail account. That permission is revocable, but you only have to sign-in once. In contrast, with Gmail Notes, you have to sign-in to the service every two weeks.
As for downsides:
- Note content is displayed inline with the Gmail conversation, taking up vertical space. Actually this is Google's fault, and we can only hope that Google eventually learns that today's widescreen monitors have lots of unused horizontal space.
- By embedding the user interface inside Gmail, the Notes for Gmail app stops working at times, whenever Google makes changes that break compatibility. This occurred in August 2013 and October 2013, for example, and each time, Notes for Gmail was out of service for several days until a fix was released. (FYI one of our design decisions was specifically not to interact with the Gmail page, in order to avoid these compatibility issues.)
Also, Notes for GMail has called itself beta since it was introduced in 2012, and its Chrome extension is not available in the Chrome web store. That makes installing a manual process, but it is still straightforward.