Friday, March 18, 2011

Converting Palm memos to iPod using Notespark

12/29/13: I switched to both Simplenote and to WriteRoom+Dropbox for different portions of my Notespark usage, which I wrote about here.

10/26/13: I am so sad to learn that the Notespark Team plans to shut down the Notespark service on December 31, 2013, suggesting:

We recommend that you export your notes and import them into an alternative product, such as Evernote, which is free, or one of the many Dropbox-based notes apps (e.g., Notesy, Nebulous, Write, PlainText).
They have apparently removed the app from the Apple App Store. It was a great run, but having observed the slowed pace of the app's development in recent times, I'm not totally surprised by this news.

I recently got a used 3rd generation (no camera) iPod Touch. It has an unreliable communication port, so synching data with iTunes does not appear to be a practical possibility without a $200 repair (3/20/11: If I really needed iTunes connectivity, an Apple Certified Refurbished iPod Touch could be a better deal, coming with a new battery and outer shell, plus free shipping). However, after fiddling with the connected cable, I was at least able to upgrade the iPod's iOS to 4.2.1. Then my adventure began, and a most enjoyable adventure it's been.

The first Palm PDA data I converted for use on my iPod was Memos, of which I had a couple hundred. After discovering that the iPod's built-in Notes application was incredibly ("laughably") basic compared to Palm Memos, I researched various replacement apps in Apple's App Store and on the web.

The clear winner: Notespark (version 1.3.1; $4.99 when I installed it). It quickly and correctly converted all of my Memos into its own notes, translating over the Palm category (e.g., "Business", "Personal", plus the categories I had created) into a Tag.

Notespark synchronizes note data from iPods over the web (using https) to their servers. Although I originally wanted to keep the synching of data between my iPod and my PC, I couldn't do that with the iPod's broken communication port -- the iPod wouldn't show up reliably as a device in iTunes. However, my notes being on Notespark's servers brought the huge advantage of being able to edit notes over the web. Using a computer, I can copy lengthy text from the web onto my iPod (after a sync), or edit Notespark notes whenever a computer keyboard is more helpful than the iPod's on-screen keyboard (most of the time, although at the moment, I can only enter Chinese from the iPod).

Some Notespark note advantages over Palm Memos:
  • Notespark Tags are like Google Mail's Labels: more than one can be applied to a single data object (a Notespark note or an e-mail message, respectively).
  • Accepts Chinese characters, providing a great practical opportunity to practice writing them more often. To use Chinese characters (I use traditional, but behavior is presumably the same for simplified) when creating a new Tag, you must include a regular English letter to activate the Save button. Then you can delete the English letter and use the still-active Save button. I've notified Notespark of this bug; the Notespark web interface works fine with Chinese characters and does not need this workaround.
  • Lengthy notes are possible. On the Palm, I had been forced to split some text across multiple memos because it wouldn't fit into a single one.
  • You can limit the scope of a search to the notes within a given category, e.g., All (closest to the Find capability on Palm, which always searches through all Memos and other data stores such as Calendar, Contacts, etc.), Starred, or associated with a specific Tag you have created. If you have a Tag for, e.g., Project_1, and you only want to look for occurrences of a particular string within notes that have that Tag, you can do so, avoiding superfluous search results associated with other Tags. (Herein is mention of how a Tag and Starred was useful to me for travel.)
  • Because you can sync data on the Notespark server with your iPod, if your iPod is out of power but you have access to an Internet-connected computer, you can make changes to your notes over the web and sync them to your iPod later, when it does have power.
  • The reverse chronological ordering, based on date last edited, of notes, can be helpful. One time I had edited multiple notes having multiple Tags, and a short time afterward I remembered there was something I had written which I had wanted to deal with. Checking the All category showed me the notes I'd edited recently, so I was able to quickly find what I was looking for.
Some Palm Memo advantages over Notespark notes:
  • Can rename a category and simultaneously update all memos already associated with it. Pick your Tag names carefully in Notespark, or else you may be in for some laborious future renaming, one note at a time (speaking as someone who knows from multiple such experiences).
  • Categories sort case-insensitive, the most intuitive way. "iPod" should not appear lower in an alphabetical list than "Zune", which is what would happen now in Notespark on an iPod. Before converting from Palm Memos you may wish to rename all your categories to use consistent letter case for sorting consistency within Notespark. The Notespark web interface does sort categories case-insensitive. I've notified Notespark of this inconsistency; they've filed it with other bugs, and hopefully it will eventually be fixed so that iPod Notespark sorts categories case-insensitive, as it should.
  • Memos stay in the order found on the Palm (this was even a choice within the Palm Desktop PC client: Sort by "Order on Handheld"). If you grouped two memos adjacent to each other, you could edit either of them without disturbing the order in which they appear among other memos. Notespark Settings allows notes to appear either in reverse chronological order by last date edited, or in alphabetical order of "title" (what I believe is the first line of text of a note). Notespark's title order option is not as useful as the arbitrary order of the Palm, which you could set yourself by dragging a note to a different ordinal position.
I've only lightly touched on the web interface and other aspects of Notespark. Check out for more information.

I have no affiliation with Notespark other than as a satisfied customer.


  1. Ken, what are you going to use instead of Notespark? I also have an older ipod touch, and i find that evernote takes 9 seconds to load, every time, even when it's already "open". Also looking at Nebulous Notes, confusing because it goes through Dropbox.

  2. I switched to using *both* Notespark *and* WriteRoom+Dropbox, which I wrote about on, and I've belatedly updated the above entry to mention that. Simplenote, which has a lot of functionality similar to that of Notespark, covers the bulk of what I formerly used Notespark for. Notespark would still have been my preference, but they're closing the service down, so what are you going to do.... (By the way, WriteRoom is temporarily free, so you might want to grab that now in case if there's even a possibility that you'll use it.)

    I'm currently using a 4th generation iPod Touch with iOS 5.1.1. My chosen solution(s) may or may not work out as well for you depending on your hardware, software, and habits, but if you're planning to manually copy-and-paste from entirely within the Notespark and Simplenote environments (as I did), you better get cracking, given the former's imminent closing. Sure, you could still export from Notespark for a while (after the closing of most of their services) and then work from that export to get your stuff into Simplenote, but I suspect that way would be more troublesome.

    I tried Evernote, Nebulous Notes (Lite), and PlainText before settling on the above solution.

    Notespark can still be useful as a scratch pad even after they close the service. It boots faster than Simplenote and is of course much better than the built-in iOS Notes app. I used it recently to draft several paragraphs of an e-mail after the Yahoo! Mail app lost my already-entered text when I attempted to send a message (didn't want to lose my work again; I copied it from Notespark).