EZ Notes | Overhaul
A note-taking app that helped in shaping the dynamic libraries for Android.
I launched my first major app for Android in 2014, another app saw the light of the day in the same year separated by just a couple of months. Sometimes we never know how things are connected, and I never imagined that this unknown app would play a crucial role in my own app development journey.
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EZ Notes is a niche notes app helping transform the productivity and agility of countless Android mobile users worldwide. Four years later after its launch in 2014, I crossed paths with the developer of EZ Notes. Since that time, our various technologies have merged beautifully, and we are supporting each other in this challenging yet exciting journey.
Four years later
In 2018, during the epilogue of my best-selling app, I was trying to get some real feedback from the users to make sure that I was on the right track with developments. Hence, I created a community on Google+ as it was the most appropriate source to get stuff related to Android development at that time. This also had a deep integration inside the Google Play Console to manage testers. It was here that I met Alexander Madani, as I was helping developers there in the official Android community. He was working on his very own EZ Notes organizer, and after becoming acquainted, he became interested in working with me on supporting its development. EZ Notes got overhauled and built on top of the open-source dynamic libraries that I built during that important phase of my software development journey. Alexander has a deep appreciation for my libraries, and therefore began to help support my journey financially; I will always be grateful for his contributions. With that said, I think now is the time to share more about that parallel phase that has helped greatly in shaping the future for all.
Software (particularly app) development is not just about coding alone, it’s how we transform the lives of people by building things together.
Initially, EZ Notes was launched by its product founder Alexander Madani, in May 2014. It began as a paid app at a relatively young stage of the Android app development industry, where Google Play was just a couple of years old transitioning from the Android Market. EZ Notes made a splash as a very handy and easy-to-use (voice-enabled) note-taking app. In fact, EZ Notes gained a lot of praise for its extremely hands-free and intuitive voice features. Since its inception, its niche resides in its efficiency for mobility and simplicity in ease of use. This is in some ways the opposite of my own products which are quite intricate and require a more technical mindset. There were several other important aspects of EZ Notes as well, which helped make it a popular organizer soon after its launch.
EZ voice notes organizer
Taking notes by speaking to the device is popular these days but EZ Notes was one of the few apps that made use of speech-to-text APIs to revolutionize the note-taking experience. EZ Notes is also especially helpful for people with visual impairments or other accessibility challenges due to its voice recognition designs. By providing a completely hands-free experience, users were able to get mobile in the most non-distracting way ever possible. In fact, these voice capabilities established the way the entire app and user interface was designed around ultimate mobility. For the first time and like no other organizer on Google Play, modern mobile users were able to create many on the fly tasks and reminders in a matter of seconds!
EZ Notes also had some built-in folders to provide better organizing functionality to de-clutter the home page, along with the ability to easily move notes between them. Additionally, a dedicated recycle bin for the long-term recovery of deleted notes, combined with instant undo operations from an auto-archival system, also helped round out the fundamentals of a solid note-taking experience.
The amazing editor
Even to this day, there are very few note-taking apps that support rich-text formatting. Even if they do, the options are far more limited than what EZ Notes delivers. EZ Notes has pioneered this approach by supporting many formatting options like text color, text size, font type selection, and many other options such as bold, italicized, indents, etc. There are also powerful capabilities to capture and insert inline images anywhere inside the body of the note and not just at the top as an attachment. These capabilities were engineered by Alexander Madani into his product and come courtesy of help from an open-source project available on GitHub. Indeed, this level of editing is unique to this day and helped excite a lot of users who need and rely on such powerful formatting capabilities, to bring their notes and reports to life.
Recently, we added support to create
Samsung was on the rise at that time by providing various S-Pen functionalities in their Note series of devices. EZ Notes supported the S-pen beautifully as well, and provided a very rich touch capacitive canvas to draw anything on the fly using pressure-sensitive strokes! These capabilities were made available by using another open-source project available on GitHub. However, Alexander Madani was granted the rights by its owner, to implement it but told that he was on his own in figuring out how to incorporate and debug any issues.
Although the rich-text editor had all the functionality to create and update bullet points, people were inclined towards the traditional ways to do tasks. Hence, EZ Notes featured a mini app to provide a full-fledged to-do cards functionality with the ability to create, update and delete them from a separate interface.
It’s fortunate to get support in the beginning but keeping it throughout the journey is a challenging endeavor.
As indie developers, we have to handle a lot of challenges aside and apart from the complex coding. Everything in the software business requires a considerable amount of time and focus to achieve properly. As independent developers, we struggle to do our best to push the limits of our capabilities and resources; however we too are human beings after all, and we need a lot of support from the public to keep things moving forward. It’s honorable to try and handle everything on our own, but keeping our health and mental integrity during the process is something the public needs to help support. A successful product and brand is built by a dedicated team of supporters, and not a lone warrior.
Camaraderie and commitment
I met Alex on Google+ via the official community for Android and suggested some quick fixes to the problem he was trying to resolve. It worked and we formed a connection instantly. I was also working hard to reboot my own app after going through a rough phase and we would often discuss Android and business challenges together. Later on, as our mutual friendship and trust solidified further, he entrusted me with carrying forward most of his technical directives for the development of EZ Notes. Alexander wanted to focus more on the business side of EZ Notes and handle many other important challenges he had not been able to focus on during the years he had been developing the app. By working with Alex, I also got to learn more about how skilled, patient and tenacious one must be, to manage an app business and handle the complex challenges of keeping everything and everyone moving forward in a very tough and overcrowded market.
I am grateful to have met someone who not only understands and appreciates my work but also has great faith in my abilities to take care of the technical aspects of their product. But since I also had plans for my own app and was working on various open-source projects to help the Android community, I was quite busy and could not dedicate myself the way I would have preferred. Unfortunately, with a heavy heart, I informed Alexander that I am willing to do some maintenance work but wouldn’t be able to do that full-time until the overhaul of my own app in which I had invested a lot of effort.
I continued working on my own projects and with rigorous efforts, was able to develop even more apps. During that period, I released some open-source projects as well to make Android development better. However, EZ Notes was still on my mind since the beginning, and fortunately, now I finally had some plans for that product as well.
If something is bound to happen, the situation will be favorable sooner or later.
Although we had been in touch, two years later in 2020, I contacted Alex specifically to let him know about my interest in working on EZ Notes with extra time and care. He was impressed and immediately sent me the latest code to do a quick analysis for the future. The code was huge yet simple, I immediately got some ideas, and also began to think about how we can make use of the open-source work that I was doing simultaneously to help speed things up. Since then, I’ve worked more on EZ Notes under the direction of Alexander, and this has helped shape the world that I imagined in 2017.
EZ Notes was a collection of several loosely coupled open-source projects and unfortunately, some of them were in the abandoned state. The rest of the code had room for improvement but the major concern was to target the latest Android SDK at that time as the deadline was just a few months away. I started by making the existing code stable and comply with the latest Android API levels, then gradually built the new features on top of that to make this overhaul even more productive and exciting to the users.
EZ Notes allow users to attach images to their notes via the Gallery or Camera app. While these are powerful features for any note-taking app to offer, the APIs to implement these capabilities on Android have gone through several iterations in the past. Even now, there is no perfect way to implement such capabilities. Fortunately, I had already built a collection of my own utility methods to perform such operations effectively on various API levels of Android via a common interface while working on my own apps. This leads to the removal of storage permissions on the latest devices and helped in building user-trust even further.
I further reduced the code complexity by removing a lot of redundant and duplicate code and designed a common interface to handle various folders and the home screen leading to the reduction in overall app size. I spent a considerable amount of time fixing bugs and tried to cover various edge cases to provide a consistent experience with the existing features. I thoroughly went through the other open-source projects it incorporated and did some optimizations to keep them in harmony with our own codebase.
This extra care, in the beginning, helped us in evolving things at a greater pace later without compromising the user experience and impractical migration paths.
When EZ Notes was launched in 2014, no one was sure about what the final iteration of Material Design would look like. Everyone had come up with their own ideas revolving around the initial previews we had and EZ Notes was no exception. It was built by taking inspiration from that very first iteration and in those 6 years, a lot had changed. Although it looked acceptable and served the purpose well enough, something was missing to stand out from the competition.
It is a collection of activities, fragments, widgets, views and some utility functions required to build a standard Android app. It also provides some built-in use cases like an intro screen, drawer activity, about screen, collapsing app bar, navigation bar view, color picker, multiple locales, runtime permissions, etc. which can be used and customized according to the requirements.
Due to its plug-and-play nature, I started transforming the design into chunks with a single screen or even a
button at a time. We redesigned the home screen by moving frequently used features at the bottom with a focus on voice notes capabilities that’s our niche since the beginning. We moved folders and other links to the navigation drawer to avoid any distractions. The whole UI was designed in terms of Blue and Yellow brand colors which were adopted from its icon with the introduction of the all-new dark theme to help people with accessibility needs.
Brand colors were important to build a base but now it even supports dynamic colors introduced in Android 12 to match the aesthetics with the user’s wallpaper.
All the icons were replaced to give it a natural feel and keep things in sync with the now-matured Material Design by Google. Note cards were redesigned as well to provide information in a more meaningful way with the introduction of the grid view that actually completed the process of providing a live notice board. We were able to retouch each and every aspect of the app including menus to give EZ Notes a more sleek and modern feeling from the user’s point of view.
Overhauling a product is a critical process and keeping it true to its roots is a challenging part of any revamp. Our goal has always been to add more capabilities and features while keeping EZ Notes as simple and intuitive as possible. EZ Notes had a limited number of folders which helped declutter the home page and enable users to enjoy a cleaner and more focused organizing experience rather than using tagging or labeling solutions seen in other apps. To provide EZ Notes an even more personalized touch, we added support to rename the folders, in addition to offering more built-in folders to extend the number of categories the user could customize!
Customization is an integral part of any digital product; however, EZ Notes had yet to allow more customizablity. We started with the custom note color and empowered users with the possibility of selecting any color (an almost infinite number) which is quite rare for a note-taking app. Additionally, the background aware functionality which I developed for my own projects helped in keeping the content visible on any background. It added the missing touch to make EZ Notes a colorful and joy-to-use app.
EZ Notes was one of the first privacy-focused note-taking apps. We kept staying true to that ideology and heritage. While the competitors had focused working on various cloud sync capabilities, we took a different approach by designing a completely offline backup & restore solution to migrate data between devices. These features even enabled users to upload their backups to other cloud drives (Google Drive, etc.) via the user’s own will and consent. Most importantly, it follows the EZ Notes traditional no-server policy, to help ensure a complete sandbox environment for the users and the security of their data.
Backup & restore was the major breakthrough to make it a reliable and complete product. I already had something from my own apps which I extended for EZ Notes to make it even better.
Later, we enhanced the voice notes capabilities within the EZ Notes editor to provide a more seamless feel to the user and added various sorting options based on the created and updated dates to increase engagement. We introduced a view counter on the note card along with the ability to mark them as favorites to easily identify useful data currently the user is engaging with. To make it even better, we enabled support for adding a sketch directly to the note which was not possible earlier.
We have also been fortunate to be able to collaborate with so many translators all over the world. Hence today, EZ Notes support a total of 14 languages including English. It’s common to be bilingual these days and our users were requesting to change the language on the fly. This is something that Android doesn’t support well until Android 13 without the custom solutions, fortunately, my own apps were supporting that since the beginning. I extended the same capabilities into EZ Notes and implemented the dynamic locale functionality to provide a built-in language switcher to switch the interface and voice note language dynamically.
Building a feature-rich product has always been a top priority, but we can’t neglect generating revenue to be able to continue.
EZ Notes was a paid app when it launched in 2014. However, that business model was not reliable nor consistent for continued progress in ongoing developments for users and associated costs. Hence, to keep the product evolving, debugged, and healthy overall (whilst delivering more exciting new features to the users regularly - like any professional app business), EZ Notes required a consistent and reliable revenue stream of support. Otherwise, an amazing app like EZ Notes would have become an abandoned product, leaving countless users truly disappointed.
By Alexander Madani
The indie app development business has many unique challenges. Situations get especially difficult when we have to compete with giants like Google, Microsoft and Evernote. They practically preload their free products on various Android devices out there, thereby gaining a huge unfair user base advantage over other hardworking developers starting their own businesses. This doesn’t even consider the immoral situation that those giants and their apps are constantly collecting vast amounts of information from their users behind the scenes (a.k.a data mining), just to give the public the pretense of offering them a so-called free product. Nothing could be further from the truth.
At EZ Notes, we prefer to have an honest and transparent Software as a Service (SaaS) business model. In this way, our user’s data is kept in their own control, and in return their modest monthly subscription to their software vendor enables that company to continue serving them with great service and value. We are seeing extremely loyal and satisfied support from our worldwide customers who have subscribed for many months. They not only love but prefer using EZ Notes because we make many aspects of their daily mobile life and data security, truly efficient, reliable, and secure!
Hence as a perfectly natural transition and evolution of EZ Notes, in late 2022 it transitioned to a free app! EZ Notes introduced various subscription options to unlock additional advanced features for the most professional experience possible! Initially, EZ Notes received some harsh criticism and backlash from some users for becoming a SaaS business (particularly in the form of 1-star ratings and negative feedback reviews). However, folks out there need to understand that full-time developers have bills to pay and a family to care for.
In fact, EZ Notes has always kept the subscription costs well below industry standards and as low as possible, to incentivize support. Due to these steps, many users are now upgrading to a subscription level and are gladly enjoying the great value we offer them, in return for helping us to keep things moving forward on their behalf. This transition to a SaaS business model was one of the toughest phases of the overall journey. However, we are glad that this wise (yet tough) decision was made on behalf of our supportive and growing customer base. They are clearly signaling to us that they love EZ Notes as our loyal fans, and want us to succeed and target even greater possibilities for the future and the software they love!
When I met Alex in 2018, I was not sure about the future of these incredible efforts by us. Today, now I can finally say that we are not just another note-taking app with thousands of features stacked together. The beauty of EZ Notes is that although it is a very feature-rich product, it still stays true to its heritage of speed, efficiency and elegance. That is why EZ Notes has a very niche yet growing fan base, who love getting their work done in the fastest, most practical, and mobile way imaginable! That is what EZ Notes does better than any other product on Google Play. We have just begun improving lives, and we strive to enrich countless more lives.
Recently, we have introduced file tools to import (TXT) and export (TXT & PDF) files on the fly and we will continue pushing boundaries in the most exciting and EZ ways possible for our customers.
An app that started its journey with a few open-source projects has given rise to many more. That’s how software development works and we give back to the community.
This post was reviewed by Alexander Madani, the founder and owner of EZ Notes, and the initiator of this impressive overhaul. I highly encourage the reader to help support EZ Notes and many years of hard work, so we can continue helping empower countless more lives with the vision of ultimate mobility note-taking on modern Android devices!