Moleskine - When branding apps just don't deliver

The legendary notebook brand used by artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso or Ernest Hemingway has taken the plunge and released its official app for iOS. While it's great to see well known consumer brands like Moleskine getting in the App Store, this one feels a late decision, considering how crowded the note-taking fields are already. But how do you move from creating great durable pocket-sized (and overpriced) notebooks to developing a software product?

The answer is, as you expected, a strange combination of branding and an enormous effort to reinvent the wheel. A dangerous trick to pull off and satisfy millions of loyal customers. Moleskine [iTunes Link] developed by Tiltap aims to recreate the original experience of its popular leather-bound notebooks.

This digital experience benefits from the goodness of iOS devices, being able to embed pictures, geo-locate data, categorise notes, share them on social networks, and why not, never running out of pages again! 

Launching the app for the first time will display the iconic leather cover and its elastic band. The predictable animation simulating a book opening is not there and unfortunately it simply fades to the main menu. A menu listing your most recent entries acts as a welcome screen and allows you to browse, create and edit notes easily. You can adjust the font size, change colours and even use an icon based labeling, mixing default images and text in the same entry. 

There's something quite smart about how Moleskine asks you to categorise under topics and colour codes your new notes, as I always forget to tag or label my information anyway. Getting rid of this right from the beginning can help to concentrate on writing your thoughts, although you can edit them later. Just like everything on this v1.0, there are is no option to disable this, so you'd better think of a title, category and label for your new entry before you even start. 

When you get to do the actual writing, the app show its most controversial design decision: the lack of landscape mode. If you want people to write more than a sentence, you need to offer Apple's standard landscape keyboard. We all know its supposed to be there! It sounds to me like the person at Moleskine who commissioned this app never used an iPhone or an iPad before. I can only be harsh about it: what where you thinking of? 

The rest of the experience is a continuation of minor unpolished details that don't follow Apple's Human Interface Guidelines at all

The navigation bar on top of the screen is actually a toolbar that should be placed on the bottom to access frequent actions such as undo and redo. Simple options for sketching are hidden and require too many taps to select a thickness and colours. The tab bar only lists three items, one of them being a link to Moleskine's product website. A you can see, UI design still needs a lot of work and I hope this can be fixed in future updates.

The free pricing shouldn't be an excuse to submit a mediocre app that is unusable in most of the cases. I don't see any reason how Moleskine can outperform the native Notes app, which within its simplicity, still allows you to change the font type and has some level of synchronisation with other apps and devices. Sketching options are poor and the app simply rounds the edges on every stroke, which makes it good for doodling but not for a quick portrait sketch. 

The app has received very low review from users on iTunes highlighting most of the points mentioned above. Having the opportunity to mimic the notebook metaphor in apps like Penultimate or Writings, sync options seen in SimpleNote or the integration third party APIs, Moleskine has lost its opportunity.

Having the name of a well-know brand helps to raise visibility in a crowded marketplace, but in an app that you are meant to use frequently, it is all down to the experience. I have already mentioned some great note-taking apps with a good track of updates and reliability. Those are not necessarily expensive and offer a the sort of experience you would expect from a Moleskine app.