My Love Affair with Bear

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Recently, when a writing app that I like transitioned to a subscription-based business model I decided to dive more deeply at Bear. Bear is an app that’s reminiscent of Evernote, except that I really like to use it. While I was a user of Evernote for years, I was never really a fan. It made for a good digital shoebox, but it never inspired me to write. Bear is different. It’s designed for note taking rather than acting as a drawer for information. That’s why I’ve grown to like it so much.

Bear has a beautiful, minimalist interface with clean typography that invites me to write. It’s so clean that it doesn’t even have a toolbar (some Mac users don’t like this trend of Mac apps looking like iOS apps, but I’m fine with it). For longer writing I still prefer Scrivener, but for short pieces like a blog post, Bear is perfect. It allows me to organize my information in a way that makes sense to me and doesn’t become cluttered.

One thing I enjoy, though hadn’t explored much before Bear, is the use of tags instead of folders. Folders move the document out of the InBox and into a specific folder while tags allow a document to live places. For this piece, for instance, I might list it under Mac, iOS, Shoebox, and who knows what else, and tags will allow the note to appear in all three places with no massaging. Folders, unless you use Apple’s Smart Folder, typically only allow a document live in one place. To get the most out of Bear you’re going to need to master tags. Here’s a good post to read.

Bear also comes with the ability to archive web pages, just as Evernote does. However, I’ve found that Bear’s ability to save a webpage is not as reliable as I’d like. It works most reliably using the macOS Safari plugin, and less so on iOS. Oftentimes when I want Bear to grab a website it fails and just grabs the link, or worse, nothing at all. That’s annoying.

What’s less annoying is that I don’t need to learn Markdown to use Bear. I’m a simple guy, so I’ve turned off the Markdown feature in preferences and use the app as a word processor. Bear is polite enough to take my command shortcuts and convert them to Markdown for me. So pressing command-I (italics) looks like /command-I/ on the screen. I love that behavior because I don’t want to learn another set of key commands beyond what I’ve already learned with Mac word processors.

Bear comes with several free themes, and when you upgrade to Pro (currently $14.99 a year or $1.49 a month) you’ll receive access to a pallet of themes. Going pro also lets your notes sync between all of your Macs and iOS devices. And honestly, even if I didn’t need the sync feature (I’m even less concerned about the themes) I’m happy to pay $14.99 a year to support Bear. One thing that’s become apparent over the last decade of buying software from an App Store is that free or too cheap isn’t a sustainable business model, and that good software needs to be paid for to survive. I want this Bear to stay around and innovate.

I don’t want to close this post without discussing marketing. Shiny Frog, the publisher of Bear, has done a great job of making Bear whimsical and fun through their graphics, update descriptions, and myriad other ways. When I create a new note Bear tells me to keep calm and write something. That personality that’s baked into the app is so much more fun than just having a blank note title appear. Bear invites creation and I love it.

And there are lots of other things to love about Bear, more than I can list, though one important one is the ability to export as DocX, HTML, and PDF among other formats. At a time when the average subscription price for an app seems to be $29.99 a year, the $14.99 annual fee is refreshing. As the subscription model gains traction, I’ve been carefully culling through my apps folder, deciding what to keep and what to discard. Bear is one app I plan to keep around for a long time.