5-23 2018

Some Interesting Insights About the Future of OneNote

In a video interview OneNote chief designer March Rogers gives some interesting insights to the new UI design and the future plans for OneNote. A commentary and analysis attempt.

If I were of a cynical nature, I would summarize the interview that the British YouTuber Francesco D’ Alessio conducted with March Rogers, Microsoft OneNote Director of Product Design, like this: The future OneNote is primarily a product for children and people with disabilities; new features are the brainwave of nine-year-olds, and data protection and privacy are vastly overrated. Fortunately, I am not cynical (well, those who know me well would consider that sentence cynical), and I would recommend, that you listen to what Mark Rogers has to tell you about OneNote by yourself:

Too much effort? Ok, let me try to summarize the (in my opinion) most interesting facts:

  • The the new user interface is supposed to be a step forward to the planned standardization of all OneNote-UIs (very likely excluding OneNote 2016). It’s development is mostly based on a field study mainly (exclusively?) amongst school classes.
  • New features are being added to the input of user groups; again with emphasis on the education area. The rainbow ink effects (see animation below) were created, for example, because of a nine-year-old shout the idea out in a meeting with a school class. According to Mark Rogers, the maths functions (in the Windows 10 app) have been an idea from the demand of young students that OneNote should do their homework automatically.
  • From about the second half of the interview, March Rogers leaves OneNote as a school and teaching tool and discusses some other use cases – all of them being of a private nature. Not a single mention about using OneNote as a productivity tool in the business environment.
  • The short-, medium- and long-term plans for OneNote are all about machine learning, data evaluation and artificial intelligence. Microsoft generally puts many resources in these fields, first concrete applications and implementations are planned for PowerPoint at first. Other Office modules (probably also OneNote) are to follow up later. This involves such things as intelligent image analysis (“deaf people” should be able to describe the content of images by speech), automatic data preparation and supplementation or a strong focus on speech input and output (e. g. transcribing audio recordings). Naturally, everything wil be strictly server-based – your own PC has neither the necessary database nor the computing power. This answers the question of privacy and data protection (and also using OneNote in companies); all content must be dissected, analyzed and stored by the Microsoft servers.

My personal insight from the interview (but perhaps you will come to a completely different one): Microsoft follows the general trend towards AI and machine learning. There is no focus anymore on personal data processing and control. IN these visions I can hardly see a room for OneNote 2016 with it’s possibility to manage data locally, connect to other (local) office modules such as Outlook or Excel and to stay completely independent of all the wonderful possibilities of Microsoft online services. All this seems to confirm my theory, that OneNote desktop (2016) for Windows will be sunsetting in the near future (see my article “The slow death of OneNote 2016“).

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