Finding the right note-taking app is like finding the perfect travel bag. Nothing ever feels quite right. Some are too big and bulky, some just don’t seem to fit well, and others don’t offer all the features I need. I’ve tested all the major note-taking apps available on the iPhone—Apple Notes, Evernote, OneNote, etc.—, but none is a perfect fit for me. The major pain point? Poor implementation of geotagging. In other words, all suck at recording GPS and location information.
Fortunately, I’ve found a solution to the problem using Apple Notes and the iPhone’s Shortcuts app. I’ll share the shortcuts below, but first a little context:
For anyone interested in travel writing, taking field notes, or doing any other type of location-dependent work, note-taking apps on modern mobile devices are imperfect. None have the ability to geotag or record location information at will and in a delimited, parsable text format.1
There are a few inelegant and cumbersome workarounds. For example, most note-taking apps will assign location data to a note when creating a new note. Similarly, most smartphone cameras will attach location data to a photo when capturing a photo. And, of course, most map apps will allow users to drop pins and then share the pin or the map location to a note. But these “workarounds” don’t work.
Let me explain:
While most note-taking apps will assign location data to a note at the moment of creating a new note, none will natively let the note-taker append multiple geotags within one note. For users needing to record multiple locations per note, the one-geotag-per-note strategy could yield an unwieldy number of notes. And sure, smartphones capture situational data like time, date, and location to new photos, but extracting the information from the photo’s metadata isn’t user-friendly. What’s even more mind-boggling is the tragedy that note-taking apps do not record location information onto photos taken from within the note-taking app itself.2 I suppose users can always take a photo using the phone’s stock camera app, switch to the note-taking app, open the desired note, and then embed the photo into the note, but this is a dizzying process. The “drop a pin on a map” workaround is less than ideal for similar reasons: switching between apps is not user friendly, to say nothing about how slowly map data loads while traveling. And none of these options give text-based, parsable data.
You can type, insert photos, embed audio memos, and even draw crude images with your finger into a note. But note-taking apps do not allow the user to insert location data—which is puzzling as your phone is basically gathering this data at all times anyway.
I’ve written a few user-friendly shortcuts to record location/weather data using stock iPhone apps. They leverage the iPhone’s Shortcuts and Notes apps, which come pre-loaded on all iPhones. With the press of a button, you can copy the data to the clipboard and paste anywhere, or append the data to a note. The only thing you need to do is to recreate the shortcuts (code below) on your iPhone.
You can customize the GPS location and situational data points to your liking. But the ones I like to capture are as follows.3
Date and Time; Conditions; Temperature; Feels Like Temperature; Altitude; Coordinates; Humidity; Wind Speed; Wind Direction; Air Quality Index; Apple Maps Link
Here is a real-world example of how the data outputs.4
Date: Jun 10, 2021 at 9:04 AM; Conditions: Partly Cloudy; Temp: 78.8°F; Feels Like: 84.2°F; Altitude: 17.9976854583915; Coordinates: 18.47497233564548, -69.88305977375357; Humidity: 86; Wind Speed: 0 mph; Wind Direction: 20; AQI: ; Map URL: https://maps.apple.com/?q=18.474972,-69.883060&ll=18.474972,-69.883060
As you can see, the data is textual and parsable using semicolons as delimiters/separators. As with the data points, you can also customize the titles and separators within the Shortcuts app.
You can also capture extended location information like country name, state name, city name, postcode, etc. using the Toolbox Pro app (not free).5
Use-cases & drawbacks
These shortcuts will be useful for anyone who needs to capture timestamps, precise location information, and atmospheric/weather data in parsable text.
The real magic happens when you place this shortcut on a home screen widget. With the press of a button on your home screen, and without fumbling between apps, you can record the location/weather data points above.
One drawback to these shortcuts is that they take nearly 10 seconds to run. Though, if I am honest, I find the 10 seconds to be an excellent deal when the alternative is fumbling between apps or trying to retrieve data after the fact.
I am sharing with you three shortcuts:
GPS to Clipboard is useful for anyone who wants to copy location/weather data to the device’s clipboard. This shortcut is especially helpful when using apps that do not integrate with the Shortcuts app. Use case: You’re writing an email and want to include location/weather data to the email you’re currently writing. Press the shortcut to copy the data to your clipboard, which you can paste into your email.
Append GPS to Note is useful for anyone who simply wants to append location/weather data to a pre-determined note. This “run and gun” option does not open the note after pressing the shortcut. It is like capturing a waypoint. Use case: You’re on a trek and want to capture waypoints at will, without fumbling through apps or keeping a tracking app like Gaia GPS draining your battery in the background. Press the shortcut to append the data to a pre-determined note. Carry on.
GPS to Note & Open is useful for anyone who wants to append location/weather data to a pre-determined note and immediately make notations below the data. Use case: You’re a field recordist or writer working on location and you want to record location/weather data alongside some written observations. Press the shortcut to paste the data to a pre-determined note and then immediately begin typing notes.
One last point before we get to the code: these shortcuts are the only shortcuts I’ve ever made. There may be a more efficient and elegant way to rewrite these shortcuts. While these shortcuts are not perfect, they’re more than adequate, especially for writers, journalists, field recordists, photographers, etc. who need this type of data in this format.
1. GPS to Clipboard
This shortcut copies location data to your iPhone’s clipboard. After pressing and running the shortcut, you can paste the data wherever you want. Recreate this in your Shortcuts app or download it directly to your iPhone.
Note: The “TEXT” action block on the second image has cropped the rest of the code. Continue adding the remaining data points (Wind Direction; AQI; Map URL) as you see in examples 2 and 3, or download the shortcut to your iPhone.
2. Append GPS to Note
As its title suggests, this shortcut copies location data and appends it to a predetermined note in Apple Notes. You must first create a note in the Apple Notes app, give it a unique title, and then refer to the note in the shortcut (in this example, I’ve titled my note “Scratchpad.”).
Perfect for someone interested in keeping a simple log of waypoints, this shortcut does not open the note after pressing it. For that option, along with other options like title and spacing formatting, see GPS to Note & Open below.
Here are screenshots of the code. Simply open up your Shortcuts app and reproduce what I have below.
3. GPS to Note & Open
As its title suggests, this shortcut copies location data and appends it to a predetermined note in Apple Notes. But it also opens the note so you can immediately make notations. You must first create a note in the Apple Notes app, give it a unique title, and then refer to the note in the shortcut (in this example, I’ve titled my note “Scratchpad.”).
This note also introduces a TITLE to the location/weather data, two carriage returns before the TITLE, an emoji pointing 👆 to the data, and a carriage return after the emoji. In this example, the output looks as follows.6
[line break / blank space] NEW WAYPOINT Date: Jun 10, 2021 at 9:04 AM; Conditions: Partly Cloudy; Temp: 78.8°F; Feels Like: 84.2°F; Altitude: 17.9976854583915; Coordinates: 18.47497233564548, -69.88305977375357; Humidity: 86; Wind Speed: 0 mph; Wind Direction: 20; AQI: ; Map URL: https://maps.apple.com/?q=18.474972,-69.883060&ll=18.474972,-69.883060 👆 [cursor / begin typing note on this line]
It goes without saying that you can change the TITLE and the emoji to your liking. Please note the empty lines/spacing in the two TEXT action blocks.
Recreate this in your Shortcuts app or download it directly to your iPhone.
Again, these shortcuts are most useful when triggered from a home screen widget. To add the widget, simply long press on your home screen, press the “+” button, then click on Shortcuts.
I primarily use GPS to Clipboard when I’m working within a specific note on a specific project and GPS to Note & Open when I’m working on something more general. I rarely use Append GPS to Note, though I can see its value in certain situations.
If you have questions, or if you can come up with a more elegant way to write these shortcuts in the Shortcut app, please let me know in the comments below. I’m also interested in hearing about how you all use these shortcuts.
By “delimited, parsable text format” I mean data delimited/separated by characters, say a semicolon, in text form. ↩︎
If this is a security feature, the potential vulnerability escapes me. ↩︎
Everything you see here, the titles and the semicolon separators, are customizable in the Shortcuts app/ ↩︎
In this example, AQI does not have a value because no information on air quality was available at that location. Also, I’ve hyperlinked the Map URL myself; the data doesn’t output hyperlinked. ↩︎
This tip comes from Steve Makofsky. 👋 ↩︎
In this example, AQI does not have a value because no information on air quality was available at that location. Also, I’ve hyperlinked the Map URL myself; the data doesn’t output hyperlinked. The bracketed text obviously does not appear in the output. ↩︎