Editor's Choice 2019, macOS

DEVONthink Pro 3, the most powerful data/document manager on the Mac

More or less out of the blue, DEVONtechnologies released its first beta of DEVONthink 3. DEVONthink is what we used to call a “freeform database manager”, which basically means its records can be anything from images to text snippets and complete documents.

DEVONthink allows for machine learning based data mining on a desktop scale and version 3 not only contains a much-needed interface update (the previous version was starting to show its age) but a lot of other power features as well.

The interface update is obviously what you’ll notice as soon as you launch the app. It’s now unified with support for dark mode on macOS Mojave and with a gorgeous overall design that makes working with databases, those freeform records, concordances and other content analysis tools, a lot easier and more fun. It also improves editing content a lot, including, for example, the support for markdown.

One of the things why DEVONthink was a scientist’s – and a lawyer, and a journalist, and… — delight was its powerful search functionality. Version 3 adds to that power by supporting prefixes such as “name=”, “tags:” and others. Another feature that appealed to researchers in the broadest sense of the word, was DEVONthink’s metadata support.

That’s been improved as well. Version 3 now supports custom metadata, including Boolean, numbers, sets, etc. For example, I am a big fan of managing paper documents using barcodes. You either print them or stick them on the front of the document and you can always scan it using your Mac or iOS device and an appropriate app. Only, there aren’t many “appropriate apps” out there for the Mac that support document management, let alone barcodes for this purpose. In DEVONthink 3, you just need to turn barcodes on in the Custom Metadata preferences and you’ll see a field, aptly called “Barcode”, appear. Using a keyboard-wedge scanner, you can now scan your paper document barcode and get an instant link between paper and digital. Any digital image or PDF with a barcode will be recognised upon import as well.

Of course, DEVONthink is a 64-bit app, including a new 64-bit OCR engine supporting multi-core processing, Asian language support and output to multiple formats. The new engine ensures faster and better integration with a huge range of scanners, including Fujitsu’s ScanSnap scanners and those that integrate via macOS’s Image Capture.

Continuity Camera is supported within an RTF, HTML or Formatted Note type of file. Other ways to get data into DEVONthink have been re-designed too. For example, the “Sorter” now supports searching open databases, multiple note-taking options, including audio, video and integrated screen capture. It includes the “Clip to DEVONthink” feature. That Safari extension is now a native extension.

DEVONthink 3 has also gained in-database file manipulation functionality through smart rules and batch processing to execute event-driven actions on files, on a schedule or on demand. For example, I tried to convert a markdown file to an HTML file as soon as its content would have reached four words. The Smart Rule was on demand, meaning I still had to select “Apply Rules” before anything happened, but you can trigger action based on events such as saving or moving the file, etc.

DEVONthink also supports data placeholders for use in templates, imprints, and smart rules as well as batch processing. One feature where you’ll be using placeholders a lot is with the imprints you can create – things like “PAID on xyz-DATE” or “CONFIDENTIAL”. You can create such imprints on images and in PDF documents and there are placeholders for things such as Bates numbering, page counts, etc.

In the department “Text analysis” you can highlight text that seems important to you, but as highlighting is sort of a skeuomorphism, it tends not to work all that well with digital documents because you can’t browse them the way you can with paper documents.

The DEVONtechnologies developers have found a way around that problem by summarising your highlights in a new RTF file containing only the highlighted text. This works with PDF and RTF files that contain them and you can have several of them summarised in one new document.

Sheets have been improved in that they now support specific data types (number, date, Boolean, etc.) and have a new form view.

Creating a Metadata Overview from selected files allows you to use DEVONthink as a complete document management tool. The results appear in a sheet that can be shared or exported.

DEVONthink has many more improvements and new features that I could cover, but that would take another 1,000 or so words. Some of the features that I found to be among the most useful are:

  • Database encryption
  • Converting metadata to tags, e.g. hashtags or geolocation data
  • Support for geolocation data, including the ability to enter it manually
  • Filter panes for filtering the displayed files by tags, dates and marks such as label colour, locked state, as well as geolocation data
  • Annotations and Reminders. DEVONthink 3 allows you to set reminders (yes, reminders), view Finder Comments and create, view, and edit Annotation files. Reminders can be once or scheduled and they support several alarm options, including executing scripts
  • A Content Inspector for some Markdown, EPUB and PDF files with an option to show the thumbnails of PDF files instead
  • The Concordance Inspector gives you access to a word frequency list and has a new Cloud view, showing a word cloud with sizes based on word weight
  • A See Also and Classify Inspector displays suggested filing locations for or documents related to the selected file
  • Automatic image tagging using machine learning technologies
  • A Reading List sidebar to gather items you want to read or return to at a later time, including specific points in video or audio
  • DEVONthink Pro and Server comes with integrated scanning and email archiving in the Import sidebar.

Conclusion

After having tried out the new features, I increasingly had the feeling that DEVONthink Pro is not only a database but also a writing environment more or less like Scrivener. Just like Scrivener you can create text files, have research files in the database and export your final document by merging several files you created yourself.

Unlike Scrivener, you can deep-analyse content and perform all kinds of actions onto files and content. The only thing DEVONthink lacks is a high-end publishing/printing module. And that got me thinking… Imagine you could use DEVONthink Pro 3 as your research management tool, while writing your end-result partly inside the app and finish off (or write entirely, of course) in Ulysses, MultiMarkdown, iA Writer, or Scrivener.

Well, the good news is you don’t have to imagine at all. You can do that already as DEVONthink Pro 3 is available now from DEVONtechnologies’ website. It retails for $99 for the basic version, $199 for the Pro and $499 for the Server edition.

My advice is to go for the Pro or Server edition.