Online note-taking service Evernote has given Penultimate, the hugely-popular handwriting app for the iPad that it acquired last year, a significant overhaul after making it free to download, integrating it into its core service and adding new features. Fans of the service are given the chance to opt-out of the changes though.

A share to Evernote feature was added to the app last year but this integration takes that to a new level with automatic syncing — allowing notebooks to be updated across multiple platforms and apps — while it is making all Penultimate notes searchable, as the image below shows.

The app was formerly $0.99 to buy and the updates are “part of Evernote’s vision to build long term value by bringing you great free applications”, the company said in a blog post. “We kept everything that millions of users love about the app, while adding powerful new Evernote features and refreshing the interface,” it further explains.

pen search 520x693 Evernote takes Penultimate free, integrates it with its core service, but gives users an opt out

Evernote acquired Penultimate-maker Cocoa Box in an undisclosed deal in May 2012, but the app had long been a hit before then and it was blessed with the accolade of fourth most downloaded iPad app from Apple’s App Store earlier in the year.

The move to bring the drawing app closer to the main Evernote service mirrors a similar ‘Evernotization’ of sketching app Skitch, which didn’t go to plan after loyal users objected to the changes that had been made. The company subsequently gave fans an original version of the app, in addition to the updated one, and that appears core to the refresh today.

Evernote explains that it is offering Penultimate fans the option to update the app’s UI without making changes to its functionality, for those who prefer it that way:

Naturally, we think Evernote will only make your Penultimate experience better, but we’re also not pressuring anyone to make that leap. If you’re an existing Penultimate user, you can keep using Penultimate as you have been. You’ll have a great new interface, without any of the synchronization and search functionality. New users will be limited to a single notebook until they sync to Evernote.

TNW had the chance to test drive the app pre-launch and it works exactly as Evernote says. The app syncs without fuss and creations quickly appear on both the Web and mobile clients.

In the new version, user notes are organized as individual notebooks, which makes them easier to manage and store, however those who chose not to take the full update will be limited to just one notebook for all of their Penultimate creations while they shun the new version.

image 5 horz 730x254 Evernote takes Penultimate free, integrates it with its core service, but gives users an opt out

Another subtle change is the addition of a sync button (in the bottom right of the notebook home page) to allow users to see when a sync is in progress and update their work at any time, without relying on the auto-sync function. Evernote has also reassured those that move over to the new version that notebooks which are too large to sync will not be lost, and will instead remain stored locally on their iPad.

New users can get up to speed with the app thanks to the handy notebook that accompanies the refresh and explains the functionality and new features in detail.

➤ Penultimate for iPad [Now free]

Headline image via lyre / Flickr