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Review: Apple's iPhone iOS5 "Reminder.app"

What does this Time Management guru think of Apple's new Reminders.app?

If you read this blog your ears probably perked up when you heard that Apple's iOS5 adds a new application called "Reminders.app". It complements the todo-list infrastructure Apple has been adding to its calendar system on OS X.

The big question is: Can it do "The Cycle". "The Cycle" is the todo list management system that I describe in Time Management for System Administrators. It is very full featured even though you can start just by using a couple of its principles and building up as you get used to it. It is also flexible and customizable to suit your work-style.

Most todo list systems aren't made with The Cycle in mind (how dare they ignore me!) but if they are configurable you can get it to do The Cycle to some degree. Reminders.app has most of the features required. However, unlike products like Appigo Todo, there are many gaps and the workarounds require many keystrokes... I mean... taps.

There are four principles of The Cycle that translate into software features. First, you must be able to pin a task to a specific date; preferably you have a different todo list per day. Second, when a task's day has passed it should flow to the next day. Third, within a day's list you should be able to re-order the tasks. Lastly, moving a task to the next day (or any future day) should be frictionless.

Let's see how Reminders.app rates on these criteria.

Pinning: Pinning a task to a date is easy. If you press the + button while viewing a particular date the task is pinned to that date. As you create the item you can't change this default (you must click "done", click on the item, and set the date.) There is no setting that will let you change the default behavior to have all new items be pinned to "today" or to no date.

Flowing: A task does automatically flow to the next date if it wasn't completed by midnight. That's great. It took me a long time to test this feature. On Monday I set reminders for today and Tuesday. On Tuesday I saw the first item was bumped forward one day. With great self-control I didn't touch either item and on Wednesday I saw both had bumped forward. I can't tell you how excited I was. I'm blushing.

Re-ordering: I couldn't figure out how the app orders tasks within a day. It isn't by time. it isn't by priority. It isn't alphabetically. I think it is just the order you enter them in. Sigh. This is very disappointing. This is is a key missing feature since an important part of the The Cycle is to "Invest 5 Minutes" by starting each day by taking 5 minutes to re-order your todo list to match your priorities. Other systems let you drag the items around. The fact that changing an item's priority doesn't seem to have any effect on the item (it doesn't even change the color) either indicates that this is either a bug, an unimplemented feature, or I'm just doing it wrong. All three have equal likelihood. The work-around is to maintain the order in your head, or re-think the order after you complete each item. That goes against my principle of "think once, do many".

Bumping: The last principle is that it should be easy to bump a task to the next day. Part of "guilt-free time management" is that you control when things are done. If it is a pain to move an item to the next day (or further into the future) it is temping to just leave them where they are and use your brain (instead of your smartphone) to remember when you'll actually do it. Sadly it takes at least 4, and usually 6, taps to set the date on an item. That is not friction-free.

So, of the 4 principles Reminders.app succeeds with 2, fails on 1, and gets a C+ on the other.

What is Reminders.app good for?

The system does use the GPS to relate a reminder to a particular location. In fact, it can alert you when you arrive at that location or when you leave. I just set a reminder to myself that will pop up when I leave my house. That's damn useful.

The application is also very integrated into the Apple iCloud offering. Their email/calendaring products added todo lists a while ago and it is good to see that the iPhone is getting those features too.

Reminders.app does what it is designed to do: Offer reminders at the right time and keep track of simple task lists. If you just need an occasional reminder, it is just fine. I think this is what Apple intended. I suspect that, like many Apple products, the initial version is just to test the waters. If it sparks demand, they'll allocate resources to pumping it up with features. We've seen that before.

I don't want to go out on a rant here but... this is the difference between generic time management "checkbox apps" that primary vendors add versus what you get from a company who's core product is time management. This gets repeated over and over (even the Palm Pilot's todo list was weak and had to be augmented by Pimlico's DateBk enhancement if you were a power user)

In conclusion I would recommend Reminders.app if you only have the need for an occasional.... reminder. It isn't a big powerful todo list management system. However if you have an iPhone, need the GPS features, and don't have a heavy workload to track, use it. You'll do fine.

Reminders is good at what it was designed to do: remind you of something at a specific time or a specific place (or both).

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

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I really miss DateBK+

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