Fantastical was updated last week to version 2.10, which brought support for some of the key features of iOS 12 and watchOS 5 – namely Siri shortcuts and complications for the Infograph watch faces. I want to highlight some of the changes in this release and how they fit my usage of Reminders as my main task management system.
Posts tagged with "task management"
Today Cultured Code launched the latest update to Things, version 3.7, on iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch. The app's headline feature is full support for Siri shortcuts, but it also brings welcome improvements in a few other areas: integration with the Apple Watch's Siri face, landscape support on iPhone which includes the iPhone X, dynamic notifications, and more. Taken together, it's a broad set of enhancements that takes full advantage of all the latest APIs Apple has to offer.
My task manager is packed with personal and work tasks. I rely on it to keep me on track day-to-day and week-to-week. The reason my task system works though is that it doesn’t include absolutely everything. If I started adding the minute-to-minute minutiae of life, I’d get bogged down in the volume of tasks each day.
For a while now, I’ve been using Apple’s Reminders app to keep track of one-off tasks, little things I might forget to do, errands, and tasks with deadlines. I’ve found that it’s a great way to stay on top of items that don’t have a home in a formal project. For the past couple of weeks though, I’ve largely replaced Reminders with Due, which was updated to version 3.0 today.
If you're anything like me, you probably remain perpetually dissatisfied with your task management setup. You may have chosen an app and settled in with it, but some of its design choices don't quite fit with your way of working, so you're always keen to try the latest and greatest app that comes along. Realistically though, you've resigned yourself to the fact that the "perfect task manager" doesn't exist, and likely never will.
Task management is a tough problem to solve, because every option out there is optimized for specific use cases, resulting in different complexity levels. Some aim to remain simple and user-friendly, while others try to put every tool at your disposal, endearing themselves to power users while scaring off prospective customers who need a bit less. On this complexity spectrum, OmniFocus has historically been the poster child for the weightier end: if you have a lot of complicated projects that need a high degree of structure, there's no better place to start than OmniFocus; however, for lighter needs, I've always found its myriad of options too overwhelming to recommend.
OmniFocus 3, released today for iOS (and later coming to the Mac), adds even more power and options to the app's existing toolset, yet rather than growing more complex in the process, it's surprisingly become more approachable. This improved user friendliness is achieved thanks to a new level of flexibility that can, upon tweaking your ideal setup, obscure the app's complexity in everyday use. In more ways than ever before, OmniFocus provides the tools to make the app your own.
Outside of a lovely new design, where icons and fonts are bolder and everything feels more fresh, my favorite changes in OmniFocus 3 are this increased flexibility, which encompasses a lot of new and updated features, and its excellent iPad improvements. Let's dive in.
Despite Apple's message that the iPad Pro can be a viable PC replacement because, among other features, it natively supports a dedicated external keyboard, its software still isn't fully optimized for keyboard control. This isn't surprising at all: iOS was designed with multitouch in mind; as long as the iPad shares a common foundation with the iPhone, it'll always be first and foremost a touch computer. The iPad Pro line, however, is nearing its third anniversary, and its external keyboard integration still feels like an afterthought that's hard to reconcile with the company's marketing.
Take multitasking for example: after three years, Split View, one of the iPad's marquee exclusive features, still can't be controlled from an external keyboard. If you buy an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard and assume that you're going to be able to assign an app to a side of the Split View, or maybe resize it, or perhaps change the keyboard's focus from one side to another...well, do not assume. As much as Apple argued against vertical touch screen surfaces in laptops years ago, the iPad Pro ended up in this very situation: if you want to take advantage of all the great features iOS 11 offers to pro users, you will have to take your hands off the Smart Keyboard and touch the screen. There are dozens of similar instances elsewhere in iOS. For the most part, the iPad treats external keyboards as inferior, bolt-on input devices.
It's with this context that I want to cover Things 3.6, a major update to the task manager's iPad version that gives us a glimpse into what Apple could do with external keyboard control on iPad if only they understood its potential.
I've been able to play around with Things 3.6 on my iPad Pro for the past couple of weeks. This isn't another "keyboard-centric" update that only adds a handful of shortcuts to trigger specific commands. Instead, the developers at Cultured Code have focused on an all-encompassing keyboard control framework for the whole app, from task lists to popovers and multiple selections. With version 3.6, Things has the best implementation of external keyboard support I've ever seen in an iPad app.
Google Tasks is a service many Google users may be unfamiliar with. Historically it's been a somewhat hidden feature of Gmail and Google Calendar, but today alongside a redesign of Gmail, Google is helping Tasks break out and receive slightly better treatment with the launch of a new iPhone app.
I have to say up front: if this app wasn't a Google property, tied to an existing Google service, it likely wouldn't merit much attention. Essentially it's a barebones home for task lists, with a couple small task manager-like functions. Each task you create can include additional details in a note area, be assigned a due date, and can include embedded subtasks. And that's basically it. You can create multiple lists to store your tasks, but there's not even a smart list that consolidates all your tasks containing due dates.
Ultimately, this is an extremely lightweight task manager that makes Apple's Reminders, its closest analog, seem like a heavy duty task powerhouse by comparison. Rita El Khoury of Android Police sums it up well in her take on the Android app:
— dan seifert (@dcseifert) April 25, 2018
I struggle to see who Tasks is for with this first version, and hope it's quickly iterated upon. If you're deeply invested in the Google ecosystem, and have very minimal task needs, but want something integrated with Google's other products, I guess Tasks could be for you. But only on the iPhone; there's no iPad version at this time.
Google Tasks is available as a free download on the App Store.
I switched to Things as my task manager late last year, sometime before the holidays. While I discussed this decision at length on Connected and AppStories, I didn't write about it on MacStories because I didn't want to rehash Ryan's in-depth review of Things 3. In terms of design and features, everything I like about Things is covered in his original review.
My personal motivation for switching to Things boils down to this: the way projects and the Today screen are designed in Things fits well with my schedule, and doesn't stress me out. Things has a "calm" interface that doesn't turn overdue tasks red, making me feel guilty; projects are clearly laid out with a tasteful use of San Francisco, and further organization can be applied to a project using headings, a feature I've never seen in any other task manager. And among dozens of thoughtful touches, Things' separation of Today and This Evening for the current day is absolutely in line with how I think about my typical day. In short: I want 2018 to be less stressful than last year, and Things is helping with the task management part.
That said, as someone who used 2Do and Todoist in the past and heavily automated them for integration with other apps, I was missing some solid automation options from Things. Cultured Code has offered a basic URL scheme in their iOS app for a few years now, but the supported commands never went beyond the ability to create basic, metadata-free tasks in the app.
This is changing today with Things 3.4, which I've had the opportunity to test and experiment with for the past couple of months. With this new version, the folks at Cultured Code have shipped one of the most powerful and versatile URL scheme action libraries seen in a task manager for iOS – comparable to Omni's work on OmniFocus, and, in a way, perhaps even more flexible.
The new Things URL scheme, which has been documented here, lets you create tasks, projects, show specific sections of the app, and search across your entire Things database. This may not sound too impressive on paper, but what sets this feature apart is the level of customization and detail that can be applied to every single parameter of every action. As a result, Things is now a first-class citizen of the iOS automation scene, and, within the limitations of iOS inter-app communication, its URL scheme unlocks several new possible integrations with apps and workflows.
Furthermore, Cultured Code wants to make it easy for third-party developers to natively support sending data to Things from their apps. Today, the company is also introducing a JSON-based command to allow more control when adding items to Things from external apps, and they've created a set of Swift helper classes that apps can use to easily generate the JSON needed to pass data to Things. As I'll demonstrate later in this article, a couple developers of two of my favorite iOS apps are already taking advantage of these capabilities to great effect.
As you can imagine, I've been busy experimenting with the new automation features of Things and identifying aspects of the app I wanted to speed up by integrating them with other apps. Below, you'll find a collection of the launchers and workflows I've put together for Things 3.4. These are the actions and scripts I find myself using the most on a daily basis, and which I believe considerably extend Things' capabilities on the iPhone and iPad. More advanced workflows will follow over the next couple of weeks (and months) exclusively for Club MacStories members in the Workflow Corner section of MacStories Weekly.
Let's dig in.
Cultured Code, makers of Things for iOS and macOS, today released Mail to Things, a feature that enables Things users to save new tasks directly into the app's inbox through a dedicated Things Cloud email address.
Tim Nahumck has outlined his vision for a new and improved Reminders app, inspired by the iOS 11 design language and existing concepts found in apps like Files. I’ve long hoped for a full Reminders revamp to make the app look and feel more modern, and Nahumck has some good ideas for what Apple could do. The words that resonated most with me, however, are where Nahumck explains why Apple should do this:
I think a lot of people’s lives can be improved by task management. For years, I’ve tried to get family and friends to see the benefits; sometimes they do, most times they don’t. But that doesn’t stop me from trying.
What I have often found is that the idea of downloading a separate app bothers people. Sure, they’ll have a few dozen free apps – camera and photo editing apps, several social media apps, a bunch of couponing apps – but heaven forbid they get a paid productivity app involved in the mix. The mental friction of having a separate app to manage their lives can be difficult to get over. This is usually the point where I suggest simply using Reminders: it’s basic enough to get the job done, it’s a part of the OS, and they don’t have to pay to try it out. But the app isn’t where it needs to be.
These words highlight the inspiration that I believe Apple should take in approaching a full Reminders rebuild. I know tons of people whose lives would be improved by a bit of task management help; the number of people in this category among all iOS users has to be enormous. As such there’s great potential for a new Reminders – rethought from the ground up – to add true benefit to the lives of millions of users. Like Nahumck’s concept shows, I think this could be done in a way that still offers significant utility to power users, while keeping it simple for those who want it so.
For the last several years I’ve had a refreshed Reminders on my WWDC wish list, only to be disappointed. Maybe with the important groundwork of drag and drop and the new iOS design language now taken care of, 2018 will be the year my wish comes true.