Forget for a moment that annoying "There's an app for that." A quick search on the App Store shows over 200 shopping list apps, all designed to substitute the piece of paper you take to the supermarket. Are they really necessary? I'm not saying that apps like Groceries by Sophiestication shouldn't exist, but if you are already using a GTD app—specially if you have invested in something like OmniFocus or Things—you might be tempted to use that as a shopping list too.
Imagine you're going to a picnic and need to prepare some sandwiches the day before. You've gone to the shop and bought some bread, just to notice when you get home that your partner has already done the shopping! Have you ever been in this situation before? This sound to me like a common problem with grocery lists but a friend of mine has just launched an app to address this issue. I've done some research to be able to provide some feedback and share with you the killer cloud-powered shopping apps in the App Store.
In this post-PC times we are living, there's still room for innovation, as I learned from the team developing TeamShop. This cooperative shopping list app allows you to create and delegate tasks to team members making list updates over the air.
As long as other team members (your partner, colleague, classmate,…) are using a unique tracking code for the project, everyone will be able to track who has bought ice and drinks for the party. The functional 1.0 version is out now and looks promising. TeamShop starts with a good idea, but isn't any app doing this already?
Shopping apps that sync to the cloud
The first to come to mind is Remember The Milk, available for all iOS devices and via web browser. Despite the name, it's not really tailored for shopping trips, missing quantities and prices, but it's nothing you should worry about. The powerful online synching makes sharing lists easy across devices and provides extra features to those willing to pay for a pro membership. Remember The Milk also supports locations, which can be useful if some of the products are only available in certain shops—yes, that "revolutionary" feature in Apple's upcoming reminders.
Grocery Gadget by Flixoft is a full-featured shopping list apps that also allows you to share lists with others. Thanks to sync option and push notifications, the app keeps up to date your lists. I particularly like the approach of checking items as you shop, giving you the total bill if you choose to add the price of the items. In fact, there is a web-based platform that allows you to edit this data easily—let's not forget that like any other ToDo app, data entry is a big usability burden. It also runs on Android, BlackBerry and Nokia, so there's no excuse not to get everyone in the household using it.
ShoppingList by Werner Freytag is the only groceries app that uses Dropbox to sync your lists. I'm surprise nobody has followed this route, since most of the sync services are paid. The interface is a bit clunky and adding new items might not be as easy as I would expect. The feature to share lists via email allows you to import the entries to the app if the other person has it installed on an iPhone, which perhaps could have been more useful the other way around, importing plain text lists.
The oddly named Shopping List (Grocery List) by hensoft sounds like a very decent option too. It's latest update includes online synchronization between iOS devices, which is what I'm after. However, you need to use the same account to use the same list, which could lead to data loss reported by some users, but you can also export the lists to a text file or email to be on the safe side. There's a free version available if you want to try it before you buy.
I'm surprised with the overall quality of the productivity apps dedicated exclusively to shopping. While it remains a popular section of the App Store, only a handful provide meaningful ways to synchronize your lists, let alone secure ways to backup data. It's also disappointing to see developers implementing extra features like barcode scanning and coupons without getting the basics right. This list wouldn't be complete without some generic task managers that can deal perfectly with shopping lists over the cloud.
Flow by MetaLab, a classic GTD multi-platform service that uses cloud syncing as well as user comments, tasks followers and activity trackers. When I reviewed it last March, it proved to be an excellent solution for small teams in a professional environment. The subscription model doesn't make it very home-user friendly, but at least you know you're paying for a quality product at the level of the defunct MobileMe.
The popular Wunderlist by 6Wunderkinder is an excellent free alternative that ticks all the right boxes. Thanks to the Cloud App integration, the uploads a list that can be shared with other users. Wunderlist is set to automatically sync your data when you are logged on with the iOS app, allowing you to keep lists updated on the OS X or web clients.