Since David Allen told us how to become more productive almost a decade ago, software solutions have tried to implement his Getting Things Done methodology with different luck. The Productivity section of the App Store in particular boasts of to-do apps and other time management tools. Are these enough to cut it?
Let's start from the beginning: before the launch of the iPhone, there was a healthy mix of To-Do list apps already on Mac OS along with other web-based services. Remember The Milk, Things or OmniFocus were already household names for Mac productivity geeks. If you were using any of these options in your desktop, installing the iPhone companion was an obvious choice. However, new players joined the GTD scene and competition rose to ridiculous levels. How come something as straight forward as Getting Things Done can have so many takes? Well, there are users with very particular needs.
Perhaps it's my personal bias, but I tend to believe that the lack of an "over-the-air" (OTA) sync for Things has led customers to look for alternatives to an otherwise very simple and good looking app. In the meantime, other apps have introduced this feature brilliantly. Last week, MetaLabs launched Flow, a GTD service that gives cloud syncing an extra twist.
Flow and its iPhone app [iTunes Link] introduces collaboration to the mix, allowing users to assign tasks to others. It feels like a social take on GTD, including comments as a chat system, followers, instant notifications and activity trackers. While there are enterprise solutions like Basecamp, Flow seems ideal for project management in small teams. The beauty of the system is the integration with different platforms (PCs and iPads via browser, iPhone, email clients and Macs), while keeping everything updated live.
All this innovation comes at a price, and this is a subscription model. While the promotional video gives a personal use example, the service is ideal for professionals on the go who don't spend their day in the office. Starting at $9.99 per month, this doesn't come cheap but you can also get your boss to pay for it. In read on their blog that Flow will allow people without a subscription to access the service with some limited functionality.
I had a test run with a free account and I am happily surprised. The browser app is fantastic, up to MobileMe standards or even more. I'm amazed how responsive it is on Safari and really makes me wonder about the future of desktop apps vs web apps. The layout is fairly similar to Things, plus the addition of comments and members. On the iPad, the font size feels conspicuously small, there is no portrait mode per se and does not perform as well as a native app. I preferred the minimalist iPhone app, which I guess many subscribers will go for. For all these reasons, Flow is the most promising task management service we have seen in a while.
While the pricing options are too steep for personal use, I can imagine flocks of users buying an annual subscription without a wink if this was bundled with MobileMe. Flow is a fantastic example of cross-platforms applications done right. I hope it catches up and offer some spin-off version for a lower annual flat fee for the common folk or freelance.
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I love good iOS apps, baked beans and children that don't do their homework. This is where I comment on the latest App Store candy with all the details you don't really need to know.