Groceries 4 adds colour to your boring shopping list

A farewell to sophisticated apps

The last time I wrote about Groceries from Sophiestication Software it was complaining about the features missing on its 3.0 update. For a supermarket shopping list app, the amount of hate it generated was incredible. In the end, some criticisms were addressed with an update, but the big workflow changes were done. Those who decided to stick with the app would have been surprised when in the release of iOS 7, Groceries 4 was refreshed once again sporting a modern, more colourful look.

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It's not like Sophiestication apps were updated very often. The likes of Articles, Tipulator and the now gone Magical Weather and XTrail were on a slow update cycle typical of a one-woman shop. The good news is that the developer Sophia Teutschler has managed to update Articles, Groceries and Tipulator in time for iOS 7 — Iconfactory icons included — in what is likely to be their last.

As described on a blog post, Sophia is putting an end to her solo development career after creating her own label, confounding tap tap tap and earning an Apple Design Award in 2010 with Articles. The reason? She is moving to work at Apple! Many congrats! Let's go through the latest Groceries as a humble farewell wish for her new projects in Cupertino.

What's different in Groceries 4?

The new Groceries 4 continues the emphasis on search with the added benefit of language recognition. In the same vain as Fantastical's natural language engine, the app identifies the product name, amount and the suitable unit: one of potatoes will be 1kg while the milk will be in pints — if milk is sold in pints where you live instead of litres, of course. The focus on search makes a lot of sense presented like this, which was one of the big complaints in the past edition of the app.

There is, however, some reconciliation with users who prefer to select their items from a list. The same search window when you tap the plus symbol shows a selection of 'Recently Added' items that you can tap to select. This is a great way to start a new shopping list from scratch without having to type much. If you choose this method you will sacrifice the automatic amount selection described above, having to enter it manually tapping on the 'i' icon on the right. Here you can rename the item (to included a brand name, for example), type of unit to be used and the aisle where it's located.

The nice thing about unit types is that they're not limited to measurements, being able to choose one jar of jam and one can of tinned tomatoes, if that makes sense. Also hidden in this area is the option to arrange aisles to match the place where you shop. If your local supermarket has fruit and vegetable right at the entry, you may want to have these on top of your list. When you move on to the meat and fish aisle, you know you have checked all the veg you needed already. Believe me, this type of dynamism is the killer feature of shopping apps over a list written on a piece of paper. Nobody writes down the shopping list the aisle order at Tesco.

A celebration of colour

Also new in Groceries 4 is the extensive use of tint colours in the navigation bar. In stock apps like Safari and Mail, every the actionable text and icon uses a cyan blue colour to contrast with the white background. Groceries changes this highlight colour to match the aisle colour on top of the list. The app uses orange, yellow, green, red, light and dark blue to colour-code the aisles and give some visual clues of how your shopping list is structured.

What initially looks very superfluous is extremely useful when you are in the shop using the app. Switching to the shopping mode, this is, tapping on the 'All items' at the lower left corner, automatically hides the entries you have crossed. As you finish with the stuff on the first aisle, the next one moves automatically to the top, changing with it the tint colour for the app. Using tint colours in this way could help you to get a sense of progression, avoid moving to the frozen section when there's stuff to pick from the cheese counter. If this isn't enough justification, well, at least it's colourful.

Unfortunately the colours cannot be modified. When you reorganise aisles, the order of the colours is still the same, typically orange or yellow the first. If you have just a couple of items, those will be the ones on top of the list.

Sharing and cloud options are still very limited in this release, having the option to share the list with others as plain text using email and iMessage, or send a .groceries file they can import directly on the app. The fact the app doesn't have a desktop companion could be a limitation in a crowded market where sync is important.

Last and best of its kind

For most people Groceries 4 will be the best version of the app. Designed specifically for iOS 7, it uses tricks like the aforementioned tint colours and smart search to justify using it over any other To Do or note taking app for iPhone. The product database leans towards American tastes, but there's nothing stopping you from modifying or adding your own.

It's difficult to recommend an app knowing it doesn't come with support and the possibility of future updates. Seeing the history of Groceries, you're getting a well-rounded product from day one that wouldn’t necessarily change much anyway. The new Groceries puts to good use all those years thinking over the best way to make shopping lists easier on the iPhone and this version is a good example of it.