Outliner7 wants to be the Clear of project management apps

The App Store isn't short of productivity tools so finding a project management tool that matches your routines and habits shouldn't be a problem. If you're already using any pure outlining software on your desktop the most obvious choice is to check if there's an iOS companion — OmniOutliner and Circus Ponies for the iPad come to mind — otherwise, you can begin your search from scratch. 

Despite my addiction to good apps I don't have any go-to solution for planning projects. I tend to use a combination of emails and ToDo lists that aren't helping me to get things done but to have an idea of the tasks to complete before the next one. Some of the most advanced GTD iOS clients such as OmniFocus already have a forecast section that cover these needs. With this limitations, I miss some of the desktop-type experience when it comes to organising my mind on the go: indentations, hierarchies, fluid lists I can rearrange and steps I can check as completed.

Then I find Outliner7 by Ambi Apps, a self-proclaimed outline manager for the iPhone that promises to be easy to use as well as fully-featured. With the amount of alternatives on the App Store I could have picked something else, but the use of gestures here really caught my eye. If you remember Clear by the Brightonians from Realmac software, the typical interface elements to navigate apps disappeared in favour of multitouch gestures. The great use of colour, font sizes and a list view chunkier than the usual on iOS standards made for a very exciting experimental app. What does it have to do with Outliner7 then?

All about the gestures

While I never considered Clear an everyday useful app, Outliner7 has adopted that playful spirit introducing some gestures to manage information. There are still a lot of conventions — specially true when it comes to navigation — that follow Apple interface guidelines, but the attempt to do something different convinced me to give Outliner7 a go.

A simple interactive tutorial introduces the gestures to edit entries, rearrange and create indents. The rest is very obvious and only takes some minutes to get use to. The main window acts as the container of your projects, which you can label with colours, but most of the action will happen within those projects view. You probably won't see the main menu much.

Once you move to the project view al the entries react to swipes and taps, allowing you to control and rearrange your ideas without dealing with buttons and confirmation messages. Tapping an empty space allows you to enter text, swiping right allows you to check or uncheck as done. Instead of using any keyboard-based combination, a slow swipe to the right is used for indent, taking with it the rest of the entries below. Tapping and holding expands and collapses those sub-entries, which you can re-order drag-and-dropping.

Not so abstract swipes 

While this is quite a set of gestures, they're easy enough to remember. Perhaps excluding the more abstract pinches has also helped. By the end of the day, this also increases the learning curve in any app. What I found confusing is that this type of interaction is only available on the project view, the one where there is no colour. 

When you have your outline there in your project view the top navigation bar slides up trying to hide but this isn't a pixel-perfect movement and ends up looking cheap. I can see how the developer wanted to go for a full-screen experience like the one you have in the latest version of Instapaper but this is somewhat decaffeinated. I would like to see the iPhone's top grey bar with the carrier, time and battery disappear too. Otherwise it doesn't make much sense.

Exporting is reduced to simple text on an email, which works for me but will eventually make me dependent on a proper heavyweight project management application. Using this format isn't going to help much to import it somewhere else though. In a time of cloud computing I would expect some sort of online sync, but there isn't any built-in option at all.

Overall Outliner7 feels like a work in progress student project with the right ideas. I can see how the gestures can benefit data entry and organisation. The add-on the keyboard to create indents is definitely going in the right direction. 

I would like to see more from this developer and more refinements as I think there is potential and the right market for it: people without time to learn how to use a mammoth outlining tool just to be used on the iPhone's tiny display.