Would you trust an iPad app to remind you about your work when it feels this unfinished?
There is a recurring discussion topic with people that defend the iPad as a content consumption device versus content creation. This usually leaves behind one of the richest — and certainly most profitable — areas thriving in the iOS ecosystem: productivity, organizers and task managers. I'm thinking of all the GTD tools that you can find on the App Store that thanks to the magic of the cloud allow you to synchronise your desktop with your mobile phone and tablet.
Less than a year ago, however, we've been told about the post-PC era we're supposed to be living in, which questions the way we use most of these GTD apps. Can the iPad be an standalone device to organise your life? Short answer is yes. At least I want to think so. These productivity suites we're both thinking of seem engineered to tie you in their own system, their own cloud. Maybe this is the reason why I was quite excited to finally test an iPad app that syncs not only with OS X, but also with Windows and Ubuntu.
Pagico Plus by Pagico Software is the iPad incarnation of its task planning and project management tool for desktop. The app uses a single account ID to synchronise the data across devices, but you can use the iPad app on its own too — that's what I've done for this review.
The app is laid out in a very familiar way including a calendar view, inbox and workspaces that are used as a project and collaboration folder. I really like the choice of launch screen, allowing you to view what's next in the week. There's even a little icon hinting the option to add an item on that particular day without having to navigate through the menus. I can see this being very useful adding a reminder or a note for an appointment while you're on the phone, for example.
There is also a nifty flowchart view that displays the tasks completed and upcoming appointments in your calendar using some colour codes. I couldn't find a way to customize it other that weekly, monthly and quarterly but the items are actionable directly on this view.
Contemplative approach towards data capture
When I think of "Getting Things Done" apps, I often imagine a window with a big plus sign to allow me to edit notes and some sort of inbox to allow me to sort them later. If you plan to use the iPad app on its own without the aid of a desktop keyboard and mouse, the data entry aspect has to be perfect.
With Pagico Plus the results are mixed. The app gives you the option to add a new task or note without any need to return to the main menu or dashboard. This is a great decision and once you're familiar with the lower left corner positioning of the plus to add button, this becomes natural. There are, however, a lot of taps involved in the whole process slow down the experience.
Here's my main criticism: The amount of time and effort it take to accomplish something. Tapping on the plus sign prompts the uses to choose task or note — unnecessary at this point — instead of launching the new item creation window straight away. The beautiful transition doesn't hide the fact that the cursor and the keyboard aren't ready to type in the entry: you need to tap on title to begin, being able to accidentally tap description. In some windows you can save hitting return. I others the save button is out of the display and you need to close the keyboard in order to access it.
Adding a date (timestamp) doesn't help either, since the calendar menu doesn't hide automatically when selecting a date. I found the process very clunky and counterintuitive. This is a standard in the menus in the app, where you're forced to accept or dismiss changes. Canceling should require taping a cancel button or a X sign — tapping somewhere else should be enough for the app to know you're not interested in that anymore.
Gestures to manage your inbox
One of the aspects that might confuse the first time user is the management of the inbox. Regardless of the software you've grown used to, reviewing your inbox and sorting tasks according to your schedule is a vital part of the productivity workflow. Having to arrange tasks using gestures is too obscure and counter intuitive. I tried tapping three different buttons to move a note before realizing it was the swipe to right that actioned that menu. This gesture is reserved by Apple for deleting items in lists and it's something a seasoned iOS user has learned to avoid doing. How can this be a natural choice for a gesture?
The menu overlay slides in with an unnecessary animation to reveal buttons that aren't easy to tap in the first place, and that don't always work, like emailing a note for instance.
Groups of groups of tasks
The promising workspaces are is simply a place where you can keep your information organised. You can set up folders for clients and projects, adding information such as telephone and contact details that aren't actionable anyway. The option to change icon for male and female is on the verge of patronising (it's a toilet sign) and doesn't allow to add your own picture, which should be the only reason to add this in the first place to a contact profile.
Alternatives like OmniFocus allow the user to add a task with three taps 5 seconds after launching the app
Pagico Plus fails to deliver in different areas making it a slow and unnecessarily tedious experience. The premise is great and the approach is good, but the execution is letting this app down in many ways. First of all, data entry is slow and confusing. Then the information flow is odd, it feels unnatural. The menu transitions, the unnecessary animations and counterintuitive gestures make the experience slower that what it really is when you only need to add a note or change the appointment time for a client.
While those are areas that need major improvement, there are other indicators that tell me we're dealing with an unpolished product. The app advertises as Retina display ready while the small interface icons aren't smooth at all. There is a quirky notification system for users with a Smart Cover similar to Evernote Peek that doesn't work as intended — and has to be dismissed manually every time to launch the app.
Overall I'm disappointed with the lack of polish in a product that I really wanted to like. It's difficult to break in a saturated market and having an iPad app so close to broken isn't going to do anything other that alerting potential customers. Pagico Plus might have reputable desktop apps but the iPad version isn't ready just yet. I hope they go back to the drawing board and rethink of more natural controls for touch devices. There are plenty of examples available for any user to give it a second thought as it stands today.