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Using Extreme Agenda for Getting Things Done(GTD) on iOS

With version 4.1 of Extreme Agenda we have not only done a lot of work cosmetically to make it beautiful for iOS7, but we have went over some areas with a fine toothed comb to add features that would be helpful to you. One of the areas that got a lot of attention was reminders. We hope to offer a solution for those people that want to use the Getting Things Done or GTD methodology on iOS, to use our app and reminders to achieve optimum productivity.

So let us explain a little about how we approached this.

In GTD you take all of your things(items) you need to do, and you sort them based on projects. In Extreme Agenda we suggest you use the reminder calendars for these, so in 4.1 we added a few things to make this more powerful. One, you can now go into the calendar list in settings and add and filter by these reminder calendars just like you could with event calendars. We now also allow the showing of a calendar tab bar across the top on the reminder list that will quickly filter the list down to only one ‘project’. And in the main settings app, which we use, is  the ability to set a default reminder calendar, so you can consider creating a reminder calendar called ‘Inbox’ and set it as the default(in main settings app under ‘Reminders > Default List’).

Next in GTD there are contexts. This is the ‘where’ or the ‘what is needed’… That sort of thing. How about using categories for this. They are basically tags that you can then filter by across the entire app. From the reminder list you can just hit the sidebar or menu and choose filter to turn it on and quickly toggle the categories shown.

And finally in GTD you sort your things by actions. Well this is easy, as another part of our reminder extensions we offer a ‘status’ or action field. And you can sort by this status in the ‘sort’ of the reminder list. We know that in order to move your things around you want to be able to quickly set this status. In 4.1 we added the ability to hold down on a task, and a tool will pop up allowing you to select a new action, and hit set to make quick work of this.

And if that wasn’t enough you can now hold down on the ‘+’ button on the reminder list top bar, and a toolbar will appear with the option to add a reminder template.  So you can use our system to create quick templates that are assigned to your projects(calendar), contexts(categories), and status actions. Note: We plan to change templates so you do not have to have a subject to make this easier.

Set up your system to hide completed reminders, and as you go you will see and feel your todo items shrink into oblivion.

We also added the ability to show only the active(and overdue) tasks in your list. Dates can be an important part of your GTD setup, so filtering the Reminder List yet again to only show reminders with active dates further helps in your organization and goals.

Extending that thought further throughout the whole app you can be assigning events to the same categories, and create similar calendars for events and reminders, and then filter the whole system using this. You can now use this to only one manage one project, or only the contexts available. And it is an option that with one button press you can quickly convert a reminder to an event, and back again.

We know that not everyone flows this way, but all of these features should help in the way you choose to organize and attack your todo reminders. Knowing this we allow you to change things like the action popup toolbar to allow you to change the priority instead. Sort by highest priority and attack and re-sort. We hope that makes it easy.

So we hope that we have made great strides in using a system like GTD along with our app. But we know there is more to do, and we don’t claim to be GTD experts. In fact we just picked it up, and tried to use it to plan the creation of version 4.1.

So if you have ideas or questions please feel free to let us know.

Thanks and continue to ‘get organized.’

Replacing the iOS7 Calendar

One of the biggest changes Apple made in creating the new iOS7 is to completely revamp what was already working with more minimal and sometimes less recognizable versions of their core apps, like calendar. Clean and white is great, but at some point what you are stripping out or re-formatting might not be making something more helpful to all people.

That’s where third party calendars come in. We spent some time to clean up and make our own calendar apps more clean and fit in with iOS7, but we aren’t making many changes just for the sake of change. We think you can look clean, and yet still show a lot more useful information…

             

Which is more useful for you? And ultimately looks more like what you expect a calendar to look like?

And these alternative iOS7 calendars offer almost all of the same features as the built-in calendar like search and a week view, use the same data and syncing, and add great features that Apple hasn’t added. Drag-n-drop, templates, customization … and way way more… In fact these apps are sometimes the inspiration for the new things Apple does do.

So if you are not satisfied with the iOS7 calendar remember that that’s what the AppStore is for. There are tons of great third party calendar apps out there that show you more information, give you more features, and can still have a clean style. The Grid and Extreme Agenda are too great examples, and The Grid is even free to try.

Enjoy the good things that iOS7 has to offer and the flexibility to change what you need to.

Cleaning up the AppStore.

So I follow a lot of developers on Twitter, mostly guys anywhere in the range of somewhat to really successful. And I do find it funny that some of them have become like rockstars in our own little community, even though they don’t know much more than any of the rest of us… They just have found an ego somewhere and decided they are now experts and ‘influencers’ because the one or two thing they tried they did pretty good at. And they learned to play parts of this new game pretty quickly. A lot of that was just making the right contacts. And while I respect them and some of their opinions greatly, I just think that thinking you know too much in a market this volatile can be a little toxic. I prefer the guys that are studying the market outwardly, and not the guys that make profound statements that they then are forced to change every six months, but I learn a little bit from all of them….

The AppStore has changed and is hurting small developers with a whole bunch of factors like race to the bottom, discoverability, Apple breaking the top list algorithm’s etc etc etc…Well while a lot of us had started feeling it earlier this year these guys banked on their previous success to continue to say that it is great to jump into the AppStore with new apps. And then they finally got around to trying it!!

They, got their press, they got their features(both feats in themselves).. They had some initial success. But now they are noticing that the long tail of sales falls off much more steeply and the app gets lost even more quickly. And these are the rockstars, the guys we should be looking up to, with products that are mostly good…

So now they all have abruptly changed their tune and are like ‘Oh, we can’t maintain a company on just this’. So what can be done. They all have opinions. Even journalist ‘influencers’ with no real background chime in. And having done this for over 10 years, so do I….

Some say freemium can be the ‘magic bullet’. And I’m experimenting with that, and will continue to do more. But it’s a hard game to play, you need a lot of downloads, and there simply aren’t enough slots in the free top 200 lists for all of us to get those downloads… So you have to figure out how to jack up your conversion rates in creative ways without annoying customers or find some other way to make it work… Real added value is key, but it is not enough by itself.

Others say Apple needs to offer us trials. I TOTALLY AGREE. I actually did better than what Im doing now in a market fractions of the size of the iOS world back in the Windows Mobile(WM) days with trials for applications. They worked. The world hasn’t changed, people still want to see what the app is before spending money at a higher price point. Shareware made sense then and still does, whether you or Apple understands it.

Others come up with it having to do with switching business models. Of course you can do that. But you don’t encourage everyone to do it. It won’t work in all situations. And good luck if you are trying it. Shoehorning what should be a product into a service based system isn’t always a great game plan.

How about paid upgrades. Obviously Apple is trying to drive prices down and is against this based on what they have done with their own software. We all know they are trying to sell hardware, but come on Apple, making us guys living off software try to follow your lead doesn’t work. We have no controls to erase reviews when customers backlash over having to re-buy a new App(SKU) or feature our own apps in the store to counteract this. You’ve actually made this worse with including ratings in top list rankings.

The ‘Clear’ app is cited as a good example of this and how they broke down to customer complaints that were wrecking them.  I don’t necessarily agree in this case. They recently tried the new SKU upgrade path and then backed down.  I appreciate Clear’s simplicity and uniqueness and their ability to market that. But it is a simple app. And they don’t add many features and use their own design idea as an excuse not to, effectively keeping it simple. But they then tried the new SKU method and started charging radically more for a ‘new version’ which is essentially the same app, only universal, whether they changed a ton of things to use iOS7 or not. Most people wouldn’t have noticed 90% of the changes they did to use iOS7’s new abilities, and it can be argued they wouldn’t have had to do most of it anyway. Ive seen what they claim to have done. So they wanted to charge customers $5 on an app most paid $1 for to essentially continue getting the regular progression of the app when they added no value to it except to the people wanting it on iPads too… Ultimately they backed into what should have been the solution to begin with…They didn’t devalue their product by backing up.  So it is more of an example of why steering us towards this new SKU plan is not a very good idea. If paid upgrade was the model, would Clear have gone that way or just done the right thing to begin with and made the new SKU the Universal version and leave the original title that feels about the same…It should have been more clear to them. It just shows that even a very successful app at these low price points needs to find ways to make enough money, and the solutions aren’t well defined.

But what would be great and what I hope is that Apple finally realizes what is needed is to clean up the AppStore.

Ideas:

How about charging more to publish apps or keep apps. Think if they charged $100 to be a developer but $300 a year to be able to put apps up. That barrier to entry is bigger and guys that have their apps they wrote in 2010 and haven’t updated in 2-3 years, wouldn’t continue to pay the $300 a year to keep those apps up there. A lot more free apps would also disappear which is great for developers, and the guys that really have good free apps will probably pay it. Maybe after 20 apps or so, they need to pay even more.. Just think how that alone would clean out a lot of the poorly done or older stuff clogging up the store.  Nobody cares that you have over 1 millions apps in the store Apple. You don’t play the numbers games elsewhere, how about dropping it here too..

How about forcing apps to be current or don’t have them show up unless directly linked or directly searched if they are not.

Think of the ramifications counteracting the race to the bottom this could have if a lot of the bloat and lesser alternatives go away. If there are only 3 free titles competing against your superior niche app instead of 40, that changes the customer mentality a ton.

How about adding more categories. Back in WM the store fronts were broken down into sub categories a lot more and it worked well. Apple does it with games and now kids, why not productivity, business, etc… That many more top 200/300 lists… That much better discovery.

And how about a little consistency with those top lists. Make it the same on iTunes as on the AppStore. Why not show us the top 500? Most people are going to stop after top 25 or 50 anyway, but the ones that don’t would like to see and find more that way…

And what you did with the top list algorithm is a lot worse than it was last year at this time. Make it better. Why is it based so much more on ratings? Guess what, and this is not new, some users are vindictive, or still think reviews are the best way to report bugs. A majority of the great users just use the software, they don’t go and rate it…

And reviews are broken, fix them. They always have been. A 1.0 version bug should not be pulling down the rankings of the 4.0 version of the app just because your customers in 2010 saw that as the main way they should contact anyone…. How about we can have those go away if they haven’t applied for years?!

And come up with some good ideas for discoverability. Do you really think that ‘apps around you’ is really going to be handy almost ever. Really?

But I guess we’ve been talking about this for a long time. And a lot of it is and will continue to stay broken. Actually half the time lately I can’t even get the AppStore on my phone to work right, so… Maybe fix those things first. But come on Apple, if you really care about developers and don’t just pretend to then STEP UP. You are forcing most of us to move on… Ultimately it will be in your best interest for this ecosystem you control to be beneficial to the most developers, not just the largest ones. I hope you figure that out before it’s too late.

And good luck to all you developers out there. Until we do get the market cleaned up there is no one right solution.. It got messy and hard. Make a great product, promote it, and get lucky.

New iPhone Smart Calendars

So the media has started to adopt a new phrase in the iOS market for a ‘new breed’ of calendar apps. So let us explain what you should probably know about Smart Calendars.

1. They can be intrusive

Just like any app, if they are giving the product away, it is likely because they will hook you later or YOU are the product. What that means is, they approach features in such a way that they can collect your data while they are doing things on their servers. So not only do you need an internet connection to do a lot of calendaring things, but they are collecting information from you, which ultimately might be sold.

For example, Apple has set it up so it is very easy to see your Facebook events in any calendar that uses Apple’s own Event data. Just turn it on in Settings > Facebook. But to go ‘further’ a lot of these ‘smart’ apps require you to sign into Facebook so they can interact with your events directly, Oh and see your other Facebook information. This may be needed if you really really need to edit and live by your Facebook calendar, but do you? And arent you more likely to see it directly from Facebook?!

2. They aren’t necessarily very smart yet.

So the new smart calendars are supposed to give you this idea that they have way more functionality than existing calendars. Most don’t. Not even close. And a lot of reviewers don’t really understand the market so will believe the app’s hype. They buy into buzzwords.

For example, I just read an article/review that bragged about how this new ‘Smart’ app has sync so can interact with Exchange/iCloud, etc… Well guess what, that is just what you get when you use Apple’s event databases. It is the same sync that all of our apps have. The default calendar app has it. So why is this special?!

So a lot of these ‘smart calendars’ have even less of the great features that established apps in the market have had for a long time. More view types, drag-n-drop and moving and copying, multiple alarms, advanced repeating options, templates, more information displayed, the list goes on and on… Just stop and compare more established apps like our Extreme Agenda and The Grid, and other veteran apps like Pocket Informant and Week Calendar. And the established apps have proven their ability to update and are more likely to keep improving and can catch up quickly, with the better features like weather, natural language entry, smarter locations all already added or coming soon..

These new apps are simply too new and have sacrificed on features in order to look pretty and ultimately get your data.

Some of them do offer very neat ideas for integrated features. But those killer new smart features don’t always work very well. There are a lot of predictive tying of data together and displaying of educated guesses. But if the prediction is wrong, which IT IS A LOT, or can’t be filtered well then it actually makes the feature more of a nuisance. Who wants to be shown the wrong location on a map or shown the wrong connected contact. They could be handy when they are ironed out, but rely on connectivity and a lot of data to work seemlessly together.

So just remember ‘Smart’ is just an idea. I think all calendars are moving to be ‘smarter’, but be sure to think about what the company is ultimately trying to do. A lot of the more established apps are a lot smarter than anything that has gotten that tag lately…

 

 

7 Tips to Pick a New iPhone Calendar App

by Brian Heilman

So you have an iPhone and feel you have outgrown or just don’t like the default iPhone calendar app. There has to be more right. But looking through the 3rd party apps is a crazy sea of confusion with each looking very similar, after all they are all still calendars right. So how do you decide what to try? Well let me give you a few tips.

iphone calendar

And yes, full disclusure, we make a couple of the top choices but we will try to stay impartial as there are a lot of great calendars out there.

1. Interface

Obviously this is an important one. If you don’t like interacting in the way the calendar wants you to, or it doesn’t give you enough choices for views to see all of your data clearly and concisely then it probably isn’t your calendar. We have found that most people like to use either a Month type view, a week view, or a list of days. And rarely switch. So figure out which one you are, and find the app with the offering that best matches what you want to see.

And some people visualize their data better in several ways. Just showing text on the calendar, or associating icons to their events, or using blocked timelines, or just dots to give a cleaner look. And the use of colors can be key to really link up visually what events will be for certain categories or family members or however you organize your schedule.

When interacting with your events take into consideration features you might need or want to make things quick and easy. Things like drag-n-drop to quickly reschedule, advanced repeating event options, templates that quickly make often used events, emailing events, natural language entry, and so many others are all key features that ultimately having just one of these might be the reason why you go with a certain calendar.

And remember that, as far as looks go, in some cases what the developer chose for a default color theme might not be all that’s available. Always check out the settings as theming might be available and allow you to choose the look you really want.

Some people just want a few more key features or a different main view and don’t need a power user type calendar, figure out if that is you.

2. Data

Data is key here. Do you want to be exclusively using Google Calendar events? Do you want to be using the developer’s proprietary databases for events, or should you shoot for Apple’s data only.

One of the key considerations for this is syncing. Apple’s data is a good choice in that you can actually setup what is synced in many ways including with things like Exchange, Facebook, and Google in their own settings app. Then this data just syncs via Apple, and is not being handled by the developer. A safe choice but with a few limitations.

If companies are using straight Google or their own systems, then they are also re-writing and handling the sync, which could be a good thing, or could be full of problems, or something you may have to pay extra for, or syncing could just not be available at all.

3. Integration

The main draw of some calendars including some of the more organizer based ones are that the app has other forms of data integrated in. Some may just add reminders into your calendar and show them in the days they are due right along with your events. Others show weather, so you can see what it is supposed to be like as you plan your week. Both extremely handy and can be done without being overly intrusive.

And then the planner type apps go beyond this. Tasks and Reminders with their own views that can quickly be switched to events. Contacts to use as a full address book and help in the creation of events and reminders. Birthdays showing pictures of your contacts right in your calendar. Lists. Notes. Todos. All with search that can check your events along with the other data for what you are looking for.

These full planners can be pretty powerful.

4. Options

So options can be the key to getting what you want. Once you try an app, don’t be afraid to dive into the settings screens. Getting your calendar to look the way you want might involve flipping a few switches and setting a few colors. Not everybody wants to see ISO week numbers or see only timelines or have the week day start on Tuesday. But if you do, hopefully the settings allow for it.

There is a push in apps to not give you as many options and dictate to you want you want. But in calendar apps, hopefully this is not the case. The developer can’t possibly always know exactly what you want to see and do, calendars can just be complicated.

5. Filtering

A big feature found in most good calendar apps is filtering. This is a way to show you only a certain set of events or data. Most offer a way to turn off and on the calendars on your device in a setting screen. But some go beyond that and allow you to quickly do it from your main screen, or be more advanced and filter based on privacy or assigned categories/tags. It makes looking at a calendar so much better if you only want to see your work schedule, your child’s activities, or your sporting event times.

6. Smart Calendars

Ok, so what is this. Well, these are apps that are trying to take it to the next level of integration, with the added catch that to do some of it you need internet and you are giving them all your data. So keep that in mind.

They can add some cool features, but in testing some of their technologies are so new and try to make educated guesses about your schedules or locations or contacts or … and are completely wrong, making the features not only useless, but also very in the way. Some people like to be guinea pigs..

How are they making money? Could it be by eventually selling all your data? Could it be that they will go for a subscription model after getting so many users? Eventual Ads? It is just something to think about.

But some are well done apps that if they have what is right for you and you don’t have any concerns, they might be worth a shot..

7. Price

Obviously price is a key. Just remember that this is not a game, and paying a couple dollars more might make you that much more productive and organized. That little extra will be worth it for you in no time if you find the right calendar.

But watch for things like subscriptions and/or the possibility that if an app is free that somehow you might be the product(selling your data, or eventually ads or…). These factor into what the total price will end up being.

There are some free offerings out there that allow you to try out the calendar before you go all in on it. Its always a good idea to bargain shop if you don’t know what you want, as even just trying these choices might give you an idea of what the pricier apps are offering you..

Oh, and watch for if it is Universal… Or if they charge extra for that. This alone might be the main reason to go with a certain app for you.

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So there you have it. I hope this helps you in finding a great calendar app for your iPhone. We’d love it if you considered our Extreme Agenda line of apps if you want a full organizer or try The Grid calendar for FREE with a lot of the more powerful features, but in a more streamlined approach.

Thanks, and happy calendaring.

iOS7.

Well, so there’s that….

iOS7 was introduced and to say it is ‘Polarizing’ is an understatement. Some people love it, some people hate it and some people are cautiously not optimistic. It has some great new features that were really wanted and needed, and I haven’t heard anybody argue against that. Things like control center and multi-tasking. But the UI and aesthetic redesign’s are a radical change with a lot of people including me not loving and not seeing the point of. This goes beyond just the icons.

They had a good thing that they sold MILLIONS of. But yet they convinced themselves that the rumblings from the press and a small sections of users were true and the OS was so dated. Which in small areas was true, but… then they took a sledgehammer and went crazy. It makes be doubt Jony Ive’s ability as a software designer(hardware he’s brilliant, but that doesn’t guarantee his software style will have mass market appeal). I think there was a balance there between where they were and where they ended up, and they didn’t even come close to hitting it.

Most things they changed for the sake of change.

I dont get why navigation buttons can’t have borders. They’re still buttons. If you have a problem defining the edge of a touch area you are way too hung up on this skeumorphic thing. The new way looks fine in some places, but looks really bad and the text all runs together in others. And this takes away using color to represent other things.

And why does the stopwatch app have ‘circular’ edges around its start and stop buttons. Shouldn’t it just be colored text if we’re following this new “better” paradigm?

The transparency is not a great thing. It can look good, like it always did, or it can look horrible depending on the background. But the key is that in iOS6 you couldn’t really get something to look horrible based on the background.

And I don’t get the new skinny font. It doesnt look good on the small screen, and doesnt make things clearer. Just artsy, and will get dated quickly. Wait, I think it already is, most designers have even moved beyond helvetica… Oh, but some Apple apps dont even use this font.. Now, it’s just different, not better.

Animations are animations, they grow tiring. I thought the incoming icon pop out thing was corny the first time I saw it. And we did the zoom out from a location animation that is now defining the launcher and folders in our Grid Contacts app. Its a neat effect, but Im already tired of it on iOS7, after one day, and it broke some other stuff…Now, it’s just different, not better.

And folders are neat that they can scroll inside, now imagine if they weren’t defined to be that silly gray color and actually have a border, and weren’t made to be a scaled up icon size/shape. So we could have the scrolling while showing 16 icons at a time instead of 9. THAT WOULD BE WAY BETTER. Now, it’s just different, not better.

Why change the swipe to open. There is no indicator anymore of which way to swipe(Well there are arrows up and down, which neither is for this). So almost everybody that encounters this takes a while to even figure out how to open their phone the new way. Something is fundamentally wrong with your direction if this happens. Stripping away something to make it prettier and ‘simpler’. NOPE. Now, it’s just different and initially confusing, not better.

Why are we stripping out gradients in nav bars and other places where they actually look good, but they are fine and even overdone in some of our new icons.

And the icons are just plain horrid. Some people like the Easter Bunny meets Hello Kitty colors and simple oversized designs, but if designers can take those same ideas and make stuff that looks infinitely better with the exact same concepts in a couple hours, well Apple went the wrong way. But even worse. Why change the size and corner radius of the icons. The bigger corner radius is not better, its actually makes the icons look smooshed and fat. AND IT BREAKS THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF 3RD PARTY ICONS THAT WERE DESIGNED WITH THE OLD BETTER RADIUS. It feels like a slap in the face for the sake of change and the 3 extra pixels make everything a little more crowded. Now, it’s just different(worse), not better.

It will all cause a lot of confusion for mostly young and old users to re-learn a lot of this stuff. And why, it’s NOT BETTER.

The whole thing is just really inconsistant.

The people that Ive heard love on it, most I feel fall into a category that they wanted the OS to have a facelift so bad, that they can’t see a lot of it for what it really is. Change for the sake of change. Nothing is really improved, it’s just different. The new paradigm doesn’t really have any advantages, Ive tried to come up with any for development. It just forces a different look and breaks a lot of the existing ideas.

And its puzzling their direction with 3rd Party Apps here. They want to brag about 900,000 apps, but didn’t really fix discoverability, and now are really going to break or make outdated like what ~700,000 of them. Why?

So with so many strong opinions that don’t like these bold changes, could this be a stumble. Could this ultimately lose Apple marketshare? Could this balance out the market? Could this be Apple’s ‘Vista’? It wouldn’t shock me. Or maybe I’m wrong and there is a market for a more cutesy version of iOS?!

I’m not going to say it hasn’t grown on me some since I started using it. I just hope Apple is listening, and takes the keys away from Jony a bit, and dials back some of the changes. I know its just a BETA, but does Apple? Hopefully they don’t stay stubbornly committed to their decisions, but they aren’t known to change a ton after BETA.

With all their secrecy when doing these OS’s they obviously can’t do huge usability testing. Well consider this your usability testing, you are turning off a portion of your own following, and I can’t see the changes being a catalyst to replace them with others. Ive been wrong before.

Welcome to the world iOS7…

UPDATE: It is already starting to leak that for example the Icons were designed by marketing and not Interface in Apple. So hopefully this is a good sign that some of the things mentioned will be dialed in or dialed back. Hopefully most of them… We’ll see….

Midnight

Today should see the release of our full paid version of the Midnight version of The Grid Calendar. We really like this product and hope that having a paid version can support it into the future.

Midnight

We have mentioned it several times in the past but thought we’d break it down here, We think The Grid is a superior product to Fantastical, the app that garnered so much attention in the press at the same time as every major release of “The Grid”. While they did a good job on that product, initially it was full of a lot of holes, that Im glad that they have partially fixed. It does have a unique way of scrolling through dates and a couple neat features, but really the UI isn’t over the top attractive and stays quite Apple generic.

So here is a breakdown of what we see as benefits of each:

The Grid Midnight Fantastical
Month View X X
Week Strip View X X
Search X X
Copy/Move Events X X
Week Numbers X X
Day Badge X X
Attendees X X
Natural Language Entry X
Time Zone Support X
Drag-n-Drop X
Templates X
Text on Calendar X
One Touch Filtering X
Advanced Repeating Events X
Multiple Event Alarms X
Email and Share Events X
Multiple Themes X
Universal X
Dated Reminders X
Weather X

And a little secret, we have a couple things in the works for the only 2 things they have we don’t.

Thanks for considering ‘The Grid’, and if you aren’t convinced try out the FREE version and give it a try before upgrading or buying Midnight.

Midnight “The Grid” on AppStore

Playing Devil’s Advocate..

Ok, I am getting into the “heavy design” stuff, Extreme Agenda 4.0 will be a big step in this direction. And as of yet I have not proven that most of my design heavy apps are over the top great. Well, PokerTimer is the most popular Poker Clock in the AppStore(I did that original minimalist design a few years ago). And ‘The Grid’ did get 120K downloads in 3 days last week…. And the original XA 1.0 was pretty crazy experiment into alternate design. But by no means do I label myself as even ‘good’ yet, I’m learning like everyone else, this whole design focus is relatively new.

And I like to discuss development and all of this stuff with other developers. But recently I was left out of a Branch.com group of App-Makers because I wasn’t known/big enough, which actually includes a lot of people with less popular apps or no apps at all, because they are considered “influencers’. It so far has left out quite a few of the developers that have a different take on the AppStore, the ones I’d like to hear from. So I figured I might get back into posting some opinions here…

The most recent post of the branch.com App-Makers is about App Ideas. And granted quite a few in this group have had 1 or maybe 2 really good ones… But so far the direction of the conversation has gone in the direction of high design, one basic idea, simplicity and good UI. Makes sense…and we as developers have all heard it so many times before. That is what is working in the AppStore right now. But let’s examine this.

This is a response from Ellis Hamburger, a journalist at “The Verge”, so an Influencer:

“Any time I review an app, I compare it to the baseline in the category. When I reviewed Fantastical for iPhone I compared it to apps like Calvetica, Week Calendar, and Agenda. Not only did I find that Fantastical had a better feature set, but it also delivered a smoother user experience. The calendar app category has been around for YEARS, and Fantastical had years to prepare to win. Ultimately as a developer you must aspire to be the best in your category, which often means looking to competing apps and making sure you can outdo them from the get-go — and *don’t launch your app until you meet those goals* since any category only has a few real winners. If you can deliver, then you’ve got a “good idea.” You have your work cut out for you.”

Side Note:coincidentally those are the exact 3 apps I was shooting at with ‘The Grid’ too, that came out at the same time and was overshadowed by Fantastical.

So, yeah, he likes Fantastical. But now dissect Fantastical.

Really, the App is two views, both beautifully done. But both not always practical in everyday use. Take Fantastical and try to check out what you have going on in October. Yeah, you can’t get directly to October. How about October 2015? And yeah, once you get there they just use the standard ‘colored dots’ to show you an overview of the month. Know what they are? Have 5 events on a day, sorry we only made room for 4 dots. And dont even think about trying to see October in the week/list hybrid view.

Now re-create a commonly used event, move an event to another day, hide events in the calendar you don’t want to see…

Their other big feature is natural language event entry. And unless you are a speed typer on your iPhone, having to type in events in real language is neat, but isn’t the most practical (to do certain things you have to have shortcut formats memorized). And a small hint: you can use Siri to do it with Voice for all iCal based Apps. It’s genius on a desktop, which is where the idea came from. Want to edit events the regular way, well another secret you wouldn’t know, they just used an SDK call to Apple’s exact same event view, but put their pretty title bar on it.

Is that fully designed?

So I give Ellis the fact that besides ‘Week Calendar’, which blows Fantastical out of the water feature wise, the other calendars mentioned are lacking in areas as well. But they also are priced lower. So what made him overlook this and believe it was ahead was the “Smoother user experience”. Pretty design and a couple neat new takes on features seem to make you not fully examine an app’s long term use?

Or Clear is another often used example. Clear did some amazing things with gesture based list interaction. It tried something different and was rewarded for it. But they also went overboard, and did stuff that doesn’t and won’t ever feel natural in order to stick with their paradigm. And Clear offered very few “standard list” features, things that you just expect to be there to make it really handy and usable. You have to dumb down how you use lists in order to stay ‘in love’ with using it, all for the sake of good design and this trend of less features.

These are both widely considered what are the ‘top bar’ of what iOS apps should be and are crazy successful, though I will contend with a lot of help from the media and Apple(different can of worms). But they know how to play the game, and obviously put a lot of thought and design into making the Apps…

They are just not my kind of apps, they leave out key features because they don’t work for their ‘design’. Maybe its a function of the fact that for the price apps are now they are throwaway, so you can be wowed by the new calendar’s slick ideas, and dump it 3 weeks later realizing you originally agreed with the reviews, but now see the holes in it…

It’s convenient to use this less is more excuse, isn’t that what Apple does, but yet we are all also clammering for a revamp and more functionality from iOS7 from Apple…WIDGETS WIDGETS WIDGETS. And just think what we could all do if Apple opened up even more development flexibility. That might stifle simplicity.

Some of the best apps out there don’t all fit into a simple “Elevator Pitch” and depend on a glossy icon. The ones that do sure are easier to maintain though… 🙂

So it makes me wonder. Are we just at a time where we’re tearing it down to build it back up, making cheap apps what cheap apps should be. As one developer said, these *great* app ideas “reset the baseline”, but it seems some are doing so with inferior apps. Will these apps grow up or be passed in the mainstream by a higher level of app.

Will the vasty majority of users mature over time, to want well designed apps with great user experience, but with FULL MATURE FEATURE SETS…

Im shooting for maturity with great design, and I could name a bunch of great apps that already do too, I just hope the ‘bar’ can move up…

Branch App-Makers Thread

UPDATE: Well, it appears Branch pivoted, which made their site way simpler and less usable, but also does away with the group/clique thing that had irked me. It is just as well, the ‘moderator’ that had created the clique had dropped the ball and not kept it active, something that having more members would probably have helped. I recently noticed a post he made about how his original app, that one a design award, was outsold by his new app. He is one of the design and simplicity guys I talk about. I don’t get how he never realized that his first application was only half an idea, and had he actually created a full application with his award winning design abilities in the first place it would have sold a lot better, instead another product took all of those sales and more and does extremely well. Luckily he did better on his second product, but not realizing this makes me wonder about having him be a speaker and an ‘influencer’ in our market. And using the simple thing as an excuse failed ….

Wow!

Well last week was a fun week for us. You showed us that we did build a stellar product in ‘The Grid’ It obviously had not been doing that well as a product, as it got lost in the vast black hole that is the AppStore. So to try to draw some attention to it, we set it to free for the weekend. Well, the app was featured on Sunday (Jan 27th) by AppAdvice’s AppsGoneFree promotion and picked up by others, and with that it ratcheted up the AppStore Top Apps List. It eventually made it up to around #220 for iPhone and #130 for iPad in the whole store, with a top 10 in the Productivity category. We loved the exposure so left it free for the next few days where it got a ton of new reviews and maintained over a 4 star rating, and over 120,000 new downloads.

We happen to be super busy here at Birdsoft, cranking on Extreme Agenda 4.0 and about to tackle our enterprise solution development and a consulting contract, but we decided it would be worth it to try to use that traction in a positive way. So we are looking into finally giving our site a much needed facelift. And more importantly, we are tweaking ‘The Grid’ to include most of the most asked for features and changes from the reviews(iPad Landscape is done), and adding two big new features to ‘The Grid’ that will be available as an InApp purchase. One is a new view and one is Reminder Support. Both should be done for the new version to go out at the end of the week. We’re excited to hopefully find a way to regain that momentum and get people using what we consider the best lightweight calendar app on the AppStore. And hopefully we get Apple to notice so they help us along to bigger and better things…

And yes, Reminder support and this new view are going in Extreme Agenda 4.0 too.. And doing this has already helped the progress of that tremendously. Extreme Agenda’s scope is on a level way higher than this, so when that comes out, its going to be a whole new ballgame for full on organizers. We just want to get everything right!

So watch for a new site and new ‘The Grid’ version soon, and Extreme Agenda 4.0 by the spring… FUN!!

2013 and beyond

Well, we didn’t make the big splash that we wanted to with our new “The Grid” products. But we feel good about them anyway and hope they find some traction. A big plus and one of the reasons we felt comfortable doing them was that building both Apps was like a big R&D project for our Extreme Agenda line of products. So watch for great new features and ideas incorporated over in our upcoming versions(some already have). And we learned a bunch of valuable information about the App release process that should help in the future.

So while we ran into an “Apple Favorite” in the Fantastical release at the exact same time, we still believe that The Grid calendar is a superior product once you get by thinking you like the gimmicks. Ok, so that product has some good design in it and is well done for what it is, but the two main features of it, one was borrowed from another bigger PIM app(week ribbon), and the other feature of typing in your event in real world terms just isn’t that practical on a device, and can be done with Siri if you are using voice(which works with all compatible apps). Their success lies mostly in the connections they have, something we desperately need to work on this year. Its overpriced for what it is, try “The Grid” for much cheaper and its main features, drag-n-drop, templates, and one touch calendar filtering really do change the way you interact with a calendar.

But enough with that, we are moving on to what could be our biggest release ever. We are working on a huge new update to Extreme Agenda, version 4.0. Some things we know will make it in that are coming over from ‘The Grid’ are Drag-n-Drop, adding calendars, new interactive windows, better template inclusion, one touch calendar filtering, group text/emails… And then Reminder support! Beyond that there are a bunch more cool features, and we have really done some work on the interface so it it will be so much more customizable and so much more clean and great to use. Make sure you join the “Extreme Agenda” Facebook group to see sneak peeks. And if you are interested in Beta Testing, we are looking for a few more people that will really give us their opinions and help us make the product even better.

And then we have an Enterprise based project going as well that goes back to our utility company mapping roots. So we hope that with these 2 things and whatever else the year may bring, we can keep bringing you quality iOS apps that you love.