Better than Apple’s Reminder app.

I’m one of those people who can’t remember anything unless it’s written down somewhere. (Indeed, I often consult my books to remember how to do something I actually wrote about!) So it should come as no surprise that I lean heavily on my Mac and iOS devices for a to do list or reminders.

Until recently, Apple did not provide any app that synchronized reminder items between iCal on a Mac and the iOS calendar apps. Not content to wait until they added such functionality, I tried two different reminder applications. The one I settled on — and still use daily today — is called 2Do by Guided Ways Technologies Ltd.

2Do App IconRight from the get-go, 2Do enabled me to synchronize reminder items between iCal and the 2Do app on my iPad and iPhone. It did this through MobileMe, which was very convenient. (2Do now supports iCloud, too.) I could create reminder items on any device, synchronize, and see the items on every device. I could also change or mark an item as complete on one device, synchronize, and have the item change or be marked complete on all devices.

2Do on iPad
In this example, I’m viewing 2Do’s reminder items in my “Air” calendar on my iPad. The grouping is customizable.

What I like a lot about 2Do is that it offers a wide range of fields that you can use to enter information about a reminder item. So not only can I add an item title, description, calendar, and other iCal-supported information, but I can also add fields for a start date, location, recurrence, tags, audio note, and pictures. I can customize the item entry form to include only the fields I use most in the order in which I want them to appear; I can access other fields with a tap. With the location features, you don’t need Siri on an iPhone 4S to take advantage of location-based reminders.

2Do supports three kinds of reminder items: ToDo, Checklist, and Project. A ToDo is a standard reminder. A Checklist is a reminder that includes individual checkable items. A Project is a reminder that includes individual ToDo items. Although I mostly use simple ToDos, Checklists and Projects are especially handy for grouping related tasks that you might need to focus on without creating a separate calendar for them.

2Do’s interface is completely customizable to display specific calendars in the order you want to see them in. You can view reminder items by calendar, tags, or location. If you specify a start date for an item in the future, it will not clutter up your current reminder list.

Reminders App
My “Air” calendar’s reminder list in the Reminder app on my iPhone.

2Do plays nice with Apple’s new Reminders app. When you sync 2Do to iCloud, that data is automatically pushed to Reminders. Likewise, when you make a change in Reminders, that’s automatically pushed to iCloud so it’s updated when you sync 2Do. While it’s true that syncing is not automatic — at least not right now — it is quick and does not require WiFi (as other iOS reminder apps do).

Although folks with very basic reminder needs may find Apple’s Reminders app good enough to meet their needs, I think the power and flexibility of 2Do makes it worth the nominal purchase price. Its additional features and fields help keep me organized, whether I’m planning my next 1200-mile helicopter trip or just trying to remember what to pick up at the grocery store.

Numbers for iPad Mini Review

What I just submitted to the App store.

It is what it is…and nothing more.

Numbers IconI think the majority of people giving this app very low ratings are not realizing what Numbers (and other iWork apps, for that matter) is: a mobile application. Given the limitations of the hardware and interface, it simply cannot be a stand-alone solution for all of a person’s spreadsheet needs.

That said, Numbers has a few serious shortcomings. The inability to read/write Excel files is certainly one of them. If you need this feature, you should not buy this version of Numbers. (Wait until that feature is added, if it ever is, and stop giving low ratings just because it’s not here yet.) The inability to exclude certain worksheets from PDFs is another. There are also limitations on formatting, etc.

W&B on NumbersBut what is Numbers supposed to be? I think it’s a way to use existing worksheets on your iPad. To that end, I’ve taken an extremely complex 3-tabbed worksheet with references between all three sheets and a pair of charts and successfully brought it from Excel to Numbers on my Mac to Numbers on my iPad. This worksheet, which calculates weight and balance for a helicopter load, is instrumental to my charter business needs. With Numbers for iPad, I don’t need to have my laptop with me or spend a lot of time with a calculator. I can perform these calculations in minutes on my iPad — and even send the final worksheets and charts to my base of operations for reference and filing.

But if you expect Numbers to meet all your spreadsheet application needs, your expectations are far too high. Sure, it’s good for the simple stuff. And yes, it can help you present and modify existing Numbers worksheets when you’re on the go. But you’ll be sorely disappointed if you expect to quickly and easily create professional-looking spreadsheet documents with this app on your iPad. I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation at all.

About My New Fifth Generation iPod Nano

Holy cow!

Yesterday, my Fifth Generation iPod — approximately equal to what they’re now calling an iPod Classic — the first version to support video — died again. I have a tendency to let the battery drain completely and sit in my purse like that. Then, when I attempt to sync, my Mac doesn’t know what the heck it’s connected to and wants to restore it.

This is the fifth time this has happened and the third time it has happened in the past two months. When I left for an appointment yesterday, it was still connected to my Mac, trying to import about 25GB of podcasts and music and videos. It was taking a long time, so I left it.

Coincidentally, that appointment was at the Biltmore Apple Store, which is walking distance from our “Rear Window” apartment in Phoenix. I was bringing in my 12″ PowerBook, which had a dead hard disk. I wanted to know what it would cost to replace the disk. I learned a few things:

  • The 12″ PowerBook computer was first manufactured in early 2003.
  • I bought mine in July 2003.
  • On a 12″ PowerBook, you must remove 23 screws to get at and remove the hard disk. You then have to screw them all back in. In the right places.
  • Apple has absolutely no interest in repairing 6-year-old laptops.

I’ll blog more about my solution to this another time. Let me get back to my new Nano.

Of course, I hadn’t bought it yet. But I figured that since I was there, I may as well take a look.

iPod Nano

This isn’t my Nano, my thumb, or a video of anyone I know. But mine looks a lot like this one.

And I liked what I saw. So I bought a 16 GB red one. Yes, it’s (product)red, so a portion of the purchase price goes to fight AIDS in Africa. But that’s not why I picked red. I just like red. I’d like to help fight AIDS in Africa, but they’d get a lot less money from me if it was (product)turquoise.

Understand this: I bought a new iPod to replace one that simply wasn’t functioning reliably. The idea was to buy an iPod that would work with the iPod setup in my car and elsewhere. (The Shuffle won’t.)

I liked the idea of video, but since the video feature sucked battery power in my old iPod, I didn’t use it often. I didn’t expect to use it much on this iPod either.

All I wanted was something I could use to listen to podcasts and music while I drove or flew.

I got so much more.

This little sucker is absolutely packed with features.

  • It plays MP3s and other audio format files.
  • It plays movies.
  • It has an FM radio tuner built in. The FM tuner can identify songs so you can tag them and later sync them with your computer for easy shopping on the iTunes Store.
  • It has a video camera.
  • It has a pedometer. It can sync up with Nike’s Web site for some reason I’m not clear about and probably wouldn’t care about if I did.
  • It has games.
  • It can tell when you tilt it so it orients the screen properly. This tilt thing can also be used by games.
  • It can record voice memos.
  • It can store and display photos.
  • It can sync with Address Book and iCal on my Mac.
  • It can store notes.

It does a huge amount of stuff I didn’t expect. And every time I find something new, I get all giddy, like a kid.

Playing with one of these silly things for the first time — as an owner — is better than opening presents at Christmas.

Now I know what you’re saying. “Maria, you work with Apple products all the time. Didn’t you know that the Nano had all these features?”

No, I didn’t. I mean I knew about the movies and heard about the built-in video camera. But the tilt thing and games and pedometer and radio were all quite a shock.

Maybe you’re saying, “Maria, how could you spend nearly $200 and not know what you’re getting?”

Well, I thought that what I thought I was getting was worth $200. The Nano comes in a really sleek little package. Weighs next to nothing. Incredible quality video for such a tiny screen. I was satisfied.

Now I’m beyond that.

Do all MP3 players have this many bells and whistles? What have I been missing?

As you might imagine, I’m very happy with my new purchase. The only adjustment I’ll need is limiting the data I put on it to less than 16 GB. My old iPod has a 30 GB hard disk in it; this is quite a step down.

But I’ll deal with it.

Welcome to Macintosh

A movie review.

Welcome to MacintoshThe other night, I watched Welcome to Macintosh, a new documentary by filmmakers Robert Baca and Josh RIzzo.

Here’s the review I just entered on Netflix, where I gave it 3 out of 5 stars:

I’m one of the “Mac faithful” and have been for years. I found this documentary mildly interesting — especially parts discussing trivia, such as how startup tones came about. In general, however, I found it to be a rather amateurish production, with far too much time spent on various collections of old Macs. The cutaway scenes with Mac models decorating the landscape was reminiscent of the “How It’s Made” television series and rather silly. I would like to have seen more interviews with Mac users, movers, and shakers, as well as some of those old Macs running some of the software from the early days.

This movie will appeal to any Mac fan interested in Apple’s history. But Apple haters will hate this movie; it comes across as real Apple “fanboy” material.

You can read another take on the movie from its premier on the Unofficial Apple Weblog: “TUAW On Scene: from the premiere of Welcome to Macintosh.”

A Look at OmniFocus

A quick review.

I tried OmniFocus for a few weeks to set up and maintain a Get Things Done (GTD) routine. I’m always interested in easy-to-use productivity tools that I can integrate into my workflow.

What OmniFocus Does

OmniFocusOmniFocus enables you to set up any number of projects, each of which can contain specific actions. For example, I might have a project for Flying M Air to send out a marketing letter to travel agents. Within that project might be the individual actions to get the job done: get a mailing list of travel agents, write the marketing letter, print out the materials, stuff envelopes, mail. You can set up a project so its actions must be completed in order (sequentially) or so that they can be completed in any order or concurrently (parallel). Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any way to set up some actions within a project to be sequential while others in the same event were parallel without creating groups of actions.

Each action can also be related to a context. A context is “where the work happens.” This is a lot less intuitive but, I suppose, it can be useful once you get an idea of how to use it. For example, you might set up contexts for telephone follow-up or errands. Personally, I had a problem distinguishing between context and projects and couldn’t maintain a consistent approach.

OmniFocus offers a number of commands and options that help you “focus” on specific projects or tasks. You can flag things, set priorities, enter start or end dates, and choose from a bunch of different status options. You can then create “perspectives,” which are views of tasks matching criteria. But setting these things up can be time consuming and isn’t very intuitive.

On Intuitiveness

I did not find OmniFocus to be very intuitive. For example, each time I entered a new action, I pressed Return. Return is usually the command programs use to end or accept an entry. In OmniFocus, it starts a new one. That’s likely because of the Omni Group’s experience with OmniOutliner, which this is apparently spun off from. But when I create a list of things to do, I don’t think of an outline. I think of a list of individual items. iCal doesn’t create a new item when you press Return after completing the entry of a new one. It doesn’t make sense to me that OmniFocus does.

The perspectives view looks and works just like the main OmniFocus window. Great. Except that a perspectives view contains a subset of all items and, if the View bar isn’t showing, it’s not clear that you’re looking at a subset. You wonder what happened to an event you’re looking for and maybe, like me, you think it’s been eaten by a quirk in the software. So you re-enter it and wind up with a duplicate when you finally realize you’re just looking at a subset of all actions.

Some items don’t appear at all, depending on how options are set and how the item is coded. That makes you think twice about whether you want to set sequential items as sequential — they might not appear in some views.

And I’m still not sure how OmniFocus applies color coding to tasks. I understand the red, but blue, gray, and purple? What does it mean? Without documentation during the beta process, I couldn’t be sure. (Now I don’t really care.)


One of the features that attracted me to OmniFocus was its ability to sync with iCal. I had a heck of a time doing this with the beta versions, until tech support suggested that I turn off the Birthday’s Calendar in iCal. Evidently, there’s a bug in iCal and that was messing things up. When I disabled it, syncing worked okay.

But OmniFocus syncs based on context, not project. So I needed to not only use the context feature, but set up corresponding calendars in iCal to properly sort out the tasks. Then, when I manually synced with iCal — automatic syncing is not an option — each task’s project was appended to the task name in brackets. This made the task names in iCal unnecessarily long.

OmniFocus syncs only iCal tasks, not calendar events. I also had some trouble when I marked off tasks as done in one program, it would not consistently sync to the other. So tasks didn’t “go away” when they were done.

I should mention that I need iCal syncing because I sync between iCal and my Treo to have a complete list of events and tasks when I’m on the road. My memory is bad (and steadily getting worse) and I rely on my Treo to remind me of things I need to do when I’m away from my office.

What OmniFocus Doesn’t Do

OmniFocus is supposed to make it easy to “capture” tasks from other applications. This is extremely limited. For example, although I can capture a task from a mail message, there’s no way within OmniFocus to easily link to that message — even though each message in Leopard has a unique URL. Instead, I found myself copying and pasting message text into OmniFocus.

OmniFocus falls short as an outliner in that it only gives you three levels of outlining: projects, actions, and “sub-actions” (created when you group actions within a project). Four levels, if you also create folders to organize your projects. But I suppose that if you want an outliner, you’d use OmniOutliner.

There’s no easy way to relate one action to other actions because contexts are not like keywords and you can only assign one per action.

Printing is also extremely limited, so if you want to print off a list of actions to take to a meeting or on the road, you’re stuck with standard formatting with large fonts.

When Productivity Software Reduces Productivity

My main gripe with most of these GTD software “solutions” is that they make you do so much work to set them up and implement them.

OmniFocus is a prime example of this. I wasted an entire morning trying to get my iCal events into OmniFocus , sorting them into projects, and applying contexts. And then, when I synced them back to iCal, I wound up with a bunch of duplicate items in both programs that I had to weed out. While this might be due to buggy beta software, I can’t be sure. I could be a problem I’d be dealing with every time I completed a sync.

It’s far easier for me to simply open iCal and look at my task list, which is already sorted by my existing project-related calendars, to see what needs to be done.

I was hoping that OmniFocus would introduce features that were not in iCal. It did, but none of them were features I needed or even wanted. The ones I did want — primarily calendar and task list printing flexibility — were missing.

At the introductory price of $39.95, OmniFocus was a program to consider. I might have sprung for it and made it work. But when the folks at The Omni Group upped the price to its regular price of $79.95, they made the decision for me. I’ve already paid enough money for software I don’t use regularly.

OmniFocus simply isn’t the solution I’m looking for. It isn’t intuitive enough to be a good productivity tool for me.

I only wish I could get back the two to three days I spent trying to make it help me get things done.