Reminders: Getting Things Done, From Apple

With iOS 5, Apple introduced Reminders, its own take on the ever-popular task management app category. Reminders has a lot of basic functionality coupled with some other nice features, meaning that for most people this built-in app can cover their every need.

Are you one of those people, or will Reminders leave you wanting more? Read on to find out.

The Premise

The idea with Reminders is to keep things simple but functional. Apple didn’t include a powerful context area, doesn’t have a forecast view or tagging features. There are some nice features, though, that make the app worthwhile.

Paper Interface

It’s no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of apps that sport real-world interfaces. Often the app is limited by the extravagant visual metaphor, looking pretty but not offering the highest possible functionality.

Fortunately, Reminders combines the best of both worlds. I enjoyed the notepad’s visual metaphor and the way that it combined the real-world with the digital. Line-height is good, and the fact that the font isn’t Marker Felt is a huge win!

Reminders' Date view is great looking and functional.

Reminders' Date view is great looking and functional.

I wish that the actual task list were larger on the iPad, as there’s a large gap between the lists on the left and the tasks on the right. Besides that I have zero complaints; the app is very well designed. As a matter of fact, when you’re viewing your tasks by date instead of by list (possible with a simple slider) the calendar shown looks much better than the default calendar app.

There’s a List for That

Where other apps divide your tasks into projects, Reminders sticks with simple lists. By default there are two lists: Reminders and Completed. For most people this may end up being enough, but there’s the option to create more if you’d like.

Reminders' default lists.

Reminders' default lists.

I can see lists being useful for grocery runs, short-term goals, or other items that may not necessarily require powerful organization. For someone that uses a tool like OmniFocus or Things this may seem overly simplistic, but Reminders is the first step in getting people into using their computers instead of bits of paper.

My approach to lists was similar to the approach that I take with projects in OmniFocus. I didn’t create too many lists, though, as Reminders on the iPhone is my main input device and Siri defaults to the default Reminders list.

Further Functionality

Luckily, Reminders for iPad has some nice functionality. Compared to the iPhone version, though, Reminders for iPad seems to be hamstrung.

Adding tasks is easy and intuitive.

Adding tasks is easy and intuitive.

Getting your tasks into the app is easy, and you can input a large number of tasks by simply hitting the Return key. This is an intuitive action that works well, allowing you to do a quick ‘mind dump’ whenever the need arises.

Reminders' scrolling interface for time-based tasks.

Reminders' scrolling interface for time-based tasks.

Beyond that, Reminders has the ability to remind you at a certain time if you’re using your iPad, and upcoming tasks are displayed via the Notification Center (if you so choose).

The most important feature is the iCloud sync. Reminders are kept in sync between the iPhone and iPad apps so far as mobile task lists go, and everything is synced back to iCal on the Mac. In my experience, syncing was seamless and fast, even on a slow Wi-Fi network. I would love for other developers to begin utilizing iCloud sync as soon as possible, as in my experience it works much better than other solutions (like Dropbox).

Missing Features

Unfortunately, not everything is squeaky-clean with this app. There are a lot of odd things that were left out and that will, hopefully, be updated as the app gets used.

First, tasks can’t be rearranged in any way. Not only can they not be dragged between lists (meaning an Inbox of some sort is a permanent home instead of a temporary stop) but you also can’t rearrange them within their own list. If you have to do something in a linear way, get it right the first time.

Second, Reminders for iPad doesn’t have the same location-based features as the iPhone. This is understandable on the Wi-Fi only model, as there isn’t a built-in GPS, but I’d like to be able to input a task on my iPad and have it remind me (via my iPhone) when I get to my destination.

Adding a note to a task doesn't change the list view at all.

Adding a note to a task doesn't change the list view at all.

While there’s the option to add notes to your tasks, there’s no way of knowing which apps have notes attached to them. Everything is hidden behind the More button, which doesn’t make much sense from a user-experience standpoint.

High, Medium, Low. I'm surprised there isn't a 'do this or my wife will kill me' priority.

High, Medium, Low. I'm surprised there isn't a 'do this or my wife will kill me' priority.

The final oddity is the barely-existent support for priorities. On the Edit screen for any task you can assign a priority of Low, Medium, or High, but assigning a priority has no visible effect. It seems like something that either wasn’t developed fully or was added as an afterthought, which is a shame.

Against the Competition

Reminders faces some stiff competition in the productivity market. Power users that are used to the advanced features of OmniFocus or Things will find it lacking with its basic (in comparison) functionality.

On the free market, there are apps like Wunderlist that sync across all of your devices (and the Web) and have some features that Reminders doesn’t.

Wunderlist is free and its syncing solution is about as good as iCloud.

Where Does Reminders Fit?

Despite such strong competition, I can see Reminders having a strong use, if only for its powerful sync. It may not be anyone’s primary app if they’re used to other task managers, but it could be useful for grocery lists, short to-do lists, or other miscellaneous items that they don’t want to put into their established system.

Where Reminders will really see use is with people that have an iPad and an iPhone 4S. I’ve reviewed the iPhone version over at our sister site, and Siri really is a powerful tool and the most compelling reason to use the Reminders app. If you want to see what you’ve put in through your iPhone, Reminders for iPad is for you.

Otherwise, it all comes down to your needs. For people with simple requirements that are new to productivity apps or don’t want to manage their whole life with (sometimes costly) software, Reminders is a nice stop-gap. Since it’s built right into the operating system, there’s no risk in at least trying the app out.


Summary

Reminders is a to-do app from Apple that aims to be a solid entry-level app for people that aren't used to productivity apps, or as a secondary app for someone with more experience.

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  • i-Charly

    Hi, nice article, thanks! As far as the missing location reminders on some devices are concerned, there are apps on the store that do the trick – one is even a free app:

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mapalarm-smart-location-based/id405931556?mt=8

    Reviews look promising …

  • Jim

    You can move reminders from one list to another, but it takes 4 clicks. Click on the right arrow of a reminder. Click “Show More..” Then you can select which list to move the reminder to. Too bad apple doesn’t just show the “Show More…” list and save a click.

    But, it allows you to use the REMINDERS list as an InBox with Siri… like OmniFocus does. Then file your reminders later.

    I hope they don’t clutter it up. Nice that it is simple. But a couple of features would really go a long way.

    Jim

  • stevenvh

    Hi, great review

    In my opinion there is an important option you forgot to mention. When you log in to iCloud on the web you have the ability to share lists with other iCloud members. I use this option allot, it was actually the one option I needed to switch to apples reminders app.

    The only thing I miss is that you can not manage who you share lists with in the apps themselves.

    grts, Steven

  • Janw

    Did Reminders just get updated? Suddenly today it has a new interface and all my list items that didn’t have dates and times are GONE. Thanks Apple for a whole new approach to productivity.

  • Marlene

    I just got my 1st iPad and I can’t find this app that’s supposed to have been built in. Actually there’s a few built in apps I can’t find on my iPad & looking up the apps they cost money to get. I’m not going to pay for something that should already be there

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