Task management is a pretty big deal. Over the past few decades of personal computing, literally thousands of applications have tried to solve the problem of managing your "TODO" list in a sensible, useful way.
The emergence of smartphones into the mainstream has brought about a renaissance of sorts of new applications throwing their hat into the ring of possible "perfect" solutions to the task management problem. This isn't always easy as everyone has their own set of specific wants and needs when it comes to "TODO" lists, and no single application is going to be "perfect" for everyone.
Each time another of these applications debuts, I always give it a try for a few days to see if it could be "the one for me". I've tried them all, seriously, I'm "that" guy about "TODO" list apps, almost to the point of being counter-productive. I've just never found the right mix of simplicity and power that really speaks to how I like to work through a list of tasks.
Cheddar is both a univeral iOS application and a web application. It's fully Retina-ready, on iOS and even on the web. Put simply, it is beautiful. The premise is simple: it's just text. Create a list by giving it a name, add tasks by typing some text. "Check off" a task by tapping or clicking. Yep, that's it.
You don't need to know or understand anything else to be able to use the app effectively, but that's not the end of the story, not even close.
Adding tasks in Cheddar couldn't be simpler, just type in the box at the top of the screen and press return. The iOS version of Cheddar even has a delightful little animation illustrating your task "popping" down to the end of your list.
Editing tasks is also super easy. On iOS, just tap the "Edit" button and then select a task to edit the text of, or re-order some tasks, or archive ones you don't need anymore. On the web, tasks are always re-orderable using some nice drag-and-drop functionality, and the pencil icon turns the desired task back into a text box for editing. It all feels very natural and very obvious.
Oh boy. Nothing Magical (the company behind Cheddar) really outdid themselves here. Every action you take while using Cheddar instantly syncs across to all your devices. Add a task on your phone, it instantly appears on the web, no refresh required. "Check off" a task on your iPad, and your iPhone instantly updates to reflect the change. You can really tell a ton of effort was put into the speed and simplicity of the syncing, and it really makes you feel confident about using the app. I love knowing that I'll never have a "I guess it hasn't updated here yet" moment ever again with my task lists. People on my side of the industry throw around the term "magic" pretty loosely these days, but Cheddar's syncing really does feel a bit like magic to me, more apps need to take note and follow suit.
Advanced users will be delighted to find a robust tagging system built around Twitter-style #hashtags. Simply type in something like
#someday into a task in Cheddar, and it becomes a hyperlink that, when tapped or clicked, will filter your list of tasks to only those containing that same hashtag. Again, simple, straightforward, and easy to understand.
Also present in both the iOS and web version of Cheddar is span-level Markdown support. Markdown fans will immediately see where this is going, but basically this means you can easily add hyperlinks, bold, italic, strikethrough, source code and even emoji to your tasks with very minimal effort. Cheddar has a great page describing all of the great things you can with this functionality here: Cheddar - Text.
You can always use Cheddar for free with up to two lists of tasks. If you want an unlimited number of tasks, you'll need to upgrade to Cheddar Plus. You can do this on the web for $1.99 USD a month or $19.99 a year. You can also upgrade to Cheddar Plus on iOS using a In-App Purchase Subscription which renews every 3 motnhs for $5.99. Compared to some other services, Cheddar's pricing is dirt cheap. Upgrading was a no-brainer for me. And, as I said, you can always use Cheddar with up to two lists of tasks completely free.
I've been using Cheddar for about 3 months while it has been in development and it really has turned out to be the perfect little task manager for me. I've used it to manage myself building apps, buying groceries, running errands, and doing some work around the house. In every single case I've found that it does it's job, gets out of my way, and lets me focus on actually completing my tasks. I would highly recommed you try it out.
Where To Get It
You can find Cheddar on the web at cheddarapp.com or on the App Store here. There's also a great little video showing off Cheddar's main features over here on Vimeo.
Yesterday, Apple released a new flagship iOS application: "Podcasts". Yep, only a few days after I predicted such a thing, it happens.
As I said before, I had no inside information about the app. Although, I did hear a few rumblings at WWDC that the new Podcasts application was initially intended to be demonstrated during the WWDC Keynote, but was cut at the last minute.
So, was I right? Did Apple announce a full-fledged "App Store-style" backend interface for publishers to manage their podcasts? Push notifications for when new episodes are released? Let's dive in and find out.
Where I Was Wrong (For The Moment)
No new backend system was announced or released. However, a clue or two hinting at future improvements to this new system can be found in the app. I found two references to the concept of "paid" podcast episodes when playing around with the application. One mentioned "free" episodes, thus suggesting that some episodes might cost money. Another offers the option to "Redeem Code", again suggesting that some episodes may not be free.
I'm not done holding my breath on Apple offering an "App Store-style" backend system to allow publishers to sell episodes or even subscriptions to their shows.
Apple also hasn't brought any sort of push notification functionality to market with this intial release of Podcasts. I don't have any hard evidence here, but given the obviousness of providing push notifications for when new episodes are available, as well as automatic background downloads, I'd say it's only a matter of time before these features are implemented.
The new iOS Application
First, the facts: Podcasts is a pretty feature-rich universal iOS application that runs on both the iPhone and iPad. It requires the device to be running at least iOS 5.1. It allows users to discover and subscribe to podcasts, as well as download or stream individual episodes.
It's always a fun time when Apple releases a new flagship iOS application. Their latest releases of iMovie for iOS and iPhoto for iOS have boasted some pretty great user interfaces and seem to be quite well received by users. Let's see if Podcasts follows suit.
Apple chose a pretty interesting direction for it's "Top Stations" feature in Podcasts. I'm guessing their intention was to give those users who aren't as familiar with podcasts a way to quickly listen to something that might interest them. A sort of "channel surfing" concept for the couch-potato-would-be-podcast fans. It definitely delivers on the "channel surfing" concept, but educated users likely won't be too intrigued by this feature. From what I can tell, by default "Top Stations" seems to choose an episode at random from the currently selected show and begin playing it automatically. Possibly a neat way to discover new content, but I don't see many users heading back for a second or third use.
With Podcasts, Apple has essentially done for Podcasts what they did for books with iBooks: A separate iOS app, that you have to install from the App Store, that when launched, can "flip around" to reveal the place where you discover and download media. Even the animation for the flip back and foward matches iBooks pretty closely.
The Podcasts "catalog" interface, sadly, is still a giant web view. Not surprising given that all of Apple's "store" interfaces on iOS are designed this way, but boy does it show. The interface is uncharacteristically slow and unresponsive. I found tapping on a "subscribe" button to hang on almost every podcast I was attempting to subscribe to.
Oh boy. Welcome back to skeuomorphic-town. Well, if you're listenting to an audio podcasts at least. Watching video podcasts shows the video of the desired episode full-screen with the expected video controls. But load up an audio epsiode and you're in for a treat.
It's literally a tape deck. Immediately recognizable and impressive. I really love how well this interface comes across on the iPad, a device that not's too far off in size from actual tape recorders of the 1970's and 80's. I tested out the app on my iPhone 4S and iPad 3, and just as an aside, the app truly shines on the iPad 3. This type of graphical treatment on the iPad 3's retina screen really helps solidify Apple's stronghold on the "holy cow that looks awesome!" market. During playback, the podcast's cover art is displayed on top of a translucent "plastic" cover sitting on top of two spinning tape deck heads with "tape" running between the two decks. As you progress in the episode you're listening to, the tape visually transfers from the left to right side, just as it would on a real-life tape deck, quite an impressive effect. The control buttons located at the bottom of the screen appear to "press in" when tapped. They resemble the buttons of that old-school (now seemingly ancient) tape recorder you found in your parent's attic that time.
One nice touch is the speed control. As you change the rocking slider control from "turtle" to "hare", the tape decks begin to visibly ramp their speed up and down. Many podcast apps on iOS offer ability to speed up or slow down playback of episodes, but this sort of immediate and obvious user feedback feels like something only Apple could deliver.
Should you switch?
Tough to answer. Podcast clients are like RSS Readers, Twitter clients or E-mail applications: no one application can please everyone. With "Podcasts", Apple has served up a fairly strong competitor in to the "iOS podcatcher application" market, assisted greatly by what I'm calling the "default choice" factor. They own the platform, "Podcasts" comes close to appearing as the "default" application for interaction with Podcasts on iOS.
I personally still love Instacast for iOS. It too, is a universal iPhone and iPad app. Like Apple's "Podcasts", it uses iCloud to sync subscriptions, playback positions and played/unplayed states of episodes. As an added bonus, Instacast already does support push notifications for new episodes of shows you're subscribed to.
So while I would highly suggest anyone who has read this much of this article to check out "Podcasts", I think Apple has a few releases to go before this app starts to become the obvious choice.
"Podcasts" is available now for iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad devices running iOS 5.1 or later.
Here's the App Store link.
I have a theory (truthfully a wish) for the explanation behind why Apple's iOS 6 beta seems to be excluding support for browsing and downloading podcasts within the built-in iTunes Store app.
Many have speculated and reported that Apple is planning on introducing a standalone Podcasts application for iOS, similar to what they've done with iBooks.
While I agree that this would be a smart move for Apple, I believe that the real winning combination would be a full, end-to-end solution, and this post is my pitch. The rest of this post will be written in the hypothetical. No little birdies whispered in my ear here, just my pure predictions.
Apple would host an iTunes Connect style management interface for creating/updating shows, support for both Audio and Video podcasts are included. Key Feature: Apple would host the audio and video data files for producers, for free, just like they host TV Shows, Movies, Songs, Books, Applications, etc for their other iTunes Store types. Apple's (not so new anymore) North Carolina data center would be touted as one of the ways Apple is able to provide such a service. Producers are able to sign in, add new episodes, attach show notes, links, and upload their media. New episodes will then go live, and appear for consumers in the iTunes Store and native iOS Podcasts application (possibly with or without an approval process).
Producers could offer each episode for free or set a pricing tier, similar to how application developers set their prices today. This would allow for independent content providers to release their content for a minimal fee and turn their hobbies into actual businesses, exactly like application developers did when the App Store first launched back in 2008. Imagine a world where episodes of fantastic independent content like Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog or The vlogbrother's Crash Course and Sci Show get released for each week for $0.99 USD. Consumers could purchase season passes, buy individual episodes or subscribe to only the free episodes. The possibilities here are practically endless.
In addition, as many have reported, Apple is likely working on a revamped version of it's Podcast Producer software, that has shipped with OS X Server for a few years now. The new application would included an interface for recording, mixing, editing, and uploading episodes in both Audio-only and Video formats. This application would run on OS X Mountain Lion and would integrate with the aforementioned backend iTunes Connect-style management service.
Now the really big one. A universal (iPhone & iPad) iOS application entitled "Podcasts". This application would provide a way to browse available shows, read about them and subscribe to your favorites. Basicallly extending the existing functionality avaiable in the Podcasts section of the iTunes Store today.
Since Apple will now control the experience end-to-end, they can now provide fantastic support for things like push notifications when new episodes go live.
Any consumer who has subscribed to a particular podcast "feed" will now be able to get push notifications and, as many have reported, even automatic background downloading of episodes as soon as they are released and available, permitting their device's battery and network state permit it. This idea also cooperates nicely with the recently announced "Power Nap" feature for the newer Apple notebook machines.
What does this really mean?
I've thought about this a lot, and I've come to the conclusion that the real competion here could be with services like YouTube and Vimeo. YouTube has been ]working quite a bit lately at trying to get more serialized content on their service. They've been investing millions in independent content providers in an attempt to get higher quality regularly scheduled content going on their network.
An Apple-hosted Podcasts service could help to further blur the lines between professional and independent content providers, giving this type of content the same "bump" that indie developers got with App Store.
I admit, this is a bit of wishful thinking on my part, as I'd love to see this type of content be readily available on Apple's platforms. But given the evidence, I'd say it's at least a solid theory.