Do you ever have a moment in which you thought you really liked something, but then over time you started to feel the opposite? This sometimes happens to me with apps. I’ll write a raving review, and a few weeks later I’ll start to notice issues that didn’t make themselves known early on, or they were noticeable but weren’t annoying just yet. Luckily, I’m often given a chance to review apps a second time when they’ve received a major update, which provides me the opportunity to provide are more impactful analysis on whether the app is worth its weight in gold.
On this occasion, I’m taking a second look at noidentity’s Next, which enables you to track day-to-day expenses to get a big picture of your spending habits. In my initial review, I stated that Next was really fun to use, and that “between the design eye candy and extremely enjoyable sound effects, I actually look forward to entering an expense.” In September, version 2.0 of Next was released, giving me a chance to reassess what makes the app good and no so good. Read on to find out how my opinions have changed.
At the time of my initial review, I was pairing Next with a checkbook app to track my expenses. The checkbook app would keep tabs on balances so I wouldn’t spend more than I had available, and Next provided a breakdown of what I was actually spending my money on. After about three months use, I stopped using Next altogether. The main reason being is that I was tired of entering transactions twice (or three times for fuel purchases, since I was using a different app to track my average mile per gallon). If I was going to continue tracking purchases, keeping tabs on my balances was priority number one. This meant the checkbook app won by default.
There were a handful of other reasons that led me to this decision, which were things that I’d grown to dislike about Next over time (feeding into my notion of not spending enough time with the app), which I’ll explore throughout this review. Around the time version 2.0 of Next was released, I made a change in my financial tracking routine. The checkbook app was deleted, and I would, instead, rely on Check to automatically track purchases and keep me apprised of balance statuses. Now, no longer needing to manually enter expenses in the checkbook app, I decided to give Next another shot. This decision was bolstered by the app’s new features, which addressed some of my grievances.
Next is meant to be an uncomplicated app that’s quick and easy to use. So, the notion of implementing advanced features becomes complicated when you wish to remain true to your ideals. This is the issue that faced Sandro Pennisi, Next’s lone developer at noidentity. In a conversation via email, Pennisi said this about adding features.
“As with all features, I don’t want to make them fast, I want to implement them the right way. Fitting into the way the app works.” – Sando Pennisi
A big gripe I started to have was the inability to label transactions. I also wanted the ability to label categories, but I was, and still am content without it. Whenever I reviewed a list of purchases in the Expenses view (accessed by swiping left in the main view), all I saw where categories without context. Knowing I spent $50 on a meal wasn’t very beneficial without knowing where the meal took place. With the addition of notes, this problem now ceases to exist.
After you begin entering a new expense by tapping a desired category and typing the expense amount, a pencil icon is displayed to the right of the entered amount. Tapping the icon will swap keyboards, allowing you to type your note. What you choose to enter is at your discretion, but I prefer to enter the location at which I made the purchase. Entering “gas” while using the gas category doesn’t provide much context in my opinion. In contrast, I’ll enter the item I purchased with certain categories, such as the App Store, because it’s more useful information.
I’m quite pleased by the implementation of notes, but the feature isn’t without it’s issues. If you delete any character, the cursor automatically goes to the end of the word–often leading to another misspelling. Also, attempting to use voice dictation caused Next to crash every time. Pennisi stated that he’s aware of both issues and will have a fix in a future update.
There are two (relatively) minor features I’d love to see implemented with notes. First, autocompleting entries based on previous notes, so when I purchase fuel from Speedway I can type “Sp” and tap a “Speedway” option from a list of choices (or via another implementation). Unfortunately, Next doesn’t support iOS’ keyboard shortcut feature, which eliminates a faux version of the feature. Second, capitalization of each word. While my fiance has zero qualms about not capitalizing proper nouns, I feel awkward doing so, and would appreciate not having to do in manually.
Another point of contention I starting to have was the inability to edit expenses. On occasion I’d forget to enter the correct date, chose the wrong category or mistyped the amount, which meant having to delete my initial entry and reentering it again. Next 2.0 now features inline editing, which is quick and easy. Editing is initiated in the Expenses view by tapping the datapoint you’d like to change (e.g. expense category, note or expense amount). Once tapped, a corresponding keyboard (e.g. numbers when editing the expense amount, letters when editing the note) pops up so you can make the edit.
Pensisi stated in a blog post on noidentity’s website that most apps implement a modal view for editing features, but that it didn’t fit with the philosophy of Next. I agree 100% with this assessment, and find Next’s editing feature to be one of the best implementations I’ve encountered. One minor issue–if you can call it an issue–is a design inconsistency in which the editing keyboards are not translucent like the keyboards in the main view. This doesn’t take anything away from how well editing works, but it’s worth note considering how much detail and care Pennisi put into Next’s design (more on this in a bit).
Top 3 Transactions
Notes and editing are the two big additions to Next 2.0, but there’s a third, minor feature that I find useful, which is Top 3 Transactions. While viewing a history graph in the Statistics view (accessed by swiping right in the main view), you can tap and hold any datapoint to view a list of the three highest expenses in said datapoint. For instance, I use the fork and knife icon as a dining out category. So, if I select the Month option and tap the datapoint for October, I’ll see the three most expensive outings from the month (damn you Red Lobster and your delicious crab legs!).
It’s a nice enough feature that provides a bit of context, but I’d prefer an option to view all transactions within a single category. If I’m spending a lot of money dining out, I’d like to view every expense so I can better assess if I need to cut back on dining out for lunch. I asked Pennisi why he limited the feature to only three expenses instead of displaying them all, and he stated that the manner in which the feature works limits that ability.
“With tap and hold, as soon as you release your finger, the popup goes away. So there was no way to scroll. Also we wanted to keep it simple. But it’s always possible we will change this in the future.” – Sando Pennisi
I do hope to see a method of expanding to a full list of transactions. However, seeing as noidentity’s more robust financial app, MoneyBook, doesn’t even include this option, it’ll probably be a number of months before it’s made available. If ever.
A Cleaner Look
Every review I’ve written since iOS 7’s release has made mention of an app redesign or design updates. I still get excited by these changes in design, but I’m sure there are some fair readers that have grown tiresome of the subject. Well, to those readers I say, “sorry about your luck.” Unlike most design updates, the changes to Next 2.0 was more about polishing the UI than radically changing it. When iOS 7 was introduced, Next was on a shortlist of apps that already looked like a fitting companion. However, that didn’t stop Pennisi from making some great adjustments.
The app is now completely devoid of gradients, outlines and shadows, in favor of a more minimal and flat UI. As I lover of such design aesthetics, I find Next 2.0 to be even more enjoyable to look at than before. I mentioned earlier that the main view’s keyboard is translucent, allowing you to see the category grid behind it (similar to how you would while using Control Center). This change mixes well with iOS 7’s mission to make sense of hierarchy, allowing the user to better grasp that the keyboard is merely its own layer.
One aspect of Next that I didn’t spend much time on in my initial review is animations (for shame). Next is an app with personality, which comes to life thanks to its slew of great animations. For instance, when you add a new expense, the category bounces back into place and causes the surrounding categories to bounce as well. Categories with higher levels of spending result in more prominent bounces, which is a great example of the level of detail Pennisi put into developing Next. I also really like an animation that occurs in the Statistics view. When you tap to view a history graph, the category’s bar morphs into the most recent datapoint. The same effect occurs in reverse when you close the history graph. Both subtle and great.
What the Future Holds
I recently noticed a co-worker using a spreadsheet to track her family’s spending, so I showcased Next as my method for performing the same task. She acknowledged that it would to be a good alternative, but couldn’t consider it a viable replacement because she had several years of data that would be M.I.A. in Next. Having recently entered a month’s worth of expenses in one sitting, which took quite a bit of time, I can attest that Next lacks a good solution to this problem. Building a history of expenses from scratch is fine, but the essence of what makes Next so useful would take awhile to come to fruition.
Along with importing data, Next still lacks an export feature. Having recently wiped my iPhone, I was annoyed when Next was one of two apps (out of over 150) I had to backup manually with iExplorer. I brought up both features with Pennisi during a Twitter exchange, and I was very glad to hear that export and import support were already being considered.
In a later conversation via email, I was informed that exporting will likely be in the form of emailing a CSV file, but Pennisi is also considering implementing AirDrop in some fashion. In terms of importing information, it could work hand in hand with exporting–meaning you’d export a CSV file from Next, use a spreadsheet editor to enter your financial data, and reimport the file. Once implemented, it will assuredly make Next a great deal more valuable and useful for tracking spending patterns.
The Bottom Line
After taking a break from Next, I’m happy to be using it again and still find it a great deal of fun to use. More importantly, though, with a wedding roughly six months away, I now, more than ever, need to tighten my (figurative) purse strings, and Next has already helped me identify spending categories that have gotten a bit out of hand.
I still encounter issues on occasion that make me flinch, though. The decimal point button has always been a pain in my side, as I often find my expense amounts lacking one even though I tapped the button. Scout’s honor. So, now I just round expenses to avoid the issue altogether. Also, there’s no easy method to delete expenses once the process has been started (you have to delete the entire expense amount).
Pennisi stated his current priority is a small update with some refinements and little bugfixes. Afterwards, he’ll turn his focus on the export and import feature. Beyond that, he’s not certain what will come next, stating that the app is currently perfect for him and that he’s very careful about adding new features. Knowing this, I’ll continue to use Next as is, workaround any minor inconveniences, and look forward to when I’m able to more easily add past expenses. After that, Next will be nearly irreplaceable.