To-do lists are inherently boring. They’re really nothing more than a bunch of items that you want to get done at some later point, be it three hours from now or next week. Despite the boredom seemingly built into these lists, there’s no denying that they can be incredibly useful when you’re trying to remember all of the things that you need to do.
There’s no shortage of apps to help you monitor these lists in the App Store. They’re $0.99 a dozen, ranging from apps like OmniFocus and Things to something like Underscore Notify and TaskPaper. Each app takes a different approach towards managing your lists, but they share one thing in common: looking at them is about the same as looking at a list on a chalkboard.
HQ, the inaugural app from Sleeping Giant Apps, aims to change that. It tackles the issue of list keeping with one goal: to provide excellent functionality within a stunning, easy-to-use interface.
The thing that is most notable about the app on first launch is its great interface. The designers really went above and beyond, trying to create a fully functional system that looks different from the default blue-gradient scheme that most other lists try to emulate. Everything is incredibly legible, owing to the excellent contrast of colors and the nice, big font sizes.
Users will either love or hate the way that HQ looks. For some people, the different colors will distract from the main goal of the app — managing your tasks — while for others the interface is a breath of fresh air. I’m stuck solidly in the middle; as much as I love the interface for doing something new, I do find that there is a lot of visual weight applied to the app.
Fortunately, there is a website that shows off some screenshots of the app, and the information in the App Store should provide enough of an idea of the app’s visual style that no one can lay down the (rather low) entry fee without it being an informed decision. HQ is an app with its own distinct style, and the developers had the presence of mind to know that this is both an attracting feature and a potential deterrent. In the end, it comes down to personal preference.
Managing Your Tasks
Tasks can be divided into two different categories: Projects and Lists. Projects are items with specific end-dates in mind, while Lists are where items such as a grocery list, Inbox, or daily-routine should go. I like that these are divided into two separate categories. Sometimes there are time-sensitive things that need to be done, and other times there are things that need to be done but without any specific due date, like knowing exactly what you’re supposed to do each morning.
Besides being kept separate by the top menu bar, Projects and Lists also have slightly different visual styles. While Projects will include a tiny calendar icon to the right of the project name, Lists have this calendar icon removed. Both areas incorporate gorgeous (albeit tiny) graphs indicating just how far along you are within a certain Project or List.
For example, take this review. If I have five tasks in the project and I’ve completed three of them, HQ shows me that I’m 60 percent of the way through the project. Outside of being a handy way of letting my editor know that I’m nearly done with a review, this also acts as a little motivator. Ticking off a task has a real, measurable impact with HQ, and for some people that can make all the difference.
Tracking Tasks Your Way
After hitting that big, grey, Add New button at the top, HQ goes to its project-creation view. Here you can customize just about anything you’d like with the project or list, including the color of its display bar in the main view, due date (for projects only) and the priority you’d like to assign to the tasks. Along the bottom of the main view there are different view options that take advantage of these distinctions.
Say, for example, that I absolutely need to get something updated on my site, but I’ve also got a “paint the bedroom” project and a “find out everything there is to know about commemorative coffee beans” project. When it really comes down to it and there’s a limited amount of time available, the ability to view those projects by priority becomes a great advantage.
Ultimately, I believe that viewing your tasks is where HQ really thrives. While it’s not as easy to get thing into the app as it is with, say, OmniFocus or Things, it’s much easier to get the information that you need, quickly. The color-coding and priority-views are powerful enough separately, but when they’re combined you’re never more than a few taps away from knowing exactly what you should be doing.
HQ is still very much a 1.x release. That’s worth noting before you decide to make it your primary task-list manager. All things being fair, though, Sleeping Giant is hard at work turning HQ into an incredibly versatile suite of products.
On the cross-platform side of things, there are different apps in various stages of development. Coming first is a dedicated web-app, aiming to bring the strong visual style of the iPhone app to modern web browsers. Tasks will sync via the cloud (as they should) and being a web app allows you to take your tasks with you wherever you happen to be. After the web app’s release will come an iPad app and dedicated Mac app, all aiming to provide a unified experience across multiple platforms.
Speaking strictly of the iPhone app, though, HQ is still evolving. The developers keep a running blog of future updates, giving clues towards new features and bug fixes. This kind of transparency goes a long way towards the developers’ earning customers’ trust. It also means that any investment in this application isn’t just an investment in its current state, but also on a rapidly-developed application.
While I won’t go into all of the features planned for the 1.1 release, I will mention that many of them are aimed towards addressing some of the issues that I mentioned above, such as adding items to a project or list quickly, getting information out of those areas even faster, etc. HQ is also shaping up to be the app for anyone with a job that requires tracking time, as the developers are building in time-tracking and billing functionality
It’s no secret that there’s some strong competition in this space. OmniFocus stands as the king supreme for people that require cloud sync and a powerful GTD system. Things, while moving at a glacial pace, also offers syncing between a dedicated Mac and iPad app to the iPhone app, and does so with a rather nice interface as well.
On the free end of things, Apple’s own Reminders App due in iOS 5 seeks to fill some portion of this market, while Wunderlist is a fully-featured, stable application that has some functionality on just about every platform available.
HQ’s strength lies with its ease of use and interface. It’s meant to be immediately graspable by someone who has no idea what GTD stands for and with no areas for contexts or tags. It’s functional but gorgeous, providing a non-standard interface that sets it apart from something like Reminders with its piece-of-paper approach. In short: HQ isn’t meant to cover the entire market, but instead to carve out its own little niche.
If you’re looking for an immediately usable app that manages to look like something besides a piece of paper or some other boring, tired interface design, HQ might be the app for you.
Unfortunately, there are some issues that will stop some early adopters from biting the bullet right away: there aren’t currently any other applications, so you have to be comfortable with managing your tasks strictly through your iPhone. Tasks are easy enough to get out, but getting them into the application sometimes feels more cumbersome than it needs to.
In reality, it comes down to the fact that HQ, while a stunning app in its current form, is very much a work in progress. It’s fully functional as-is, but until Sleeping Giant delivers on some of its promises, I don’t see a large-scale adoption of the app any time soon. Which is a shame, because what it does do, it does so stylishly and reasonably well.