Things 3: To Little To Late?

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The Things 3 icon from back in 2013

Way back in 2008, a little team in Germany called Cultured Code released “Things” on the App Store, a todo app based around the GTD philosophy. At the time, it was one of two beasts in the space, fighting with Omnifocus to be the favored GTD client for todo list afficienados. Back then, if you wanted a beautiful app with a nice array of features, you chose “Things,” but if you were looking for something very powerful, aleit confusing and ugly, you choose Omnifocus. Things even won an Apple Design awards.

I was a user of “Things” for many years, until the release of iOS 7. Being notoriously slow at releasing updates, having taken years between announcing cloud sync and releasing it, Cultured Code announced a new version of “Things” designed with iOS 7 in mind. Fast forward to December of 2013 and there had been little news from Cultured Code about the updated design. When they finally released a post about their thinking, they announced they were going all in on Things 3. Almost a year later in 2014 they announced that Things 3 was taking longer than usual and to tide users over they released Things 2.5, an update to the app that had been around for years, but with a more iOS 7 friendly design. All the while Cultured Code pushed on social media and their own website that people should be excited for Things 3, coming soon.

Three years later, Things 3 has finally been released.

Was it worth the wait? That’s what I’ve been deciding over the past month as I’ve played with Things 3, a completely new app with a simplified approach to design.

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2.5 on the left, 3 on the right

From the moment you open the app, you can see the work that has been done. The design manages to make a very familiar app feel completely fresh, and new. Stark lines, obvious iconography, and an end to the grey background are all welcome changes. After so many years, I didn’t know what to excect, but what I found was exactly what I had hoped Things 3 would look like. The familiar way of organizing your tasks wrapped in a beautiful new skin.

With such a wonderful design, the first thing you’ll do is open the app and gawk at the wonderful use of color, the clean lines, and the general lack of clutter. Comparing this to 2DO, Wunderlist, Omnifocus, or Todoist, you’ll find that Things, as it used to, reigns supreme in how it looks and feels.

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Some of the nice design choices, scattered throught the app

Normally, beautiful design comes at a cost, but in the case of Things, I’ve found the third iterration to be every bit as powerful as those that came before it. Like those older versions, task are organized in a way that makes sense and the power tools lie under the hood in cleverly designed menus. This is an app that grows with you and doesn’t force you to use everything it can do, all at once.

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Project on the left, repeating evens in the center, today on the right

Here’s one example. Repeating events are critical in every power users todo list but often, the verbiage around when they complete, when they are due, and when they show up in your list can be incredibly confusing. I’ve used 2DO for a long time and it wasn’t until a few months ago that I figured out how wrong I was organizing my repeating todos. Things uses plain English to tell you exactly when something is going to repeat.

Perhaps every Things user of old fell in love with the Today list, I know I did. In this new version, Today looks even more beautiful than before, providing a nice view into your calendar alongside your tasks. This gives you the best overview of your day that I’ve found in any app. You see exactly what you’ll be doing and the many tasks you must squeeze in around them.

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Some of the menus in a project. Love the headings!

Things 3 also lets you do things you didn’t think possible in a todo list by bringing the flexibility of a document into the regidity of a list. One way it does this is by allowing you to create headers for groups of todos within projects. Not only does this give you the ability to batch edit a group of todos without selecting them all, but it gives you a very nice visual overview of different sections within a project. These “headers” along with regions for describing what a project is for, create a beautiful and very functional layout that really clicks with my brain.

Now there are a few drawbacks. For one, there is no way to share lists and tasks with friends to work collaboratively. Both Omnifocus and Things share the same limitaitons in this area, but I’d hoped that given the 3 years of work that Cultured Code could have added some of that funcitonality. Some of the iconography is also confusing and there is some functionality that is suprislingly absent. The flag icon represents a due date while the calendar icon represents scheduling when an item will pop back into your feed. The “next” section of the app has been replaced by “anytime” which serves exactly the same purpose, except it doesn’t have the ability to unhide scheduled tasks. Because of this there is no region in the app where I can go to see every task, scheduled or not.

Here’s the best example of a suprising omission from the iPad app. Todo’s are draggable to rearrange but cannot be dragged into new areas or projects in the sidebar. Instead, the same drag and drop action takes three clicks in burried menus. Similarly, on the Mac, selecting multiple todos allows you to move them, but not assign them all the same tag. When I’ve got a lot of todos, it is these bulk actions that are important to quickly organizing my areas and projects.

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But is this update enough, after all these years? For people that have switched to Todoist or Wunderlist or some powerful web app like that, I’m not sure. For people who are just getting into the todo app business and want something better than reminders with some very powerful features hidden behind the scene, this is the best thing out there. People that have tried Omnifocus and found it confusing but want those features will love this app.

I loved this app long ago and floated from todo app to todo app in the meantime, satisfied with none of them. Things was the first app I opened in the morning and the last app I closed at night and with Things 3, I’m finding myself falling back into that beloved routine.

I am a student currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studying middle school science education at Boston University. I’m into technology and design.

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