When I first started treating my smart phones as productivity devices instead of just novelty items, I tried a number of different applications for maintaining a list of events, items, or tasks that required my attention. Upon learning about Evernote, which is a quality application useful for many purposes, I tried it for “to do” and other sorts of lists, but I thought it was too cumbersome to open and scour every time I needed to view or edit my lists. I also tried a bevy of other apps with a reputation as being the best in class. None of them really made the cut; they lacked functionality, simplicity, and usability.
But then I stumbled upon Tasks, the one I use today. Tasks is the to do app for Android. What sets this app apart from others I have tried is not only the traits I listed previously, but also its visual appeal. Not only does it provide a way to create and manage a variety of different lists, it does so with a style straight from the handbook on Android app design. That is not to say the look of the app is unoriginal by any stretch of the imagination; on the contrary, Team Tasks, the aptly named developer of Tasks, dresses the basic functionality of the app in an elegant aesthetic. Tasks does, however, borrow a bit from Google, though not necessarily from their design department.
Users familiar with Gmail in the desktop browser environment will undoubtedly be aware of the tasks feature built into the email service. You simply click the “Gmail” drop-down menu underneath “Google” in the top-left corner of the window and choose “Tasks”; doing so opens up a small window in the bottom-right corner. You click the “+” icon to enter a new task, and that’s that!
Tasks then taps into your Gmail account to grab the data from your lists and syncs it with the app on your phone or tablet. Google neglected to create their own app for such a purpose, perhaps in the spirit of providing developers with a relatively easy project on which to practice their programming skills; but whatever the reason, Team Tasks seized the day and created an app that I, along with numerous other users, use every day. To be honest, had I not downloaded the app myself, I would have guessed Google had designed and developed it to ship with Android devices for availability out of the box.
And that is a compliment to Tasks’ developers. Everything functions as it should. Setup is a breeze (you simply log in with your Gmail account), it pulls in the necessary data, and you can immediately start creating lists and tasks, which then sync with your Gmail account. When you log into Gmail again, the lists will be updated with the latest data.
But enough about the service; let us examine the app itself. Of course, design is the main topic of the discussion at hand. As always, I will highlight a particular element of the Holo design principles, how the app follows those principles, and how doing so benefits the end user (YOU!). (And if you somehow missed our previous two Holo App Reviews (1, 2), please check them out before continuing on with this one!)
As you can see from the screenshot below, Tasks uses the Holo Light theme by default, though you can change it in the settings to the Dark Holo theme if you choose. Across the top is the Main Action Bar, which houses a box containing the Gmail account you entered to use the app; the box doubles as a drop-down menu that contains a list of the, well, lists tied to your account. Selecting one of the lists populates the Content Area with the items on that list. The MAB also contains a button for syncing manually, adding a new task to current list, and the menu overflow button, which contains a number of other options, like Settings.
Another bar below the MAB displays the name of the current list, and just below that is a header with the due date of the task at the top of list, which varies based on whether you have the list sorted by “My Order” or “Due Date” in the Sort Mode menu option.
As mentioned previously, the Content Area contains the list of tasks, each one with a small check box to the left of each item. If you have the “My Order” Sort Mode selected, each task has a small icon toward the right side of the pane that allows you to press and hold to move the task to whatever position you want. Selecting the check box places a check in the box (imagine that!) and strikes the task through to indicate you completed it. And immediately after selecting the check box, an interactive toast notification that says “Clear completed tasks” pops up for a moment, allowing you to clear the task list without having to open the overflow menu to do so.
If you mistakenly cleared a task, you can select the “View completed tasks” option in the menu to view cleared tasks and the date on which you cleared them; you can also restore the tasks to their list by deselecting the check box.
On the Create Task screen, you have a Title section which acts as the display name for the task in its list, a Notes section for miscellaneous information about the task, a Due Date and Reminder section for setting an alarm of sorts for the task, and a drop-down menu for selecting the list to which you want to add the task. Of course, the “X” in the top-right corner cancels the task and the check mark confirms and adds it.
In addition to the app itself, Tasks also provides a simple, interactive widget that displays the selected list and allows you to select tasks to edit them and mark them as completed. You can also add a task to the list using the icon on the top bar of the widget, which also displays the name of the list.
Though the app conforms to the design principles I have discussed on previous editions of the Holo App Review, Tasks also builds on those we have yet to explore…Until now! You may notice in many apps when you press a button or item that a glow appears around it for as long as you hold it. The glow is but one manifestation of a design feature called touch feedback. Touch feedback is a design element which indicates to the user that the app recognizes the user’s input, assuring the user that the app is working and knows what the user wants it to do. See the glow around the software Home key in the image below?
Tasks utilizes touch feedback in similar, yet different, ways. For example, look what happens when you press a task in a list.
“Pressed” happens to be one of the states of touch feedback outlined in the Android design guidelines and it indicates that an item is being selected. This is particularly useful in the scenario of rearranging tasks in a list; the user knows which task is selected and does not mistakenly move the wrong task.
The glow of touch feedback manifests in other ways as well. Another example is when the user moves to the end of an area when scrolling or swiping. Like other Holo apps, Task features a Content Area the user can swipe from side to side to view different lists. Once the user reaches the first or last list, the side of the screen glows to indicate that the user can move no farther (see the left side of the screen in the image below).
Such design elements prove subtle, but useful, especially for new users who may be uncertain about the boundaries within an app.
And that about covers the entirety of the app. Thought it may seem stripped down, Tasks is not like the other to do list apps, nor is it trying to be. The strength of Tasks is its focus on what it is supposed to do: create and manage lists, something it does extremely well. Clearly the appearance of Tasks establishes it as one among the hallowed, Holo-designed apps for which Android will someday be famous, but the functionality of Tasks establishes it as worthy of being named the best to do app available on the Play Store. Despite having categorized the app previously as a top productivity app for Android, I must admit: Tasks is in a category of its own. And for only 99 cents, or free (ad-supported after a few weeks), Tasks is one of the better purchases you can make for your Android phone or tablet.
Next time, I will review another Holo app and continue to delve deeper into the various aspects of the Holo theme and Android app design. If you have any other categories you would like us to tackle, any apps you would like us to review, or any lessons about Android you would like to learn, please let us know in the comments. Thank you for reading!
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