Productivity tools are perhaps the most important tools we possess. They are the hub through which all information is processed, delegated, deferred and/or accomplished. Knowing the outline of your day – or coming week – is an essential part of fulfilling your responsibilities and obligations across settings. A great system can assist you in capturing and “filing” everything exactly where it should be, with little friction, assuring you that nothing has been missed. When there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place, your mind can be free from clutter and worry making life that much more enjoyable. Any task management solution worth its weight has at least the minor possibility of making these things possible.
Buddy Bird ToDo is a task management solution for your iPhone, with a twist – it can read tasks to you aloud. Though text-to-speech is fairly well done, and an obviously valuable feature, Buddy Bird must still stand its ground as a productivity tool. Let’s first take a look at how it stacks up against the plethora of task management solutions already in the wild.
With Buddy Bird ToDo, it’s important to talk about syncing services upfront. There are two options – iCloud and ToodleDo. If you are already a ToodleDo user or migrating your task list from one of the 25 iOS applications that use the service as its syncing solution, this is fantastic news. It means that all of your lists, current todo’s, past to-done’s and long overdue’s will sync flawlessly from ToodleDo to Buddy Bird. If this applies to you, setup is a dream.
Adding a List, Context or Area of Responsibility
We all have different areas of responsibility in life. Work, home, errands etc.. In any todo app, it is extremely helpful if these contexts can have their own separate list with their own separate tasks assigned to them. In Buddy Bird, lists are located at the top of the main section, appearing as scrollable tabs. There are five default lists – All, Today, Soon, Overdue and Tips1. To add a list of your own, such as Home or Work, swipe the tabs at the top to the left until you come to the plus sign at the end. Tap the plus sign, type the list name and tap ‘create.’ All done.
Lists (or contexts) are really handy because some tasks can only be completed in a specific location with specific tools. It makes sense for those items to be organized as such so at any given time, in any location, you are able to view only the tasks in which you can complete. Having 40 tasks stare you in the face, 30 of which you can do nothing about, never helped anyone’s anxiety. Do yourself a favor and set up some well considered lists.
To edit a list’s name or delete it altogether, long tap and release to trigger a pop-up menu. Choose the appropriate option and go to town. Just be careful when deleting a list as I haven’t quite figured out if the associated todo’s default to another list, or are completely decimated in the process. I have a sneaking suspicion that they all go the way of the dodo.
Adding a Task
Adding a task is made simple. From within the list you wish to assign your task to, tap the plus sign at the bottom-center of the screen to trigger the task entry mode. Type your title and select your options. You can add notes, select your start and end dates, set to repeat, assign a category, assign an action, add to a list and even set an alarm. I have only two hang-ups with the process – setting start & end dates and recurring task options.
Setting a start and end date is not optional, it must be done – for every single task. Even if you do not enter a value, each field defaults to one which cannot be removed. 2 This is great if every task you have on your list requires such detail, but some tasks require only a ‘due’ date while others – those destined for a ‘someday’ list – require no dates at all. It would be nice to have the ability to remove that from a task.
Secondly, recurring tasks are extremely limited as there are only 4 options to choose from – None, Daily, Weekly and Monthly. It would be really helpful to be able to drill that down a bit more, or expand on it. For example, setting a recurring task for the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month. You’d be surprised how many recurring tasks I have that are set up exactly as such.
If need be, an action can be assigned to any or every task you create. “Call, SMS, Email and Browse” are the options currently available to be set as actions. Once an action has been chosen, and your todo item saved, it can be executed from the task list without ever drilling into the tasks details. It simply requires that you tap the action icon that is associated with that task. The browse option cannot be set to call on a specific URL, rather searching Google for your text input is all it will do. Not a deal breaker except for the fact that any search performed is restricted to the in-app browser which has zero navigation, not so much as an “open in Safari” option.
Changing a Priority Level
I myself do not delve into priorities as I find that everything ends up as a high priority. I mean, if it’s not a priority at some point, why would it go on my list? That said, if you make good use of prioritization, it’s pretty easy with Buddy Bird. From the task details page, tap on the feather and select the option that best fits, from the pop-up. From here, an item can be starred as well. Prioritization can be helpful if you want to sort tasks by priority as opposed to date or title – the trouble is the probability that something time sensitive will slip through the cracks.
Beside each task is a box of white space bordered by gray. Tapping within that box will mark your task as complete. Once any task is checked off, it is sent to the “Done” section which can be accessed by tapping the icon situated directly to the left of the “add a task” plus sign.
Sorting and Searching
One size does not fit all. Sometimes, we prefer our tasks and todo lists are organized in a specific way. Other times, we simply need an efficient way to sort them in order to locate an item we can’t seem to find. Above your tasks, within every list, is an icon that resembles an outline – tapping this icon will give you options for sorting. Whether you need to view your tasks by title, date or priority, Buddy Bird has you covered. Each can be ordered by ascending or descending values.
If sorting your tasks does not do the trick, you can always use the search feature, accessed by tapping the magnifying glass icon. Searching is done real time – as you type – so results come fast.
Within the settings panel, you can choose from one of 19 themes. However, themes are not quite themes as you would imagine them. Applied themes do little or nothing to the UI other than change the background. Most everything else remains the same. I felt a little disappointed as Buddy Bird really felt like a app I wanted to customize a bit. Perhaps a change in terminology from “theme” to “wallpaper” would have been less of a let-down for me.
Text to Speech
Buddy Bird’s claim to fame – the feature truly unique to the application – is text to speech. It is, to my knowledge, the only task management application that will read your tasks to you. The voice output needs refinement as it does not, in it’s current state, sound very natural. That said, she will read the list name, and how many tasks are on that list before she starts to read individual tasks. Individual tasks, up to 35, are read as Title, Date and Time. I really like the innovation here and can see some really good use case scenarios – such as reviewing my work list during my commute to work – if this feature is refined a bit further. As it stands, even after adjusting the TTS settings, it is sometimes hard to discern what is being said, where one tasks ends and another begins. Nonetheless, I hope the developer will continue to iterate on this feature as I think it really sets it apart from other task management applications.
- Desktop version – when it comes to todo applications, a desktop counterpart is almost a must these days. The lack of such a platform is certainly a strike against Buddy Bird – if not a deal breaker altogether.
- Simplified design aesthetic – Buddy Bird’s interface is fun, but it distracts from the focus of the application, which is getting things accomplished.
- Make better use of the screen – almost 1/4 of the iPhone (4S) screen goes completely unused as all functions are confined to a fixed box that occupies the other 3/4. Remove the background, shift tabs to the top and extend field input and task lists to the edges of the screen.
- Remove the tips tab – the tips tab contains very little useful information. I vote to remove it.
- Customizable app badge – currently, it seems the app badge defaults to due + overdue. I would love to see the option to refine and customize the badge display and what it represents.
- Finally, voice output options – while I prefer the soothing sounds of a female voice with an American English accent, not everyone will. If the developer can open this feature up to include voice options – maybe even as in-app purchases – I can see this sort of thing taking off. Right now, you’re stuck with one lady voice, whether you like her or not.
Buddy Bird ToDo for iPhone is a solid option for the average person looking to get organized. If you are heavily rooted in GTD, however, you will find the application lacking in some areas. That said, not everyone needs a system that follows GTD so closely, so I think Buddy Bird will be a great fit for a lot of users looking for a novel, fun and upbeat task manager. The TTS feature is an amazing idea which could work wonders for this app if refined and expanded upon. Buddy Bird ToDo is a great version 1 release and I look forward to seeing some of the improvements and feature sets to come with future iterations.
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