Clear for iPhone
Why are so many of us forever in search of the perfect to-do list manager? I think it’s because we all have an unending list of tasks we’d like to accomplish, and we’d rather blame our imperfect tools than our imperfect selves.
The challenge for developers, then, is that the characteristics that define a “perfect” task manager can vary wildly from user to user. Apple’s stock Reminders app is pretty barebones, but it integrates tightly with Siri, offers location-based reminders, and gets the job done for some. And the App Store is rife with more complex task management offerings that add in filters, priority-based sorting, tags, contexts, and plenty more.
Then there’s Clear. It’s an app from Realmac Software that currently sells for $1, though the company says that’s an introductory rate. And it’s like no other iOS app you’ve ever used.
When you first launch Clear, it walks you through how to use the app—a smart move, since the app’s interface is almost entirely gesture based, requiring non-obvious swipes and pinches to navigate and add tasks.
You pull down on your to-do list to create a new task, which rotates in from the top. Or you can tap at the bottom of your list to create a new task down there. Or you can pinch apart two tasks to create a new one in between them. You swipe a task to the right to mark it as complete; swipe it to the left to delete it. Tap and hold on a task to drag it to a new position.
You pinch down on a list to switch to a view of all your lists; your list of lists is in fact itself a list, so you can add to it, delete lists, or reorder them just as you would with items within a regular list. Pinch again to get to Clear’s main screen, which lets you choose among various themes, control the app’s sounds and icon badging, and review tips and tricks about using the app.
From that main screen, you can actually swipe up to go back to your lists, instead of simply tapping on the My Lists button. Swipe up on your list of lists, and you return to your most recently used list. That’s a nice enough extra interface element, until your brain—accustomed as it is to more traditional iOS design patterns—thinks you should try swiping down to go back. Astute readers and Clear devotees will recognize that such a swipe will, in fact, trigger the New Task pull down instead, which of course isn’t what you want. Actually, you need to swipe down with more force, or more speed, to avoid triggering the New Task option. It’s kind of a crapshoot, and you can expect to make the wrong thing happen with alarming consistency.
I don’t object to Clear’s efforts at using non-traditional actions; I support a developer’s right to be clever, and I freely admit that it’s both fun and cool to drag down to create a new task, or pinch to go back up a level. But it sometimes feels, perhaps, cuter than necessary. Is it really a benefit to lack buttons like New Task or Back?
Even more importantly, Clear often seems to sacrifice functionality in favor of simplicity. I’m not convinced that’s the right call. Since there’s no edit button, you simply tap on a task to edit its text—that’s fine. But it’s more annoying when you’re navigating the list with all your lists: Tap on a list’s name, and you don’t go to that list, you start editing its title. Instead you need to tap on the much smaller tap target—the number of incomplete items on that list, or any blank space after the list’s name before that number appears. (If you first tapped on the task name, you actually need to tap Done to exit editing mode, and only then can you tap the number to dive into the list.)
List items in Clear can’t wrap. I tried to add “iOS calendaring syncing tutorial” to my Macworld to-do list. I misspelled “tutorial,” and iOS helpfully offered an autocorrection—but I couldn’t accept the correction, because the task wouldn’t fit. I’ll keep myself brief on Twitter, but if I’m saving notes for myself, I’d prefer to avoid any harsh character count restrictions.
And that’s actually the least frustrating of Clear’s limitations. The app doesn’t offer reminders. You can’t set due dates, add notes, or get any real kind of alerts about your tasks. You can’t sync your reminders to your Mac, and there’s no iPad client. If you’d like cloud-stored lists to share with others, Clear can’t help you there, either.
What Clear can do, on the other hand, is offer a very minimal approach to task management. The app is laced with charm and it’s fun to use. But because of its limitations, I don’t believe that Clear could help me personally get things done. If your needs are as simple as Clear’s design, however, your experience may vary wildly.
[Lex Friedman is a Macworld staff writer.]