When it comes to productivity apps, simplicity of design and familiarity are usually king, because nobody wants to learn a whole new system every time they check out a new to-do app. But sometimes, apps break the pre-written productivity rules and make something completely different.
Good design can make or break an app and there is plenty of well-designed software out in the world. But here, we wanted to take a look at the software that does things differently. For better or worse, these apps rethink how information is displayed in a productivity app. The result is some truly interesting design choices, and while the software on the list certainly won’t appeal to everyone, it can make you rethink how you organize tasks.
Moleskine Timepage Rethinks the Calendar as a List
Even at a glance, Moleskine Timepage for iPhone ($2.99) clearly does things differently. Instead of concentrating on the typical calendar grid, Moleskine expects you to spend most of your time in the list view. This massive, continuous timeline makes it easy to view your weekly schedule at a glance. There is still a month view in Timepage, but even that’s a little different. It uses a heatmap with varying color shades so you can see how busy you are at a glance.
Other calendar apps certainly have list views, including our pick for the best on iPhone, Fantastical, but Timepage is designed from the ground-up with that list view in mind, and you can tell. Timepage is meant more for people with a smaller list of appointments, if you have dozens of things scheduled in a day, Timepage won’t do you much good. Still, for those of us with straight-forward daily lists, the break from a traditional view makes it easier to see what you have planned.
Dials for Android and iPhone (Free) is one of the more innovative approaches to a calendar app we’ve seen. Instead of a list or grid, your day is organized and displayed on a clock. It makes total sense once you see it action, and the organization here is perfect for people who typically only have three or four events a day. The clock view makes it easy to spot potential problems in your schedule, and a there’s still a traditional calendar if you just need to glance at some dates. Dials certainly won’t work very well for people with a ton of meetings to schedule, but for the rest of us, it’s an interesting twist on the standard design.
Clear Ditches Checkboxes, Organizes Your To-Do Into a Heatmap
Clear for iOS ($4.99) is certainly old news, but it’s still worth mentioning here because no matter how you cut it, Clear changed how we think about to-do apps. Instead of the traditional checkboxes we usually associate with to-dos, Clear uses a basic list and a heat map that helps you visualize the difference between important and unimportant. While you can add alarms, Clear doesn’t focus on due dates, priority, or any of the other usual organization features of to-do apps, which makes it best suited for simple tasks. Clear might be old, but for a vast number of people, its simplicity still makes it the best to-do app for people who don’t want a ton of features. Android users can check out Koalcat’s Clear, a similar app made by a different team.
You’d think that there wouldn’t be that much you could do to make to-do lists interesting and new at this point, but the iPhone/Mac app, Doo ($2.99) challenges that notion. Doo uses a card-based system to organize your to-dos. Each list is a new card, and you can add notes or a specific due date to that card.
The primary concession here is the card system, which doesn’t sound all that different from a separate list, but really changes how you view your to-dos because only the top-most card is visible in the normal view. Sure, you can switch over to a more traditional list of everything, but that kind of defeats the purpose here. What makes Doo work is that you only see one task at a time, and that’s the only thing you should be thinking about in that moment.
At its core, Inbox does something many apps have done poorly before: it turns your email into to-dos. But beyond that, over the years since it first launched, Inbox’s biggest strength is the context it adds to emails. It hooks into your calendar to organize events, bundles together trip information, and has a built-in reminders feature. The end result is an email inbox that resembles a social network news feed more than it does Gmail. Like most of the apps on this list, Inbox works better for some people than it does for others, but either way, there’s no denying it’s a completely different take on the traditional email inbox.
Morning Mail for iPhone (Free) takes the swipe gestures of Tinder and crams them into an email app. Morning Mail has nothing to do with reading or replying to email, it’s just about organization. Swipe left to delete an email, right to archive, and down to mark it as read. It’s similar to the previously mentioned Triage, but Triage doesn’t seem like it’s getting updated much these days. Regardless, for people who don’t like to manage email on their phone, but do like to organize it, Morning Mail’s interface works really well for that.