Tuesday, 24 May 2011

What's wrong with tasks? My solution

For some reason or another tasks or to-do lists have been forgotten in many of the new mobile devices and I wonder what is the reason behind it. I wanted to rise this topic now that Google has released its official API for Google Tasks.

I have been a big fan of task lists for a long time, since Palm Pilots. I always keep track of my work and personal tasks, classifying them in categories and assigning them priorities and due dates as well as alarms. I find them really useful so I do not forget important things, but also ideas and thoughts that come to my mind during the day. Even this first Palm organizers included a Task app with support for categories.

But for some reason tasks have been forgotten in the latest mobile devices. Starting with Apple's iOS. There is a Calendar, Address book and Note apps. But what about tasks? They are nowhere to be found. Not as a stand-alone app, not as part of the built-in Calendar app. However they are supported in Mac iCal app and even in MobileMe online service. Then, why they have left this out in their mobile devices. Same problem with Android phones, also with no tasks, and even with Windows Phone 7. Can anybody give an explanation why?

I know there are thousand task apps out there, but there is always issues to integrate them between mobile devices and desktop/laptops and different operative systems. But why not to support them natively like the calendar or address book.

And now Google has come out with the Tasks API. But it has been done leaving behind priorities, alarms and other small details. They are too basic. And they did not go for a standard solution like they did with calendars (CalDAV) when it comes to synching, even though the caldav standard also support tasks.

Trying to find a solution for this problem I have a reasonable solution that works for me.

  • For personal tasks the main pieces are: iCal for Mac, new Yahoo! Calendar online service and eTask iOS app. I have an account in the new Yahoo! Calendar that supports CalDAV standard for tasks and it's free of charge (MobileMe also supports it but is a paid service). In my Mac at home I use iCal where I have configured Yahoo! Calendar* as a CalDAV service. And in my iPhone I use eTask, probably one of the only (if not the only) task app that supports standard caldav task access among other services. Whenever I create a task in any of the three places, it is synched across all my devices. eTask also supports local notifications when you set up an alarm, and this alarm is also synched through the Yahoo! "cloud" to my Mac iCal, so I get notifications both in my iPhone/iPad and in my Mac at home. Really neat. The only issue pending here is a small bug in Yahoo! Calendar online service. If I mark a task as done in iCal, it will not be shown as completed in Yahoo! Calendar for some reason. In eTask it shows as completed, but not in Yahoo! Calendar. If I marked it as completed in eTask, it is marked as done everywhere. The only solution then is to delete completed tasks from iCal, so they will also be deleted in Yahoo! Calendar. Anyway, I do not us much the online access to Yahoo! Calendar, but I use it as a "bridge" between my Mac and my iPhone. 
* in Yahoo! Calendar you would need to create in the web interface a ToDo List from the + button on the right side of the todo lists before you start using it with iCal, as iCal do not cannot sync tasks with the default calendar, but only with the ToDo lists that you create

    • For work tasks it is another story. I used to have ToodledoSync software synching tasks from my Oultook to Toodledo online service and from there to my iPhone using again eTask (it supports several services simultaneously). But after my work laptop was updated to Windows 7, my firewall does not allow ToodledoSync to sync with Toodledo service due to some proxy blocking the connection, so this solution was broken. If my company used Exchange 2007, it would not be a problem because eTask also supports Exchange 2007 sync through the Outlook web access. But my company is still running Exchange 2003, so nothing I can do there. My only way to manage work tasks in my iPhone is to use TaskTask app that allows you synching through Outook web access with Exchange 2003.

    I am not so happy having to use two separate apps, one for personal and another for work tasks, but it is the only way right now. It was nice in the past when I could concentrate all my tasks on my iOS device with eTask. I just hope some other better solution will come later on.

    If you have any other solution that  works for you, do not hesitate to leave a comment!



    1. You are so right about the lack of native tasks apps.It boggles the mind why they don't have any? We my never know.

    2. You are right, Daniel, we might never know why this decision was taken after all :(

    3. Hi - any solutions for pc users with outlook but no access to exchange? i want something somewhat powerful with various recurring options, alerts, etc. i've been working with several apps and none of them seem to easily bring tasks from outlook (2003) to my itouch. any info would be appreciated

    4. Hi, a solution for your case is to use google tasks, for instance. You can use on the Outlook side GogTasks (http://www.gogtasks.com/google-tasks-outlook-sync.php) and on the iPhone/iPod/iPad side eTasks (http://sites.google.com/site/dfaworks/etask) or GoTasks (http://shurakov.name/gotasks) software. The only issue is that it is not so powerful as you mentioned. It is not perfect but not expensive either. There used to be ToodledoSync but it seem that it has been discontinued.

    5. Hi! Nowadays, the first Y! calendar is *also* a todo list: no need to create one.
      This is very interesting, because they both have the same name. (so I have a Personnal calendar and a Personnal todo list.)
      But it doesn't seem possible to create another calendar / tasks list. What is more, you can't name a tasks list like an existing calendar. (So I have a Home calendar and a Shopping list).