Apps

Apple Alternatives: Things 3

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks road-testing Cultured Code’s task management app, Things 3, and I have to say I’m impressed!

Not everyone finds everything they need in Apple’s built-in Reminders app. While it’s great for things like shopping list and simple reminders, it doesn’t includes some basics that aficionados of task management apps look for: tags, for example.

I previously reviewed Todoist as a suitable alternative to Reminders and it’s an excellent app. Things 3 is similar on the surface, but seems to take a slightly different approach, which I’ll explore below.

The positives

I’m going to cover off the positives before the negatives and if you haven’t got much time available, I can tell you they outweigh the negatives significantly.

Firstly, the interface is gorgeous. The developers seem to really value an attractive interface with some delightful animation. It’s in no way distracting, but at the same time it’s noticeable.

Each app is designed with its platform in mind and you can tell. All three apps look great and seem like a great fit for their platform. Sometimes, it feels like apps have been shoehorned into a device without a lot of additional thought. I really, really love the Apple Watch app and find myself checking it a lot more than any other Apple Watch app!

It may seem like a minor point but Things 3 works wonderfully with Siri. You can dictate a task to Siri, who then puts it into the Reminder app and it’s brought into the Things 3 inbox. No need to create automations or hacks, it just works.

From an organisation point of view, Things takes a firm line. It has Areas, Projects and Tasks. Tasks are part of projects, which are organised under areas. I use it to organise life areas (e.g. work, personal, wellbeing, household) and then specific projects under there, when necessary. I think this works well, because some aspects of our lives are never ‘completed’. They’re more like an ongoing area of focus and Cultured Code have decided it’s how to organise their app.

Each task can have a checklist, which is great for breaking up a complex task into some easier-to-chew pieces. Each task can have notes, which look absolutely gorgeous. Something I find particularly useful is that tasks can have a start date and a deadline. The former is ‘I’d like to start working on this then’ and the latter is ‘This is the drop dead date for this’. Lots of complex work suits this approach and I’ve been using it liberally to make sense of my workload.

As the screenshot of the Things 3 page indicates, you can also divide up a project with Sections. This can bring some real clarity to a complex or long project.

The built-in ‘Today’ view may take some getting used to. It consists of all the tasks you said you wanted to start/finish today and you can either organise this list by project, or have a simple list of tasks. This list is then manually sortable, so you can drag the tasks into an order that suits you. You can also filter this view by any of the tags you’ve used.

As you review your Today list, you can then select some tasks that you know you’re going to do that evening and mark them as such. They’re then removed from the main list and gathered to the bottom of ‘Today’. This is a great way of tidying up your list and only seeing tasks that you can do here and now.

The negatives

There’s no getting away from the first challenge here and it’s price. I often feel software develops are unfairly pilloried for pricing their apps too high. If you get value from an app, if it makes a material difference to your life, why wouldn’t you invest in it?

But even among the task management apps, Things 3 is a bit of an outlier. You need to pay separately for the iOS, iPadOS and macOS apps. And if you do, you end up shelling out about £80, a not insignificant sum. Yes, you can trial the macOS app for free for a couple of weeks, but the others are a bit of a leap of faith!

This can be really off-putting for some people, but having invested in all three, I look at it from a cost-per-use perspective. £80 across a year works out at about £0.22 per day.

For people working across platforms, Things is almost a no-go. It’s Apple-only, without even a browser version available. It doesn’t sound like Cultured Code are going to deviate from this plan, either. So if you need to access your tasks and projects on an Android phone or a Windows work computer, this is not going to be the app for you.

Culture Code do update their app, but a constant criticism I’ve noticed online is the pace of development. It seems like they do a Big Bang update every few years, rather than lots of lots of updates. Some people might see this as a negative – but I take the view that if the app has the functionality I need, there’s no sense in moaning about what it doesn’t have…yet.

While you can add emoji to tasks and project names, you can’t colour code anything. Many people use colours to delineate areas of of their life, so this could be a drawback for some. I used colours as a Todoist user, but after a couple of weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the slightly calmer and more minimalist Things 3 interface.

There’s no API for developers either, which means it’s not as connected an app as say, Todoist. You probably won’t find Things listed on any automation systems like IFTTT, for example. Unlike many other similar apps, you can’t share projects with fellow users. This is an app for individuals only. You can export into a PDF and send it to a colleague, of course – but this is an incredibly clunky approach.

Finally, unlike several of the competing apps, there’s no ability to organise your tasks into a Kanban view.

What next?

Honestly, I’m planning to stick with Things 3 for the next few weeks. Its simplicity is so attractive and the Apple Watch app is a delight. I’m still adjusting to some of the Things-specific functionality, but that’s what happens when you switch an app you use every day.

And of course, your mileage may vary. Perhaps Apple’s Reminders app is all you need and you can safely disregard everything I’ve just written!

5 comments on “Apple Alternatives: Things 3

  1. Good write-up. I’ver never tried Things3. The UI does look superb. I’m guessing it uses iCloud to sync and backup, or is there another option?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: My Productive iPad – ThatAppleFanboy.com

  3. ethnicolor

    I think I’ve said before that Things finally pulled me in, as I don’t use it at work, just for personal and domestic projects. I remember the original Things for macOS, and CC have kept true to the design after all these years. I used OmniFocus for the longest time, but as you know I’m a sucker for beautiful things, and Things 3 is a beautiful app, hands down. I do agree with those negative points you’ve mentioned, but that said I’ve been using Things 3 all day every day for a couple of years now, and that ‘cost per usage’ keeps going down, therefore. If CC switched to a subscription-and-more-frequent-incremental-updates model, I’d switch with them, in fact, I think I’d prefer it.

    Liked by 1 person

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