TaskPaper for IPhone

For the past year, my biggest complaint about TaskPaper for Mac was that Hog Bay Software didn't have an iPhone version. The developer has finally taken care of that criticism with TaskPaper for iPhone. Like its desktop counterpart, the iPhone version is a solid task-management app that forgoes complex features in favor of an elegant, but surprisingly capable, interface that can handle much more than to-do lists.

What makes TaskPaper unique is that instead of strictly formatted to-do lists, TaskPaper uses free-form documents with a few easy-to-remember text conventions. Within each document, you can have projects (separate lists or sections), tasks (items in a project), and notes (text notes within a project). Tap the Add (+) button (or tap return if you're already editing) to add a new item; tap return before entering text to choose whether the new item is a project, task, or note. Formatting is handled automatically: project names are in larger, bold type; notes appear in gray type; and starting an item with a space indents the entire item, adding a bullet for tasks. I love how easy it is to quickly add content and structure to a document.

This simple approach to formatting has a number of other advantages, as well. For one, the lack of a particular "checklist" interface means you can use TaskPaper documents for everything from to-do lists to project outlines to lecture notes to brainstorming summaries--if your content can be represented in a list or an outline, TaskPaper can handle it.

The other big advantage is that this simplicity is reflected "under the hood": TaskPaper documents are simply plain-text documents. In any of those documents, a line ending with a colon is a project header; a line beginning with a tab and a dash ( -) is a task; a line beginning with a tab without a dash is a note. Together with the sync feature (see below), this means that while you can create TaskPaper documents using the Mac or iPhone version of TaskPaper, you can also create and edit compatible documents using any text editor--or even right in your Web browser--and then sync those documents to the iPhone app. Open such a file in TaskPaper on the Mac or iPhone, and it magically becomes a formatted TaskPaper document.

But just because this formatting scheme is simple doesn't mean TaskPaper is feature-limited. It's easy to find and view only a particular project, hiding others; to move items without having to enter a special Edit mode; and even to select multiple items for action.

You can also tag any document, project, task, or note by simply adding @tagname anywhere within the item. For example, you could use @today to tag tasks you want to complete today, @work for work-related tasks, and @personal for personal items. (There's also a Tag With menu command.) In fact, when you mark an item as done, what really happens is TaskPaper tags that item with the @done tag. You can then filter your view to show only items with a particular tag.

A handy search command lets you search the text of your lists or for items with particular tags. You can also perform complex searches; for example, the query project Inbox and not @done and (@priority > 1 or @today) will find all items in the Inbox list/project that aren't tagged as @done and that are either due @today or have a priority greater than 1. (This example is taken from TaskPaper's Help, which provides more details on the search query.)

After only a day or so using TaskPaper, creating and navigating documents feels quite natural; you quickly get the hang of the app's approach to formatting and the tag and filtering features.

Oh, and how do you mark an item as "done"? Instead of checking a box, you swipe to the right, which changes the item's formatting to strikethrough; to delete an item completely, you swipe to the left and then tap the Delete button. (Yes, that's iPhone-backwards; I would have preferred if the delete action was consistent with other iPhone apps.)

Of course, for many people, TaskPaper's standout feature will be the fact that the iPhone app syncs with the Mac version (or with whichever text editor you prefer to use on your Mac) using Hog Bay's Google ID-based SimpleText.ws sync service. After downloading and installing the SimpleText for Mac client, any TaskPaper documents you place in the SimpleText folder on your Mac are synced to TaskPaper on your iPhone, and vice versa. You can also create and edit your TaskPaper text files on the SimpleText Website, which even provides a rudimentary versioning system. When using SimpleText sync, just be sure not to edit the same document on your iPhone and Mac simultaneously. (Sorry, Windows users, there's no Windows client; your only option is to create and edit documents on the Web site.)

Another appealing feature is support for the TextExpander text-expansion app from within TaskPaper. You can also configure TaskPaper so that a password is required to view or edit any lists, you can lock screen orientation, and you can share your TaskPaper documents over a local network using a built-in Web server

On the other hand, TaskPaper doesn't support undo (shaking or otherwise), and many useful features aren't obvious; for example, there are a number of commands hidden in a menu that appears when you tap on a document's title--an interface element I've never before seen in an iPhone app.

TaskPaper doesn't provide the kind of advanced scheduling and task-management features you'll find in an app such as Things. But for many types of lists, as well as for creating outlines and taking notes, there's a lot to like here. In fact, it's one of the few text-entry-based apps I regularly found myself wanting to use more often...if only, ahem, the iPhone supported a Bluetooth keyboard. I can't wait for an iPad version.

[Senior editor Dan Frakes reviews low-cost Mac software in the Mac Gems blog.]

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