Taking the iPhone to task

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Elsewhere on the site, we tried to whet your appetite for this week's iPhone event at Apple headquarters by preparing a wish-list of native iPhone apps we hope to see once developers get their hands on the Software Development Kit Apple is likely to unleash Thursday.

As these sorts of things often do, the article sparked a deluge of comments about programs that we left off the list. “What about a financial program?” “We want iWork!” “How ever will I find a way to keep track of my horse-and-buggy’s mileage?” Everyone's got their personal favorites, it seems.

That said, there was one prominent omission from our list: a task manager/to-do list application. I know what readers were thinking: “Those editors…they probably don’t even manage tasks.” Au contraire, my friend. We're task-managing fools here at Macworld. In fact, we did have “task manager” on our list, but, er, it got lost in the shuffle.

Personally, I blame the lack of task-managing apps on the iPhone for the omission.

iPhone users, including us, have long wondered about the lack of to-do list support. Given that we do get syncing with iCal for appointments and events, it seems strange that our to-do lists vanish into the ether. While a number of to-do list web apps and native programs for jailbroken iPhones have sprung up to plug this hole—some of them quite good—there’s no substitute for a real, official native app.

As with many of the other applications we mentioned, the major advantage to a native version is that it wouldn’t have to rely on network connectivity. If you’re on a plane, for example, you could still review your tasks or add new ones. And there are plenty of benefits for when you do have access to the Internet too: for example, you it’d be great if you could share tasks with family or co-workers, either via e-mail, or just by sending it to your .Mac account.

Most important, we’d hope to see syncing with iCal. It's a pain in the neck to spend your time managing and reconciling items from multiple to-do list applications. Leopard’s Calendar Store framework ought to make this accessible for third-party developers, but it may depend on whether the SDK provides a method for syncing additional data via iTunes. Leaving this to third-party developers likely ups the chances that we’ll see syncing with other popular task-management programs like Microsoft Entourage.

And, of course, it’d be great if a task management app would let us assign alarms, due-dates, link to additional information in notes (either the iPhone’s own or elsewhere) and e-mails, support multiple categories, and so on.

The good news is that third-party developers have heard our cries (even when we omit them from articles). Among the responses to our original wish-list was one from Omni Group CEO Ken Case saying that the company is indeed working on a mobile version of its task-management app, OmniFocus, that would sync with the desktop application.

But at the start, anyway, we’d mostly be happy just to have a simple and easy way to keep track of all the important things we need to do on a daily basis—pick up the dry cleaning, wash the cat, crush your friends at Halo—without having to resort to that oh-so-20th century pen-and-paper method. After all, we are talking about the most advanced, capable, and intelligent pocket-sized device in the world: it ought to be able to handle a check list.

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