When it Comes to Apps, Less is Often More

  Anyone entering the modern workforce is invariably transformed into the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, eyes glued to the clock and forever without…

Anyone entering the modern workforce is invariably transformed into the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, eyes glued to the clock and forever without enough time. Productivity is an overused buzzword, but that doesn’t take away from its importance. A look at the App Store, which provides productivity apps their own section, reveals hundreds of programs that aim to manage your life with countless lists and reminders. 30/30, a time management app and Gizmodo’s App of the Day for June 11, is the latest newcomer to the fold. But where other apps advertise extensive features, the beauty of 30/30 lies in its simplistic yet welcoming interface.

Color, not Clutter

Apple already supplies built-in apps that adequately take care of any time management needs. The basic iPhone Clock includes an alarm, stopwatch and timer, while Reminders includes to-do lists. 30/30 only lets you set up a list of tasks, with a different length of time for each one, and then countdown to completion. With all this functionality already available, 30/30 is seemingly obsolete from launch. But the strength of 30/30 is that rather than being seen as feature-poor, it is seen as removing clutter, leaving you to focus single-mindedly on the task ahead.

30/30 also has an intuitive user interface. The dull greys of Clock are replaced with colorfully spartan tabs than can be viewed horizontally (a feature Clock lacks). Almost all the interaction is gesture based. Swiping a task sideways removes it while new tasks are simply pinched open into existence. Tasks also have individual icons that represent upcoming jobs at a glance, with symbols ranging from ‘go on Facebook’ and ‘write an email’ to ‘practice instrument’ and ‘take care of dog.’ Not everything runs smoothly; there is currently a glitch where if you delete a task before its completion, the task below it will adopt the same time constraint. Future updates will hopefully remedy this error.

Deus Ex Design

Bugs aside, 30/30 is representative of a trend in app design: take a functional already-released product and slim it down. You don’t need a brand new idea, and you don’t have to be the first to market to be successful. This article from the Harvard Business Review argues that imitation is more valuable than innovation. That’s not quite true; the best companies many imitate, yes, but they succeed when they then innovate off their imitation. Binary Hammer, the creator of 30/30, stripped the idea of a time manager to its core and added an elegantly simple interface.

Many other apps have succeeded with a minimalist design. Tasks is a simple to-do list and scheduler app. Clear takes it one step further, focusing only on list-making and gesture controls. Byword is a writing app that syncs to cloud storage; Pop limits you to a white background and a keyboard. Perhaps the most extreme example is the aptly named Minimalist Timer, which is just a dial and timer. All of these apps gained users by offering less than the competition, but offering it in a different way. Did they have revolutionary ideas? No. But they all made products that are a pleasure to use, rather than a chore. Binary Hammer has realized the latest truth of mobile app development: slimmer substance need not sacrifice style.

Images courtesy of AppAdvice, Binary Hammer and Clomputing.

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