The uptick in public interest in “minimalist to-do apps” baffles me. It started with Clear (for iPhone) (99 cents, 2 stars), an app that offered a lovely interactive design, but failed completely at its one primary job of being an efficient to-do list. The iPhone app Carrot (99 cents) takes another stab at minimalist task mastering with an interactive twist by anthropomorphizing the app—and comes up similarly short. It’s better than Clear, in my opinion, and more interesting, too, because it fully engages the user through human-computer dialogues. But it isn’t an effective to-do list app.
Dangling the Carrot
Carrot, also known as “The To-Do List with a Personality,” opens with a few quick tutorial pages that explain how the app works. You start by writing your to-do items on a fairly blank page (there’s a header at the top). Drag down the screen to start a new entry. Hit “done” for the task to appear on your list. Swipe from left to right on any task to mark it as completed, and swipe right to left to reveal a menu. And that’s it.
So far, Carrot probably sounds unreasonably simplistic, and it is. More functionality reveals itself as you use the app, but only after you earn it by ticking off your to-dos. For example, you should be able to reorder your tasks, right? You can, but only after you’ve completed a few of the things you’ve written down. It’s one of the first features you’ll unlock. If you think all task mastering apps should have a badge on its homescreen icon showing the number of outstanding items on your list, I’d agree—and so does Carrot, but only after you’ve unlocked three other features first.
Because of the way the app works, Carrot epitomizes the law of unintended consequences. To earn the additional functionality, you have to earn points, and the only way to earn points is by ticking off to-dos. You don’t earn points for rearranging the items, revising them, or say, opening the app several times in a day. So, once you figure out this barrier, it’s tempting to create meaningless to-dos just to tick them off just to earn the additional functionality… which is a big waste of time.
In using Carrot and unlocking the additional features, I’ll admit that it’s a cute gambit. The app responds as you use it, asking you to solve puzzles, or just praising you for getting your tasks done—see the slideshow for examples. It can be fun and interactively engaging, but it’s not very utilitarian.
There are deadlines to set, no calendar view, no visual way to see priority among your tasks other than the stacked order. It doesn’t have the ability to set a reminder on an upcoming task, and you can’t take something from the “completed” section and move it back to the to-do list, a feature that I absolutely need because I make a lot of mistakes.
In testing, the app was also buggy. The gesture of swiping from right to left to reveal the menu occasionally just didn’t work. Plus, that gesture only works from the main task screen. When I was in other screens, like one that explained a newly unlocked feature, I expected to be able to return to the menu, but couldn’t. Instead, there’s an X at the top to click to close the current screen. The inconsistency is annoying.
Carrot has some interesting ideas going for it in terms of design and interaction, but it isn’t a to-do list app I can recommend for anyone who genuinely wants to create better to-do lists. PCMag’s Editors’ Choice for to-do apps on the iPhone is Awesome Note (+To-do/Calendar) ($3.99, 4 stars), and it’s the one I recommend to most people. Another good alternative is Todoist (free, 3.5 stars), which syncs to a Web-based version as well for those who like to see and interact with their task list from a full-sized screen and not just on a smartphone. If you’re looking for a to-do list that supports some level of collaboration, try Asana (free for up to 30 people, 4 stars)
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc