Things and Cloud Sync

Today, Cultured Code has shipped versions 2.0 of their Mac and iOS apps as well as their Cloud Sync. I bet even the team at Cultured Code would agree when I say, finally.

It has been 20 months since they first began talking publicly about over-the-air cloud syncing of the Things application suite and 6 months since they kicked off the public beta of their syncing engine. And Jürgen’s blog post from December 2010 starts by saying that it had already been two years since the Cultured Code team had first begun thinking about bringing cloud sync to the Things suite of apps. Which means that from the first internal talks at Cultured Code’s offices to the public release of their syncing service nearly 4 years have passed.

There is no arguing that over-the-air sync for Things has been a long time coming. Jürgen himself quotes a user who called the speed of their progress “glacial.”

When their Cloud Sync transitioned from private to public beta earlier this year, 35,000 people were already signed up and waiting for it. I too installed the beta apps and ran an AppleScript to port all of my to-do items and projects out of OmniFocus and into Things. I then spent the next few weeks using the beta version of Things and Cloud Sync.

After backing up my OmniFocus database, I ported all my currently-non-completed tasks (about 275 active to-do items) into Things on the Mac. I then launched Things on my iPad and set it up to sync. It downloaded the whole library of tasks and was set up and running in 10 seconds.

I also like how Things triggers its sync events. Basically, any time you do anything, the app syncs. The Cloud Sync is fast, impressive, and feels extremely reliable. I also like how they handle sync conflicts.

In my review of Things over three years ago, I wrote:

Each of us has our own way of dealing with responsibility and our own expression of productivity. Tinkering and then switching is usually not the fault of the software. We’re not looking for the best app, but rather the best app for us.

Things held my to-do list for two years before I switched to OmniFocus, and I have now been using the latter for two years.

I have a lot of respect for both of these apps. Though they are similar in some regards, they are also quite different. In a nut, OmniFocus is extremely powerful and can bend your to-do list five ways from Sunday to show you precisely what you need to do.

In contrast, Things’s task-bending power ends after the ability to assign a due date and a project to your task. But, that “limitation” is by design. Things stands as a premier example of an app which handles well the balance between ease-of-use and depth-of-features.

Among my friends who use Things, I know they love it because of its simplicity, its clean design, and its low learning curve. For many people simpler is better, and an app that is less powerful is more desirable. Even for myself, in most cases, this is how I feel towards apps — I very much prefer simpler apps. But not in the case of OmniFocus.

What I love about the power and flexibility of OmniFocus is that I trust it completely with my to-do items. I trust that a task I put into OmniFocus will come and find me when it is time to be completed. Not to mention OmniFocus on the iPad is one of my favorite apps of all time. I don’t know how I could ever give it up.

What I love about Things is its clean design and now its fast syncing engine. I find Things on iOS to be noticeably quicker at syncing on start. Unfortunately, in my past experience using Things, I often felt that I needed to babysit my entire to-do list for fear of something falling through the cracks. However, with the new daily review feature, this may no longer be the case.

Only the team at Cultured Code knows why it took several years to ship their Cloud Sync and updates to their apps. Did they really need all that time to build their syncing engine? I don’t know; and without all the facts I refuse to criticize them for it. But what I do know is that the end product — what they have shipped today — is extremely fast and reliable. The updates to the apps, the new look of their website, the way Cloud Sync works, all of it is very well polished. Cultured Code should be proud of their finished work.

In an interview on Technology Review, Drew Houston of Dropbox said that excellence is the sum of 1,000 little details. While Cultured Code’s suite of apps has been slow to adapt features in some areas, what they have shipped so far is certainly not lacking on excellence and attention to detail. I hope today’s updates lay a foundation for the future of Things to be a bright one filled with details of excellence.

Things and Cloud Sync