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Wunderlist Review

Wunderlist icon

Wunderlist application icon for Mac OS

Wunderlist is a free todo list application – or suite of applications – which launched recently for Mac OS, Windows, iPhone, iPad, and Android. They also provide a very nice web client client.

The A-Number-1-killer feature is free cloud syncing between all versions. This means you can install Wunderlist on your Mac at home, your PC at work, and on your smartphone and manage the same todo lists from everywhere.

Real world weekend usage

I used Wunderlist over the weekend to get the chores done. I used the iPhone and Mac desktop version. I loaded the iPad version just for reference but didn’t have a real occasion to use it.

As I said above, the killer feature is syncing between all devices. I wrote up a quick todo list on my computer, picked up my phone, launched the app, and there was my todo list. Throughout the day I checked items off the list, and added new items. There’s nothing to complain about or to write home about here. Checking items off your list works as you’d expect. No surprises, good or bad.

Wunderlist Desktop

Wunderlist Desktop for Mac

All versions of the app use a very similar user interface so there’s really no learning curve. The app is geared towards simplicity. Each todo item can have a task label, a priority marker (e.g. flagged as important), a due date, and notes. Wunderlist focuses on simplicity and not features or robust editing. Notes are only visible through a secondary interface – I think this intentional. If your todo list relies on items with lot of detailed notes perhaps you need to rethink the items in your todo list. Wunderlist encourages users to think in small discreet tasks and not in big long paragraphs. If you’re a hard-core GTD person, you might find this very appealing. I prefer a bit more flexibility.

Wunderlist has quick-access date based filters arranged in a sort of tab bar along the bottom of the interface. You can quickly select overdue items, items due today, and so on with these filters. Things does something similar. Things additionally features a clickable list of “tags” on top of the task list. This enables marking related tasks with the same tag for more organization. For example you can tag all of your phone call tasks “phone”. When you sit down to make all of your phone calls, click the ‘phone’ tag and see only tasks related to phone calls. Wunderlist has no meta-organziation features like tags or categories. I’m not sure that this is a drawback. Sometimes limitations can help focus. If you are disorganized and trying to be organized, less features may be better.

Wunderlist has the ability to share task lists via email. The desktop version creates a plain-text email. The iPhone and iPad version sends an sign-up invitation if the email address you specified wasn’t in your contact list. The desktop version of Wunderlist will also publish a list to something called “CloudApp”. CloudApp is apparently an HTML version of your list on a web page that can’t be edited. It also gets deleted after 30 days.

Miles and miles of styles

The buzz surrounding Wunderlist has included much praise for its user interface design. I think this is misplaced.

iPhone lists view

iPhone lists view

Wunderlist looks great. The application interface is beautifully styled but the interface design itself is not revolutionary or even remarkable. It’s a todo list. There’s a list of lists (like a list of mailboxes in your email) and your current todo list. This isn’t innovative, it’s obvious.

The user interface isn’t bad – it’s just OK. The application’s styling is very appealing though. For example, you can choose different background images for your window. The default is a hardwood floor pattern, but there’s a dozen to choose from. This doesn’t help you edit tasks in any way, and your background setting isn’t synced from device to device, but personalization is fun and it’s a nice feature.

iPad interface, in handsome wood grain

iPad interface, in handsome wood grain

Portrait view of list, in stunning slate

Portrait view of list, in stunning slate

Things and Omnifocus outshine Wunderlist in terms of utility, speed of data entry, and task management. Of course these apps aren’t free.

Flaws and minor issues

Wunderlist is very new software, so some or all of these items may be fixed rapidly.

After a few uses on my iPhone, Wunderlist bugged me to rate the app in the app store. That’s obnoxious.

There is no way to select or edit multiple todo items in a list. Let’s say you’ve made a long todo list for the day and suddenly your plans have changed. You can’t just clear out your todo list, you have to delete or check off each individual item.

The web version of the application allows you to login with Facebook or an email address. If you first create an account with your email address (and this email is known by your Facebook account) you can bind the two together and login with Facebook while using the web version.

The wonky About Us menu

The wonky About Us menu

If you create an account with Facebook alone you will not be able to login to the iPhone, iPad, or desktop version. (I was not able to test an Android device or on Windows). In order to login with this account without Facebook access, you have to have to request a new password. At this point logging in with Facebook is useless. Facebook provides tools for mobile developers to login via Facebook connect, so it’s odd they’ve included the feature on the web version and nowhere else.

There is plenty of online documentation for Wunderlist – but it’s accessible through the ‘About Us’ menu instead of the main help menu. If you choose ‘Help’ you get no help at all.

No help for you

No help for you

Syncing is sometimes flakey. The iPhone version of the application uses the ‘pull down to refresh’ trick popularized by Tweetie – but it’s not obvious at all. Adding to the confusion, the main view of all your lists has a manual refresh/sync button – but there is no such button when viewing a list. When reopening the app on my iPhone, on a list detail view, the list does not seem to automatically refresh even though the network indicator is spinning. A manual refresh does work however.

The verdict

The todo list operations of the various Wunderlist apps work well enough. The only thing that makes this app really worthwhile is syncing between multiple devices, computers and the web.

Wunderlist is very handsome but its lack of features prevents it from being very useful – at least for me. This app is just a glorified grocery list and I already have Evernote on my desktop, phone, and the web.

I may keep Wunderlist around for quick and easy grocery lists and the like, but I don’t see using it full time for task management. After my weekend of deliberate experimentation I forgot I had it installed.

However it is useful for quick, small todo lists – and if your needs are simple Wunderlist may be perfect.

Obvious comparisons

Speaking of Evernote, it’s hard not to make compare Wunderlist and Evernote. Evernote has the same critical features: Device to web syncing and multiple device support (plus web). Evernote is focused on “notes” – which of course can be anything. Todo lists, archived web pages, documents, voice memos, actual ‘notes’, whatever.. The robustness of Evernote lends itself to all manner of uses. Their developer API also makes it a robust platform that supports other applications.

Evernote’s style leaves something to be desired (I would argue Evernote for iPad is better designed than their desktop client or iPhone client)

What’s their angle?

I decided to try out Wunderlist due to buzz on the internets. After discovering that Wunderlist and the syncing services were all free I got a little suspicious. Evernote has a free version – it is ad supported on the desktop and places some monthly limits on usage. The paid version has no ads and no limitations. This is a clear business model. What are they doing with Wunderlist?

It’s an advertisement

Wunderlist is produced by 6wunderkinder. This shop recently received venture capital funding and needed a way to make a big splash and draw attention to their work.

Wunderlist is an advertisement of their capabilities, their style, and a good excuse to attract people to their website where they drop hints about an upcoming productivity suite.

As an application Wunderlist is OK but not stellar. It’s a fantastic business card.

The technology

Wunderlist is developed for many platforms through the use of Appcelerator Titanium. Titanium is a cross platform application development suite which targets mobile (iOS and Android) and desktop (Mac OS and Windows).

For iOS and Android Titanium cross compiles JavaScript to native code for use on each platform. Titanium provides global JavaScript objects (like the document object when in a browser) which translate to native UI widgets and features. So if I specify a Titanium.UI.TextField in my JavaScript to create a text field, Titanium will compile that down to an intermediate format and then cross compile that to a format suitable for the device you want to run your code on.

This is a pretty impressive technical feat. The end result wouldn’t be appropriate for something like a high performance game, but is probably fine for many business type applications (and todo lists).

On the desktop Titanium does something a little different. The desktop version of Wunderlist is basically a tiny website running inside a little box. This box has a little tiny version of a browser (WebKit in Safari and Chrome) and a
few extra goodies. This is why the web version of Wunderlist and the desktop version of Wunderlist look identical. They are.