Pocket Informant – Calendars and Tasks for iOS
I have never been one to use calendar apps. It has mostly been an on off relationship that starts off with me saying I’m going to be organized and write down all my appointments, and ends up with me never writing down anything after a week. Todo apps have had much more consistent success with me, but still have never made their way into a truly permanent standing in my workflow. Lately I decided to restart using the app 2Do that I bought awhile ago. And when I saw fantastical for iOS go on sale the other week, it intrigued me as a possibility for a calendar app since its ability to create appointments in natural language (i.e. “Lunch with bob at noon on Tuesday”) seemed like it would make it easy enough to create appointments that I might actually start doing so. But then a family member of mine pointed out the app Pocket Informant, which he’s been using since the Palm Pilot days. Seeing that it was a free download to try it, I figured I’d give it a shot.
Soon after, the premium upgrade went on sale and I bought it. This post will talk about some of the features that pushed me over the edge and actually made it a viable calendar app for me to use.
Tasks are often associated with due dates anyways, so the fact that pocket informant allows you to show both events and tasks for any given day side-by-side is a big plus. In my case, I use 2Do for my task management, and this app lets me sync all my todos with iCloud reminders, which means it doesn’t matter if I add a task from 2Do or pocket Informant because it’ll show up everywhere anyways. And if you’re not into iCloud Reminders, Pocket Informant also supports syncing with ToodleDo.
That said, it’s not an issue for me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being able to see all my tasks and events for a day side-by-side without having to switch back and forth between apps to plan out my schedule.
One might expect a calendar app that integrates task management to have a pretty bare bones interface for seeing the tasks. Pocket Informant, however, has done a surprisingly great job of including useful features in its Tasks view.
For example, the task view includes filters for tasks based on due dates. This lets you see just tasks that are overdue, ones that are in progress, ones that are due either today or tomorrow, etc. Filters like this help you focus on just the tasks that you want to see instead of visually sorting through a long list of tasks to find the ones that are currently useful to you. One of these filters even lets you see your reminders that you’ve created in Evernote. (I talk more about the Evernote syncing feature later in the article.) I think this is wonderful because with syncing features like this, you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to put which reminder or what app you’ll use, because no matter where you put it, Pocket Informant will help you remember whatever it is you need to remember.
The tasks pane also sports an Inbox and supports projects, tags and contexts, features that all GTD lovers will certainly appreciate greatly. Coupled with the ability to sync with ToodleDo, even hardcore task management fanatics should be satisfied with Pocket Informant’s task management integration.
While there are certainly some cases where you’d want to switch over to your task manager program to manage your tasks, those cases are drastically reduced by Pocket Informant’s nice views and syncing abilities.
Evernote has been at the top of power-note-takers “favourite app” lists for quite some time now, if for no other reason than its ability to archive everything you need and give you the ability to search for it later. So Pocket Informant’s ability to add notes and sync them all to Evernote is likely something that many will like. Personally I haven’t yet found a useful way to include it in my day-to-day workflow, but I’m sure many will.
While not quite as extensive and interesting as the Tasks pane, the Notes pane has pretty much everything you could need to be able to manage your “Evernotes”. It allows you to browse through your notebooks, filter your notes based on their tags or whether or not they are starred as well as add voice memos.
Can you add and edit these notes from a decent editor interface directly in the app? Absolutely. I haven’t played around with it a ton yet, but in the few minutes I did, I didn’t feel constrained by its formatting abilities in the least. Pretty much any editing you could do to a note in Evernote, you could do from within Pocket Informant. The only feature I could ask for extra is that it support Markdown, but that issue lies just as much with Evernote as with Pocket Informant.
In addition to notes, Pocket Informant will also sync Evernote reminders, which to me is an absolutely great idea. The Evernote integration with this app has been very well executed in my opinion.
This is a very logical feature I have never seen in a calendar app before now (not that my experience with calendar apps is that extensive, but still). In the weekend month views, Pocket Informant features little weather icons for each day, and views for a single day show you the current temperature, high and low for the day. This feature definitely impressed me, especially since it’s inclusion in the Notification Center widget for iOS made it possible for me to replace the Today and Weather widgets I had there before since it filled their shoes and more.
Notification Center Widget
By default iOS has a notification center widget for Today, showing you your next appointment and telling you the current weather. It also has one for reminders and one for Tomorrow. Pocket Informant includes with the app a Notification center widget that combines all those things. More or less, it gives you the same features, but it takes up less screen space so I have more room for other widgets like Clips. Not a groundbreaking feature, but it’s useful nonetheless.
Creating and managing events
Any calendar app is only as good as its ability to visualize and manage events. So how does Pocket Informant measure up? Very well, and here’s why.
As far as seeing all your events, Pocket Informant gives us a few options, such as the standard month, day and week view. There are those people who like to see their day laid out as a list rather than a timeline; pocket informant won’t dissapoint either group.
The week view gives an option I’ve never seen before. There is of course the standard “column view” of your week, but it also gives a block display option which shows your days laid out as squares rather than columns.
some of these options may seem redundant to some, I know there are people that having the view they want will either make or break a calendar app for them. And to me, part of what makes Pocket Informant so great is how customizable it is.
When you’re a power user of either calendar or task management systems (or both), you can end up with an awful lot of data in your system, so an important feature of apps like this for me is how easy it is to whittle down what you’re seeing to be exactly what you need to see, otherwise your brain is having to do all the filtering and the app isn’t really saving you any time. One of the ways Pocket Informant lets you do this is with the Focus View.
The Focus View is a shortcut to a customizable Today / Tomorrow view. By default, it’s set to show you the weather, events and tasks for the day. It also will include the ETA for your next appointment if you have the location set for it. All of that is customizable in the settings though; for example, you can have the focus view only show you starred tasks, or include alarms or not show overdue tasks etc. It gives you quite a few options depending on what
you want to see in it. The star for me here is having it show me the weather, as I’ll discuss later in the article. But that feature isn’t limited to the Focus View either.
In addition to paring down what it shows you with the Focus View, Pocket Informant gives you an easy to access Filter button which is in the top left corner of any screen. The filter button does just what it says, filters out what it’s showing you in the calendar to just what you really need to see. And it gives you the ability to easily customize what that is. For example, I have it set to filter out my work calendar so I only see events not related to work, when I don’t want to be stressed out with what work-related things I have to do. Or you can have it show you just tasks with a certain tag, such as bills to only show you when your bills are due to be paid.
Really, there’s a plethora of possibilites, and the great thing is, you don’t have to just choose one. You can save your filters all separately and when you hit the filter button, it’ll show you the list of saved filters that you have, allowing you to pick from presets of what information you want to see. To me, it’s genius really.
One big factor that always kept me from using calendar apps is that I never actually wanted to go through the trouble of opening the app, creating the event, typing in what it was, selecting the time, setting an alarm for it (if needed) etc. Especially for things like location, which is a cool thing to have, but always required punching in the exact address for it to be any good, which was never something I wanted to do. It was just always more trouble than it seemed to be worth, so I never did it. But Pocket Informant added some features that both make it easier to create events, and give you little bonuses on how you can see them once they are created, and here are a few of them.
Natural Language Events
The great thing I love about Fantastical on desktop is that it lets me type in things like “Meeting from 7pm to 9 next tuesday” and have it fill in all the fields for me instead of me having to go specifically set the name, time and location of the event individually. Well, Pocket Informant lets you do that by swiping down with two fingers on the screen, and as you enter the information, it shows you how it’s interpreting it to make sure it’s getting it right. This is definitely one of the top three features that convinced me to get this app. Especially since I can use Drafts to enter the text, and send it to Pocket Informant, which will parse it and add the events.
Most calendar apps have the ability to set a repeat for an event that happens at a regular interval so you don’t have to punch in the same information every time you use it. But what about events that have common information, such as a time, or a name, or an alarm, but that don’t happen at regular intervals. You can’t set a repeat for those. That’s where event templates come in. So let’s say you often book time to go to the gym and you want to be reminded about it, but you can’t say you’ll for sure do it every 2 days. Pocket Informant will let you create a template with the name Gym, a little icon of a flexing arm, the location set to the address of you gym and a reminder set to remind you one hour before the event. And Pocket Informant will let you access it right from the same + sign that lets you create a normal event. So next time you say “I’m going to the gym tomorrow afternoon”, you can add an event, choose the gym template, set the time you want to go, and all the rest of the information is filled in for you. This has huge time saving potential.
And templates aren’t just limited to events, you can create templates for tasks too. Pretty sweet, huh? I thought so.
This is another example of how Pocket Informant has included intuitive features that you realize every calendar app should have once you see them. Typing in the location of an event was something I rarely did because it’d always take too much precision. But the first time I went I type in a location for an event in Pocket Informant, it came up with suggestions for the exact address of the place I was going, which makes it so I didn’t have to type out the whole thing on my iPhone keyboard. It’s a small feature, but it sure is handy.
Event and Calendar Icons
On an iPhone screen, there’s not always a ton of room to see what your events are, especially in month view. So one nice option it gives you when you create an event, is to assign it an emoji. So for example, every time enter a meeting as an event, I pick a briefcase emoji. It looks cool and helps me see my events more visually.
You may ask though, “Couldn’t I just add an emoji to the name of the event instead of having it as a separate field?” Yes, you could, but here’s where it gets cool. You can set icons for specific event tags or even for entire calendars. So when looking at your month view, you can tell what calendar your event is on just by looking at the icon.
One great example of how I use it is for shared calendars. I have a specific icon for events on my family’s shared calendar so I know if I see that icon, my whole family is seeing that event. But it really opens up quite a few possibilities to tweak it to how you like to visualize your calendar, instead of events being purely typographical.
All Things Said and Done
All in all, Pocket Informant is a great app. A lot of its power lies in how customizable it is, since it allows it to cater to pretty much anyone’s preferences. It syncs with more services than I’ve ever seen a calendar app sync with, which helps takes the focus off what app you use to add your reminders and events, and lets you see them regardless of what app you used. Which lets you get your notes, reminders and events out of your mind as fast as possible without having to worry about what app you need for it. And honestly, there are quite a few tidbits and features that I didn’t even talk about in this review.
The only thing is the price. In order to get the premium version, at the time of writing this review, you have to dish out $16.99. Not a small price. I happened to get it for $6 on a deal. But if you’re impressed enough to pay the price, it won’t disappoint you with its features. And I have yet to see another calendar app do what this one does.