Saturday, October 11, 2008

Apple's Task Fiasco: iCal, and the iPhone. It's got to be Jobs fault.

Back when I was patiently waiting for 10.5 to go from moderate disaster to worthwhile, I noted some curious behavior of Tasks in 10.5: What is a task and a note - OS X iCal/Mail/Gmail vs. Outlook vs. Claris Organizer.

From what I read then it semed 10.5 was following an unusual Tasks/Notes behaviors last seen in Claris Organizer (later Palm Desktop), and that was becoming a PIM without a Calendar.

Which is kind of weird, but I figured it would all make sense when I got 10.5.


First, a digression.

Millions of people use OS X. Lots of well regarded bloggers write about OS X. So how come I'm the only one to get worked up over Apple's astoundingly screwed up approach to Tasks? I mean, I Google to see if anyone else has noticed the problem and I come up with my own comments from before I had 10.5?!

Shades of the Truman Show.

Ok, back to the post.

I think there are still a few deluded people who think Apple is uniformly excellent.

I can cure them of that. Try this experiment with the very latest version of OS X 10.5.5.
  1. Create a task A in Notice that you cannot add a Note to it. Your "task" is a one liner.
  2. Create a note B in Notice that you can "promote" it to a Task ("C"). You will now have a Task C with a Note B [1]
  3. Switch to Look at Task C from Step 2. It doesn't have a Note in iCal. Add a note "D" in iCal to Task C.
  4. Switch back to You will see Task C with Note B, but you will not see Note D. If you hold your mouse over the task long enough you'll see a read-only view of the iCal Note.
  5. Paste plain text into a Note. Observe the formatting -- particularly the multiple lines between paragraphs.
So both iCal and have their own Task model, with some sort of synchronization of the titles but not the notes. iCal and each have their own peculiar implementation of a Note associated with a Task.

I can't recall a comparable design screw-up in 20 years of lots of OSs and platforms.

So how did Apple botch this so badly, and how is this connected to the curious absence of tasks on the iPhone?

Here's my best guess. I don't usually pin Apple's glories or sins on Steve Jobs, but I'll make an exception this time. This has to be his fault.

This smells like a nasty collision between two powerful design teams, neither willing to compromise. When Jobs cares about something, he does seem to resolve these collisions. Obviously he didn't.

Jobs loves the iPhone. It has no tasks. That's another clue.

My guess is that Steve Jobs hates Task lists. He probably has some sort of trick memory and doesn't need them. Maybe it's his rebellion against the left brained world.

We aren't going to see Apple Tasks on the iPhone, or Tasks working on the desktop, until Jobs moves on from Apple.

In the meantime, I suggest
  1. Pretend does not have tasks.
  2. Do not use the feature that allows one to create a task linked to an email
  3. Do not create a task from a note in
  4. Do feel free to use Notes in if you can imagine any use to them.
If you've read this far, please submit feedback to Apple.
Maybe something like this:
Currently Mail and iCal both have a form of "Task" or "To Do" item, but they have different behaviors and Task notes are not shared. So a Task Note created in Mail cannot be read in iCal and vice-versa.

This is not what we expect from Apple. It is embarrassing.

Please integrate Tasks between iCal and Mail. Tasks should have identical attributes, features and Notes in both applications, and should sync with MobileMe and the iPhone.
PS. You can't delete tasks, you can only complete them. Sigh.

Update: I found someone else who thinks Apple's implementation is cracked, but I don't think he got as far as sorting out the whacky Notes behavior.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you.
I posted here too :

Jay Parkhill said...

I'm glad I found your post before I started using To-Do heavily. It seems like a real afterthought.

One of the only things I like about Outlook is how well it manages tasks, puts them in a pane on the main view, lets me pull up an actual calendar to assign due dates instead of open my calender elsewhere to find the right date.

To-do and Notes need work, no question.

kened said...

i couldn't agree more. it's a mess. and the inability to sync tasks lists between my mac and my iPod Touch is pathetic. does anyone think this might change with iPhone OS 3?