updated 05:31 am EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
New version offers integrated, synced one-stop PIM shop
Some users need a lot more than just what Apple's built-in Calendar, Notes and Reminders can offer in terms of organizing their life, and for them the term PIM (Personal Information Manager) becomes a familiar one. We've had a chance to work with the recent 4.0 major update of long-time PIM Pocket Informant, and have really appreciated the changes and the versatility of the app. Users looking for a one-stop app that syncs with popular calendar and related services, this just might be your Nirvana.
Month view on an iPhone 5s
The biggest problem with trying to integrate so many services (and Pocket Informant, or PI, has more than what we've already mentioned) into an app that's meant to run on an iPhone is the inevitable issue of screen crowding. PI offers a month, week, day and list view along the top bar to help make things more manageable, but its true that a very busy month view looks crowded. Tapping on a particular day jumps into a list of just that day's activities, however, and we found this very manageable.
Version 4.0 is a huge revamp even over previous versions. We loved the very clear and respectful way that PI asks your permission to access some services. It explains simply why it wants access to things like Contacts (which isn't immediately obvious in a "calendaring" program), Location Services, your Calendar and Reminders (the last two much more obvious), and reassures users that (unlike some other PIMs and "all-in-one" calendar programs out there) the data that is being accessed is not sent to any server and stays on the local device.
Calendar access during setup
The bottom bar also provides other view options, such as Today, just tasks/reminders, just notes, contacts (brought seamlessly over from Contacts with permission of the user), and then Time Zones (more about that later), settings, sync and help (rather than overcrowding the bottom bar, PI makes it swipe-able). The iPad version has the screen space to allow two "views" onscreen at the same time if desired, and can keep all the views icons onscreen at the same time, which makes the monthly calendar view much easier on the eyes.
Pocket Informant syncs with Apple's Calendar through iCloud (also handles Reminders the same way), Google Calendar (and Tasks), Evernote, Toodledo and any service that can use CalDAV -- all at the same time, if desired. Changes made on either Calendar on my Mac or on the iPad were both instantly and silently updated just as if PI was a native iCloud client (there is a "sync" button for systems that require manual updating).
We've been using the Premium version in order to test all the features. The more limited free version (which works with both iPads and iPhones) may be more than enough for users who just want a bit of a step up from the world of separate to-do, notes, and calendaring apps, but the $15 in-app purchase of Premium gives power users every feature they'd need and then some. For those on both iOS and Android devices or who don't want to use other sync services (since you can buy Pocket Informant for Android as well), the company also offers its own in-house Informant Sync cloud service. It costs either $5 per month, or $15 for a year (the latter being an extremely fair price in our view) to keep things synchronized across platforms.
Drilling into event details is still easy to read
Talking of syncing brings us to the only real elephant in the room: there's no Mac version of Pocket Informant (yet). The company is working on it, but the first version may not have all the features of the years-in-development current mobile versions on day one, so the company is thinking about an "Early Access" program with the core features at a discounted price until the caught-up-to-mobile-version can be completed, but hasn't yet decided on that course for certain. For the time being, the iCloud and Google Calendar sync working as smoothly as it does makes this less of an issue, since we can use those desktop or web clients to make updates on a big screen if we want -- but frankly, a lot of power-users of calendaring programs "live" on their mobile devices -- or will once they start using PI.
Speaking of updates, users might think creating new appointments on an iPhone would be a chore -- but once again PI exceeds expectations. We found a very FantasiCal-esque plain-language entry engine (with voice support on the iPhone 4S or later) that worked to make new events or appointments a breeze. Just say something like "meet John for lunch at Denny's next Tuesday at 12:45pm" and you're done.
PI has several features that we think fall into the "genius" category. First among them is (finally!) truly automatic time-zone shifting of meetings. You live in Atlanta, your meeting will be in LA, and guess what -- PI knows what time zone LA is in without having to wait for you to land there and update things! In fact, every event you enter that happens while you are in LA gets adjusted to LA time (which you can override on a case-by-case basis). Brilliant!
The "Quick Entry" feature, which involves a two-finger swipe down within the app, is both very handy and enough like iOS 7's "Today" view that users will intuitively know how to use it (one tip, though: don't swipe down from the very top, that still brings up iOS' "Today" view). The notes function can sync with Evernote, and notes can be set to display on a specific Calendar day or with an event.
The app also supports geofences, for example letting you know of an upcoming event based on when you come near the location of it, with customizable distances for the geofence. You can use events you've created as "templates" to create similar events, and of course the whole thing is highly customizable, from color schemes to which bits of information are available, to custom views (say, for example, a 10-day view rather than a 7-day one).
The Premium version also adds the expected weather on an upcoming day as well. As we dug deeper into the app, we became more and more delighted with it. Did we mention that tasks can be broken up with sub-tasks? Or that tasks can be grouped by priority, importance, progress or date? The app even works with iBeacons available from the developer for those who would like to do "geofencing" alerts or events for indoor purposes.
All in all, Pocket Informant does a really great job of being the one-stop program for nearly every kind of calendar, reminder/to-do, notes and even project management app out there. The Premium features may be pricey to some, but it pays for itself in not having to juggle several different apps, particularly if you rely on syncing with more than one service. As people who live on deadlines and need reminders on upcoming events, press embargo expirations and travel calendars that know what time it is in different locations, we've really come to appreciate the thoughtful way PI puts it all just a swipe away.
Who would really benefit from Pocket Informant? Anyone who "lives" on their mobile device and needs a single, powerful day-planning tool -- that for a modest yearly fee can sync and work on both major mobile platforms. If you know what "PIM" stands for, you should probably give this app a tryout.
Who is Pocket Informant not well-suited for? If your time-organizing is done on and for a desktop, you'll need to wait for the forthcoming Mac version. Those with minimal use for any sort of calendar, to-do or reminder app will find that Apple's triad of Calendar, Notes and Reminders will cover them.