Workflowy (for iPhone) review

Pros

  • Slick and simple list making app
  • Excellent implementation of nested lists
  • Quick and responsive

Cons

  • No due dates or calendar integration
  • Requires Pro account for Dropbox backup
  • Exhibits "fat-finger" issues

The Workflowy app for iPhone offers a neat and quick way to make nested lists, which you can use to jot down your to-dos, shopping list, work assignments, or whatever you like. Items on your lists can be marked "complete" and crossed off, suggesting that this app is meant to be a task manager. However, it falls short in that department because it lacks the ability to add due dates or see your to-dos in a calendar view.

Despite a few shortcomings, I found its balance of simplicity and interactive design charming. Its potential uses are infinite, and the Workflowy iPhone app could be a great piece of software if the developers can implement a few fairly minor tweaks in upcoming version releases.

The Workflowy iPhone app has a companion web app of the same name. Whichever version you use, you'll need a Workflowy account – which is free for a basic one, but $49 (£32) per year for a Pro account. Workflowy lets you create nested lists, which sync between the two apps. In concept, it’s somewhat reminiscent of distraction-free text editors – such as Writebox – which provide an austere workspace so that you can focus and write. There isn't much glitter and glitz, which I like. Workflowy is straightforward, clean, intuitive, and almost endearing in how simple it is.

As a to-do list, Workflowy deserves a knock or two for not having deadlines and reminders of upcoming deadlines.

When I reached out to the Workflowy team to ask about this missing feature, a rep explained that some users leverage hashtags for due dates – that is, they'll create a tag like #24-04-13 and sort by the day's tag to find everything that’s due. The problem with this workaround is that, well, it's a workaround, and also that you have to seek out the information, rather than it coming to you, which is how time-dated reminders should work.

Basic features

To use Workflowy, you simply start typing. You can drop the cursor where you want it on the screen using your finger, as you would with any other text editing app for the iPhone. I started using the Workflowy mobile app after already setting up an account online, and I was happy to see all my data sync to my iPhone without a hitch. The web app requires an Internet connection to work, but the iPhone app works offline.

If you enter new text, it turns into a bullet point. You can add more bullets, sub-bullets (nested items), as well as a note, which appears directly below the attached item in a slightly different font. You can mark complete (i.e. cross out) any item by putting the cursor on that item and tapping a green "Complete" button at the top of the page.

The web app version of Workflowy has a few features that aren't in the iPhone app, such as the ability to drag items up or down to rearrange them – and also export, share (via a link), duplicate, and delete any item by accessing a little menu attached to the bullet point itself.

To squeeze in these features, the iPhone app might need some design tweaks, as it already exhibits some "fat-finger" problems. Buttons are small and hard to see as your fingers reach for the screen, and some buttons are too close together, making it tough to accurately press where you intended. However, I do like the two little arrow buttons at the top of the screen that let you move a bullet in one step, or outward, to nest it or pull it out one hierarchical level.

Freemium or Pro

You can sign up for Workflowy for free, but the free version has limitations. It only allows 500 lists or "items" per month, two choices of typeface (a generic serif and sans serif), no options for a background theme, and no connectivity with Dropbox to back up your account.

Pro accounts, on the other hand, can be backed up to Dropbox, contain an unlimited number of lists, and have a range of options in themes and typefaces. There are two kinds of Pro accounts: Individual costs $4.99 (£3.30) per month or $49 (£32) per year, and Team costs $3.99 (£2.60) per month per user, or $39 (£25) per year per user, with a two user minimum. Team accounts include support for collaborative editing.

Verdict

The compelling simplicity of the Workflowy iPhone app makes it appealing to use and keep using. It's quick and responsive, yet uncluttered and elegant. New users may find they adore the app but aren't sure what to do with it (a perennial problem for one of my all-time favourite apps, Evernote, by the way).

If one of its primary intended purposes is to be a to-do list or task management app – and judging by what else is included, it is – then the dev team needs to add due dates, reminders, and a calendar view. Workflowy for iPhone could be a great app with a few tweaks, but it’s certainly solid enough to use right now as it is.