Things – A Great App That’s Losing Its Shine?

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Things Sync Error

Talk about a stupid, rogue error message. The one above is a sync error in the Things task management app. It says: “Abort. Things Mac was disconnected unexpectedly.”.

Oh really? Things Mac – at the exact time of this error – was running quite happily on my MacBook Pro – and my MBP was sitting about one foot away from the iPad that was trying to sync with it over my local WiFi network. So what provoked this error? I switched away from Things via command-tab, and had another app in the foreground.

Just recently I’m seeing a number of occasions where Things sync somehow gets its knickers in a twist, despite all being good on my local network – occasions where sync seems to freeze, saying it is awaiting the iPad when the iPad is alive and kicking and doing its best to sync.

This is a pain in the arse in its won right, but it is made all the more of a nuisance by the fact that sync is already a major weak spot for Things. It’s a major weakness because it does not support over-the-air (OTA) sync. So if you want sync to work between your Mac and your iPad or iPhone, you already have to have them both on the same local network, and have your Mac on (sync does not seem to like the Mac to be in sleep mode either). This means whenever I’m out and about, or even just laying on a couch at home but at a time when my MacBook is in sleep mode, if I suddenly think of an important task I have to email it to myself and then get it into Things next time I’m at my desk. This happens a lot.

The fact is OTA sync is a pretty crucial factor for most serious productivity apps by now –  many of the very best ones support it. Several support it via strong 3rd party services – e.g. 1Password sync via Dropbox. Things is clearly a premium productivity app; and one that is priced accordingly at $50 for the Mac version, $20 for the iPad version, and $10 for the iPhone version.

So it’s more than a little disappointing that the app has still not added any OTA sync options at all – even if they cannot yet build the feature themselves, I don’t believe it is that hard to add it on via Dropbox or a similar service. Much more disappointing to me is that Cultured Code, the developers of Things, have stopped communicating with their users about this subject – completely. Their ‘status’ for their work on this feature has not changed in months, and their blog has not been updated for over 8 months.

For me, providing good support is an important part of what makes a great app, and communicating with users is a major part of providing good support. Cultured Code’s lack of communication is taking a it of the shine off their great app. I hate saying that, because I’m a huge fan of Things – but as Things’ sync continues to get worse not better I just can’t help it.

Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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8 thoughts on “Things – A Great App That’s Losing Its Shine?”

  1. Ever since Things came out with their $20 iPad app, meaning those of us who supported Cultured Code from the get-go by buying their desktop and iPhone apps would've been in for a total of US$80, I've been looking around for an alternative that integrates nicely with the iCal database (which Things does do well, to its credit), has a nice/simple interface (again, Things is a winner here too) but can do OTA syncing without a lot of muss, fuss, or cost. (I looked at OmniFocus carefully but that was expensive also.) But through a comment someone made somewhere I found a great alternative most people haven't even heard of…

    2Do: Tasks Done in Style

    This app syncs either directly to your iCal database or can sync OTA via MobileMe (which is also the iCal DB but via the Internet). It has a really nice interface with lots of bells and whistles without over-complicating the interface. You can reorder items, it's location aware, and unlike Things, one purchase of $7 gets you a universal app for iPhone & iPad. Its downside is no desktop client. You can go use iCal, but everything is flat (which is true of Things also if you viewed your To Dos in ICal, but but because of this you could use the Things client and they'd still get into 2Do). The MM syncing is another $3 in-app purchase but that's $10 total for everything and I'm just not using desktop clients with my iPad by my side 24/7, so I found this was a good discovery after having looked and looked for an alternative. At this point I've stopped looking and am actually trying to get other items checked off! (2Do has many other features not mentioned here.)

    Note to Cultured Code: If you'd just included your existing userbase when you came out with your $20 iPad app I don't think there would be as much ill will as there is. That, plus promising OTA syncing since April, 2010, with no sign of it to date makes for Things an also-ran in my book.

  2. Hi Patrick,

    This is Mick, Things Support @ Cultured Code. WiFi sync issues are something that we hear about a fair bit. Hopefully this doesn't sound like I'm trying to deflect blame, but more often than not the issues have to do with Apple's Bonjour service discovery ~ you can read more about that here:

    Things is designed to locate your devices on the same network via this service (and is fully dependent on it), if for any reason it fails (or if the records go stale) then Things will not be able to sync; this can even be the case if it *does* seem to find the device when searching for it. Something you can test when this occurs is Apple's iTunes – when sync fails, does the Remote also fail to connect to your iTunes library? It uses Bonjour too.

    The best thing to do in this circumstance is to restart your wireless router, this seems to refresh Bonjour across the network. As for this disconnect being caused by simply tabbing into another app, that is peculiar indeed; I've never heard that reported. If you continue to have problems, please let us know: [email protected]

    As for using Dropbox to sync your database, you submit 'I don’t believe it is that hard to add it on via Dropbox' ~ there are technical reasons why this is not a feasible option for the type of sync we need to manage (with all the relationships involved in the database), particularly when it comes to merging data. Note that OmniFocus also does not utilize Dropbox for this, I wonder if they investigated it and found the same drawbacks? 1Password make good use of the API, I use it myself and love it – but for our needs it isn't sufficient at the moment. Note that we also need to account for future development and features, an objective we can only realize efficiently by creating and managing a solution ourselves (meaning that other 3rd-party solutions are not desirable in the long run – despite how good they in themselves might be).

    1. Hi Mick. Thanks for the comment and suggestions on WiFi issues. That error is only an intermittent one so it's tough to troubleshoot, but I have power cycled my wireless router a couple of times when I've seen it.

      On the Dropbox syn info, fair enough, thanks for sharing that. So can you share any information at all on how progress is on OTA sync? I understand you guys are not interested in naming an expected release date for an update – but you do you have anything at all on that you could mention?

      1. Hi Patrick. Only that it's still coming, that internal testing is underway, etc. etc. – nothing you can't read on our Status page, as I'm sure you know. Rumours seem to circulate that we've thrown in the towel, that nobody works here anymore, but we're here, every day, working. Sorry I can't share more at this time, thanks for your patience thus far.

        1. Mick – I appreciate your replies here, and I'm glad to hear you're working and haven't thrown in the towel etc. But … I still believe you are failing your users in a simple way – lack of communication. No blog posts since April, since the launch of the iPad. No change on the Status page in ages. Why have it there at all if the status never changes? Why have a blog if you don't update it? Write a post, tell your users something. Anything really would be better than the almost total lack of communication.

          1. Agreed. It's very nice to hear from you Mick, but overall Cultured Code should communicate through official channels a lot more (i.e. at least once in a while). Being secretive is nice to generate curiosity and hype, but too much of it and customers think you don't respect them anymore, you're going down, and so on.

            We all know it takes a long time to develop features such as cloud syncing, especially if you want to get it very right from day one. But even if imperfect today, you should tease your community with a few screenshots, some light updates on the blog and twitter. It's been way too long now for the modern age we live in.

            Cheers and keep up the good work, just make it more public. I'll switch back to Things when cloud syncing is done!

  3. Hi Patrick,

    You say "No blog posts since April" ~ perhaps there's a misunderstanding of our intention with the blog; we are not bloggers, we have only intended to use it for news of a more substantial nature – whether or not you think that is the right way to use a blog is another conversation – but as we've not had anything significant to announce in recent months, there has been no entry, we've just been working towards our goal.

    "No change on the Status page in ages" ~ I'm not really sure where you're coming from with that, the Status page is updated regularly as items progress, lately that's been every couple of weeks or so (most recently, yesterday; prior to that, Dec 1). Perhaps what you mean is that the one feature, Cloud Sync, is not updated often-? The status board reflects the true state of our progress – fulfilling its purpose – to post otherwise would simply be misleading.

    As for communication in general ~ you're right, there's certainly room for improvement.

    Either way, watch our blog for an update – hopefully before New Year.

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