When don’t you need an app?

Confession: I bought an iPad, the smallest wifi-only version. I wanted something that was more functional than my Blackberry Pearl but with a more convenient form factor than my laptop for use during parts of my commute.

Here’s the question: I’ve been using Basecamp for internal (and now external) projects, and I had been of the impression that I would/should get an app to work with that site. I’d seen lists of iphone apps, including basecamp’s own list.

But I was trying to get a handle on which one to get; review seem scarce, and the app store model makes it impossible to try unless the maker has created a “lite” version (see Headquarters and their lite version: the app framework might be one where what used to be called “crippleware” doesn’t seem to be so bad.)

But last night, on a whim that seemed silly at the time, I just fired up the Basecamp website to see how broken it would be. Pleasant surprise: it worked pretty darn fine, just like on my laptop. Now, in fairness, I did identify one missing feature: the ability to rearrange tasks in a to-do list was missing (the little 4-way arrow was not there at all). Maybe that’s the dreaded no-flash problem. I can deal.

What this makes me think about, though, is a couple things: first, I just saved $10 or $12; second, those app companies are definitely confined to a niche; third, apps that access web services have their days numbered as mobile browsers improve (or, in the case of the iPad, screen sizes and keyboard functions).

Where these apps would create an immediate urge to buy would be if they mimicked “desktop” add-ons to Basecamp, such that they could operate offline and upload/sync my changes later. True, part of that feature needs to be implemented in the underlying web service, but wifi and 3G haven’t eliminated the need for the mobile professional to be functional when there’s no connection.

[Ed.: followup–  Outpost claims “full offline capabilities.” That’s the secret sauce; I think this app will make the cut for a full-fledged review/shootout.]

At ThoughtStorm [http://thoughtstorm.com/], we were fans of Groove (it still lives on my several machines, in fact) because of the online/offline capability. Until a client accepts my excuse of “I couldn’t work on it because I couldn’t get a connection in the subway or on the plane,” people like me will always have a need to maintain local/offline access to our materials, even if they are backed up to, or even exist primarily, in the cloud. (See more on this concern in my review of PlanPlus Online.

When do you decide that you want/need an app vs. just using the website? There are tools to “make an app” from your blog. Does this make sense? Do you use these apps yourself to read favorite blogs?


  1. Dan on April 27, 2010 at 7:17 am

    If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:


    You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    Comes with a mobile version too, and with an Android app.

  2. rickcolosimo on April 28, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Dan, I took a quick look at the link you sent. It sure does look like there are a lot of features in that app — something for everyone!