Checkmark for iPhone

While Apple may have complicated the field of to-do and reminder apps with the introduction of its own Reminders app in iOS 5, that doesn't mean other developers have given up. Checkmark, a new app from developer Snowman, has upped the ante with a superior implementation of one of Reminders's key features, location-based reminders.

My biggest problem with Apple's Reminders is the sheer frustration that comes with actually using the app. The process of entering items is slow, many of the features aren't fully fleshed out--for example, you can set a priority, but that priority doesn't show up anywhere--and you can set location-based reminders only for places listed in your Contacts. Checkmark addresses most of these issues and packages its features in a sleek, efficient interface that doesn't put the skeuomorphic cart before the horse, as it were.

The app is broken down into two handy lists of reminders: Where, for location-based reminders, and When, for time-based reminders--you switch between the two using Where and When buttons at the bottom of the screen. You won't find custom lists here; every reminder is tied to either a place or a time. Also note that there's no system of "priority" as in other apps of this ilk. I'm of the mind that assigning priorities is a time-sink, but if that's a feature you rely on, Checkmark isn't for you.

Checkmark's location-based reminders trump those of the Reminders app from the get-go. The app uses custom iOS-Home-screen-style pages of frequently visited locations. You add a location by using your current location, searching for a point of interest on a map, importing an address from your Contacts, or manually entering an address. This means that not only can you easily add locations such your home or work, but also other arbitrary places, such as your local drugstore, grocery store, library, post office, and so on. In my testing, this worked pretty well, although Checkmark occasionally failed to match locations such as my local coffee shop, or even my neighborhood Target, when I searched for them as points of interest; I had to instead add them via their street addresses.

When you trigger a location-based reminder by entering or leaving the geofence around the location, Checkmark sends you a reminder. In addition to onscreen notifications, you can choose for your reminders to include an alert sound, and you can opt to display an app-icon badge showing the number of pending reminders.

To create a new location-based reminder, you just tap on a location's icon, which shows all reminders you've set for that location, and then tap the new-reminder (+) button. (You must create a location before you can set a location-based reminder for it, which means it's a bit of a hassle to add one-off location-based reminders, such as "Remind me to do [X] when I leave here.")

You can also view all your location-based reminders in a single list, delineated by location; if you choose to create a new reminder from this screen, you'll be asked to choose a location. When viewing the list, you can choose whether to view reminders that are currently active or those you've marked as completed, but there's no option to see both in the same list.

Checkmark's approach is already a step up from Apple's Reminders, but Checkmark adds a couple of additional options that take its location-based reminders to the next level. For example, as with Reminders, you can ask to be reminded upon arriving at or departing from a location; but Checkmark also lets you choose to be reminded 5, 10, 15, 30, or 60 minutes after arrival or departure. And when you create a custom location, you can opt to define just how large that location is by choosing the radius of the geofence: a smaller focus is good for someone's house, while a much larger one is handy if you're trying to cover, say, a large outdoor park.

Keep in mind that geofencing does require that your phone constantly pay attention to your location--using geofencing in any app can have an significant effect on your battery life. That said, while location-based reminders certainly eat at your battery life, in my testing Checkmark didn't seem any worse in this respect than using Apple's own Reminders app.

Checkmark's time-based reminders are a little more basic: When creating a new reminder, you get fields for the reminder title and a note, as well as a standard iOS selector wheel for choosing the day and time the task is due. When it's time for the reminder to be delivered, you get a notification.

When browsing your time-based reminders, you can view a list of current (pending) items or acknowledged reminders--again, you can't view both in the same list. When viewing current reminders, items that are past due appear in red.

Currently, Checkmark's biggest weakness is its lack of integration with Apple's ecosystem. There's no cross-device syncing--though, given the lack of a Mac, iPad, or Web version, that's hardly surprising. Checkmark also doesn't talk to Apple's own Reminders database, so you can't add reminders to Checkmark via Siri, or view your Checkmark items in iOS's own Reminders app.

The latter isn't the fault of the developers, though. Apple only recently announced that--come iOS 6--third-party developers will be allowed access to Reminders data. Were Checkmark's developers to transition to using Apple's own database, the app would reap a number of benefits, such as Siri access and iCloud syncing between Apple's devices.

Speaking of the future, another feature I'd love to see would be the capability to designate certain types of locations--grocery stores, drugstores, and so on--and be alerted whenever I was near any location of that type. So, for example, if we need milk, I could have Checkmark remind me to get it whenever I'm near any of my favorite supermarkets. That may sound like an extravagant desire, but once you start using location-based reminders regularly, and you start relying on their utility, you want to use them even more often.

Despite these minor limitations, Checkmark is still worth, er, checking out--especially if you use location-based reminders with any regularity.

[Senior editor Dan Moren always checks his reminders before he wrecks his reminders.]

This story, "Checkmark for iPhone" was originally published by MacCentral.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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