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BW Businessworld

Apps With A Touch Of Touch

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A flick, a wave, a nod, a tap. No gesture is out of bounds as tablets and phones take over the world, and new ways of interacting with them are explored. Some mean that you don't touch the surface, a technology that Microsoft has taken to another level with the Kinect. Sony has come up with a pre-touch sort of interaction where you hover just over the device. Computers are not immune to gestures either, as entire operating systems begin to incorporate movements on screen or touch pad. We will soon take gesture-based interfaces for granted as they become natural and ubiquitous. For now, here are a handful of apps that are quite touchy.
Intuitive Android app takes the thinking out of doing
AnyDo is a squeaky clean, get-things-done app that is superlatively intuitive, adding a layer of touch gestures to make it even more usable. Sometimes that take so much managing they become tasks in themselves. But if you don't need something very complex and multi-layered, try the free AnyDo with its surprising number of features. It automatically becomes a widget on your homescreen. When you tap it, a clean screen invites you to enter things to do for Today, Tomorrow, This Week, or Later. You can voice-enter these and tap to confirm. You can set a reminder. To move tasks around, just press, hold and move. When you're done, a quick flick of the finger across the task will cross it out. When you've finished several tasks, give your phone a good shake to get rid of the lot. You can also sync with Google Tasks. Overall, AnyDo takes all the thinking out of task management.
Swipe away your list of things to do with this iOS app
Clear got itself a lot of attention because everyone believed it demonstrated the future of gesture-based apps. It's even simpler than AnyDo, but that means it sacrifices on some functionality. Not a free app, it's just $0.99 and sits best on the iPhone though it works perfectly well on the iPad as well. Simpler to-do apps are best when on a handy device like a phone (or a piece of paper, for that matter) while complex collaborative apps will be easier to work with on a tablet or computer.

Once you tap into Clear, you just tap to create a list and within that, a task. When you're done with it, just brush it away with a careless flick of the finger. Or keep it satisfyingly crossed out. Everything is done with swipes and pinches — there isn't a button in sight. You pinch open to expand lists and pinch inwards to collapse them. The gestures are actually more intuitive than with AnyDo, but then you don't have the added yet out-of-the-way functionality or the ability to voice-enter tasks. The lists are in nice bright colours, which of course adds to the pleasure of using an app. If you're looking for the simplest of to-do apps, you couldn't do better than Clear.
Write your stuff at a pinch and edit with two taps
This text editor iPad app with an unpronounceable name can actually be disorienting at first because the "old way" of tapping on buttons and menus doesn't apply. Documents are not even called documents and pages aren't pages. Instead, you swipe through stacks of paper and pinch open to get a sheet to write on. A stack has as many sheets as you like. You double tap to get into edit mode. Unlike other apps, there's no handwriting, sketching, photo import, or other functions. It's just you and what you need to write. It's particularly interesting if you have separate chunks to write but all related to one subject or task.

Daedalus has a customisable extension to the keyboard called Button Row where you can add things you do often. For example, you can set a set of quotation marks for quick access. When you then select a phrase, you can quickly click on the keyboard shortcut to enclose it in quotes. For $4.99 you get an app that uses gestures to manage files and quicker typing.
Do the math with a gesture or two
Anything can be more enjoyable if it's nicely designed — even the humble calculator. Rechner has been designed specifically for touch — specifically for the iPhone, in fact. Also works on the iPod Touch and iPad for $0.99. Rechner has a minimalist unthreatening design, attractive in its very simplicity, but best of all is how you swipe right to add and left to subtract. Other functions sit in a drawer and are not as slick. It's said to speed up calculations by up to 200 per cent but whoever calculated that must be in an exceptional hurry.
Twitter with a garnishing of gestures
From among the army of Twitter clients came Tweetbot, jostling out all the others as it optimised for the iPad recently. Tweetbot has many conveniences that others miss, but it also uses gestures to enhance its intuitive usability. You light-tap a tweet to open it up for options. You barely touch a link to find it opening up to a web view or letting you get straight to media like photos and videos. It was already clear and crisp and is now updated to take on the Retina Display of the new iPad. It's a smooth, flowing app which refreshes when you pull down the timeline with a finger.

Where the swipes come into their own is when you swoosh left to see the conversation (all parties) for a tweet and right to see replies. Tweetbot has a lot of other exclusives — or near exclusives. You can mute people without unfollowing them. You can use multiple Twitter accounts. Most brilliant of all, you can read a linked article in web view or Readability mode, setting fonts and dark-light to suit your needs as you read longform.

mala(at)pobox(dot)com, @malabhargava on Twitter

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 16-04-2012)