First Look: FrontPocket for iPhone and iPod touch

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As a gadget hound and productivity freak, I've tried just about everything over the past 10+ years, both hardware and software. My gadgets have included a Palm IIIe, two Handspring Visors, a Newton 2100, a Newton eMate and a Palm Tungsten E2. They were all nice (some more than others), but each shared deficits of one type or another. Graffiti and easily-lost styluses were two biggies.

As for software, I've used iGTD, Omnifocus, Tracks, Midnight Inbox, Things, MonkeyGTD and more. Again, they're nice but share a common issue. Namely, each solution is limited to the author's interpretation of how an organizational system works best. I don't want to learn a piece of software before I can begin managing my stuff. Nor do I want to be limited to the author's ideas, even the great ones. Basically, I want an electronic version of my favorite tool - paper.

I do nearly all of my capturing and organizing with pen and paper, as nothing is more useful, flexible or promising. A blank page is pure potential. You can create a grocery list or sketch a solution to world hunger on the back of a napkin. I was about to give up on software when I tried Backpack. It's exactly what I was looking for.

Backpack offers users a blank page. You can type anywhere, move objects around, add notes, lists, to-do items or photos and files. There's no toolbar, no drawers, nothing. Just a fresh, white surface ready for input. I love it, and today my Backpack account is my virtual right arm.

On Sundays, I move all of the week's to-do items to a notebook, which I update from Monday to Saturday. On the following Sunday, I "sync" my notebook with my Backpack and start again. Sometimes, when I'm stuffing my cargo pants with the notebook, iPhone, wallet and keys, I think, "Wouldn't it be nice to eliminate something here?" Since Backpack on the iPhone is a dismal experience, I never did. Until now.

FrontPocket is a native iPhone and iPod touch application for Backpack. I've been using it for the past week and it's growing on me. It won't replace my notebook just yet, but it's got real potential. Click below to read more.

Update: The folks who produce FrontPocket let us know that version 1.1 is pending in the App Store now, and should fix the startup crashes and read-only errors that some users are experiencing.

FrontPocket displays your Backpack Calendar, Reminders, Journal and pages. The calendar view displays events taking place today, tomorrow and within the next seven days. Anything beyond that is categorized as "future." There's also support for multiple calendars, as each event bears the name of its parent calendar.

It updates fast. I entered a calendar event on the site, and it showed up almost instantly after clicking the refresh button on the iPhone over Wi-Fi, and within a couple of seconds over EDGE. Adding an event from the phone is also a breeze. Simply click the edit button, give your event a title, assign it to the appropriate calendar and fill in the details. Updating from FrontPocket to Backpack was also speedy.

Setting reminders is just as pleasant. Click the edit button and add your reminder's title, the person assigned to it (if you're using Backpack with a team), and the time to be reminded. FrontPocket's UI is simple and snappy, without superfluous bells and whistles.

Pages is where FrontPocket has an opportunity for improvement. For now, you can create and edit lists and notes. Of course, you can't add files or photos to Backpack from your iPhone, but it would be nice to be able to add dividers, tags or access the Writeboards. However, creating and editing pages is a breeze.

Typing with the iPhone keyboard can't rival scribbling or sketching with a pen, but this quick access to my Backpack pages themselves -- taking out the notebook middle man -- is quite nice. Mostly, I've used it to quickly add items to my "Inbox" page for later processing. Even better is the in-your-pocket reference to all your stuff. No more of those, "I'll have to check my Backpack when I get to a computer" moments.

iPhone-owning Backpack junkies will want to check out FrontPocket for sure. It's well-built, responsive and convenient. I'd like to see the features I noted, but it's very nice as is and worth every penny of its $9.99US price tag.
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