With Clear for Mac, launching in the Mac App Store at midnight tonight, developer Realmac is treading dangerous territory — a space packed to the gills of productivity apps large and small. Yet Realmac founder Dan Counsell says, "The to-do list category on the Mac is more than ripe for some innovation." The Mac App Store is inundated with apps like Things, OmniFocus, and more, but so was the iOS App Store when Clear for iPhone debuted. "For a start, [these apps] encourage their users to spend more time managing and organizing their tasks than achieving them," he added.
On iPhone, where screen real estate is at a premium, Realmac succeeded in creating a whole genre of innovative and chromeless interfaces, and sold over 600,000 copies of Clear for iPhone. But how does that noble goal translate to Mac, where screens are comparatively gargantuan, and where apps haven't been designed to be touched?
Design / UI
Clear for Mac is a dead ringer for Clear for iPhone, aside from one thing: a gray bar of chrome at the top of the app window that includes OS X's trademark exit, minimize, and maximize jewels. It's the first thing you notice about the app, and it doesn't suit Clear — an app I've come to know as a totally full-screen experience. While it might be somewhat inevitable given OS X conventions, breaking conventions was one of the things that made Clear for iPhone so special. "In the end I think we managed to strike a great balance of maintaining a clean UI that's core to the Clear experience and adding just a dash of chrome to make it work on the Mac," Counsell says.
Aside from that bar, the app is essentially Clear for iPhone virtualized on your computer, with the addition of a menu bar icon, multi-window support, and keyboard shortcuts. The sounds the app makes are still as twee and as satisfying as ever, and its icon is just as delicious looking as its iOS brother's — an orange/red checkmark in the midst of OS X's overwhelmingly blue, black, and gray icons. A two-finger swipe to the right completes a task, and a swipe to the left deletes a task. A swipe down lets you enter a new item, and a swipe up clears the stuff you've already completed. An inward pinch returns you to the Lists view. Perhaps most importantly interaction-wise, typing instantly creates a new task, which comes in very handy. And don’t worry — Realmac has provided other ways to interact for those without a trackpad, like a right-click to complete a task.
Another key feature in Clear for Mac is the ability to click and drag a list into its own window, enabling you to view more than one list at a time onscreen. And last but certainly not least, there's iCloud, which syncs to-do's in all your lists between iPhone and Mac as long as you're running iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion. In practice, it works very well, syncing items and list orders within seconds and with fancy animations to boot. Clear for iPhone, which received an update today to add iCloud compatibility, also added edge-swiping between lists to presumably imitate this multi-window functionality.
Clear for Mac functions almost exactly like its simplistic iOS counterpart. So then why does it cost $14.99 versus Clear for iPhone's $1.99? "It's been rewritten from the ground-up so it's in no way a port, I really can't stress that enough," Realmac founder Dan Counsell says. "The Mac version took around eight months to develop, which is over twice as long as the original iPhone version of Clear." But to consumers, the effort doesn't matter. They will inevitably see "the same app" on two platforms, one costing seven times as much as the other, which is a serious barrier to entry. Tweetbot for Mac costs a pricey $19.99, but is to me justified a bit more in that things like keyboard shortcuts, windows / columns, and notifications make Tweetbot much more useful — even though Tweetbot for iPad and Mac look much the same. On the other hand, like in Clear for Mac, Tweetbot for Mac's gestures are nice, but don't make the app more useful in the way that they do on its iPhone version. Tweetbot for Mac can make you a Tweetbot power user, but Clear for Mac doesn't make you much more of a power to-do-er.
In the end, Clear for Mac is a very good application, but I'd only wholeheartedly recommend it to diehard Clear for iPhone users considering its steep price: $14.99 (on sale for $6.99 today, which is more reasonable). There's just no way around the fact that Reminders for Mac and Wunderlist have similar (if not much greater) feature sets, but are totally free. Reminders, for example, does iCloud, multiple windows, and the ability to drag and drop to-dos. Clear's excellent interface on iPhone bests Reminders, but on a computer, a click is as fast as a swipe to complete a task. "With Clear for Mac, we wanted to spearhead a new design direction for Mac UI that focuses on simplicity," Realmac's Rob Jarman told me. The result is a perfect companion to Clear for iPhone, but one that lacks what made the iPhone version so special: a beautiful interface that was both very intuitive and very convenient to use with your fingers. In Clear for Mac, the company’s trademark interface is turned into something fun but purely visual — an interface more ornamental than effective in helping you get things done.