Informant 5. It’s the Excalibur of Informant! The mythical major update we’ve been talking about for about 2 years now – and yes, it’s no more a myth! In the next couple weeks, we’ll be releasing Informant 5 and we’re very excited to talk to you about some of its new features!
Informant 5 is a brand new app – not just a slight refresh of an existing app – and as such it’s designed for the next few years to come. This post isn’t going to detail everything, but will instead focus on a few tent-pole features. So let’s start with our goals and vision.
Goals and Vision
The first thing that was important to us was to take a look at Informant of today and see where we could really improve its performance, its behavior, its usability, and focus on the productivity features that needed to be rethought. We identified three areas specifically:
So each of these areas received great attention!
The Informant 5 interface has been designed with a focus on:
- Simple navigability
- Instant action
- Being consistent throughout
We tore out the old interface and designed a new interface from scratch. There are elements that work/look the same as before because they worked well, but we’re able to change major aspects, workflows, and behaviors of Informant 5 because of the freedom of starting fresh!
I could wax on about our process, our design sessions, and so on – but let me highlight a few major areas of change instead:
- Sliding Navigation List. At the top of most of our views, we now have a sliding navigation list that’s context sensitive.
- Calendar Views have a date list at the top to move between any date in the next year or prior. This works in the Focus, Days, Week, and Agenda views. It makes a huge difference in the ability to move between exact dates instead of simply scrolling left or up to find a specific day.
- Tasks and Notes Views have a Filter navigation list so you can move between filters, projects, contexts, tags right at the top instead of having to go back and forth between views.
- Date pickers in the editors are completely redesigned in-line with your event/task editing. In the future, we will be redoing the editors even more so based on some of our work in Informant 5.0
- The color scheme has been redesigned around two themes – light and dark – bringing about a consistency and strong focus to the aesthetics of Informant.
- View controls have been moved to the bottom of the window. You now have a filter icon, a new event/task/note icon, grouping, or printing icons – and then the big one – our new “Overview” screen. This change was made explicitly to allow for better one-handed use and to give you the most common operations at the bottom of the screen.
- The Overview screen replaces the old tab picker, settings, quick entry, main weather, ETA, and search.
- Click on the big blue button and a cool animation gives you one-touch access to any view immediately.
- Tap/hold on the blue button brings up Siri speech recognition to create a new event/task via Quick Entry
- or tap on the search field at the top and type in your text.
- The first entry is a Quick Entry record from which you can create an event or task.
- The rest is your search results.
- See your weather in big, bold icons and typography.
- See your next event, its location, its time, and the time you need to leave to get there on time.
- The quick action controls have been simplified for events/tasks. Simply swipe to the left to get the most common actions – and force touch to get the whole sphere of actions on an event, task, note, or contact.
- For the iPad, we’ve also made some major changes from before choosing a more fluid UI over a complex one. We’ve gotten rid of a lot of UI elements that we felt were too complicated. For example, the mini-month list on the left was replaced with the ribbon on top.
- Yes, there is a new Informant 5 icon. It’s quite different from what we’ve done before. It’s designed to evoke a digital presentation.
Even if that was all we did, this would be an amazing release. However, we’ve done so much more than we can say here!
I’m an email-aholic. I keep my entire gaggle of email addresses collectively at an unread count in the single digits. I flag the emails I need to act upon and then I move on. I respond to the urgent ones immediately, and sort the rest. I have dozens of email rules that move my email to its destinations automatically and my task list is primarily in the my email box. This is very unlike Chris whose email box is typically in the thousands of unread, many more thousands in the Inbox, and I have to prod him to read his email and answer me.
The key point is that we get email that we need to act on and Informant 5 is able to help with that!
Informant 5 gives you a new “Mail” filter in your Tasks view that lets you manage multiple email accounts and view their Inbox. You can:
- See the email in your Inbox.
- Filter it by flagged email.
- Create tasks from those emails.
Obviously, we’re in first-generation territory here and we’d love to hear from you to see which directions you want us to go!
We’ve spent about a year and a half designing how this should work – surveying customers, business people, friends, family, news editors, and so on – and what we found is everyone uses email very differently. We went through many iterations and decided on a simple first-gen implementation so we can prioritize the areas you might want to see first.
For the last 17 years we’ve had a cool feature called “Templates” that provided a way for people to create events or tasks quickly via pre-designed templates. However, we found that over time fewer and fewer people used them because they required the entire template to be used overwriting everything. Next, you had to manually pick them in most cases and if you had a ton of them, you couldn’t find them easily. Informant 5 does something that we rarely do – completely remove a feature and with Informant 5, templates are now completely gone. In its place we have a from-the-ground-up designed new feature we call “Triggers”.
Informant 5 does something that we rarely do – completely remove a feature, and with Informant 5, templates are now completely gone. In its place, we have a from-the-ground-up designed new feature we call “Triggers”.
Triggers are the new modern version of Templates, but with some important differences:
- Triggers are designed to be picked by a set of keywords. For example you might set a set of keywords to be “Soccer”, or “Football” – and if those keywords are used, the trigger gets applied (hence its name)
- All of the trigger properties are optional – every single one!
- Triggers can be applied to either events or tasks – or both. So you can create a single trigger that works across events/tasks!
- Triggers sync to any iOS or macOS device (Android coming next year) – even triggers that apply to Apple Calendars or Google/Toodledo accounts
- Triggers do not support all the fields that Templates did:
- Alarms, Repeat, attendees, url.
- Child Tasks are titles only.
- Notes are plain text only.
- Task duration.
We believe that Triggers are a major new feature of Informant 5, though we do understand that Templates have some features that Triggers don’t – which might affect a small number of our customers. We expect that in the future some of those template fields will come back as Triggers get feedback and we take all of that in. The reason why some of those fields didn’t make it into Triggers has to do with our desire to ensure that we don’t add too much complexity to a feature that would make users stay away and also because we have to ensure that those fields can be applied to a trigger properly across all platforms current, and future.
Yeah, we haven’t mentioned it all. Not only have we introduced a lot more features within the app that you’ll find all over, but as usual with our development – we plan a couple years ahead, design an infrastructure around that plan, and then deliver the first milestones in that infrastructure. So Informant 5 is just the beginning. For example, we’ll be adding a whole new project foldering system for tasks, sync with a completely new partner (to be announced soon), and so on. There’s much that we wanted to do, but if we did – you’d be seeing this post about a year from now!
As I mentioned above, Informant 5 is a brand new app – and as a result, it’s designed for the future.
A new foundation for the future
Informant 5 is designed for iOS 10 and has been dramatically modernized throughout. By focusing exclusively on iOS 10, we’re able to design the internals of Informant 5 to deliver the features we have on our list for years to come without old archaic code weighing us down. A few examples include:
- A completely new notifications system. With iOS 10 we were able to completely rewrite our alarm code, our task location alerts, our context alerts, and saved filters to a completely new modern system that’s an order of magnitude simpler and therefore faster and more reliable than before. We’ve also been able to offer multiple snooze options and a richer notification experience than before.
- We’ve redesigned our data access engine to better work with Apple’s Calendar data so that calendar data is accessed faster. We’ve also been able to get rid of huge amounts of caching and middle-ware.
- A completely rewritten Contacts View using the latest contacts subsystem on iOS that brings better performance and a unified view of a contact from multiple sources
- A rewritten Evernote sync that syncs only the headers of your notes – so a 2GB note database is actually capable of being synced with Informant. We access the notes and cache them locally as you need them.
- We’ve reworked all of our color handling to use the new extended range sRGB color space when it makes sense, and also to globally use colors in a more uniform fashion
- We’ve rewritten our entire windowing/view handling system to use Apple’s latest technologies so as to take advantage of native capabilities on iPhones 6/7+, iPad, and iPad Pro.
- We’ve begun the process of rewriting the Event/Task editors to merge them into one editor that can go between both types.
I could go on, but you might start getting bored. Suffice to say – Informant 5 is not just a redo of the interface, or a few features added: its a complete overhaul of the app from the ground up.
Some areas you look at may seem like they have been untouched – Notes View, Contacts – thats only because while we worked hard to rework the internals of Informant as a whole – its a very powerful and big app and we know from experience that we deliver best in milestones over one big multi-year project.
iOS 10 only
Informant 5 is designed for iOS 10, so is only available on iOS 10 bringing a bevy of modern and awesome new features. As such, for a limited time we will continue to offer Informant 4.9x for iOS 8/9 users. And for those techies who care about such things – the vast majority of the new code was written in Swift 3.
watchOS 3 coming soon
Informant for watchOS is a completely rewritten app for watchOS 3. We’ve started work on it, but we decided to put our engineering focus on our iOS app first. Informant for watchOS has been redesigned for quick access – meaning that it’s not an upgrade of our current watch app – but focuses on immediate access and what we believe is the best flow of a watch app. We expect Informant for watchOS 3 to be ready in a future update.
Informant 5 is a subscription-based app – but with a twist that we think solves the major issues people have with subscriptions: the ownership of the main app. Informant 5 will offer different price points for its subscription, but if you subscribe for the full yearly subscription – you get to own the main app (minus features that require ongoing cost) even if you cancel the subscription the very next day – because the subscription is still paid for 1 year!
Here’s how we’ve broken it out: when you subscribe to the full yearly subscription – you get Informant 5 (and future upgrades to the app). As long as the subscription is active, you’ll also get access to what we call the “Connect Package” that consists of weather integration, Informant Sync, Email, Google/Toodledo/Evernote Sync, and any future connectivity features we include in future releases. If you let the subscription lapse, you’ll lose the Connect Package, but you’ll still have the main app and your data.
We think this hybrid approach is the right answer moving forward and we hope you agree!
Informant 5 is a paid upgrade. It’s our first real paid upgrade since we released the Universal Informant for iOS 1.5x back 6 years ago. Now due to how we are setting up the subscription, anyone using Informant Sync will have access to Informant 5 as part of the Informant Sync subscription.
We believe that there’s a ton of value here for our customers by moving to a subscription. Informant is not just a labor of love – its labor that costs us a lot to continue developing! The market today is only sustainable via subscription and we have a strong, reliable history of providing a constant stream of updates – both major and continuing support – and with the additional twist of being able to own the main app even after the subscription ends, we’ve given you even more value!
We’re currently also working on some very big news that will make your subscription even more valuable – stay tuned for that news late this fall!