The light is fading for Wunderlist.
The popular to-do list app was bought by Microsoft in June 2015, sparking concerns that it would inevitably be “sunsetted” by its new corporate parent the way several promising apps have been before it.
In April, Microsoft started the process of making those concerns a reality. It announced a direct replacement for Wunderlist, called Microsoft To-Do, and said it plans to “retire” the older app once To-Do is able to sufficiently subsume it. New features for Wunderlist have been few and far between as of late.
There’s some controversy here. Wunderlist is an award-winning app with a not-insignificant audience and extremely positive user ratings across platforms. Although To-Do is being built by the same team behind Wunderlist, the original is on its way out.
And as it stands now, Microsoft’s successor is a more limited experience than the app it’s trying to replace.
To be clear, Microsoft readily admits that To-Do is still in a preview stage, and Wunderlist remains fully available. No Wunderlist user, myself included, has to make the switch right now. But Microsoft is trending in that direction, and given that To-Do
is something you can download today, the extent to which it trails Wunderlist is worth noting.
The thing to know about Wunderlist is that it’s not just a to-do list app. You can use it to keep track of what you need to buy at the grocery store, sure, and it’s perfectly pleasant for that. But it’s featured enough to also be a powerful productivity tool — I’ve personally used it to lay out articles, bounce ideas off colleagues, and generally behave like a streamlined note-taking app a la Evernote. The way it’s able to organise simple and complex tasks all at once has made it a fixture on many home screens.
To-Do, as it is now, does not have that level of flexibility. It is fast, it looks clean, and you can use it to jot things down, then check off those things as you do them. The margins between these sort of to-do apps aren’t huge, so if that’s all you need, by all means give To-Do a try.
Beyond the basics, though, Microsoft To-Do is a bit too barebones to be a full Wunderlist replacement today. Here’s a few of the main issues, in no particular order:
- There are no subtasks. When you create a to-do item in Wunderlist, you have the ability to create sub-items within it. So if you have an item called “Grocery list,” you can write out “Cheese,” “Milk,” “Bread,” and whatever else right there. Each of those subtasks have little checkboxes next to them, so when you complete one, you just strike it off. It all makes sense. When you want to add further detail to an item in To-Do, however, you only have a blank space to take notes. You can create your own de facto list of subtasks in there, but that’s a slower and sloppier process. Wunderlist manages to do more while keeping a blank note-taking space of its own.
- You can’t attach files to a to-do item. Continuing along those lines, within every to-do item in Wunderlist is an option to add files from your computer, phone, Dropbox, or what have you. If I’m laying out an article and I see a good photo I’d like to use, I can pop it into the bottom of the item. Again, To-Do has no such option.
- It doesn’t collaborate with many outside services. Wunderlist is popular enough that various third-party apps — Dropbox, Slack, Google Calendar, Evernote, etc. — integrate with it directly. To-Do works with Microsoft Outlook, but that’s it for now.
- You can’t share a to-do list with others. Not everyone needs this, but Wunderlist has handy options for collaborating on a to-do list with coworkers or family members. You can assign certain tasks to certain people, share comments, and have others check off items when they’re done. This is key to making Wunderlist work in the office. To-Do is an entirely insular experience thus far.
- There are no recurring due dates. Both Wunderlist and To-Do allow you to set due dates for your tasks, but only with the former can you set repeat due dates over specific intervals. Say I want to be reminded to “Pay the rent” at the end of every month — with Wunderlist, I can just set that note to “repeat every month;” with To-Do, I’d have to write out that task and manually set the due date each time.
- It’s harder to flag particularly important items. It’s not hard for a to-do list to become unwieldy, so having the ability to flag certain items within that list as more significant than others is highly useful. With Wunderlist, you can “star” such items to make them immediately stand out without tossing them from your list entirely. With To-Do, there’s no flagging ability, so to mark something as important you have to put it in a separate list.
- There’s no Mac app. To-Do is available on iOS, Android, Windows 10, and the web, but, unlike Wunderlist, has no dedicated app for Apple’s PCs. This is a small gripe, but a step back all the same.
There are other little annoyances beyond that.
To be fair, To-Do has some good ideas behind it. The main “My Day” tab encourages you to pick a few things from your lists to get done every day, and an accompanying “Intelligent Suggestions” feature scrapes those lists in an attempt to find which things you should focus on first. This can be hit or miss, though: I keep a list of reviews I’ve written, for instance, but that’s not something I’d want to “check off” as if it was a set of items on a grocery list.
In that way, To-Do feels a bit narrower in scope than Wunderlist. This isn’t totally unintentional, either: Part of the point of To-Do is to be more deliberate about “taking the cognitive load” off completing to-dos, according to Microsoft marketing manager Simon Chan. The company plans to add things like subtasks and more sharing options in the future, Chan said, but it’s not trying to make To-Do a one-to-one
Instead, it wants To-Do to be smart enough to eliminate the need for persistent notifications and reminders in the first place. That requires a good amount of faith in Microsoft’s machine-learning efforts, however, and it’s not like Wunderlist is incredibly complex in the first place.
Again, for the simpler stuff, To-Do is fast and functional. Along those lines, Chan said To-Do users have so far completed a higher percentage of their lists than Wunderlist users typically do. Given that To-Do is now packaged in Office 365, and thus is open to more business users than Wunderlist ever was, the emphasis on staying out of people’s way makes some sense.
But that doesn’t make the transition for regular Wunderlist users any easier today. There’s still plenty of time for To-Do to hit the highs Microsoft wants — there’s no hard deadline for when the app will come out of its preview mode, Chan said, and the company plans to give Wunderlist users “plenty of time” to make the switch even when that day comes. For now, though, those who’ve come to rely on Wunderlist will want to hang on to their old standby while they still can. Worse comes to worst, there are always more featured alternatives like Todoist.
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