A late arrival to the crowded space of web-based to-do lists, Gmail Tasks has graduated from experimental status and is now available to all users by default. Should you start moving your to-do's into Gmail Tasks? Short answer: Not yet.
What Gmail Tasks Doesn't Have
You're all hot and heavy to jump onto the Gmail Tasks wagon because there's that Tasks link, beckoning all sexy-like from your Gmail sidebar below Contacts. Cool yourself off with this bucket of cold water.
Right now, Gmail Tasks does NOT have many basic features you'd expect of a computer-based to-do list (and hell, a modern webapp), such as:
- Task priority (or sorting by anything other than due date)
- Recurring tasks
- Search (Search!)
- Tags (sorry GTDers, no contexts for you)
- Import, export, backup or any way to get your data in or out easily
- Sync to iPhone/Outlook/Android/BlackBerry
- Sharing or collaboration
In October of 2007, Remember the Milk had all these features and more.
Gmail Tasks' Competitive Edge: Tight Gmail and GCal Integration (Plus Some)
But even with all those missing pieces, diehard Gmailers and Google Calendar users will love Gmail Tasks' solid integration with both products. With your to-do's in Gmail Tasks, you can:
Turn any Gmail message into a task with a key combination. This is huge: you get an email request from the boss, and instead of having to enter a new item in your to-do list by hand, from the More Actions menu choose "Add to Tasks." (Keyboard aficionados with shortcuts enabled can just tap Shift+T.) This works if you select multiple messages as well.
View and check off items on your Google Calendar. If you click on the Tasks link in your Google Calendar, you'll get a new Tasks calendar added to GCal. Tasks with a due date show up there with a completion checkbox. So on any given day, you can choose your most important tasks, schedule them and check them off as you do them from your calendar. You can move tasks around on your calendar to update the item's due date, too. Your Gmail Tasks list also shows up on the right hand sidebar of your GCal. The bad news: Gmail Task "events" don't have reminder support. So even though your Tasks have a due date and GCal supports IM, SMS and email reminders, Gmail Tasks does not yet fire off reminders—major bummer.
Put your task list on your iGoogle page. Another nice bit of integration for iGoogle users is the Tasks iGoogle gadget. Add it to your iGoogle page to manage Tasks from there the same way you can in Gmail and GCal.
This quick video from Google demos the highlights of Gmail Tasks:
What Else Gmail Tasks Got Right
Despite the laundry list of features Gmail Tasks is missing, there are a few nice things that it does get right even at this fetal stage.
Hierarchical task lists is the main feature that sets Gmail Tasks apart from Remember the Milk in particular. When entering a task, just hit the Tab key to indent it under the task above it. This is incredibly helpful for projects with multiple steps involved. If you check off the parent task? All the subtasks get marked as completed as well.
As an infrequent chatter, I find Tasks' Google Chat-like pop in/pop out window a bit awkward. Beyond that, Gmail Tasks' interface is very slick and barely requires the mouse to navigate. Just hit the Enter key to move onto the next task, Backspace to go back up a line, Tab to indent a task and Shift+Tab to unindent. Use Ctrl+Up and Ctrl+Down to move an item on the list. Start your task with a date to automatically assign a due date, like "7/15 finalise Lifehacker post."
While Gmail Tasks doesn't support tags or folders, it does offer multiple lists. Hit the "New list" link to create one, and you can easily move a task from one list to the next in its details pane.
While there aren't any native Gmail Task applications, smartphones with a modern web browser can load up the Tasks mobile version. Go to http://gmail.com/tasks in your phone's web browser to access Tasks. Google Apps users should hit up http://mail.google.com/tasks/a/your_domain, and replace 'your_domain' with your actual domain name.
iPhone users, if you add the Tasks bookmark to your home screen, you'll get a good-looking check icon along with it.
Paper lovers will like the printable version of a Gmail Tasks list. There's also sorting by due date, slick drag and drop reordering (parent tasks take all their subtasks with them too, which is nice), and the ability to clear or view completed tasks as well.
The Major Missing Link: A Tasks API
Sure, Gmail Tasks just became a legitimate member of the Google Apps family, but OMG IT NEEDS AN API SO BAD IT HURTS.
Productivity-minded Google lovers everywhere can dream about Gmail Tasks mobile apps, desktop apps, integration with their other favourite webapps, Adobe Air apps, gadgets, widgets, and feeds till the cows come home—but it ain't gonna happen till Google offers a Gmail Tasks API. Once third-party developers can make Gmail Tasks do the things it currently doesn't with an API, this will be a much more viable product. Photo by PJLewis.
Now that they've got an official to-do list app, the Gmail/Google Cal combination is just notes short of a full Microsoft Outlook replacement. But like Gmail's Contacts management, Gmail Tasks feels half-baked at best. If Google makes good on its promise of "more on the way for Tasks", coupled with its hard-to-resist Gmail and GCal integration, in a year or so this could be the to-do webapp to beat.
Gina Trapani, Lifehacker's founding editor, might throw a party when Google releases a Tasks API. Her feature Smarterware appears every week on Lifehacker.