Technology I Like – Clear 2/17/12

I’ve only been using Clear on my iPhone for a couple of days since it was just released, but I’ve been reading about it for a while. So much hype, at least in certain tech circles, for a to-do list app.

Admittedly, I’m of a junkie for productivity tools, most of which I find on mobile first. I’m constantly trying to discover techniques and technologies to make life and work more efficient. It sometimes is counterproductive, but in part I do it because I think a lot of the concepts are portable to health and to healthcare providers, as efficiency is a necessity to get through all the extra stuff that piles up in the day of a provider.

If you want to read more about why organizing your life doesn’t actually make you more efficient, check out these two related posts (here and here).

Before Clear, I’d gone away from using to-do lists after trying everything from Do.com, Remember the Milk, and Nozbe. All of them are good in there own way, especially Nozbe and Do when it comes to collaborative to-do lists. All of them have very good mobile apps that I liked a lot, but it turns out I’m not a Getting Things Done (GTD) junkie and don’t need all the extra parameters when it comes to to-do lists.

Ultimately, the problem I discovered was that I just spent too much time organizing and updating my tasks. I’ve recently started using Trello to organize weekly and monthly goals, blog posts, and projects with partners. That’s for another post, but it is a phenomenal technology that I highly recommend.

The other reason I’m excited about Clear is that I’m pretty fascinated by how touch screens and direct manipulation change the way we interact with software and data. I’ve written about this before, but all my kids try to touch every screen they see — including those on airplanes — to control them. They can all use touch devices like professionals and my 4 and 5-year-olds are very good on the computer (PBSKidsPlay and DreamBox) using a touch pad. They can use a mouse, but prefer multitouch, as I do now.

As Apple makes its Mac OS more and more touch friendly, and iOS-like, I think we’ll see MS and other software makers follow suit. I think we can look to mobile apps like Clear — which push the boundaries on touch interaction — for what all future state software will be. It might not be in the short term and I imagine it won’t be for healthcare, but eventually this will be how the majority of our digital interactions take place.

So what does Clear do that’s so impressive? It is designed from the ground up to leverage touch gestures – swipe, pinch, and pull. It has no buttons at all, allowing it to maximize the screen real estate to display list items — the real value of a list app. You can add multiple lists and then order the items within each list dynamically to prioritize them.

To navigate up and down menus, like from a list of to-do lists to a specific to-do list, you simply swipe up or down. You can pinch between items on a list to add a new item in between. You can reorder items by holding down on an item and then dragging it where you want. You can add a new list item to the top or bottom of a list by pulling, not swiping, up or down. You delete or complete list items by swiping the item left or right. It also has sound and vibration with certain activities, like completing an item on a list. Turn off the sound if you don’t want it. I did.

It does take a minute or so to get used to using it because it is a different way to navigate. The app has a screen with settings and a guide to help you along if you get lost. For me, using it was extremely intuitive, as it was for a couple of friends of mine that have used it. I think anybody could pick this up, but I’m curious if readers agree, as I understand I’m a heavy iPhone and touch enthusiast. I want to test it with an older physician friend I have that has an iPhone but claims she doesn’t know how to use it.

As I used it, I started to think about ways to leverage it for health. Obviously accessing medical records and patient lists on a smart phone can be challenging because of the screen size, though there are ways to filter and prioritize what people see. Being able to eliminate top and bottom menus would definitely help. I’d be curious to see somebody like a Voalte or a PatientSafe test this out. Maybe they could enable people to swipe up or down to go from patient lists to patient details. Or users could pull down to add a note or an event. That’s really just scratching the surface, and I’m not a designer.

Clear is a little extreme it its approach right now for most healthcare software, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects of its design that developers could be testing today. I’d love start seeing some of them try. I know I’m going to.

The more I use Clear, the more I realize that tapping the TV screens on an airplane — as if each icon or image is a button — is just scratching the surface (no pun intended) for my kids. In the very near future, not only will they touch buttons and images, they will be swiping, pinching, and pulling everything they see. It’s better than biting, I guess.


Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups. More about me.

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