The developers of iBank, the robust alternative to moribund Quicken for the Mac, have gone mobile with their latest product. With iBank Mobile for the iPhone and iPod touch you can bank on the go, but probably not go it alone.
To be fair, there is no perfect personal finance manager (PFM) in the App Store. There are standalone apps like the cryptically-named iXpenselt, and cloud apps like Mint and Quicken Online Mobile — which unbelievably does not sync to Quicken for the Mac or PC.
Synchronization with the desktop is where iBank Mobile comes in. Certainly, it was a much improved experience over using it as a standalone application. Creating fake accounts, transactions, and categories using iBank Mobile for the purpose of review was incredibly time consuming. Having said that, once iBank Mobile is up and running, it follows the money pretty well.
Left, the Home screen provides an overview of accounts and access to the spartan control scheme: Home, Spending, Settings, Sync, and New Transaction. The Spending screen shows categories and activity. Drilling down from Spending lists transactions sorted by category, each transaction selectable for details. Transactions can also be accessed by account.
The interface is straightforward and useable to this point, with one minor complaint. Accounts can only be sorted alphabetically, though they can be grouped in two lists: Primary and Other.
There is also an issue regarding general performance, at least on an iPhone 3G. Upon first accessing accounts, totals may appear as “calculating” until iBank Mobile catches up. Scrolling through transactions is a little sluggish, too.
Creating a transaction is a guided process: Account → Transaction Type & Amount → Payee → Categories & Memo. Payee editing benefits from autocompletion, which is great, but lack of a “back” button through every step of the transaction process is not so great.
Split transactions work well, especially if you already have a list of categories, as there is no autocompletion here: select or create. Categories are best derived from the desktop software, which underscores an important point. Whether using iBank Mobile is a chore or a pleasure really comes down to whether or not you use iBank for the Mac. Syncing is where iBank shines.
Even if you don’t plan on syncing with iBank, the passcode option protects your transaction data on the iPhone, while encryption is used during syncing. As for syncing itself, it just works. Via Wi-Fi, MobileMe, or WebDAV, setup is simple. Syncing more than 5,000 transactions took about five minutes, while normal syncing after setup takes seconds.
Summing Up: Bronze Award
As a standalone application, iBank Mobile is rather spartan; no online options, no bill calendar, no charts, no budgeting, just transactions and spending. According to the developers, customer feedback will be a driving force in updates, though direct download of transactions from financial institutions is a priority. For now, I don’t recommend iBank Mobile as a standalone PFM, but then I don’t recommend any standalone PFM application for the iPhone and iPod touch. However, I do recommend iBank Mobile as complement to the desktop product.
The value in iBank Mobile is tracking where your money goes as you spend it over time, like cash from an ATM withdrawal. That information then easily integrates into iBank for the Mac through the excellent syncing options. What you do with that information is up to you, but the first rule of personal finance is knowing where the money goes, and iBank Mobile makes that possible wherever you are.