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Summary:

One of the first things that most people look at before using an app is the feature list. When we look for new tools we’re looking for the bells and whistles we need. But extensive functionality doesn’t guarantee that the app will be useful.

One of the first things that most people look at before using an app is the feature list. When we look for new tools we’re seeking all the bells and whistles we think are necessary. But extensive functionality doesn’t guarantee that the app will be useful in the way you want it to be. Sometimes, the apps that are perfect in nearly every other way won’t have all the features you want. If this is the case, you have to find more creative uses for the features they do have.

For example, simple to-do list app Ta-da List lacks some of the functionality of its more full-featured competitors, such as the ability to add due dates to tasks. To compensate for this, some users add the due date to the item itself. An alternative, which I use, is to create a new list for each week and add the day to each list item (see below).

As we all have different needs and habits, we’ll find different ways to work around limited functionality. In a blog post about Ta-da List’s “missing” features, a reader commented that he doesn’t add due dates because he sees it as a form of procrastination.

Another example is the “Canned Responses” feature from Gmail Labs. My first impression was that it would just be good for pre-written emails, such as vacation responses. But after seeing how other users made the most of it and by testing it myself, I quickly realized that Canned Responses has more potential uses, including setting up “smart” autoresponders and creating multiple signatures. So instead of needing to search for a complex email app that allows for that kind of functionality, creative use of a simple plug-in will do.

Why go through all this trouble rather than looking for the perfect tool with all the features we want? First, there’s rarely a tool that has everything you’re looking for. Each app has its own pros and cons. While you can make a table listing all the features you want, comparing each app side-by-side, this kind of analysis takes a lot of time and effort. Second, we can often live without many of the features that we think we need.

Finding our own workarounds may take a bit of creativity, but it’s often preferable to switching to a bloated tool that takes more time to learn, download, or get used to. In many cases, it’s more important to find a tool with an easy-to-navigate interface and a quick learning curve that you can start using right away. Instead of spending a lot of time searching for the perfect tool and trying to learn it, wouldn’t you rather start on the work that you need these tools for in the first place?

Have you found creative solutions to deal with some “missing” features in your favorite apps? Share them with us in the comments below.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Report: The Real-Time Enterprise

By Celine Roque
  1. Good post Celine. Makes me think. My view: There are many apps we use that are “good enough” with work-arounds as you suggest. But there are often better apps that are closer to what we really want for our own workflow. A lawn tractor will get me to town, but my car does a better job of it. That is, I’m more productive with the extra features. Example: Ta-da List is the lawn tractor, and for me, Checkvist.com is the car. It has the extra features (like due dates) missing in Ta-da. So it boils down to what you need, and what you’re willing to settle for, in the way of productivity.

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  2. Whenever I travel (for business or pleasure) I find these apps VERY handy. And they aren’t really “missing” much.

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/flight-status-live-flight/id288760989?mt=8 ($5)
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/trip-journal/id341585937?mt=8 ($3)
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vacationsplit/id381435511?mt=8 ($1)

    There are a few others, but some are buggy or just don’t do what I need: Namely, clear and easy to use. No non-sense.

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