For years, the realm of personal finance on the Mac has been ripe for a small, independent kick-butt developer to come in and win everyone over. Anyone who is a mac fan and has ever launched Quicken can attest to that fact. And so, in 2003, IGG Software, a small software company out of Vermont, released the first version of iBank. Now, over three years later, we have iBank 2, and it’s a very capable application. It’s not Quicken and it has a few drawbacks, but it also excels in ways Quicken never will.
I’ve used Quicken for years, I even played around with it in the OS7 days. If you have any history with Quicken, you know that it really hasn’t changed much since then. To Quicken’s credit, it hasn’t really needed to. It dominates the market, and it only needs to be good enough to keep its users from giving up all together. Maybe I’m being too harsh. It’s really not that bad. Quicken is actually a pretty powerfull application. It’s also quite buggy and lags behind it’s PC cousin, feature-wise. The main attraction of using Quicken is the ability to automatically download transaction data from your banks. This doesn’t always work, and, unsurprisingly, the Mac crowd can tend to get left behind.
iBank feels like a Mac application. It’s more attractive and friendlier than Quicken. It imported my Quicken data easily, allowing for minimal transition time.
The day-to-day usage of iBank isn’t anything transcendent, it is a personal finance application after all. In my opinion, an application such as iBank should be easy and quick to get in and out of. On that qualification, iBank does great. It’s easy to add new transactions, modify them and get a glance at your data. Quicken suffers from too many windows and unintuitive locations for information. iBank doesn’t at all suffer from this. It sports a unified window with a fairly Mail.app-like organization. Instead of inboxes and outboxes you have accounts with balances shown, and instead of a list of messages in the main area, it’s a list of transactions.
You can build reports based on certain kinds of spending complete with pie charts. iBank also sports a feature called “smart accounts”, which is an iBank take on Smart Playlists from itunes. It allows you to build a view of your accounts based on specific criteria, such as category, date or amount. I can see this as being helpful for the freelancer who doesn’t want to build are report or chart each time he or she wants to monitor the money in the freelance business.
Getting Your Data In
I mentioned earlier that iBank imported my Quicken data with ease. After that initial import, one has to consider how to get future transaction data into iBank. With Quicken, if you’re lucky, you can connect to your bank online and Quicken updates your accounts with your latest transactions. iBank doesn’t support this feature. IGG is investigating the possibility, but as you can imagine, this would be a huge undertaking and would increase their support costs quite a bit.
Hope is not lost though. If your bank allows you to download transaction data manually, there’s a good chance it will come in either OFX or QIF format. iBank supports these formats, so that does make things a little bit easier. Of course you can always just keep things up to date by manually, if that doesn’t keep you from feeling like you’re in the stone age.
When you do import data, such as through OFX or QIF files, you can set up smart import rules to help you automatically stay organized. This allows imported transactions that, say, have Apple Retail as the payee, automatically sort themselves into the Computers category. Once you set up these rules to match your regular shopping, this could be a big timesaver.
A few drawbacks
iBank has a few other problems that keep it from being the blissful experience that personal finance should be.
Split transactions still need some user interface work too. They are a little hard to use. I tried using the budget feature and after spending a fair amount of time on it I had to give up. The interface was extremely problematic and ultimately too inflexible for me to use on a regular basis. I imagine as iBank matures further, these features will become more honed to users needs.
Good enough to switch?
In my opinion, iBank is good enough to switch away from Quicken. The only huge drawback when comparing the two is the inability to automatically connect with your banks online. It’s up to you to decide if that’s the killer drawback. As someone who has been looking for a reason to give Quicken the pink slip, I give the upper hand to iBank.