I spent the last week or so playing with a copy of the new Quicken Essentials for Mac from Intuit and I can make this review really short for you. If you’re a die-hard Quicken user, you will hate (I mean really loathe and despise) the new Quicken Essentials product. If you are new to Personal Finance Management (PFM) software, then you will probably really like Quicken Essentials but still feel a little confused about why you have to pay $60 $69 for it.
Quicken Pops a Mint
Quicken 2007 for Mac was released in August of 2006. Since that time, Intuit has struggled to define its Mac strategy and loyal users have felt left behind. Intuit tried an online product that worked with the Mac, but were bewildered when a little startup, created as an anti-Quicken, amassed more subscribers. Last September, Intuit took another look at that startup and acquired Mint.com and placed Mint’s founder, Aaron Patzer at the head of the personal finance group at Intuit. That move appeared to show that Intuit was floundering and was looking for outside help to fix its core PFM business. Understandably, the new Quicken Essentials shows a strong Mint influence.
The Essence of Quicken
To start on the new version, Intuit threw away the code for previous releases and started over to create a Mac native version with a modern look and feel. One of the design goals was to create a financial app that would feel at home as part of the iWork suite and it mostly succeeded. The new version looks great and shows a lot of attention to simplifying the user experience in areas like adding new accounts. People that are new to Quicken will love how easy it is to get started.
The new version had four key features: to see all your accounts one place, to see where your money is going, to stay on top of bills, and to track goals for saving money.
Accounts in One Place
Quicken Essentials will download transactions from about 12,000 banks out of the box (around the same number that Mint.com currently supports) and up to 16,000 financial institutions will be supported in the next few months. This is over 3x the number of FI’s that Quicken for Windows supports. This is a tremendous improvement.
Where is My Money Going?
Quicken Essentials provides a nice looking home page with pie charts to quickly show where you stand. Instead of being buried in reports, this information comes front and center. QEM also supports budgets for tracking spending by category.
Plan for Bills
Quicken Essentials will analyze your previous spending and detect recurring bills to help you anticipate upcoming expenses. Of course, you can enter bills manually as well.
Set Goals for Saving Money
You can set goals and track your progress towards that goal.
The reboot of Quicken for Mac comes at a price in features however. While Intuit was fairly certain that they would cover 80 percent of the users from previous versions, there are going to be a lot of pretty upset users from the other 20 percent.
No Bill Pay
There is no Bill Pay feature in this release. Intuit found that less than 10 percent of existing customers were using that feature. Because major banks offer free online bill pay to their customers, this feature was axed as “non-essential.”
No Turbo Tax Link
There is no quick link to export tax prep reports direct to Turbo Tax. Many users would simply run the reports to look at spending by category and then type those numbers in Turbo Tax so, again, Intuit decided that this feature was also “non-essential.”
No Investment Tax Lot Accounting
QEM will track the current value of your investment accounts, but it does not provide any reports on the history of your transactions. Fortunately, all the transaction data is preserved in the underlying data and will be available to future versions that offer more comprehensive investment reporting.
QEM is one of the first places where you will see the integration between Intuit and Mint. All of the back-end will eventually be the same across Mint, Quicken for Windows and Quicken for Mac. Quicken for Mac will be the first product to get the big connection and then the rest will be ported over.
Parity with Windows
The whispered goal at Intuit is to bring parity to the Mac and Windows versions. This includes file format compatibility between different platforms. There is a clear acknowledgment that customers just want to get access to their financial information on whatever platform is available or convenient and Intuit is interested in being there.
Whither Quicken 2007 for Mac?
Quicken 2007 is still being fully supported. Intuit made it clear that it will provide support for a three-version window to include 2006, 2007 and Quicken Essentials.
No official statement here, but Intuit did discuss that the iPad is an “at your fingertips” device and financial data is a nice thing to have “at your fingertips.”
I mentioned at the start that Quicken Essentials for Mac is similar in many ways to Mint. The product is streamlined, simple, visually appealing, and easy to jump into. They are so similar, that it is hard to understand why you should pay $59 for Quicken Essentials when you can use Mint.com for free. That decision comes down to…
- planning future transactions to manage cash flow
- importing historical data
- offline access
If you need any of those features, Quicken Essentials would be a good choice except for the price. For such a limited product (albeit a much cleaner and better designed product) I really think Intuit should have come out with $29 introductory pricing, $19 if you own any other Quicken product.
If you are a hard-core Quicken user and you like to reconcile your bank statements with your own records and you religiously enter all your receipts, you will be disappointed in this product. You might really like the next version that includes tax lot accounting and bill pay, but then hold on to your $60 $69 for a year (yes, I am an optimist and will hope against hope to see another version in a year). For the time being, hold on to Quicken 2007, or even Quicken 2010 for Windows, and see what happens.