There are so many new productivity apps hitting the market at the moment that it’s difficult to know where to start. I’m interested to see which ones make their mark by the end of the year.
This month I’m looking at Transpose, an app for managing and tracking information. “That’s a bit non-specific,” I hear you say. Well, yes, but I’ve got a good reason.
Transpose, like Podio (Issue 4, July 2015), provides users with components they can assemble into ‘Solutions.’ It’s another Lego set. The question is: “Is everything awesome?”
Signup is perhaps the fastest and easiest I’ve ever encountered. Enter your email and a password. That’s it. You’re now ready to go. Once you’re in you can configure your profile and add more detail. But there’s nothing stopping you from getting going.
You see a brief glimpse of your workspace. Then a somewhat imposing fullscreen live chat window jumps in. It points you to a blog post and video to you get started. Not a bad place to begin if you need some guidance.
Once in you’re presented with a ‘Client Contact List’ view. This may throw you off a bit. Transpose comes with a few things set up as examples to help you get started. By default you’ll have:
- Client contact list
- Inventory (retail)
- Meeting minutes
- Project tracker
- Tutorial solution
- Web articles and clippings
Here, these things have nothing to do with one another. But they show the variety of ways that you can use Transpose.
Transpose is like a good old fashioned spreadsheet. Using columns and rows and some formatting, you can make a spreadsheet into whatever you need. Team schedule? Check. Budget report? Check. Issue tracker? Check. And so on. In this sense, Transpose delivers. You can use the sum of its parts to create your Solution. Solutions are the term Transpose gives to the tools that you create.
For example, I need a way to log and manage my home possessions for my insurer. This is information I need to manage and track, so let’s see if Transpose has got the stuff to meet my needs.
Pick and mix
The first step is to create a new Solution. I’m going to need to log information and each item will need to be a field that I can populate in each Record. A Record is a collection of data that forms a single entry in the Transpose database. I choose the fields from the menu of components that I think will work best:
- Description → Single Line Text
- Product Code → Single Line Text
- Serial No. → Single Line Text
- Quantity → Number
- Room → Drop-down
- Date Purchased → Date
- Purchased From → Location (there’s some excellent Google Maps integration here)
- Value at Purchase → Number
- Images → Files & Images
- Receipts → Files & Images
The user interface in Transpose is good. You can drag and drop fields from the list of components and move them up and down for the desired order.
What isn’t clear is the extra control you have around each field. The pencil icon allows you to customize each field with details like default values, character limits, or help text. The most important value (which took me some time to find) is the ‘Use in title’ check box. This tells Transpose to use the field as the title for the Record. If you don’t tick this box, your Records use the name of your Solution as the default title and that’s no help at all.
If you create a lot of Records before realizing this, you may have a lot of work ahead of you. My Records didn’t update when I adjusted the Solution. I had to go into each Record and update them one at a time. With just three Records to update, it was a pain. I would have been furious if there were 50. Not cool, Transpose.
In addition to adding fields, you can customize your Solution with a name, colour, category, and icon. I’m not sure how much thought went into the icon selection. You can select a tankard, fire extinguisher, basketball, gavel, or wheelchair user but you can’t choose an icon of a house. An office building? Yes. House? No.
Log it, shift it, sort it
Once you’re done, you have a Solution and you can start adding details. Solutions are made up of Records, so every time you complete a form you are creating a new Record. The default view shows your entries as Record cards, but this won’t work for all Solutions. For my home inventory, it works nicely. It’s a good way of presenting information with accompanying imagery. You don’t have a huge selection of views to choose from but they cover your bases:
Record card layout: good if you want to browse using images.
Tabular layout: good for data-heavy Records and making quick edits.
If you have dates, you can map your Records to a calendar.
Great for task-based Solutions, but in this view you can’t see much detail.
Analytics (Prime tier only)
This is an interesting view that provides data visualization of the Records within your Solution (assuming you have the fields needed to do this). For example, I can see which room contains the most possessions, or the months I bought the most stuff.
Creating Records is a cinch if you’ve set them up well. One feature I think is missing is a ‘Save and Add New’ button so that you can continue to add Records after a save. Instead, you’re taken back to the Solution view. It’s a minor gripe but would be a quick win for their next release.
Editing Records is a bumpier process. I open a Record and click on a field, expecting it to become immediately editable. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I have to click on ‘Edit Record’ in the top right before I can change anything. It’s an extra step that seems unnecessary.
At this point, Transpose feels like a lightweight database application. I’m reminded of Bento for Mac from Filemaker (discontinued), which if I’m honest, I would prefer to use for the kind of functionality we’ve covered up to now.
Once you have a few Records, you can take a step back and get more of an overview of Transpose. Seeing my Solution in card view, I’m left feeling a little underwhelmed. I don’t find the layout easy to understand. For example, I can see numerical values on the cards but nothing tells me what they relate to. Here, I have to remember that the number relates to quantity. The date doesn’t display completely so, at a glance, I also can’t tell which year I made the purchase. I can see the title of the card twice and the time (not the date) that I created the card, but that’s not valuable to me.
While I’m on the subject of interface quirks, there are a few odd interactions that just don’t feel right to me. You close the Search/Filter sidebar by using a small arrow halfway down the screen. Once closed, it disappears and it isn’t clear how to re-open it. You have to click on ‘Search’ at the top of the screen.
The same is true for the main Solutions bar, which behaves in a similar way but uses a different design. This one has a ‘pin’ icon in the bottom left. Clicking that closes the sidebar; to open it again you have to click on the Transpose logo. The controls for both sidebars should be clear and consistent. Want more? You can’t drag and drop images into Records. There is no auto-suggest on tags. I could go on.
Transpose starts to punch a little harder once you look at what you can do with your Solutions after you set them up. You can invite others to work on your Solution with you, creating a collaborative team space (Prime Plus only). You can also use Transpose like a Google Form. You can publish a Solution publicly to allow content creation while restricting content management.
Within the Transpose Public Library, you can download Solutions created by other users. You can then refine them to match your needs. It’s a good way to get started with some inspiration. There are currently over 3,600 Solutions available to copy. I was a little surprised because the app mentions a strong existing user base of over 100,000 users.
Behind the scenes
The functionality of the app is front-end focused. Once you start to look at configuration and system settings there isn’t a lot to sink your teeth into. For example, it doesn’t play well with other apps. Integration is limited to Evernote (export copies of your Records), Google (pull in contact and calendar information) and Box (to link or store files in your Box account). You’ll need to pay for Prime to get any of the customization you might be looking for (such as company branding).
Speaking of Prime, Transpose provides three tiers for users: Free, Prime and Prime Plus. Prime is ($9.99 USD) and gives you all the features except for collaboration. If this is key for you then you’ll need Prime Plus ($14.99 USD). The extra $5 doesn’t buy you anything else of substance. Compared to Podio, on the free tier, Transpose loses. Podio lets you work with five team members right off the mark, plus five external users. Beyond that, Podio charges $9 to $24 USD per user, so for paid tiers Transpose is a much cheaper alternative.
Transpose has a free mobile app for both iOS and Android. It’s well put together. However, it’s more of a companion app than a full version of the desktop experience. You can create Records and search existing Records but I found it difficult to get a clear overview of my Solutions—the interface doesn’t make it easy to track the status of Records.
Before we get down to business, it’s important to note that Transpose is in Beta. It’s a work in progress and it’s difficult to give a full assessment of a product that is not yet polished.
It does have a lot going for it. You get a ton of functionality for free. It’s flexible and relatively easy to use. The support is good. Onboarding is simple, the guidance is helpful and comes with live chat if you get stuck. That said, I received too many irritating marketing emails after sign-up.
There is power in the functionality, but the presentation and usability don’t stack up. You can achieve great things with its tools at your disposal but I found the app difficult to use. It isn’t an intuitive or joyful experience—it feels ‘small.’ I feel like it sits in the ‘Bento market.’ It’s a database product for consumers and small businesses. In that way, it performs well and will make users happy. It’s not an app for medium to large organizations. For those markets, Podio is a more complete package with much greater potential.