FrontPocket review

I just installed FrontPocket on my iPod Touch. I stumbled across this program yesterday while I was working on my MobileMe issue. FrontPocket is an application that gives you (almost) full access to your Backpack account on your Touch (or iPhone). This is something I’ve really been looking for since I got the iPod Touch. I was hoping somebody would get around to coding something like this, and now someone has!

The program uses the Backpack API to access the info in your Backpack account, and pull it down to the iPod over the air. It caches the info locally, so you can still have access to it when you’re not connected to WiFi. I just did some testing, and it doesn’t look like the program automatically sucks down your whole Backpack account; it seems like you only have offline access to stuff that you’ve previously viewed online, and only the version you’ve most recently viewed, not necessarily the current version on the web. And it seems like you can’t add new notes or edit existing ones offline.

While online, you can add notes, edit notes, add journal entries, and add reminders, so you can do pretty much anything you’d want to do. The program does not, though, render Textile or HTML, so you’re just viewing the text of your notes. And URL links are not active links, so you can’t click on them and have them open in Safari or anything like that. (And, of course, the iPod Touch still has no copy & paste functionality, so you can’t just copy & paste an URL out of FrontPocket and into Safari.) Oh, and it doesn’t render photos that you’ve stored in Backpack either.

So, overall, there are a number of limitations to this app that I really wish they could find a way to fix. Some of them are likely related to limitations in the Backpack API. Others could be fixed, though they might be non-trivial. The app’s only on version 1.1, so maybe we’ll see some new stuff added in the next iteration. (I wonder if there’s an open source Textile rendering engine out there somewhere that they could convert for use on the iPod/iPhone and just drop into the app?)

The thing I’d most like to see is a full sync option, where my entire Backpack site would get pulled down to the device. I’d even be OK with having to press a button in the app to initiate the sync, though it would be cool if it could be done automatically in the background.

The app does have calendar functionality, by the way, but I don’t use Backpack calendar, so I can’t say much about that works. I haven’t seen any indication that it integrates with the standard device calendar app, though I wouldn’t expect it to; Apple probably hasn’t made it easy for third-party apps to update the built-in ones.

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