Basecamp, the project management platform developed by 37 Signals that launched in 2004, is still alive and kicking, which is something of a feat considering how many companies have come and gone in this space over the years. Plus, more recently, a slew of promising new players have entered the market, including Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein’s Asana, Joel Spolsky’s Trello, Siasto and Podio (now part of Citrix) — to name a few.
Basecamp has also managed to stand the test of time (and is now managing over 8 million projects) by bucking the trend and sticking to the mobile web rather than developing native apps for iOS and Android. But, after 8 years, Basecamp’s first official iOS app finally hit the App Store today. While the company will be quick to tell you that Basecamp has long been on the mobile web and available through a bunch of third-party iOS and Android apps, most of them are pricier (SuitChamp, for example is $7) and haven’t been of the highest quality.
But Basecamp’s new app is free and, from the first look, it seems to be fast, usable and the quality of design puts its other apps to bed. The app uses much of the same design scheme and familiar look and feel of the major redesign its web platform underwent in early 2012. That means that user can access and monitor all of their Basecamp projects from their iPhone, have discussions with colleagues, view and check tasks off to-do lists, attach files and read and add comments.
Basically, it’s the mobile app that many Basecamp fans have likely been waiting for over the past few years — the functionality of its web platform optimized (and native) for the iPhone and actually made by those who produced the original. (Weird, I know, though it’s similar to what happened to Twitter, except that it bought Tweetie and turned it into their official iOS app.)
The app uses native web views and in that sense is a bit of a hybrid, 37Signals Founder Jason Fried said recently on Twitter, and Jason Zimdars talked this fall about how the team has approached the web/native debate in developing for mobile.
The iPhone app also works with Basecamp Personal, a new platform that the company released in January that attempted to make the project manager more accessible for individual users, as its target audience up to this point has been small businesses. In addition, the new platform allowed users to pay a one-time fee of $25 to buy a Basecamp project, rather than having to pay for a monthly subscription fee.
That being said, 37Signals has long been saying that it would stick with web-only development for mobile, so it remains to be seen how this will affect third-party Basecamp clients. Many were likely under the impression that they wouldn’t be dealing with any direct competition from 37Signals, which could put them in a bit of a tough spot.
Then again, Zimdars did say on the Basecamp blog in September, “Does this mean there will never be native apps? Of course not, this isn’t our final word on mobile.” Not totally explicit, but also not hard to infer what the team has been up to.
The apps also looks great. The visual design definitely puts it among some of the best productivity apps for iOS out there. It goes further than the typical pared-down, over-produced look and feel of many of today’s productivity players and gets high usability points. This is great for 37Signals and Basecamp but not so great for Basecamp clients. If you’re a regular user, there’s now significantly less incentive to use a third-party app. Great to have the choice for those who are doing the detail or integrations better, but you don’t really need it.
One (potential) drawback of the app on the user experience end is that — as Juli Clover points out — the app only works with new Basecamp projects. That means it only works with the stuff you’ve created since Basecamp launched its redesign in early 2012. For those using the original version of the platform — Basecamp Classic — no such luck. Why not include compatibility? From the company’s perspective it was probably less oops-we-forgot-to-make-them-compatible and more that the new design is just better and easier to use.
It makes sense that they’d want to encourage people to create accounts on the new version of the platform, which has been optimized to make their lives easier anyway. Though not so good if you’re a staunch Classic user. Users need a Basecamp account and projects on the new framework, so Classic users will have to stick to the mobile site or third-party apps. Which may be a silver lining for apps like Camp, which just launched yesterday. Although, that being said, it doesn’t look like Camp works with Classic either. Ouch.
All in all, the new app looks great, and most Basecamp users are going to jump for joy that they actually get to use a functional, good-looking product on their iPhone to manage tasks and projects. Basecamp became one of the most popular productivity platforms for small businesses without it, but that position looks a little bit more defensible now that it does. Well, maybe once it gets to Android (which is coming “eventually,” according to Fried.)
Update: When this post was first published it attributed 37signals’ blog post on Basecamp for mobile to Michael Dick, when in fact 37signals UI designer Jason Zimdars was the author of the post. Correction included.