Date Wheel is not your usual date calculator. While it may have been said that "anyone can write a date calculator," not everyone can write a GOOD one, and we like to think ours is the best. Date Wheel has won awards in the past and has been recently nominated in the 2009 Best App Ever Awards, sponsored by 148apps, in the category of "Best Time Management". This post was inspired by Dan Grigsby's challenge over at Mobile Orchard and will spell out some key features and design insight in an award-winning app that has celebrated a decade in existence. Read on to see if you agree and, if so, please nominate us by Dec. 31, 2009, and/or vote for us in January if we make the cut. Thanks!
Besides calculating the time between two dates, Date Wheel (most versions) allows you to save your date calcs, view them in four different time units, tweak the three variables (start, end, and duration) in real-time, and set up a countdown (or track as something ages). So, it's essential for time management activities--you can determine when you tooling will complete, track a project, determine when a project should start, discover how long a project is overdue, estimate lead time to an upcoming project, determine when to schedule your next doctor's appointment, determine your baby's due date, then track how old your child is (in days, weeks, and months). You can set up a countdown to an important date (wedding, vacation), or determine how long your app is taking to be reviewed on the AppStore. You can even determine the Julian date with Date Wheel.
Project managers use it to determine all sorts of management timing and tasks. Lawyers use it to determine court dates or how much time is left in a statue of limitation. Construction managers use it to keep track of on-time and overdue projects. Doctors can use it to determine due dates, or to schedule the next therapy session. Realtors use to determine Closing Dates. Personally, Date Wheel can be used to countdown how much time to the big move, how many days till bills need to be paid, when to schedule the next dentist appointment, or how long until the kids go back to school.
Being able to save the calcs for future reference further enhances the time management properties of Date Wheel. The save feature allows for the countdown function to work as well. Fingertip buttons (available first in the Palm OS app) make small increments easy so you don't have to constantly reenter the dates.
The calculations all happen in real-time--change one field and the oldest field updates. Don't want one of the fields to automatically update? Lock that field and then you can play with the other two to get the calculation you want. A tap on "Today" brings up today's date automatically (and also is utilized in the countdown and count-up age feature).
Countdowns (and count-ups) can be set up so that the start date (or end date) updates to the current date and decrements (or increments) the duration. This feature is useful to countdown to an important event or to track how much time is left in a project.
All versions honor international date formats and our web versions are also translated into four other languages besides English: French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Date Wheel was conceived in 1999, shortly after the Palm Pilot came out. My husband Cory wanted to write an app and he had just bought me a newly released Palm III. I was a Program Manager at TRW and used my plastic date wheel constantly to provide timing to my biggest customer, Ford Motor Company. I worked several truck platforms, managing seat belt projects, so the little wheel was an essential tool. However, when I ditched my paper planner for a PDA, I had no place to carry my little wheel. So I challenged Cory to write Date Wheel for me. He did and we released it as freeware (no really good way to do e-commerce back then) under the name DeftSoft.
In 2003, we decided to try our hand at mobile software full-time, so we formed Creative Algorithms. Date Wheel had been broken when Palm released OS version 5, so we updated the app and released it as shareware, adding a few tweeks to the UI.
In 2007, we released a major update to the PalmOS version--adding the save calc feature.
In 2008, we released Date Wheel as a web app, both for mobile and iPhone (using Java and Google WebToolkit).
In 2009, Date Wheel was again rewritten, this time as a native iPhone app, and released late August.
Under the Hood
So why is Date Wheel so great you say? Well, the date functions are all meticulously done, to account for all time zone abnormalities (even tho you don't see time zones on the surface) and also to account for all leap years (not always addressed by the competition). It's been thoroughly tested to ensure proper function. We also provide for the dates to be calculated multiple time units: financial (30 day) months, weeks, days, and also business days. The plastic wheels only allowed for weeks, so was more practical for big projects, but with Date Wheel, you can determine shipping delivery that may only last a few business days.
One of the best features of Date Wheel is its Real-Time Updating and lock features. This feature allows the user to tweak the dates and do a lot of what-ifs. You save time by not having to reenter dates to trial and error your planning times or make changes. In addition, we have finger-tip buttons that allow for incrementing dates and durations without having to reenter dates. A lot of thought has gone into the user experience.
User Interface and Experience
We learned a lot as the app progressed over the years, and while finger-tip buttons are expected on the iPhone, they were a early feature on our PalmOS version. When designing for iPhone, we updated the look and feel of Date Wheel, first for the web-version, then for the native version. We used a gradient that was divided into "swimming lanes" that are the same size as the iPhone table view--to give Date Wheel a subtle familiarity. We laid out the input areas according to these lanes, which makes it easy to tap all the controls without mistakenly hitting the wrong key. We styled the buttons to give a modern 3D glassy look and feel.
Saved calcs can be flicked thru, but we also added a list feature in the toolbar that makes it easy to sort, delete, rename, and select each calculation, effectively managing your managed projects.
We added all sort of little UI niceties to save you time--the today button to get you to today's date, the increment buttons to quickly increment and decrement dates and durations, dates displayed with day-of-the-week, delete and add buttons right on the toolbar.
In short, we have put a whole lot of thought into the design and function of a 'simple' date calculator to make it the best it can possibly be for our users. We also USE it for our own time management--sometimes it's easier than pulling out the full-blown project manager gantt chart tool. We are always open for suggestions (recently added VoiceOver at the suggestion of one of our users), and strive for exceptional customer service, should issues arise. We hope you enjoy using Date Wheel.