It’s hard enough to convince people to pay for software, much less unfinished software quits working merely 9 months after purchase. Not Apple. When the first beta of Mac OS X came out in 2000, fans paid $29.95 for the privilege of testing it.
Perhaps it was Steve Jobs’ fabled reality distortion field, or curiosity over what fruit Apple’s NeXT acquisition four years prior would bear. Or maybe the future’s enticing enough, we’re willing to pay for an early glimpse—the same reason we back Kickstarters, queue up for the first iPhone, pre-order gadgets like Google Glass or the Galaxy Fold.
And sometimes the best glimpses require only an email address and a few minutes to test out a beta app.
Here—in no particular order—are the beta software that’s caught our eye, tools we’re looking forward to trying this year. They hint at a future with more command palates, designed for speed, built around collaboration and a better approach to email. They’re how everyone might work next year.
The team that made to-do lists a bit more fun with Wunderlist nearly a decade ago is trying to reinvent PowerPoint for the collaboration-first world today. Pitch is a presentation app built around collaboration, with integrations for live data and templates to design slide decks fast.
And if the team and pitch aren’t enough, the Wall-E (or Windows XP search) style 3D graphics on the site are enough reason to check it out.
“A user experience that is akin to trudging through mud,” complained a Capiche community member about another popular issue tracker. When that’s the state of the art, it’s easy to imagine anything could be better.
Linear’s aiming far higher than that. It claims to load in less than 100ms, with keyboard shortcuts and a command bar to get work done without touching your mouse. List issues, code a fix, resolve them, and let your team know what happened all from the keyboard.
Fast system-wide search was a big deal when Apple added Spotlight to the Mac 15 years ago. Then as our work moved online, suddenly your most important files weren’t on your computer. We’re back to hunting through a half dozen apps every time we need to find something.
Which makes Command E exciting. Instead of pressing
space to search a Mac or the
Windows key to search on a PC, Command E with a press of its eponymous shortcut will search through over 20 popular apps including Slack, G Suite, Salesforce, Evernote, and Box. It promises to make it as easy to find the file you need as it was a decade and a half ago when all your files were saved on your laptop’s hard drive.
A different stab at the same problem Command E’s trying to solve, FYI is search for your team documents in a new Chrome tab. It’ll show the most recent stuff from G Suite, Dropbox Paper, GitHub, Trello, and more for a stream of what your team’s working on. Filter by app or team member, search through everything, and create new documents in any app from the same spot.
Is search or time-based discovery more important? That seems the deciding factor between these two approaches at putting your files from every app in one place.
Smartphones are the perfect way to waste your hours away. They’re also the best way to design your next app idea, if Play has its way.
Instead of all work at your desk, Play promises an app designer on your phone that makes it faster to build working prototypes on the same device that will run the final working app. It might make Xcode for iPad obsolete before it has a chance to launch.
Data science is the hot new role every tech company seems to have added over the past decade, with tools like Looker and Amplitude to turn data into more actionable charts and reports. Graphy aims to do that for all the other data: Stripe sales and Eventbrite events and Messenger contacts and more.
When you need a report on any bit of data, Graphy promises to turn it into a dashboard and let you collaborate on it with your team—and turn those dashboards into PDF reports for your next board meeting.
Design in one app, code in another, and never the twain shall meet—or so seems the post-Dreamweaver mantra. But what if you could have great design tools and great coding tools, tools that blur the skill-sets and let designers build logic and coders tweak the style? What if you had pre-made components to add to your project instead of copy/pasting from StackOverflow? And what if it was as collaborative as Google Docs, where everyone worked together? That’s Clutch’s vision of the future of design and code.
You know how easy it is to spend hours in Wikipedia, going from a page about Tokyo to one about Japan’s economy, then to the history of paper money and paper itself? Perhaps it’s addictive because that’s how our brains work, where a random scent or sound reminds you of some nearly-forgotten thing which then reminds you of something else.
And that’s how Roam works. Add double brackets around any word to link it to a new note—where you’ll see every other note you linked to that word. It builds mindmaps out of the stuff you’re thinking about and working on, without any effort to actively organize notes.
Roam’s in open beta—subscribe to their emails and you’ll get an invite without a wait—but it’s still new and interesting enough to make the list.
A picture’s worth a thousand words—but so is a GIFs, and a video or slideshow might be worth even more. Projector treats them all the same, as “visual communication” to collaborate on. Illustrate a blog post, pull together a social campaign, present your ideas to the team with the same editing tools.
Screen sharing lets you peer over your colleagues’ shoulders remotely, and remote access lets someone else control your whole computer albeit often with significant lag. But both make it easy to share too much and neither make it easy to actually work together.
So CoScreen rethought the process, turning your second monitor into a shared workspace. Drag any window into that screen and it’s shared with everyone else. Anyone can work in any of the shared windows as if they were on their own computer. It’s like screen sharing combined with virtual machine’s fusion mode—and we’re curious to see if this is what will finally make collaboratively using programs remotely work.
Another team chat app, with threaded messages, a unified feed, and a promise to be fast and built for “teams that focus.” That’s all we know about Quill. But with a team from Apple, Stripe, Square, Snap, and more, we’re curious to see what new ideas they bring to team chat.
Designing beautiful layouts is one thing, but what about turning them into code? Modulz takes the translation out of the process as a design tool that outputs code. Layout your design, then export everything as react components that are one step closer to being a real product. It aims to turn designers into coders, without needing to learn to code.
Dev and design and design are the yin and yang of product teams. New GitHub issues mean bug fixes for the dev team—and may also mean the design team needs to tweak the way things look for a complete fix. Height aims to bridge the gap as a project management app deeply integrated with both GitHub and Figma. Turn issues into tasks, link tasks to their pull requests, and preview the Figma design changes inline. Add to that a command bar to manage tasks from your keyboard, and Height might help you work faster, too.
Every thought email should be a bit more fun and interactive, with reaction emoji and comments on specific parts of messages? So did the Consider team. Their new take on team email combines ideas from Slack, Medium, and more to let teams work on email together. It shows who’s looking at a message right now and turns every paragraph into a new message section that can turn into its own side discussion. And it lets you share individual messages, instead of endless CC’ed threads.
Spreadsheets in many ways made the personal computer, and remain some of the most flexible tools today. Dashdash thinks they could still be a bit more powerful. They added buttons and checkboxes to make spreadsheets actionable, built-in integrations to pull data from other apps into your spreadsheet automatically, and combined that with the power of spreadsheet functions you already know. It just might make exporting .csv files and importing them manually a thing of the past.
Perhaps the hardest thing about managing an address book is remembering to copy all of your contacts into it. Attio, a new take on CRMs, does the hard work for you, turning your entire team’s email and calendar info into a contact database. Then you can organize contacts into lists that make sense for your team, use Attio’s smarts to learn more about people, and work faster with keyboard shortcuts and a quick access pane.
When the Basecamp team does something, you know they’ll do it in a thoughtful, opinionated way. So when founder @dhh Tweets that “The first brand-new product from us at Basecamp in many years is coming this April: An email service (not a client) built for people who both love and hate email,” you know that it won’t just be another normal email app.
Hey will be an email service and suite of apps, designed as a “a redo, a rethink, a simplified, potent reintroduction of email.” That’s enough to grab our attention, even if it may not support custom domains at launch.
Talking to colleagues is tough when you’re remote—or when you’re in the same office and have a great idea while they’re busy. Typing doesn’t express quite the same emotion, and video calls are too hard to schedule. Yac thinks the next best thing is a walkie-talkie that doesn’t require everyone to listen at the same time.
Think of something to say, send it as a voice message in Yac, then your colleague can listen and reply anytime they want. It’s “Easier than endless Slack messages,” says early user @WhimsicalWiz. And if you want to show what you’re talking about, you can record your screen to markup and send along with your voice. Founder @jmitch says it’s where their team talks most: “Day to day conversations happen over voice messages there as well as almost all our feedback and tasking.”
It might make real-time standups and “do you have a minute to jump on a call” a thing of the past.
You can check what people searched for over time with Google Trends, peek at what terms are most popular and how your competitors rank for specific keywords with Ahrefs and more. But that’s everyone. How about your specific audience?
SparkToro—from Moz co-founder Rand Fishkin—aims to answer that by telling you what publications, podcasts, phrases and more your audience and those like them follow. It might make content marketing a bit more human.
“Your app, enterprise ready.” “Fresh perspectives to unloved and forgotten areas of the IT stack.” “Abstracting decades of legacy code with modern design and crisp APIs.”
From the founder of email API Nylas, WorkOS is the most cryptic tool on this list. Which perhaps makes it more intriguing. From its beta signup and job openings, WorkOS seems to be a new take on SSO, directory sync, access control, and more. Or perhaps they’ll surprise us and actually ship a new operating system for work.
This one’s almost cheating, as Superhuman’s already made an impact on the software world. Suddenly fast, premium, keyboard-driven software is everywhere, things that set Superhuman apart from every other email app. But it’s still invite only, and still offers a glimpse at the future of software.
Superhuman’s focus is Gmail creator Paul Buchheit’s 100ms rule, that everything should be fast enough to feel instantaneous. Combine that with fast search, contact details, keyboard shortcuts for everything, and an onboarding call that makes sure you’ll know how to use every Superhuman feature, and it makes you think about email differently.
Then, for a bonus app that launched late enough last year to almost count, Fibery. It’s an app builder tool that got everyone’s attention by poking fun at software marketing.
“Claims to be all-in-one, is mediocre at everything,” is how one variant of their homepage described the app, while another more hopeful take said that “Tools erect walls” and suggested Fibery did the opposite.
It’s a powerful tool that looks genuinely worth using, but the spirit of their just-for-fun homepages managed to capture the reason there are so many takes on the same software ideas. “There are dozens of collaborative productivity tools on the market. We just can't help building another one.” And somehow, no matter how many times the same app ideas are reinvented, each iteration brings some new idea to the table.
Gadgets are blank slates. It’s software that makes them magical, pushes tech forward, and changes how we work and play. All it takes to glimpse that future is a beta software invite.
If these apps are any indicator, 2020 might be the year you build apps from your phone, get rid of your annoying issue system, and are finally able to find files no matter what app they live in. Personal wikis and visual coding and working through screen sharing might finally take off.
Or something else. What beta software are you most excited about—and will it change how we work?
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