Here is a 1st world problem: I have been, for a long time, looking for a simple solution to create and share groceries/shopping lists I can share with my spouse via iOS. As geeks we tend to come up with a lot of sophisticated, for us 'simple', solutions, but those often get not adopted by our not-so-geeky partners in life.

My requirements are what I consider basic, but still there is not one app that really addresses them all.

  • Simple, at least near-time synchronisation between my wife's iPhone and my iOS device(s)
  • Multiple lists for the different stores we tend to get our stuff from
  • Editable categories and category order so you can replicate the store layout
  • Remember items and maybe even quantities so you can create your lists without the need to fully type every item each time you need it

And that's really all I need. You would think there are many solutions to this, but there are not. In particular if you want an app that is easy to use (for your spouse) and maybe even well designed.

Plain text lists

As geeks we love them. You can sync and share them via services such as Dropbox or Simplenote and access them not only via different apps on iOS but also on any Mac or PC. However, they fall short of the ability to remember items (and quantities) you shopped before and also categories can only be implemented with headlines as work-arounds. Not really intuitive for people that are less into the beauty of the technology and flexibility, but more into ease of use.

Amongst the suggestions I have received are some options that are worth considering albeit they, by nature, provide a generic solution to a specific problem.

listaryListary has been mentioned by a number of my fellow tweeps. It's a simple yet beautiful list manager for iPhone/iPod touch. It does provide most features I require in terms of simplicity and sharing. While there is no iPad or Mac OS X version of it, the plain text format and Simplenote sync allows you to use the text editor of your choice on these platforms, Simplenote support provided.

With no surprise my mate Brett uses shared Evernote notebook across all his devices and with his spouse. By profession ought to work great for the Kelly family, I am sure. Evernote, for my wife, would be too complex already and the process would break before it is used for the first time.

Like plain text files, Evernote should work great for you if you (a) have a partner ready to embrace it and (b) more or less similar and/or small errand runs to do. We typically do the groceries only once a week and next to some basics shop a great variety of different products each time.

Shared Reminders

While all limitations cited for plain text and Evernote grocery list solutions apply to shared Reminders as well, there are two great advantages that come with it:

  • You already have Reminders – for free – on all your Apple devices (assuming you run recent OS versions)
  • It is dead simple to use

On the more nerdy side of it you could even leverage geo-fencing and dates to trigger push notifications which come in handy if you cannot be sure your spouse actually looks at the Reminders app when at the store.

When I first was offered shared Reminders as an option I was not clear how to actually share a Reminders list with other users. Turns out that it was quite straight forward and identical to the process you would go through to share a calendar. Something you likely have already implemented in your family if you are looking for a solution to share grocery lists.

But with iOS 6 and the latest update to iCloud.com the functionality as described in this Apple support article seems to be gone. In fact there are a number of discussions on the Apple support forums which indicate that this option currently is indeed not available.

Bummer. Back to the drawing board.

Update: Florian (@efelbi) points out that there is still a way to share Reminder lists by using the OS X Reminders application as illustrated in this screenshot. Thanks!

Special purpose / 'One thing well' solutions

anylistSearching the AppStore for grocery list managers returns nearly as many results as searching for todo list apps. However, all of them have in common that they have very mediocre reviews, feature terrible user interface designs and some appear to require a degree in rocket science to put them to work.

However, I came across one very promising candidate that does nearly everything I need: AnyList. Beautifully designed and engineered by two ex-Apple developers it perfectly transports the Apple ecosystem’s philosophy of ease and joy of use.

While I could live with the lack of a corresponding iPad app and no way to edit my lists from my Mac, the deal breaker for me is that you are currently not able to edit/delete/change the categories provided by the app. While you can reorder them to reflect the layout of your favourite store, there is no option to rename or delete them and you can also not add new ones.

@simplicitybliss Allowing new categories to be created and existing categories to be renamed is our top priority for the next app update.

— AnyList (@AnyListApp) October 3, 2012

For most of you this may not be a big problem. I at least require to edit the categories to translate them into German so it becomes natural for my wife to use it. This might soon be possible since the very responsive developers confirmed to me on Twitter that this functionality is extremely high on their priority list for the next release.

Conclusion

My supposing simple quest for an app that allows sharing of groceries and shopping lists with my spouse remains unfulfilled. While there are many single-purpose apps listed in the AppStore and other general purpose solutions come close, there is not really a great, yet simple solution available at present.

I am currently using Groceries by Sophiestication which is perfect but entirely lacks the ability to share lists other than emailing them. Plus there has not been any significant update or an iPad version released which seeds some doubts with me where the developer is planning to take the app, if anywhere.

For now I am stuck with my 1st world problem. While I am considering using Listary to at least get something in place I am hesitant at the same time since my wife would not approve changing that solution to something better once it is implemented. Many of you will share this consideration, I am sure.

Once AnyList addresses my requirement around the editing of categories it will become my first choice. If Apple makes Reminders sharable before that happens, I may well go with what iOS and Mac OS X have onboard already although that would mean I would miss out on some other of my key requirements.

If you are planning do develop a decent, simple alternative for this common use case: Got some money here waiting for you.