Managing a team of people, often from around the world, is no easy task. But these days, it’s become a reality for many. To help with this problem, group chat tools like Campfire or Hipchat have become popular options, but they’re not without their limitations. Namely, there’s a lack of good applications that interface with them.
Into that void, the developers of Kickoff stepped in to create a Mac and iOS app with the intention to give teams an elegant solution to their collaboration problems that goes beyond basic group chat. So, could Kickoff change the way your team works? Read on and find out!
Without a doubt, on both the Mac and the iPhone, Kickoff is a beautiful application. Conversations between groups look and work exactly how you’d expect, with sent messages on the right and received messages on the left. Kickoff also features that level of subtle tweaks I’ve come to expect from new Mac applications, with little touches like buttery-smooth animations that give the app an overall more fluid feel.
Much of the app’s design is similar to what you find in Apple’s own Messages app, and in fact, the whole app looks like a group collaboration tool Apple could have made. The developers also took the time to throw in quite a few little niceties such as inline video previews for links to sites like Youtube or Vimeo. The only thing I was disappointed to find, since it doubles as both a chat and todo list tool, is that you’re only able to hide your tasks to use it as a solely chat tool, not the other way around.
Right off the bat, any potential users should be aware that Kickoff is a tool designed for teams fully invested in the Apple ecosystem. While their apps for the Mac and the iPhone are great, anyone hoping for a web, Android, or PC client will find themselves out of luck. But if you’re willing and able to work within their admittedly limited platform offerings, Kickoff is a relatively robust tool.
Functionality-wise, it’s not really in direct competition with any single tool, as it combines group chat with group task management. Both tools work just about the way you’d expect them to with only minor annoyances like the lack of any spell-checking capability, which the developers claim is actually a feature.
As a group chat tool, Kickoff is superb, allowing you to move between chats with your whole team or individuals with ease. Moreover, since it’s distributed through the Mac App Store, Kickoff is able to take advantage of push notifications while the app is closed, which I found extremely useful in day-to-day use. You’re also able to start discussions based on a specific task, which seems to be a feature pretty unique to Kickoff.
Unfortunately, Kickoff is a much better chat app than it is a task manager, providing only the most basic options for managing your lists. You’re able to to create virtually unlimited lists and tasks, with the ability to assign a group member to each one, and that’s about it. There’s no way to assign due dates, set reminders, add task specific details, or perform any number of other seemingly basic tasks. Honestly, Apple’s own Reminders app is a far more robust task management tool, and with the ability to share lists, would probably be a better option for most teams. All-in-all, Kickoff feels like a wonderful group chat app with a pretty uninspiring todo list tool tacked on.
A Bleak Future
Soon after its release, the developers of Kickoff announced that they’d been acquired by the popular developer-oriented payment platform Stripe. And with this news, the app moved to “maintenance” status, promising only minor bug fixes in the future. Upon hearing this news, I reached out to Kickoff cofounder, Benjamin De Cock, and received this comment:
Kickoff has been acquired by Stripe but the plan is to keep maintaining the app and to make sure the service stays running and responsive. However, we don’t plan to add big new features as Kickoff is exactly what we wanted to build: something light, simple and focused :)
While it’s reassuring that Kickoff will continue to be maintained, it still has a few glaring omissions such as the lack of an iPad app or due dates on tasks, issues which are unlikely to ever be addressed. So while competing tools continue to get better and better, Kickoff will likely find itself unable to compete.
One area where Kickoff sets itself apart from the crowd is its unique business model. Instead of charging a monthly fee like most other group collaboration tools, Kickoff charges a single flat rate for each of its apps. The Mac app runs about $28, with its iPhone app priced at a more affordable $7. While this is pretty inexpensive, each user will have to buy a Kickoff license, making it a somewhat harder sell. It’s an interesting approach to selling a service, but at the end of the day, you’ll have to do the math to see if it makes sense for your group. But, if you are willing to pay a comparatively steep upfront cost, Kickoff offers freedom from the tyranny of the reoccurring subscription.
Before it’s acquisition, I would have had no problem recommending Kickoff to anyone working in a group with only Apple devices. Now, though, without any real possibility of the app continuing to receive updates, Kickoff has become something a hard sell. Still, if it’s stellar interface and pay-once business model are important to you, Kickoff is a great tool for the time being. It would have gotten a much stronger rating if we had an hope for its future, but unfortunately, what you see is really all you’ll get in this case.