App Review: TouchTax 5
As Benjamin Franklin said in 1789, in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. While your webOS device can't help a whole lot with the former (although it can help you stave off your inevitable end with improved health and fitness), for those of you in the United States who may still be burning the midnight oil working on your 2011 taxes and the crazy tax code nerds out there might find TouchTax to be a handy reference to keep on your TouchPad. Its interface and functionality limitations, though, may be a bit too taxing for many users, and the $2.99 app does provide e-filing or tax return features - TouchTax is all about the information.
The overall interface for TouchTax is a standard Enyo layout, with sliding panes. The leftmost pane offers Quick Links to the Internal Revenue Code (the law) and Regulations overseen by the Internal Revenue Service, a comparison table of section numbers from the original 1939 Code and its 1986 major revision, and IRS Forms, along with Application Support. Links really is the operative word: the application merely launches a separate browser window directly to the relevant portion of the IRS Web site for the Code, Regulations and Forms options.
On the plus side, this means that the information is as up-to-date and accurate as the IRS site itself; on the other hand, though, it makes a data connection a requirement to fully use the application, and once you're on the IRS site, you're limited to its navigation and search choices. It's a government website, so you can imagine how much of a pain it can be to use.
TouchTax does offer local content through its Tax Search box at the top left of the main screen, whose results bring up in-app copies of the Code and Regulations, but the search mechanism is not the easiest to use. The Code and Regs options require entry of specific section numbers; to do any sort of content search, you have to use the Keyword choice. So you have to know what you're looking for and where in the 7,500-page IRS code it is.
The default keyword search is by exact string; you need to select the link to "relevance and occurrence" to switch to a natural language-like search parsing. The application offers no obvious preference options to default to natural language, or to increase the number of results from 50. Once you've chosen and pulled up a specific provision, you can tap the small bookmark icon at the bottom right to add it to the Favorites menu in the left column. TouchTax also offers annotation capabilities (through the pencil icon), e-mailing (the paper airplane) and printing via the TouchPad's built-in printing feature. To delete all favorites, use the trash can in the bottom left; the four-grid button returns you to the home screen - why not a house, we don't know.
One important note: the versions of the Code (as of January 1, 2011) and Regulations (as of April 1, 2011) stored within the application are described as the most current available from the Government Printing Office (oddly enough, the IRS' own site links to Cornell University's version of the Code for searching rather than any official U.S. government source - see earlier comment about the quality of government websites). According to the developer's blog, "TouchTax is expected to be updated as soon as new versions of the Code and Regulations are made available - and currently the author anticipates making these updates available free-of-charge in the form of future application updates." There is, though, no way of verifying that the information in the app is complete and correct, nor that updates will occur or be free as anticipated.
TouchTax is best used like Wikipedia: as a helpful introduction and initial (but not authoritative) source of information. Anything beyond that, especially when real taxes (and real penalties) may be involved, should be left to verifiable official sources and competent professionals.