There have been a lot of changes to my iOS home screen over the last year. I switched from my iPhone 6 back to my iPhone 5S after I discovered how much I hated the side power button and inconvenient size of the iPhone 6. A few weeks before the iPhone 6S was released, I decided to go back to the iPhone 6 and get used to the size and see if my opinions changed. The short story is that they hadn’t. The side power button, while understandably within easy reach of the thumb, more often than not also lowers or raises the volume on the other side of the phone. It is an aggravation but one I had resigned to live with as they wouldn’t be changing it any time soon.
The main reason I switched back was the anticipation of 3DTouch in iPhone apps. I could see there was some great potential there and I wasn’t disappointed in that regard. As it stands, just a few weeks after the release of the new iPhone, the majority of the apps on my home screen support 3DTouch actions and they really do enhance the functionality of the phone in some surprising ways.
Because I wasn’t sure if the larger phone size would “stick” I kept an empty sixth row of icons on the bottom of the screen. Doing so would facilitate an easy switch back to the 5S and it was my escape hatch back to my preferred size phone. I ended up liking the empty space down there and left it alone even though I have surely settled on the iPhone 6S. While the size still sucks, the speed of the 6S is impressive and the new features like 3DTouch and “Hey Siri” support get used enough to make it worthwhile.
Editorial is still my go-to long form text editor and main way to view my taskpaper task lists. I’m not even using the power Python workflows and still find it an incredible app in terms of functionality and polish.
Fantastical remains my favorite calendar app on iOS. With 3DTouch giving you quick access to creation of a new event, calendar search and a preview of your next meeting, it remains on the home screen and gets very heavy use throughout the day.
I still have a folder with less-used apps in it. These are generally apps that get swapped out for their rival counterparts (Weatherunderground and Storm or Twitterific and Tweetbot come to mind).
VSCOcam is still an amazing iOS photo app. For taking photos as well as having a ton of great processing features, it stands far above the other photo apps I have used. 3DTouch adds quick access to the camera and importing photos among other things.
1Password is a vital piece of technology at this point. If you’re not using a password manager, frankly, you are nuts. 1Password is the best of the bunch.
YNAB is something I’ve been using to track my finances for a couple of years now. Having quick access to it means I can easily enter each transaction right after it occurs. Keeping your accounts up to date is one of the hardest things to do with a finance app like this so having this at my fingertips helps in that regard.
Since the operation I have been using Apple’s Health app to track things like heart rate and blood pressure. It isn’t great but it served as a decent repository for that data and stayed backed up between phone switches.
Notes is the second Apple app that has earned a spot on my home screen. I like the multimedia aspect of it and the sharing between the Notes app in El Capitan seals the deal. I use it for checklists and reminders.
Music is yet another Apple app on the home screen. I still am loving the service. It isn’t glitch-free but it is a perfectly capable app once you get used to it.
Awful is my window into the SomethingAwful forums which remains a hilarious way to pass the time. Better than Twitter at least…
Overcast is the best podcast app out there. While I love the features in Downcast, Overcast’s Smart Speed is an amazing feature.
Rego is a great travel app. I use it to mark places that we have visited as well as create itineraries for places we plan on going. The Today widget also has a “Mark this spot” button which I use a lot for parking. I mentioned it in the Nerds on Draft show on navigation if you want to hear more specifics in how I use it.
PCalc has become a great home screen addition. I find myself using it quite a bit and, since the Apple Watch app is fairly capable, there are a lot of ways the app comes in handy.
Storm and the WUnderground app both vie for position depending on the weather. When the weather turns inclement, Storm is great for showing the fronts, the wind direction and speed, thunderstorm warning areas and such. WUnderground is great for day-to-day weather information. If you create an account, you can use it on both apps to remove ads.
Outlook for iOS is a surprisingly capable iOS app for handling your Office365 or Exchange email. I use it exclusively for work email because I prefer to keep everything separate and it is a highly polished email client.
Phone – another Apple app!1 Since this is a phone, it makes sense to have the phone app handy and I do use it often enough to keep it around.
TapCellar is the best beer app for iOS. There is no better app for managing and grading beers on the Apple App Store. Go buy it.
Safari is such a capable browser for iOS so I never felt the need to use a third party version. I definitely wouldn’t use Google’s Chrome and now, with ad blocking apps (I chose 1Blocker), Safari has gotten even better.
Spark is a new addition, replacing Boxer for now. It doesn’t have some of the interesting features Boxer has (like customizable smart folders with mail counts on them) but it has some pretty cool interactions. I haven’t deleted Boxer yet. We will see how things go with Spark for a while.
Launch Center Pro fell off of my home screen in favor of an app called Launcher a while back but with the customizable 3DTouch feature, I now use it as a way to create tasks for my taskpaper files using Drafts. It. Is. So. Cool.
Messages gets constant use. Integration with the Apple Watch and the fact that everyone I know uses it really makes it an essential app.
Slack is the best group and collaborative messaging app available. It is great. So very great.
Drafts is generally where all of my text starts (except where previously mentioned). All of my new tasks start in Drafts and they get sent over to my taskpaper file in Dropbox via some not-very-tricky automation. Now that Drafts is getting launched via Launch Center Pro, it is even more of an essential part of how I do things on iOS.
3DTouch has been a great addition to iOS. It’s quick adoption has seen it land on my home screen in the majority of the apps that reside there. Fantastical, VSCOcam, Pinner, Notes, Music, Overcast, PCalc, Phone, Safari, Spark, Launch Center Pro, Messages and Drafts all support it already.
This has to be a record. ↩
I am trying something new with my homescreen this month. It is mostly in anticipation of a new, unwelcome larger iPhone1 the thoughts of how to actually use a phone with that much screen space has been on my mind. After using the Galaxy S5 for a few weeks, the point was driven home – I need to tailor the layout of the icons on the home screen to effectively use the dimensions of the device.
These considerations sound elementary but I consistently see home screens laid out in a way that will require some gargantuan thumbs (or two hands) to operate with a bigger phone no matter what messy interface hacks Apple adds to assist with navigating these massive devices.
Since I keep my phone in my back left pocket, I tend to use the phone with my left hand. The apps that get used most often have their icons closest to the bottom left corner. Launcher apps like Launch Center Pro and Contact Center have their icons arranged that way as well. While this makes my phone very left-hand-centric, when I am in a hurry or have my hands full, this set up helps. By orienting things this way, apps that I need the fastest access to (TV controllers, phone or contact apps, peripheral controllers, Netflix, Touchpad, etc. are right under my thumb when I activate the phone.
All that said, here’s what I ended up with.2
Fantastical remains my favorite calendar app. I like the presentation across all of my devices and it fits in well with my workflow. I wish they provided a way to view my whole day but I can get that elsewhere (like Omnifocus’s Forecast view or Tempo) so its not a showstopper.
Editorial on the iPhone is hands-down the best text editor on iOS, especially when dealing with Dropbox-based markdown documents. It uses TextExpander snippets, has a very smart keyboard, and supports user-created workflows, writing statistics and tons more. It’s a tour-de-force of iOS development and well worth whatever Ole is charging these days.
The folder is my overflow for things that I’m trying out or have fallen out of favor. If I want to see if I can live without a particular app for a while, I stick it in here.
Tempo has a great day-view as well as a nice week view and unique two-week view for all of my calendar events. I use this to get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on mainly to get a sense of how full my calendar is on a given day. I don’t use many of Tempo’s more innovative features like the phone/contact helper or email data mining because I find it doesn’t do a great job of parsing the phone numbers for the myriad conference call formats I need to commonly use. Fantastical handles it a bit better but I put common conference call numbers into my Contacts app (replete with pauses and menu commands3) and then map them in Contact Center for quick dialing.
1Password has become more important than ever given the security issues we have had lately. Gabe told me about Vault sharing and I’ve been using that to share passwords that my wife might need to know in a pinch. With iOS8 on the horizon, integration with 1Password gets even better and one of the biggest excuses most people hold up as an impediment to using 1Password – inconvenience – will evaporate.
VSCOcam has the best filters and the best photo editing capabilities of any iOS app. That said, I stopped looking at new ones once VSCO hit my homescreen because it did all I needed it to. Maybe something better has come along since then but given the width and depth of features that have come to VSCO in recent years, I somehow doubt it.
You Need a Budget is my home budgeting and money management app. The iOS app helps with on-the-spot entry of new transactions and it’s really well done. My wife and I use it every day to keep our accounts up to date and knowing where all the dollars and cents are going has removed a weight of stress that has been on my shoulders for years. I regret not using it sooner.
Tweetbot remains my favorite Twitter client but Twitter itself is on my shit-list. Their dumb decisions in the name of creating a social network I have no interest in will ultimately ruin for those who choose people to follow based on what they actually say, not what Twitter allows me to see them say. A curated feed will mean I stop using Twitter. Once Twitter’s algorithms control what I see, its not what got me to use Twitter in the first place. It has me wondering if we were too quick to abandon ADN or if I need to use a social platform at all.
Slack, o Slack, how I love thee. I mean it. Slack is the best chat and collaboration service on the planet. Finding Slack changed how I collaborate with people on some important projects and it has custom emoji. What more can you ask for?! How about file storage, app integrations, a stellar iOS client, a full featured Mac client, private and public channels, one-on-one chat with other collaborators? If you want any or all of those things, Slack is what you have been looking for.
Pushpin is a great Pinboard client. I use it every day and, other than occasional crash, it does what I ask of it. There are a lot of great Pinboard clients out there but I like this one quite a bit.
Overcast is an interesting animal. I didn’t want to like it and seriously doubted that anything would unseat Downcast as my favorite podcast app but I find that Overcast finds a sweetspot between features and usability that Downcast sometimes lacks. The Smart Speed and Voice Boost options are worth the price alone and I find the web page integration for playing podcasts while on my Mac is adequate. It isn’t perfect but it does a good job and I’ve been using it since release. It has unseated Downcast. Unbelievable.
The Phone app is there for convenience and to display voicemails or missed calls.
OmniFocus has just gotten an iOS8 facelift and it remains my go-to GTD task manager. Despite my misgivings with some of their recent decisions, Omnigroup still makes the app that best suits my needs for getting things done.
Dark Sky still works its magic with uncannily accurate hyper-local weather forecasts. I recently used it at a barn party (yes, this is something I do now) when people were wondering when the rain would arrive. When Dark Sky predicted it to the exact minute, I am sure the Forecast.io folks sold a few more copies.
Mail is a necessary evil. I use the stock mail app for work Exchange email. By segregating it from my personal email, it allows me to use any innovative email app I choose for things like Fastmail.
Contact Center is a new addition. I’ll admit I was confused when Contact Center was released – is this like Launch Center Pro Lite? The answer is “not quite”. It uses the same interface ideas put forth in LCP but focuses squarely on making things easy to keep in touch with your friends, family and colleagues. Adding a contact “folder” makes an icon for them in the app and when you tap that icon, it opens up options for ways to contact them – iMessage, phone, Facetime Audio, etc. I tried to recreate this using LCP but found that it was much harder and more time consuming that I wanted to deal with. Buying Contact Center added an icon to the Home screen but it has quickly become one of my most-used apps.
Safari. It’s great and made even better with Duck Duck Go integration. I’m no longer using Google in any facet of my phone use and it feels pretty good.
TapCellar is an interesting project that exists and this is a beta of the app. More on that later.
Dispatch is not really perfect for how I handle my email these days. Using Sanebox for dealing with my email has really kept me sane and using it has meant that my Inbox actually contains email that I should read. The downside of Dispatch is that I can’t quickly see the Sanebox subfolders and their item counts like I can in Boxer. Unfortunately, Boxer doesn’t play well with the iOS8 beta so I’ll stick with Dispatch for now. It has some great features but that folder issue is a real bummer.
Launch Center Pro is great and it’s spot in the bottom left on the Home row should make it clear that it is something I go to often for important functionality. It’s the Swiss army knife of apps and once you build the muscle memory, you will come up with all sorts of ways to integrate it into your app use.
Messages is easily my most-used app. There are anecdotal tales of people having an awful time with it and I have friends who can’t get it to work consistently. That said, I still find it incredibly useful and I am relieved to report that it works fine for me. There isn’t really a chat client that comes close to it in terms of convenience. The next app on the Home row comes close though.
Trillian is my platform agnostic chat client for people unfortunate enough to be using Android phones or using Windows machines at work. Lately however, Skype has been in use more than Trillian so Trillian might lose its spot on the Home row if the last two or three contacts I chat with move over to Skype or iMessage as well.
Drafts is an app I should probably use more. I understand that it can shuttle text into most apps that I use and I can just type everything there and ship it off where it needs to go but I don’t use it that much. I’ll use it to note locations, jot down quick things that I’ll need in a digital format later (since the Field Notes have taken over a lot of things that get jotted down quickly). Drafts waxes and wanes in usefulness for me but it still is used often enough and ubiqitously enough that it seems stuck to my Home row for good.
A lot of apps have changed but iOS 8 is going to change everything. With the ability to extend apps to interoperate with other apps, the field will once again be wide open and ripe for innovation and I can’t see how things change over the next few months.
I can hear you asking “Then why get one?” The short answer is that I use iPhones for work. We need to test and use the latest versions and get a feel for the UX and how it relates to our app. And, yes, we’ll have a few iPhone 6Pluses taking up large tracts of desk space too. ↩
That is, indeed, a Field Notes background – Shelterwood Edition. ↩
When editing a contact on the Contact app’s editing screen, hitting the key with the ”+ * #” opens up the doors for solving this particular dialing dilemma. The pause key will insert a comma into the text field collecting your digits which represents about a 1 second pause. The asterisk and pound/hash do what they say on the tin – they will insert those at the appropriate moments in the conference dialing script. ↩
It’s been an incredibly busy last few months and time to write has been pretty scarce. I have also been working on some bigger projects that I want to post about but they are no where near fully baked. One thing that has gained a lot of attention has been my move away from OmniFocus.
If you have read this site with any sort of regularity, you’ll know how much I base what I do on OmniFocus. It has guided my days, both at home and at work, for years. There are a lot of reasons for my exploration. Some are driven by my disappointment with OmniFocus 2 for iOS, some are driven by the previous Mac beta casting some serious doubts on Omni Group’s direction for the product.
As time passed, it became obvious how difficult it is to replace an app like OmniFocus but I’m trying things that suit me very well in some ways but not so much in others. I’m not sure if they’ll work out yet and when they do, I will post the process and results of this study here. One thing I can say with certainty – re-evaluating your position on a system that you have used for a long time is an illuminating look into the habits that define you. It is also incredibly disruptive when you’re trying to get shit done.
Recently Omni Group released a new Mac beta for OmniFocus. Once it gets more stable, I will return to it full time. For now, it crashes too often for real-world use but I was happy with some of the new direction and features. I was encouraged.
So that all said, there’s no OmniFocus on my Home screen for the first time since OmniFocus’s release on iOS. Crazy stuff.
Phone has undergone some significant changes for the better in iOS 7.1. They show up in subtle ways but I think Apple made the app vastly more attractive and useful. It integrates seamlessly with Facetime, it has context-sensitive options popping up that can be reacted to intuitively. It is a vast improvement and one I don’t hear a lot about.
Fantastical is how I get meetings into my calendar, whether its on the iPhone or the Mac. The natural language parsing is unmatched and it has been a staple on my phone since its release. On the phone, I use Drafts to send meetings to Fantastical and on the Mac, I use Alfred. Drafts and Alfred are like conduits that I use to shunt information to different programs throughout the day and both give me a single place to do so. Having a focused input area like this reduces friction and saves time.
Mynd was on my Home screen back in August 2013 when it released and didn’t quite make it into a permanent rotation but it has improved quite a bit since then. While not perfect, it does a lot of things well and many of its shortcomings are because I refuse to allow it to integrate with LinkedIn and Facebook (since I don’t use them). If you’re looking for a daily organizer that will coalesce the disparate threads of your day and tie them into one, nicely designed spot, you could do worse than Mynd. Tempo is also quite good if Mynd doesn’t work for you.
I also still keep a folder for apps that rotate in and out. Things like the Apple Clock app, Wunderlist, Tempo etc.
1Password remains. On a daily basis I hear nightmare stories about data loss, forgotten license keys, emergency bank account access and security breaches requiring mass password changes for websites sharing personal information that could have been alleviated if the persons involved had simply used 1Password. It is one of the most important apps on iOS and once you take the leap to integrate it into your digital life, it is a short leap to use it for everything. It is really a useful app once you start using it to its full potential.
Nebulous Notes is still a default iOS text file editor. Maybe someday there will be an iOS editor that will have all of the features that I need but for now, this one suffices. It has just enough to be useful but not so much that it confuses the tasks I’m trying to accomplish. Generally I need to access a file in Dropbox and look for something or do a quick edit. Nebulous is great for that. Quick notes that will eventually make it into Dropbox often start in Drafts so Nebulous is more of a text file viewer for me but its editing tools are powerful and the search is fantastic.
VSCOcam is the best iOS app for photo-taking and photo-manipulation. It takes amazing photographs and the filters are incredible. I use VSCO on my Mac in Lightroom as well. They seem to be a great company of smart, creative people making useful stuff. Support them.
Downcast is not the prettiest podcast app but it is particularly suited to what I want. I’ve tried many of the podcast darlings but I always return to Downcast because it is really smart about how it caches and manages podcast files and I can use its comprehensive set of rules to control how much space gets eaten up by the dozens of podcasts I don’t have time to listen to.
Contacts is… well yeah. It’s not great but I do use it quite often. I’m currently trying out Cobook. I’ve used it on and off and found it terrible. It does look like it has undergone some major changes so I’m putting it through its paces again.
YNAB(You Need a Budget) is my banking and budgeting app of choice. The iOS app is a conduit to feed my YNAB file on Dropbox so I can keep track of my finances but the entire ecosystem around YNAB is the best out there by far.
Awful is a standard for me, scanning the somethingawful forums for information about knives, Buddhism, games and wrong-headed ideas about True Detective.
Riposte is a great ADN client. I love the functionality and the look-and-feel. If you’re on ADN, you should be using Riposte.
Slack is an incredible app. I use it daily and for collaboration or just plain communication it does everything right. I can’t say enough good things about it but go try it out and you won’t be disappointed.
Mail is where I handle all of my work emails. It remains focused for that mainly because it works so well with Exchange and keeping my personal email segregated also keeps me sane.
Dark Sky is on the Home screen because it has the most accurate and clear weather reporting. I check it everyday when I wake up. For more a more in-depth view of the weather and for looking at more long range I switch over to The Weather Underground app which has some great charts and crowd-sourced local weather.
Boxer has been my main email client for a few months and I like it a lot. The configurable slide controls allow me to tweak to work with my crazy system of managing my inbox to zero. Sanebox is still working it’s magic by keeping less useful mail filed away in places where it makes sense until I have the time to get to it. I have to admit I’m perplexed by Boxer’s Sanebox1 “integration”. Regardless, it was enough to get me to try Sanebox which saves me hours per week of needless distraction and for that I’m grateful.
Taskpaper is now where OmniFocus used to be. I could write 6000 words on this fact but I’ll save it for another day.
Asana is a web-based team collaboration tool for managing projects and tasks. I use it for a specific project and it works pretty well. I think if you “lived” in this app and used it all day/every day it might be pretty great. As it is, it serves as a task manager for a very specific project.
Safari is still on the front page, useful as ever.
Trillian still gets some use. Most of my chat has moved to iMessage or Slack but there are still some folks who use PCs at work and want to use Gtalk since typing on their phone is a pain.
Messages is awesome. I know some people have problems with it but I have had very few issues since I reduced the number of ways you can initiate an iMessage chat with me. Combined with Chatology, its a great communcation tool.
Drafts is the Swiss Army knife of text. As I mentioned above, I send text from Drafts to lots of different destinations but it gives me a single place to start. Merlin Mann uses it for the same reason as described in the latest Mac Power Users podcast.
Launch Center Pro is a great app. I still use it for all of my Mac Mini control needs because, in two taps, I can be controlling the mouse or keyboard on the Mac Mini attached to my TV. I’ll write up another article about LCP some day but for now you should get the gist of how important this app is to me given its prime slot on the Home screen Dock
Affiliate link! ↩