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Categories: iphone

iPhone Home Screen: October 2015

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.

Row One

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.

Row Two

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.

Pinner is a great little Pinboard app. I love that it has share sheet integration so I can share links from any app. It took over the duties from Pushpin.

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.

Row Three

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.

Row Four

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.

Row Five

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.

Row Six


Home Row

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.

  1. This has to be a record. 

My iPhone 6 Mini-Review

While I love the smooth, rounded edges of the iPhone 6 and the screen is great for looking at things, it is simply not a convenient phone to actually use. The bottom line for me is that the size of the phone makes interacting with it frustrating and it annoys me in various ways throughout the day.

The iPhone 6 is a huge phone1 and, it turns out, I’m not a huge fan. I tried to like it. I really did. At the same time, I had expected this would happen so I shouldn’t be surprised. I have been bemoaning the impracticality of a bigger phone since the rumors first surfaced. While it was an interesting novelty during the first few days, as time wears on, I dislike the iPhone 6 as my main phone for a variety of reasons.

Despite my misgivings about the phone’s size, it certainly has a better “feel” than the Samsung Galaxy S5 (which leaves you with the impression of it feeling like a cheap, plastic piece of crap). And while the iPhone 6’s size remains a major obstacle to my enjoyment and its utility, the inconvenience extends to the app interfaces themselves. Developers will need some time to come to grips with how to adjust their app designs to suit the larger form factor. What was surprising to me, however, is that apps like Mail still have critical controls along the device’s top edge. To reach any top edge interface elements requires two hands or two extra taps (for the ridiculous but sometimes necessary Reachability feature).

The placement of the Power button on the right side of the device is awful. With practice, I am getting better at not adjusting volume whenenver I turn off the display but it still happens far more times than I’d care to admit.

When the phone is lying on my desk and I want to turn off the display, I have to adopt a curious spidery grip in order to hold the phone firmly enough to depress the power button, yet not depress the area where the volume buttons are. Since these buttons are directly opposite each other, your natural instinct is to hold the phone on opposite sides and press. On the iPhone 6, this makes the volume go up and only delivers enough of the remaining pressure on the button to turn the screen off 50% of the time. Despite my complaints about the size, power button placement is the thing I hate most about the phone.

If ApplePay is really the panacea they are making it out to be, it may be enough of a reason to stick with the iPhone 6. However, if ApplePay ends up being another Healthkit (a whopper of a disappointment so far), I may end up going back to the iPhone 5S. I guess that makes me a contrarian. There are worse things to be.2

I will also hold out hope that next year Apple will introduce a new 5S-sized phone to compliment the 6 and 6+. I would love to have a 5S styled like the iPhone 6. I won’t hold my breath though since the trend is bigger and not smaller. I fear we all may be shopping for bigger pants by next year.

  1. The iPhone 6+ is a ridiculously gargantuan phone and I really don’t get the appeal of it at all. The box should read “Hammer Pants Required”. 

  2. Like a guy with really stretched out pockets, for instance. 

I Have Stopped Using TouchID

Buying a house makes all sorts of things change, whether you expect them to or not. When I was cozy in my habits for the last couple of years, I spent a lot of time thinking about technology and its role in my life. I was always exploring new ways to make things more efficient, safer, more secure, and faster.

Touch ID seemed like a revelation when I first saw it. It was all of those things – efficient, safe, secure and fast. After setting it up, I had good results and used it happily for months.

But buying the house didn’t just shift priorities. It also introduced new habits and ways to work. We moved out to the sticks I find myself carrying bags of pellet fuel, shoveling and salting walkways and patios, making home repairs and moving heavy stuff around. The result is that my soft little computer-user hands have been enduring a lot of wear and tear and Touch ID simply no longer works. I found myself adding my fingerprints over and over in an attempt to improve performance. The new fingerprints would work for a few days but then performance would degrade to unusable levels again.

Last week, Touch ID just stopped working altogether and I gave up. I’m back to using a passcode. Resting my finger on the Touch ID sensor for a few seconds, waiting for my phone to unlock, has become such a regular occurrence it is almost comical. I sit quietly and patiently, my finger warming the metal ring on the touch sensor, then curse and unlock the phone with my passcode. I waste about five to fifteen seconds each attempt yet, as annoying as that is, I think I’m still saving time.

Exploring with Apple Maps

Apple has taken a lot of well-deserved flak for their implementation of Apple Maps. We all know why they had to do it1, but their well-documented inaccuracy continues to create perception issues (and lost travelers too).

Alice and I have been working on buying a house in a less-populated area of Pennsylvania and decided to go driving around the area this weekend to see if we could find any hidden gems. By accident, I stumbled upon something that Apple Maps is quite good at – exploration.

Now that I’m keeping my phone in a better position to see it2, putting the iPhone in what I started calling “exploration mode” lead us to some truly amazing spots.

Just tap the arrow button on the bottom left of the screen twice (to orient the map in the direction you are heading) and tap the “3D” button once to give you a slightly angled, top down view. This presents you with a zoomed out version of the turn-by-turn directions; a birds-eye view of the area in which you’re traveling, real time and very informative.

We drove around all afternoon with Alice finding neat locations, highlighting them on the map and picking interesting routes to drive there. We found some amazing, unexpected spots that I doubt I would have run across before the days of always-on, ubiquitous GPS.

I know its pretty standard to bash Apple’s Maps (or Google’s for that matter) but there’s nothing like a flawless, “lost” exploration of the countryside to drive home3 how lucky we are to live in the future.

  1. Since the “sponsored locations” in Google Maps were probably on the drawing board for some time, it stands to reason Apple had to find an alternative. 

  2. I got a great iPhone holder from Proclip 

  3. Oh puns… 

Touch ID and the 7.0.3 Update

Ben Brooks posted about how he felt Touch ID was working better after he updated his iPhone 5s to 7.0.3 and then deleted and re-added his fingerprints. I thought I’d give it a shot since I was having degrading fingerprint recognition recently.1

After re-doing my fingerprints, I am having much more success unlocking my phone on the first try. Give it a shot and I hope you have the same good results I’ve seen using this method.

  1. It was only recognizing my right thumb one in five scan attempts and it was driving me nuts. 

Turning Off Notifications

As a culture, our ability to discern what is important from moment-to-moment is completely gone.

I read a lot of talk about this among the technorati, but the public at large seem to be content to bury themselves in their screens more than ever. There’s a very popular Louis CK bit making the rounds lately from his recent appearance on Conan O’Brien. I find myself thinking about it often and it syncs up almost exactly with the books I’ve been reading about Buddhism and meditation.

I’ve been trying to look at my phone less and experience what’s been happening around me more. This probably comes as a relief to those who have known me for years since I’m fairly well known as “the guy who is looking at his phone”. I’m surprised by how people who used to complain about me phone-gazing barely take notice of the difference in my behavior, mainly because they’ve started doing it too. Smart phones have reached a point where people use them to soothe their minds and distract them from stray second of having to notice what is really happening.

Sure, we use our phones to get work done, interact with friends, message people, take pictures, research facts you can’t bring to mind – I get that. I’m just saying we need to think for a second before taking our phone out of our pocket. I’m saying we should keep them off the dinner table. I’m saying we should set up some personal rules that allow us to control our time and attention rather than have it demanded of us only to have it given away to something as unimportant as a picture of someone’s cat on Facebook. As a society we have taken to calling ourselves “more connected” because of our technology but the opposite is happening. We’ve becoming less connected than ever.

A few weeks ago, Alice and I went to a ramen place in New York City. It was packed so we had to sit and wait in the lobby for a table. Around us were five other couples, all waiting for their tables too. Every person, all ten of them, had their face cast down, illuminated by the light of their cell phones. There was no interaction between anyone and all of them were completely ignoring their date. What kind of “night to remember” were they going to post about on Facebook that night? Maybe they were just there to post an Instagram of their bowl of noodles instead…

Here are some of the things I did to reduce the amount my devices compete for my time and attenion.

  • I disabled almost all notifications.
  • I disabled almost all badges.
  • I set up Favorite contacts so their messages get through – generally people on my contact list who might need to reach me in an emergency (a non-work emergency, mind you).
  • I set up my do-not-disturb settings so that I am never bothered after midnight or before 7:00am except in cases of extreme emergency.
  • I leave do-not-disturb on 24/7 on my iPad so that it doesn’t ring or buzz.
  • I turn off auto-fetch on my email clients on weekends and check them at times that work for me.

You can do things to lock it down more, or you can be less stringent than me. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. The point is to make conscious decisions. Don’t fly on autopilot. Don’t give your attention away for free.

I’m not saying we throw the technological baby out with the bathwater but I am advocating some thought and awareness about how we view our connectedness or we may end up missing what is important, right in front of us.

Launch Center Pro 2 Released for iOS7

Launch Center Pro 2 launched today. It has been completely redesigned to reflect iOS7’s aesthetic and user interface elements.

I’ve been using Launch Center Pro for quite a while. I lives on my Home row and I have grooved my muscle memory to reach for it. I find that, among my friends who have tried it, whether they like the app or use it is often is very personal; based on things like muscle memory and whether or not you use the apps it supports. Some people never quite find a niche for it but those who do can’t imagine using an iPhone without it. I’m in the latter camp.

On my iPhone, I like to keep some often-used apps buried in folders because it’s just cleaner that way. They are all tucked away neatly on “page 2”, grouped by function. Launch Center Pro lets me get to these apps quickly and easily while leaving them hidden away from view. It’s almost like having a separate Home screen, albeit one that has some more specialized purposes.

I use LCP2 to launch my Apple TV Remote app, TouchPad, Music, Rdio, and 1Password (among others). When I’m watching TV shows on my Mac Mini at night, two quick taps on the bottom right of my iPhone screen has me in total control of the Mini’s interface. If I want to play some music of watch Netflix, there’s no need to hunt around for that slippery, silver remote – the Remote app is just two taps away.

Clearly, LCP2 doesn’t solve everyone’s problems but, for those who find a use for it, there’s no other app that can compare.

Notes on the iPhone 5s

Everyone and their brother has written their reviews of the iPhone 5s since its release a few weeks ago. I got a 5s a few days after the launch and have been putting it through its paces with long workdays and my normal heavy use.

My reaction to the 5s is somewhat muted. I think this owes to the fact that I’ve been an iOS7 user since the release of the beta back in June. Many new 5s users are reacting to both the new phone and the milestone OS update that launched alongside it. I can understand the shock – there are some huge differences between iOS6 and iOS7 which take some getting used to.

Here’s my bullet-list take on the iPhone 5s

  • I like the fingerprint sensor in that it’s quicker in theory than typing my code over and over. In reality though, I had a timeout on my old code which meant that, if I turned off my screen for a minute and came to the phone, I didn’t have to enter the code again. That delay was adjustable for me (to a minute or two) so I wasn’t constantly entering my code as some people have to do due to the demands of their work IT policy. Once you enable Touch ID, you have to use the fingerprint sensor to activate the phone, period. There’s no adjustable delay. I think it is costing me, overall, some wasted time albeit at greatly increased security.
  • Touch ID is fast; a lot faster than I thought it would be. That said, it doesn’t always work on the first try. 1 The system seemed more accurate on day 1 and 2 and seems to be less accurate as time wears on. This could be due to the weather getting increasingly dry and/or cold. It could be that I’m trying to unlock it with my finger in weird positions. Who knows? Either way, when it works its magic, but when it doesn’t, I feel my bloodpressure rise accordingly.
  • I like the new Home button. it feels smaller and snappier. I do sort of miss the distinctive “app square” in the center of it, but I’ll get over it.
  • It is really fast. You can see the difference when you open the Camera app or switch to other processor-intensive apps like Photos or Mail.
  • It seems to run cooler than the iPhone 5. I have less of those “Oh god why is this phone so warm in my pocket?” moments which is comforting, I guess.
  • The battery life is pretty insane. I’ve gone a whole day on a single overnight charge.
  • I like the styling and the color (space grey) quite a bit. My “old” iPhone 5 was getting that “battered Han Solo blaster” look which I cherished but this looks plenty good.
  • The camera is noticeably faster and takes nicer pictures.

Overall, I’m happy with the upgrade so far. The “wow factor” wasn’t there with this phone like it was with the iPhone 5 but there’s a lot more going on under the hood which I think will bear fruit as more developers take advantage of the processor and motion tracking/sensing technology.

Recommendations are tough with this one, however. If you have an iPhone 5, I actually think you’ll be fine with it for a while longer so don’t rush out and stand in line or cry when your phone is backordered for a month. If you’re on an iPhone 4 or 4S, you’ll be pretty astounded at what this phone can do and I’d recommend trading up as soon as you can.

  1. Maybe I should re-phrase this bullet point as “It’s fast when it works on the first try.”? 

Tech Note: OmniFocus 2 for iPhone

Last week, OmniGroup released a new version of OmniFocus 2 for the iPhone1. The newly-redesigned app brings it more in line with the look and feel of iOS7 and that’s both a good and bad thing. This won’t be a review; just a few impressions after a week of fairly heavy use. Others have written more thorough reviews and I direct you to them instead.


I was happy when I first opened the app and saw the cheery, slightly muted, colors. It seemed to fit the iOS7 aesthetic well and it was pleasant to look at. As I started messing around with the app, however, the difficulties began to reveal themselves.

When I added my custom perspectives to the main screen, they faded away in a very low contrast teal. I’m not one of the folks who feel the need to make fonts bigger or bolder in the majority of my iPhone app use, but damn they were hard to see. Since the designers decided I didn’t need my custom icons on the home screen (I assume they didn’t want my choices cluttering up the clean design), making my custom perspectives harder to see doubled my annoyance.

The real estate on the main screen also competed with my needs. The great thing about OmniFocus was that I could tweak it to fit my needs. It became a customized haven where I could craft and then manage a workflow. I used it that way for years. That said, I’m not averse to change. If something changes for the better, I’m not one to cling to my old weather-beaten way. Point me to the new stuff. The problem is that the new version of OmniFocus wants me to work in a very different way. My attempts to customize are curtailed2 and I find myself having to change how I work to meet the design of the app. This is the opposite of what we’ve grown accustomed to and runs counter to what led me to love the previous version so much in the first place.

My workflow has come to rely on the Forecast, a custom “Today” perspective, my “Work” and “Home” perspectives and a “Next Stuff for Work” perspective. They took center stage in the previous app but now I have to scroll to see them. It’s awkward. In the previous app, the fact that the perspectives were front and center reminded me to check them. Now, tucked away behind the bottom of my iPhone screen, I’ve found they get checked far less often. Perspectives are the most powerful feature in OmniFocus and minimizing their relevance in your flagship app is going to cause powerusers some major headaches.

I find the way the nicely-colored large “buttons” or tap areas are situated very awkward as well. The double-sized Inbox and the four other “buttons” arranged below it made me wonder why the Inbox tap area was bigger and why the others were in a static grid. Again, awkward. I would love to remove “Nearby” and move all of my custom contexts up to a more useful postion but I can’t and that’s frustrating.

Generally after a major update, you expect more of what you had before – more customizability, more choices, more features, more options. It’s what you’re paying the $20 for (again). I’m not going to gripe about the price. I know a major factor is because Apple won’t allow upgrade pricing. Couple this with the fact that I love OmniGroup products and want them to keep making great apps and the sting of paying again fades. But my main problem is that this feels like I lost some critical functionality and what I got in return was some thin fonts and the need to do a lot more scrolling.

I’m not going to fully agree with what others have voiced to me privately – that this is a $20 re-skin. It’s not. It seems like an iterative reimagining of a well-loved, much-used product. The problem is that it is starting over on iteration #1. I wish the iteration started from where the previous version left off.

It may sound like I’m extremely negative about the app but its not all terrible news. The only reason I’m being so critical is because I love OmniFocus so much. I want Omnigroup to succeed, improve, move forward, keep iterating. There are some nice touches for a 1.0 and, for now, I’ll look to these as a bellweather of better things to come.

Bonus Pro Tip: To back out of deeply-nested Projects or Contexts, press and holding the top left corner. It will drop you back on the main screen.3

  1. Affiliate link. 

  2. By virtue of being impossible. 

  3. I was quite happy to find this one (accidentally). 

iMessage for Android

“iMessage for Android” was released on the Google Play Store the other day. It is obviously not an official client and the intrepid people who have downloaded and tested the app attest to its inability to communicate with iMessage clients.

This app would appear to be one of the many black marks on the malware-blighted Android app ecosystem but what caught my eye at the bottom of Verge article about the app was a comment (the first comment, mind you) that sums up so well the expanse between reality and fantasy when it comes to Android fans.1


It’s Apple’s fault that these Android users are being put at risk? Yup, clearly. I hold out hope that this user was being sarcastic but a scan of the next few pages of comments (why do I do this to myself?) serve as ample testimony to this being how the Android diehards tend to think about the world.

I will concede one point to them however. When Apple introduced iMessage, they claimed that it would be “open”.2 We can now see that its not open by any definition of the word and that’s a shame in some ways because it further fractures the landscape of instant messaging apps. That said, the last people who should be citing “open” are Google/Android fans. Have they looked into implementing any Google Hangout integration recently?3

  1. This is why we never read the bottom half of the internet, readers. 

  2. @johngordon, an ADN contributor, pointed out that Apple may not have specifically said that iMessage would be open. The screenshot I saw specifically mentioned Facetime. I’ll have to go back and listen to that keynote but if memory serves, I think John’s right about this and its one more thing the commenters are wrong about. And also me. 

  3. They can’t because it’s not “open” either. Can we stop using that word now?