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Some Things Stick

This site is a place for me to capture things that catch my eye, appeal to me or improvement my life in some measurable sense. I’ll hear about some app on the internet, a gaggle of blog writers will praise it effusively and I’ll give it a try. Generally, I’ll get the appeal and I’ll download the app to see how well my opinions match up. At first, adoption of the new thing will be very novel and captivating but what makes apps stick?

I decided I’d go back through some old posts and see what apps I’ve continued using and which apps I haven’t. It seemed like an interesting experiment. It isn’t meant to highlight my capriciousness or how much I apparently hate money but to try and discover what makes one app “sticky” and one app fall by the wayside.

One thing that I notice when looking back is that the recommendations and must-buys aren’t all mistakes of poor judgement. Apps that I write about favorably are all solid apps which I enjoyed and used for quite a while before posting my comments1 Often, solid apps are supplanted by even more superior apps. As a user, that’s a good thing. Other times, life or workflow changes cause apps that once fit a niche perfectly to become outmoded or inefficient. I don’t ascribe to the idea that an app has to be maintained, changed, prodded, poked or otherwise tweaked to appear “new” in order for it to be a vital piece of kit. In fact, sometimes changes to an otherwise solid app can cause it to fall out of favor 2

Apps That Didn’t Stick

Knock - I used this app a lot for the first few days. After noticing some instability, I deleted it and stability returned (to both my phone and Mac). After hearing of a new version, I re-installed it and have been unsuccessful in getting it to run. I suppose I’ll try it again later but the hard shutdown that precipitated from my last installation attempt has me wondering if it is worth it.

24/7 was something I used for weeks and loved. I still use it to track my heartrate but Sleep Cycle alarm clock is a more effective sleep schedule alarm clock and I’m still tracking steps and weight via my mini Fitbit ecosystem.

Weather Line is a cool app but I find I still reach for Check the Weather for its clarity and radar maps.

Airmail is a fantastic email app and the price can’t be beat (other than being free, I guess) but I’ve switched over to Mailmate and couldn’t be happier.

Mynd looked like a nice opportunity to have a reactive, smart calendar but Tempo fits into the niche better for me. But then Fantastical 2 came along and, while it serves a different niche than the two aforementioned calendaring apps, it’s amazingly good.

Sparrow was my staple email app and, even today, I wish it would work with other IMAP accounts. It was slick, powerful and smart. But I’ve left Google 3 and don’t plan on ever going back. Since then, I’ve been bouncing around with email clients but I recently reached equilibrium with Dispatch. It has some real downsides (no access to folders) but the ability to clear my Inbox is front and center. An ideal iOS email app is a hard thing to pin down.

Apps That Stuck

Alfred 2 replaced Launchbar and is incredibly helpful. The stats it collects says I’ve launched it 3000 times since I installed it and it feels like more than that. I use it to launch apps, open files, search the internet, check times in different timezones, do math, open my remote servers and a lot more.

Folding Text is still in daily use, mainly because it handles work meeting notes so well. The ability to “roll up” meetings has become essential on busy weeks and the markdown support is stellar.

Launch Center Pro is a staple for me, as I explained in the linked post. It has most definitely stuck for many, many reasons.

OmniFocus 2 for iPhone has hung around but it was replaced for a while by Todo Cloud in a concerted effort to find a better task manager. The test concluded a few days ago and there were too many gaps in Todo Cloud’s functionality. I have some serious muscle memory built up with OmniFocus and, despite my frustration with the current OmniFocus iOS offering, the things I really needed continued to work. I’m going to try to find some ways to make the current OmniFocus experience better and it seems this app, despite being on the ropes for a few weeks, has stuck.

Bartender is incredibly useful. My current menu bar has the date (in Fantastical), important email notifications (thanks Mailmate), Caffeine and the time. Everything else is hidden away. On a small screen, that is so important. Essential app.

Textastic is used for all coding projects and long-form markdown. It’s also my “default” for opening text files. Great app.

Nebulous Notes is my favorite iPhone Dropbox-enabled text editor. There are a lot of other great options out there and, sadly for my wallet, I own many of them. A new text editor version will get released and I’ll try it out (most recently Byword for iOS) but, almost invariably, I run into some showstopper of a problem. It could be a bug or it could be a workflow issue but I always come running back to Nebulous Notes. It just “works” and I’ve never lost data which is more than I can say for the rest of them.

Coda has definitely stuck. It’s a remarkable app that I use to maintain my website. The amount of functionality packed into the app is surprising at times. It’s like the difference between those crazy Swiss Army knives and the more sensible, pocket-sized varieties. Coda has just enough to be opened as a default when editing this website. It lacks some of the more obscure bells and whistles but they are often things I hope to never have to deal with anyway. A+ app.

Editorial is the most amazing text editor on iOS. Nothing really comes close.

Byword is what I’m using to write this post on my Mac. While I eschew the iCloud syncing, the publishing add-on and the iOS apps, as an editor this thing is amazing. I love it.

Fantastical, as I mentioned before, is great on both iOS and the Mac. While I’ve had dalliances with other calendar apps on iOS, this app usually sits alongside them rather than tucked into a folder.

Overall, I think I pick winners. There are the occasional apps that I review or comment on here that fade over time but this retrospective has been helpful in that they almost always fade for a good reason. It’s natural – even good – to have applications take a lesser role as time goes on because, as life changes, your needs as a user change too. It is also worth mentioning that, just because an app hasn’t been updated for a while, doesn’t mean its any less useful now than it was two years ago. In fact, I’m more worried that apps I use everyday get a “revolutionary new update” and change in ways that make them less useful to me.

  1. A pet peeve of mine is the too-quick review. I prefer to live with apps for a significant amount of time before posting a review. 

  2. Like in the case of OmniFocus 2 for iPhone. I find some things demonstrably worse in the new version. 

  3. I forward emails that straggle in from people who don’t yet have my new email address to my Fastmail account. I have DuckDuckGo set as my default search on the Mac. I’ve switched to iCloud for calendars, Dropbox for shared documents and haven’t logged into Google+ (intentionally) for months. Bye Google. Your weird and creepy policies won’t be missed.