Over the past few years I’ve tried to curtail my use of social media. I’ve unfollowed a ton of accounts on Instagram and Twitter, deleted my Facebook account, and mostly lurk in general. I’ve also deleted all of my old posts – I know that stuff is still searchable for Twitter if you are so inclined but at least by default it’s not hanging out there.

But I’m still a person who enjoys looking back at what I was doing and thinking retrospectively. When I was a heavier user of social, Timehop notifications were something I always looked forward to and got a lot of joy out of.

What I’ve done instead is committed to posting daily in Day One. I’ve been using the app for about 10 years now but have really leaned into it in the past 3 years. My daily posts don’t have to be anything super deep or insightful, but just document what’s going on in my life or what’s in my head. The app has a really neat daily prompt feature that you can enable that will either simply say “hey remember to post”, or even tee up a post idea for you to get started with. You can create templates and tag posts to help for future discoverability as well. I also have configured a monthly retrospective notification that reminds me to reflect on my job, relationship, family life and more.

Once you start writing daily, you become more mindful of the world around you. When I don’t have anything super important going on day-to-day my fallback daily post is typically a gratitude reflection. Spending even 5 minutes thinking about what happened that day that I’m grateful for brings me immediate peace and balance but it’s also beneficial when I review them years in the future. And obviously, since it’s private and only I can read the posts, I can cover way more ground that I ever could posting on social and reviewing in Timehop.

For every day that you have a post from the same day in the past, you can get a notification to review all of those posts. I really enjoy going back through simple moments as well as family vacations I’ve taken. I try to capture the little moments that stood out from those days and they bring me a lot of joy. As a parent, I know my time with my kids is so precious and being able to reflect on those as they grow up is priceless.

I think there’s still a place for social media in your life if you are doing it right, but these days it’s pretty rare that I want to go there first. Obviously, writing on your own website has a similar “yelling into the void” aspect that something like Twitter does, but I like the pace of blogging compared to something like Twitter for the most part. I also realize I just spent a few hundred words telling you that journaling can be beneficial, but if you’re like me and get tremendous value from “looking back”, a digital journaling service like Day One will bring tremendous value to your life.

Using Day One to scratch that Timehop itch

Over the past few years I’ve tried to curtail my use of social media. I’ve unfollowed a ton of accounts on Instagram and Twitter, deleted my Facebook account, and mostly lurk in general. I’ve also deleted all of my old posts – I know that stuff is still searchable for Twitter if you are so […]

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I was recently reading this article about how Apple’s services are often creaky, slow and feel half assed and it got me thinking: for any given app or service, what is the best in breed for that area? I’ll skip some smaller utilities and such, and focus more on the core apps and services.

Apple Maps

Do I use it? Sometimes
What is the best? Google Maps
Why? The gap has closed significantly, with Apple Maps actually being better in many ways (turn by turn UI, overall UX, speed), but still lagging in search results and POI info like how busy the location is, and the list functionality is not on par with what you can do with Google. Also, bike mapping & overall global rollout is lagging. Ask me again in a year or two, though. Apple is catching up, fast.

Safari

Do I use it? Sometimes. Almost all of the time on mobile, rarely on desktop
What is the best? Google Chrome on desktop, Safari on iOS (only because of extensions)
Why? I want to like Safari, I really do. But it just feels so fiddly sometimes. Questionable UX decisions on desktop and mobile, tabs are flushed from memory too frequently, the extension model (downloading an app just to have an extension), relatively slow development / lack of focus on modern web app features all make it hard to really love it. I use Safari on iOS only because it’s the only way to use extensions on those platforms. I’ve been impressed with the recent investment in improving Webkit so I’m hopeful the apps will get further spit and polish so I can stop using Chrome or Brave while at work. Philosophically, I don’t want to support a monolithic rendering engine world and I do appreciate Apple’s stance on privacy.

Notes

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Unclear, it depends
Why? Notes is great as a simple note taking app with a few sneaky-pro features like sharing, locked notes and tagging. It does everything I need, and they tend to improve it incrementally over time. There are small details I hope to see improved like rich links when pasting in URLs, more themeing options and linking notes for more power-user types but I’m really happy with Notes.

Mail

Do I use it? Yes on iOS/iPad, no on desktop
What is the best? Depends – Gmail app, Spark, Outlook
Why? Mail is simple and does what I need but it’s missing nearly every modern mail client feature. That’s probably okay for most people and I’ve never really cared enough to stick with any of the 3rd party clients. I use Fastmail for my personal email and Gmail for work, so I tend to use the stock app on my devices and the webapps on my laptop.

Calendar

Do I use it? No
What is the best? Fantastical
Why? Calendar is fine, but doesn’t do much beyond the basics. Fantastical isn’t cheap but even the free version looks and functions better than Apple’s Calendar app. Better integration with video calls and more intuitive calendar views on mobile would make them a better match for Fantastical but right now it’s not really close. But for non-business users who only have a few calendar events here or there it’s really a great app.

Messages

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Probably Whatsapp
Why? Messages is pretty solid but I think the gold standard is Whatsapp. It’s a top 3 or so service though and I think people are generally happy with the features and functionality. I wish they’d adopt RCS, make group texting a bit more intuitive

Reminders

Do I use it? No
What is the best? Things
Why? Reminders is fine for most people and it has been improving over time. Lots of new features have come out in the past few years to make is a good option for many people (shared lists, tagging, smart views and more). I use Things but that’s mostly because I have so many projects going on at work that I need to organize. If that wasn’t a concern I could see myself using Reminders. I really appreciate the fact that they use an open API that any app can plug into, and hope they continue to expand that over time. I also hope we see a defaults preference for Siri one day where when I say “Remind me to..” it would just dump the request into my app of choice.

Books

Do I use it? 75% of the time
What is the best? The Kindle app offers a better ecosystem but Books is a better app.
Why? This one is complicated. Books is a better app in most ways. It feels good to use, is fast, has lots of neat features like reading goals and has a generally good UX. The Kindle app feels clunkier but boasts a better ecosystem. It also struggles with IAP due to Apple’s rules. I tend to look for the best deal on eBooks and all things being equal, will choose Books.

Photos

Do I use it? Sometimes
What is the best? Google Photos
Why? I use photos as my defacto library and use iCloud Photo Sync along with a few shared albums to send photos of my kids to family, but tend to use Google Photos as the front end as it’s faster, has more layout options, the slideshows/memories features are better and sharing is cross platform. Photos is a really great service on both platforms, I just think Google Photos is one of Google’s best products.

FaceTime

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Zoom
Why? Zoom is cross platform. I know FaceTime has the basic web link functionality now, but until they release a full fledged app and more filtering options, I think Zoom is the best for both professional and personal use.

Podcasts

Do I use it? No
What is the best? Overcast, Pocket Casts and Castro are all better.
Why? The one thing I like about Apple’s podcasts app is the recommendation engine, so they score points there. It suggests one-off episodes you might like and that is super helpful for discovery. Overcast, Pocket Casts and Castro are all infinitely better from an organization, performance and UX perspective, though. This is one app that I feel like is getting slightly worse over time and unfortunately they’re letting Spotify take over as a result.

Home

Do I use it? Yes, mainly via Control Center on iOS
What is the best? Home
Why? Fortunately, the Home app is mostly a frontend for the HomeKit APIs so there are other apps that can do most of the things other than Control Center integration. I’m hopeful we see that area open up to 3rd party developers so I could use Home or HomeWidget more frequently. Both of those apps have better, more customizable UIs and allow you to prioritize info the way that you prefer for your home.

Music

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Apple Music
Why? This one might rankle a few feathers but for me, Apple Music is the best but only barely. I’ve written about this in the past, but the album-focused nature of Music along with the APIs that allow amazing apps like Albums, Marvis Pro and Soor to exist means it’s the best for me. Add to that the great but flawed control center integration and controlling music in my home is easier w/ Apple Music and Sonos / HomePods. However, Music is slow, kind of poorly laid out, and is super creaky from decades of tech debt from the old iTunes store. I don’t know how you fix this other than a total rewrite on the Mac.

Fitness

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Peloton? Depends, but I think this app is really good.
Why? I use the Fitness service from time to time and I think it’s likely their best service right now, especially given how relatively young it still is. The fitness app does a good job of tracking workouts, the videos and integration with the watch is great, and it motivates me to work out more frequently. We also subscribe to Peloton so I use that service for biking but otherwise it’s Fitness for me.

News

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? Toss up between Flipboard, Google News and Apple News depending on your needs
Why? I wrote about this a while back, but I think people dunk on Apple News for some strange reasons. I really like the audio stories and magazines portions of the “plus” service, and the actual news feed does a good job of learning what type of stuff you read and offering up similar topics from time to time. My biggest complaints are the browsing experience for magazines and audio stories is kind of clunky, it’s hard to organize topics you follow, the Mac app isn’t great, and I wish you weren’t so locked into the app for reading stories but could instead bounce out to the webpage when possible. Flipboard and Google News are also great services, and I use those as well.

TV

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? It’s kind of a category of it’s own…
Why? There’s a lot to love and a lot to hate about this app. I love the ‘up next’ queue but unfortunately you’re at the whim of services and apps on if that’s integrated. But it’s nice having a way to quickly add shows or movies to my queue from the universal search UI. I wish there were a dedicated widget just for that purpose. Being able to be notified when new shows, movies or sporting events are happening is pretty awesome. The app itself is kind of a mess. It’s about a dozen or so infinitely side-scrolling lists that don’t make a ton of sense when browsing. It’d be cool to see the APIs for “up next” to be opened up so we could see some 3rd party clients take a stab at it, and I hope Netflix and other major services use the queue in the future.

Arcade / Game Center

Do I use it? Yes
What is the best? No real competition here
Why? It’s the best because nothing else really does what they’re doing. However, the fact that the Arcade apps are tucked inside of a tab on the App store is kind of strange. What I’d love to see is a standalone app that has special parental controls that allow you to freely download any game with certain ratings so I could essentially hand my kids an iPad, have them open up the Arcade app, and they can play whatever they want as long as it’s within a certain age range. I’d also love to see Arcades-game-specific data management rules. For instance, any game that hasn’t been played in x number of days could be offloaded to save space. In addition, the app could have better integration with Game Center, which could show more info about games your friends are playing, achievements you’ve unlocked, etc. Apple Arcade is actually a great service that I’ve grown to appreciate as my kids have gotten older and can play more of the offerings but the way to get to them is super clunky. So this one is tricky, much like the TV app. Nobody else does it so they’re technically “the best”, but I don’t feel like they’re doing that great of a job, either.

Wrapping up

So I think my conclusion is in line with the linked article from Benjamin Mayo. Apple’s apps and services are fine, with a few really solid showings for that 80% of users they’re trying to satisfy. However, many of my complaints aren’t about lack of functionality. It’s more about bad UX, slow interfaces or creaky tech debt. For a company that sweats every millimeter on the hardware side, I expect more on the software side. If they can’t or won’t address those concerns I hope they at least move down a path of adding more APIs that allow 3rd parties to address those needs. Apple doesn’t need to build every app or service that I use, but when they have a unique position that they’ve created and then don’t deliver, that’s a problem.

My worry is that all of the EU and US regulation that seems to be gaining traction is going to force the company to take their eyes off of the ball even further over the coming years and users of iOS and Android are going to see limited innovation as engineers on those platform scurry to build experiences that match the new laws coming out.

Which Apple apps or services are truly great?

I was recently reading this article about how Apple’s services are often creaky, slow and feel half assed and it got me thinking: for any given app or service, what is the best in breed for that area? I’ll skip some smaller utilities and such, and focus more on the core apps and services. Apple […]

Continue reading →

From Zac Hall, 9to5Mac:

Some of Apple’s Weather app for iPad is particularly not very Apple-y, but this is definitely Apple’s Weather app for iPad. It launches every time you tap the Weather widget, and that’s just how widgets work. It also mentions data vendors and controlling your data. Apple is all about empowering you to own your data and preventing companies from profiting from your information.

It’s hilarious to me that Apple still doesn’t have a weather app for the iPad, but instead just sends you to a website. And a shitty one like Weather.com at that. Took me a few sentences to see what Zac was getting at, but definitely worth the read.

iPadOS 15: Hands-on with Apple’s Weather app for iPad

From Zac Hall, 9to5Mac:

Some of Apple’s Weather app for iPad is particularly not very Apple-y, but this is definitely Apple’s Weather app for iPad. It launches every time you tap the Weather widget, and that’s just how widgets work. It also mentions data vendors and controlling your data. Apple is all about empowering you to own your data and preventing companies from profiting from your information.

It’s hilarious to me that Apple still doesn’t have a weather app for the iPad, but instead just sends you to a website. And a shitty one like Weather.com at that. Took me a few sentences to see what Zac was getting at, but definitely worth the read.

Call me old fashioned, but I love queueing up albums and listening to them all the way through. Nowadays, playlists are all the rage, but because listening to Albums in a CD-changer was the way I grew up listening to music I still enjoy hearing the entire album from start to finish. For me, it tends to invoke more memories than the random song showing up on a playlist. While one of the primary reasons I switched to Apple Music earlier this year was around better album support, the app (especially on iOS) still could use some work to make albums feel like first class citizens.

But there’s good news! As the Apple Music API has gotten more robust, more apps have been released to deliver niche music experiences on iOS. In the past month, 2 such apps have come out – Albums and Longplay. To my delight, both focus on allowing users to play their library in a way that’s “album first” – sorting albums based on certain criteria and playing them in their entirety. Both of these apps do a lot of similar things, but I thought it’d be worthwhile to highlight the pros and cons of both.

Albums 3.0

Albums is over a year old but the 3.0 release is a big one. Adam Linder, the developer of the app, has added a ton to the latest version. You have a few views at your disposal:

The main view in Albums 3

  • Albums – the traditional grid based layout that lets you perform basic filtering based on album play count, date added, etc. Tapping on any album starts playing it.
  • Library – a more granular breakdown that allows you to drill down by genre, decade, artist and more.
  • Insights – These are ‘smart playlists’ of albums that meet criteria like unplayed albums, old favorites, only listened once, and more.
  • Stats – Here are some dashboards that allow you to see which albums have been played the most.

The good:

  • Super active development gives me hope that the stability issues (see below) will be worked out eventually.
  • I love all of the ways you can sort and visualize albums.
  • Tons of settings you can adjust to your style.
  • You can view different sorts of stats for an album (play ranking for the year, compared to other albums by the same artist, etc).
  • The now playing view gives you a track listing, album metadata as well as stats about the album. The progress bar is also very interesting, as it shows you each songs progress as part of the album.
The now playing screen

The not so good:

  • It’s pretty glitchy. The app crashes a decent amount, things jump around at times (especially on an iPad where I use it in split view from time to time), and there’s a lot of room to improve the UX and the visual consistency is lacking.
  • It’s yet-another-subscription if you want all of the features. It’s only a buck a month but the mental overhead of subscribing for yet another app isn’t ideal for me. Still, I signed up for a 1-year subscription ($10) to see where things are going and to support development.
  • Due to some limitations around the way the Apple Music API works, a lot of the play recency stats seem to be tied to your device. Uou may have out-of-sync sorting between the iPhone and the iPad.

Longplay

Longplay is an app I just found out about in the past few days. This app is a lot simpler but approaches the job in a similar fashion. There are no stats or advanced sorting options so this is a bit more like Albums 2.0 was. Still, There’s a lot to like here.

This is the extent of the UI, but it gives you about everything that you need

The good:

  • It’s only $2.99. Sold.
  • Playlists are included along with albums!
  • You can long press and hide an album or playlist from the wall of art.
  • Visually, it’s very clean.

The not so good:

  • This app is really basic right now. The now playing screen is essentially a blown up version of the album art.
  • Appears to be iPad only right now. Apparently it’s on the phone, so scratch that from the list.

Anyway, I’d recommend either of these apps if you’re looking for a way to sort through, rediscover and shuffle your albums.

Album-focused Music Apps

Call me old fashioned, but I love queueing up albums and listening to them all the way through. Nowadays, playlists are all the rage, but because listening to Albums in a CD-changer was the way I grew up listening to music I still enjoy hearing the entire album from start to finish. For me, it […]

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