My iPhone Homescreen as we Enter 2017

  • FantasticaliTunes Store App Website While I find the built in Calendar good enough for most things, there are a few features that bring me back to Fantastical. First it combines both my calendar and reminders. I like seeing reminders with dates on them show up on my calendar. It also just accesses the system setup for your calendars and reminders allowing you to still use Siri as you would with the stock apps. Lastly, you can use natural language to add events. You can type “lunch at 3:00PM with John at Union Square Cafe” and it will parse that and put the data in the right place. There is a separate iPad and MacOS app as well.
  • Notes I have been using the stock Notes app after being both an Evernote and OneNote user. All of these apps are fine, but Notes is simple and good enough for daily use. My favorite feature is that I can lock certain notes behind TouchID allowing me to put pretty much anything in there.
  • Workflow iTunes Store App Website This app has become a go to for so many things. It allows you to combine multiple steps from multiple apps with just one click. You build your own “workflows” or select from the gallery. Just go read all the coverage of this app over at Mac Stories as I can’t do this app justice in a writeup.
  • Mail Yes I use the stock Mail app. I use both an exchange account and an iMap account that is hosted by Fastmail. I find the stock app still handles Exchange well, and Fastmail worked directly with Apple to get real push using iMap. If you are a gmail user I would recommend Outlook for iOS as it gives you push e-mail without having to use the awful GMAIL app. I am not a fan of one app housing my mail, calendar, and contacts so that is why Outlook is not my default.
  • Clock Yes a clock! I just like easy access to my alarms, Next!
  • Snapchat iTunes Store App Website I avoided this app for a while, but I find it kind of fun. I don’t use it much for messaging, but making and watching stories is cool! Give me a follow.
  • Slack iTunes Store App Website By now most people know what Slack is, and what it does. I have it on my phone for work purposes.
  • Tweetbot iTunes Store App Website This is by far the best Twitter app on iOS. Just for the design itself it is worth using. If you use the product on the Mac or iPad it also does a great job of syncing your timeline via iCloud. I still keep the Twitter app installed for the few features that Twitter keeps for themselves.
  • Washington Post iTunes Store App Website The Washington Post is one of two newspapers I subscribe to. The app itself is great, and I have been a loyal reader for two decades. If you are an Amazon Prime user you get a nice discount starting with six months for free. You literally have nothing to lose.
  • New York Times iTunes Store App Website The other paper I subscribe to is the sad and failing New York Times. While some may not like it, it is still the paper of record and employs some of the best writers in the world.
  • Apple Music App Website After using other music services I have come to settle on Apple Music. Most of the music services have similar catalogs at this point so the default service on iOS had some advantages. I did miss my Spotify playlists, but Apple has done a good job adding the feature over the last few months. Having Siri capabilities is what ultimately made this decision a no brainer.
  • Overcast iTunes Store App Website I subscribe and listen to a lot of podcasts, so this app choice is important. First, I need an app that allows streaming because I don’t listen to all the podcasts I subscribe to so I don’t want the app downloading what I don’t want to hear. Second, I like speeding up the podcasts. This is where Overcast excels, I have found the app has the best sound quality even when sped up. Third, I listen across devices so it has to sync. The app does a decent job of that, and even has a minimal web version that is usable. I also like Pocketcasts if Overcast is not your thing.
  • MyFitnessPal iTunes Store App Website This app is personal. I started using this app five years ago when I was over 300 pounds. I still use the app and weigh in around 190. I did not do anything special. I setup a profile, it told me how many calories I should eat, and I followed it. When you exercise it allows you to increase what you eat which is a nice bonus. While what you eat is the most important part of losing weight, exercise is needed to keep you healthy. I am still on my journey and hope soon to celebrate my ultimate goal of 165. Feel free to add me as a friend.
  • Dark Sky iTunes Store. This is one of those hyper local weather apps. It tells you when it is about to start raining or snowing down to the minute. The feature that gets this on my first page is the great widget.
  • 1Password iTunes Store App Website Everyone should use a password manager these days. Use it on every system you have, and set crazy passwords that are only used in one place. I use 1Password as I find it does the best job on iOS. If you want another to look at try Last Pass, just use something! You should also use two factor authentication on every service for that. While it’s not on my first page I use Authy as it syncs across devices and has browser plug-ins for the desktop. P.S. Your browser saving your passwords is not smart, so stop and turn that off now. You’re welcome!
  • Wallet Yes Apple Wallet sits on page one. I love Apple Pay as it safer and easier than having to whip out your credit card. I also have my other cards from places like Starbucks and Duane Reed sitting in there so quick access is important. Most airlines also will throw your boarding passes in there which is handy.
  • Apple Maps This is a newcomer for me with iOS 10. Apple Maps was never good enough to be the default during it’s first few years of existence. I have found this has changed with the most recent version of iOS. Now to be clear this depends on where you live. The main reason I have gone to Apple Maps is that it now does a better job with mass transit in the New York City metropolitan area. They have directions down to which set of subway stairs to use. If Apple Maps is not good enough where you are, just go ahead and get Google Maps. For mass transit apps, both Transit and CityMapper are both great.
  • Instagram iTunes Store App Website The only product from Facebook that made the cut is Instagram. It is one of my favorite social networks as you can say a lot with just images. The latest updates were put in to compete with Snapchat, and they have done a good job with this. Hey follow me!
  • Photos and Camera I am lumping these two together for obvious reasons. The camera is well the camera. The default iOS camera is still the best in class when it comes to what ships with your device. If you want more professional options I have been a longtime fan of Camera+. Photos has been rebuilt from the ground up, and I like what they have done. As someone who does not want my life being part of Google’s learning alogorithm I am happy that Apple has managed to include some of those features without the privacy worries. I do backup my photos to OneDrive in case anything happens to my library. I get plenty of storage as part of my Office365 subscription, so might as well!

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I keep everything else on Page 2 in folders. I rarely open these apps from here, but instead open them via Siri or Spotlight. I am still working on folder structure, but as long as the app is on the device it really does not make a difference.

The Dock

  • Phone Yes it’s the phone app which I still have to use once in a while on a phone.
  • Messages This is the app which many argue has the most lock in of any service on iOS. While all your text messages sit in here, using iMessage to chat with other iPhone users is great. If you are an iPad and/or Mac user you can also chat from those devices with ease.
  • Safari While apps have killed many needs for the mobile web, it has not killed everything. I still use Safari for many things including Facebook since I don’t want to install their battery eating hellscape of an app.
  • Drafts iTunes Store App Website There is so much to say about this app. It is a blank canvas where I start most of my writing. It has what the app calls “actions” that lets you then decide what to do with the text. You can send to e-mail, send to Messages, etc. I use it as my default way to start every e-mail message. Then I have “actions” that apply the correct signature I want with that message. When you have multiple aliases this solves a big problem. I also use it to tweet when I have hashtags saved around something. You can easily setup an “action” that appends the hashtags after you type your tweet before it sends it out. Check out the Action Directory to see what else you can do with this app. Let me just point this out. This entire post was written on my phone in Markdown before sending it to WordPress via a Workflow from the app above. As someone once said, it’s “magical”.

Updated: 5/1: I Love Windows Phone 8.1, but I Can’t Use It

A few weeks ago I did a quick review of my first two weeks with the Lumia 1520.   In the weeks since a lot has happened with Windows Phone including the release of Windows Phone 8.1 to developers.  So what has changed? How does Windows 8.1 change Windows Phone? The big new features that came with Windows Phone 8.1 are the Action Center, which is Microsoft’s answer to Android and iOS’s notification center, and the voice assistant named Cortana.  Both new features are really well done.  Action Center gives you that central place for all of your notifications, and at the same time gives you quick access to certain settings.   Cortana has taken parts of both Siri and Google Now, and has created a really nice voice assistant.  At this point I would say it is the best iteration of this feature that we have seen from any company.  It allows you as the user to setup the information you want Cortana to follow, whether a certain news topic or your favorite sports team.  Like Google Now, Cortana will use places like your home and work to let you know when to leave for events and how far you are from those places.  It also makes tasks like setting your alarm just a quick sentence away.

For in depth reviews of what is new with Windows Phone 8.1, go over to Paul Thurrott’s Supersite For Windows at www.winsupersite.com where he is going over each feature .

Overall I am really impressed with what Microsoft has done with Windows Phone.  They have created a top class mobile operating system that is ready for the big time, but now more than ever they need the help of apps and app developers which brings me to my next point.  As much as I love my Lumia 1520 running Windows Phone 8.1, I can’t carry it with me as my main device. I went all in with the 1520, I was going to make this relationship work.  In the end I just found myself missing out on many things that I needed on a daily basis.  I will start just on the productivity front.  There are certain apps and services I need.  Many of them are not available on Windows Phone, and even those that do exist are in a half baked manner.  I will use Box for example.  There is an app for Box, but it is missing many of the core features.  Document collaboration is one of the major features of the service, and it does not exist.   Then there are the social apps we all use on a daily basis.  There are apps for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc on the platform.  However, in each and every case the Windows Phone version is light years behind their counterparts on Android and iOS.  I am even using the Twitter Beta that was built specifically for 8.1, and I feel like I am using a Twitter app from 2009.  Entertainment and sports apps? One of the apps I use most is Watch ESPN which is not available, and again even when an app is available like the NBC Live Extra app it does not work.  Last night while recording the latest edition of the “Surface Geeks” Podcast I wanted to have the NHL playoffs on my phone.  I took  out the 1520, and all I got were errors and crashes.  So I turned on the Moto X, and within seconds my Live Extra app had the game streaming without any issues.   That is why when I leave the house the only phone I take with me is Moto X running Android.  I can find ways to deal with the less than par social apps and entertainment apps, however the productivity apps I can’t do that with.  This is the real reason I carry my phone at all times, and not something most people are willing to give up. We always hear about the “app gap” and Microsoft truthfully tells us that the gap has closed.  However, the quality of apps being put on the platform are just not good enough.  I am not a developer so I don’t know if the issue is the apps themselves, or something in the OS that it makes it hard to develop for.  Either way, as an end-user this needs to change.  At this point I am very happy that Microsoft is making their services available everywhere.  I will continue to enjoy all of them on other devices. I look forward to revisiting this again in a few months to see what has changed.

Updated: May 1, 2014

Thank you for the comments below, and I love the passion so many have for Windows Phone and technology as a whole.  That said, there are common themes throughout the comments that I just can’t agree with.  That theme is to only use and support apps that support Windows Phone, that I should only use Microsoft services so my Windows Phone works better for me, and there are third party apps for many things.

Let me start with the first two since they are very similar.  I tell clients, friends, and even myself to use the best service or software for a given task.  I am not about to switch services that work for me in order to carry a phone.  While I enjoy the UI of Windows Phone, and many things it offers the main goal of my phone is as a tool to get work done.  I am not about to start telling those I work with that they need to drop their Box service or Dropbox so I can keep carrying a phone.  I really like keeping my world in many different platforms.  At this point Windows Phone is the worst for that scenario.  Both iOS and Android have apps from all the major vendors, including Microsoft.  I have a full section of Microsoft Apps on my MotoX, and they all work flawlessly.  On that same phone I can use all the functionality of Box while enjoying the Asana service.

On the last comment I saw that I can use third party apps.  For some fun stuff like Four Square and Instagram, i don’t mind using a third party app.  That said, there is no way I am going to use a third party Dropbox app that has access to my data or client data.  Whatever you think about online services, Dropbox and others have very clear terms of service you can read on their websites.  Who is making third party apps, and what happens to that data is never as clear.  While I am sure things would be fine most of the time, that is a risk I am not willing to take.

Again, I reiterate my love for the Lumia 1520 hardware and the 8.1 upgrade.  That said, the problems I lay out here is the reason Windows Phone is struggling.  Whatever momentum they did have late last year seems has stagnated according to the latest usage reports.