Notes on the iPhone 6 Plus.

It’s been a little over a week since I got my 6 Plus. Having used it extensively and even traveled with it this weekend (I’ll miss you, Çingleton), I think my feelings on it have coalesced enough to put them together. A few people had mentioned being curious to hear my feedback on the device, so here are some brief notes, by no means a full review. For that, check out this exhaustive post by Rene Ritchie.

It’s big.
Yes, it really is. Oddly large at first, but you become accustomed to the size quickly. I have what I would consider small hands for a guy, and although it’s definitely not a one-handed device, I feel pretty comfortable with daily use by now. And it happened faster than I would have anticipated.

It’s slippery.
That powdered metal finish is gorgeous, but man, I feel like I’m holding a bar of wet soap sometimes. I started with this case and while I did like its ultra low profile, I moved to the Apple Silicone Case in black. I prefer the soft grip it provides, and although it’s a little bulkier, it really does feel great in your hand. I have traditionally preferred my phones caseless for many years, but given the size of the 6 Plus, adding a little more bulk doesn’t seem to be bothering me too much.

That screen.
Maybe I’m getting old, maybe I don’t care anymore, maybe it’s all in your head: you can’t (realistically, in everyday use) find fault with this screen. Crunch the numbers, worry about the math all you want, read every article on downsampled pixels, it just doesn’t matter. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

It’s sort of an iPad, but it sort of isn’t.
I don’t use my iPad Air all that much these days, and most of what I use it for (books, video, games) can be done really nicely on the 6 Plus. That said, every time I pull the Air out from the small wooden rack I keep next to our couch, it reminds me just how nice it really is to have that bright, wide display. I plan to use the 6 Plus for most of those everyday tasks, but there’s still a nice slot for the Air as well. iPad mini? Its days may be numbered, but that’s up to how you use it.

I’m really enjoying the 6 Plus. I think it’s a really cool new device that builds on the notion of an iPhone without fully encroaching on iPad territory. I’m looking forward to seeing how developers use the extra space it affords and I hope to see more interesting software take advantage of its unique form factor.

10:33 pm: Oh! I almost forgot! The battery is otherworldly. I mean, seriously, like alien-technology long. Maybe the best feature.

Doing it right.

The technologies introduced at this year’s WWDC have gotten the development community extremely excited about the potential to extend iOS in previously unavailable ways. To me, one of the most interesting parts of these new advancements is the creation of a Touch ID API for developers. In its current implementation, Touch ID is somewhat limited and many users report inconsistency issues with the technology. But if the accuracy improves (likely after a year of further development, and reports from iOS 8 beta users are anecdotally positive) and developers capitalize on the ability to easily validate user identity, a lot of new uses come to mind. One of the most interesting and potentially useful so far has been the 1Password extension created by AgileBits, which allows 3rd-party app developers to build support in their apps for the 1Password app to fill login fields and access other secure data using a fingerprint.

There’s another interesting part of the expansion of Touch ID, though. If Apple continues to add it to new devices–which it almost certainly will as the increased sapphire glass production necessary to support the hardware gets up to speed–then the company finds itself in a unique position as the prevalence of users with Apple IDs tied to credit cards grows. Mobile “wallets” have been slow to gain acceptance in the mainstream for a variety of reasons (primarily limited mobile hardware support and expensive POS hardware required on the part of the retailers). Apple is known for making big moves and strategic partnerships with a lot of cachet that it can laud at its press events and keynotes. A few of those key partnerships could easily drive awareness of mobile payments for retail purchases firmly into the mind of the mainstream user, instead of languishing on the bleeding edge. Many retailers already have some kind of iPhone/mobile integration in place, but the last mile–the actual payment–is still primarily a manual affair. Programs exist for users to pre-load loyalty cards in advance (e.g. Starbucks) but the trick is going to be transforming this process from one requiring proactive steps to one that is reactive at the moment of purchase, while appearing seamless to the typical user, who will tolerate far less than tech fans when it comes to exploring these kinds of things.

The iPhone was the breakthrough device to sell the notion and utility of the smartphone to the general public. It’s the most popular type of camera on Flickr and presumably among many segments of the population. Apple commands interest in the public consciousness in a way that few other companies can. It’s traditionally had a focus on platform security with iOS, which it leverages as a selling point against other mobile platforms, most notably Android, and it continues to trumpet privacy and security in consumer-focused materials and media. While that’s a great story in and of itself for many of us, the seed of something larger gets planted: Apple is secure, iOS is secure, my iPhone is safe, hence I am safe. When security ceases to be something people need to think about and is easy, obvious, and ubiquitous, resistance to new ways of doing things will evaporate. While there are all kinds of phones with some level of this functionality right now, the iPhone is probably the only single consumer hardware device positioned to do this effectively any time soon.

The notion of the Apple ID as a payment mechanism for non-iTunes content is an idea that’s been tossed around for a while. None of this is news to anyone. Whenever Apple finally decides to announce that you can use your Apple ID for more than just iTunes purchases by simply accessing Touch ID when you’re in your favorite retail stores, tons of people will claim to have been predicting it for years. Widespread acceptance won’t be far behind. Critics will bemoan the fact that other phones and platforms did it first, but as with Apple’s previous innovations, the key to success wasn’t being first, it was doing it right. It’s the combination of cultural penetration and acceptance along with a longtime and public focus on security at a critical time in society that ensures that people won’t dismiss it as a gimmick. The utility will become infectious as people see their friends using the technology, and Touch ID will probably become as ubiquitous as the camera in your phone is now.

I think your thumb is about to become your favorite finger.

Apple’s wearable differentiator.

The more I think about the eventuality of an Apple wearable device (ugh I’m already sick of hearing the word), the more I think about what’s going to set it apart from the current crop of trackers, monitors, and smartwatches. Aside from the UI, one thing keeps coming up in my mind: battery life.

It seems obvious if you think about it. Apple’s entire device line in the past few years has–as it’s evolved–kept battery life increases front and center. The company knows that this is the one technology that isn’t increasing in the leaps and bounds it would like and continues to limit its vision for products. Between the MacBook line and iOS devices, huge advances are being made in extending the daily use of our devices, but we collectively keep running up against that wall.

The difference with a wearable device is that due to its diminutive size and proximity to the body, different methods can be applied to extending its useful daily life. I’ve got two thoughts on this, and I think they work in tandem. I’m not saying this is what’s coming, but it’s starting to make more sense to me. Obviously, I am not a battery technician of any kind, nor an electrical engineer. I’m just trying to figure out a differentiating factor, which is often a selling point when Apple enters a market.

Let’s think about it in terms of a watch-type device: since it would be attached to a person’s body similar to a current wristwatch, it would have the benefit of constantly being moved around; kinetic energy might be a factor here. The natural movement of a person’s body could be channeled into keeping a wearable device supplied with trickle power. Kinetic watches are already on the market, but have not seen true penetration, and re a smaller percentage of the devices out there; so far, fits the Apple formula–take something that already exists and do it better. I also have a few G-Shock watches that are part of Casio’s Tough Solar line. The watchfaces contain tiny solar cells that require minimal exposure to light to continue to power the watch. They work exceptionally well, and I never have to change a battery.

Kinetic and solar power. Individually, I doubt they’d be enough to power a device like the one people are expecting on their own. But together, it starts to seem feasible. Ok, now what would make those low-power technologies not viable?

Radios: this device is going to need to communicate, probably with a nearby iOS device or a Mac. However, Bluetooth LE is starting to show up in more places and appears to be extremely flexible. I’ve seen some very cool applications of this lately, and it feels like a shoe-in for a device like this. Wi-fi, I’m not so sure about; may or may not be necessary depending on the feature set of the device, and that’ll surely suck power. Cellular/wireless broadband? Forget it. No way.

Screen: certainly this device will have a gorgeous screen to match the other ones Apple offers. It’ll be small though, and I’d be shocked to see Apple use the same high-drain tech that exists in the current Retina LED panels for a device like this. Just doesn’t seem likely. I don’t know what they have cooking, but it won’t be e-ink (not pretty enough) and it won’t be exactly what you have in your phone (battery destroyers at high brightness values, which people would totally need to see this device outside in the sun, like any normal watch).

Using this math, it starts to form a picture of what’s going to set it apart. All the other devices that people use right now need to be charged every few days. If Apple could offer a device that effectively never needed to be plugged in, that factor alone would be a huge selling point. And I can absolutely hear the keynote already:

“We all have other devices we use for this sort of thing already. But what’s are the problems with those devices? Small, ugly screens–if they have screens at all. Limited communication and functionality with our iPhones and iPads. And they have to be charged all the time! Some last a few days, some longer, but they all need to be taken off of you and plugged in. We think we can do this better…

…A beautiful, low power screen that is extremely readable in bright sunlight. Bluetooth LE for complex interconnection with tons of different apps. And forget a week of battery life; it never needs to be plugged in–ever.”

Now: we know Apple doesn’t fight on specs, so all this hardware talk is merely prelude to what it affords the user to do, which is where Apple excels. The device quietly becomes a part of your life, providing information and enrichment without a net cost of annoyance. You start to wonder how you lived without it. The commercial writes itself; people from every age demographic, every walk of life, all finding a different, perfect personal use for a tiny always-attached device. You never charge it, and it’s always there, working for you. Your iPhone’s tiny companion.

It’s a lot more believable than trying to get a date on a ski lift.

One notebook to rule them all.

At WWDC, I picked up a new MacBook Air. This machine simply changed the way I thought about computing entirely. I have never loved a Mac as much or used a laptop with the same feeling of absolute freedom as I have with this computer. In fact, I love the MBA so much that I thought about getting rid of my iPad entirely instead of trying to find places for it. The combination of the Air and the iPhone was powerful enough to handle almost anything I could throw at it. This fall, as the new iPads were launched, I marveled at how nice they were, but resigned myself to not buying one. After all, I was happy with my new workflow and saw no reason to complicate things by adding more moving parts. Then I used the iPad Air.

The iPad Air has reinvigorated my love of the iPad line. It’s obviously the fastest iPad I’ve ever used, but the size and weight change make the largest perceivable difference in my opinion. It feels only slightly heavier than the mini. The bezel reduction takes it from feeling enormous to feeling quite manageable. Its proportions are so much more favorable now. When I first used one about a month ago, coming directly from the mini, everything felt cartoonishly large. I got over that in about a day. Having a retina screen again is divine, too. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I started using it again. I really loved the first generation mini, but there’s just no substitute for those extra pixels. Everyone’s already said it, but it bears repeating: there are no tradeoffs with the two new iPads, it’s simply choose your size and go to town.

The new objective: full integration of the iPad into my day as a work device. I have no games on it, no movies, and only a few leisure (read: Twitter, ADN, read later, etc.) apps, most of which would provide no distraction while I’m trying to get something done. I intend for the iPad to replace my paper notebook (which I do love, but is limited and great at certain things but not many others), but also to become something more robust – a device that allows me to do the things I was previously doing and extends my ability to do more, easily. It will allow me to leave my beloved MBA docked at my desk, attached to my second display. I can AirPlay docs and demos to the Apple TVs we have in the office, I have all my notes, docs, and anything else I can think of loaded up and synced, and my home screen is organized for maximum efficiency. I held off on getting the Logitech keyboard case I loved so much with the iPad 3 only to give the incredible weight reduction of the Air a fair shake. I’ll probably get one because it’s a terrific addition to the device, but for now it’s a Smart Cover and that’s it. I do have a few standalone Bluetooth keyboards, one of which I’m using right now, so maybe I’ll stick with them.

I’ve been doing more interface sketching as I work on projects, and I’ve enjoyed allowing myself to just sketch rough ideas quickly instead of waiting until they’re solidified mentally first and then going directly into a document. These usually live in my paper notebook as well, but I’ll be doing this in Paper on the iPad (yes, ha ha, isn’t that adorable) which is my preferred drawing app. I’ve tried tons of them, and keep coming back to Paper, because it just feels the best. I’m intrigued by the development of that custom stylus for the app as well. I have a Bamboo stylus currently, but I’m hardly a fan. Having something that makes the act feel even more natural and less gimmicky is a huge plus for me.

The other things that I’m looking forward to are the great music apps that come along with iOS. GarageBand and AmpKit are two that I really love to use, and there’s a host of other drum machines and sequencers/synth apps that are surprisingly good. I’m going to dive into Audiobus more this time around too, I think, and see how I can chain things together, ultimately ending in GarageBand for now (so I can move files back to the Mac in some cases). Granted, this is more of a secondary use case than the day to day productivity stuff, but it plays into the concept of the global notebook – a device that I always have, to capture and document (and in some cases expand on) my ideas.

I find that these things go in phases for me, so this may just be a new (old) phase. Either way, this device has incredible potential. I don’t think I’ve ever made a dedicated effort to use the iPad like this – I’ve always stopped short of going all the way. It’s important to note, though that I have no intention of replacing my Mac(s) with iOS; rather it’s a matter of choosing not only the right tool for the job, but the best tool. I’m excited to give it a shot with the Air.

That joke isn’t funny anymore.

Say what you want about the branding but we all laughed at the iPad when we heard that name for the first time too. KitKat may be silly, but what it portends is anything but.

As of right now, we collectively know most of what iOS 7 has to offer. There will probably be something announced on the 10th that we haven’t seen yet, whether it ends up being an addition to the software or a hardware feature that enhances the experience. But the net gain is primarily a visual one. Yes, yes, the physics engine. Yes, the deference to depth and clarity. I’ve been using the beta for weeks now. It’s very good, no doubt about it.

But I want something more. I want more than feel and form. I want a device that enhances the things I do every day. And right now, as excellent as iOS is, I’m not sure it’s enough.

Now when I say this, I’m not implying that Android is, nor Windows Phone, nor anything else. What I am saying is that no one platform is meeting my needs in the way I want. iOS has been a faithful companion for years now, and nothing I’ve touched has come close to approximating its ability to make complex things easy and beautiful. Its sheer breadth of good software is staggering. But the more I watch the changes in Android, the more I realize that iOS is dragging a lot of baggage along with it. Android is moving at a breakneck pace, and that might not be something everyone needs, but it’s the kind of thing that makes the overall landscape for people like me more compelling. And it’s the kind of thing that eventually trickles out to the edges of the userbase and becomes the norm.

Are there experiences on Android that are as singularly beautiful as iOS? by most accounts, probably not. It depends on who you ask, but I’d concede that iOS still has the upper hand when it comes to arresting visual style. But Android’s aesthetic path has been getting less rocky, more unified and more clean. The current base OS is a balanced and reasoned collection of interactions and third party developers have been impressing the hell out of us now for months as well with great apps on Android, some of which are legitimately wonderful.

And there’s something else worth remembering:

“It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

The bottom line is that while there are so many things I’d change about Android right now, it works well. It’s come a long way, and plenty of smart people are not only realizing it, but they’re finding reasons to like it – a lot. The platform is still struggling with so many problems; malware, fragmentation (arguable on iOS, but certainly more pronounced on Android), and a lot of terrible scammy apps. (Although, have you looked at the App Store lately? Not the king’s ransom we’d all like to think it is.) But ignoring it or making fun of it is junior high bullshit. It was easy to tease when it was ugly, but it’s not anymore. It was easy to laugh when only nerds could manage its complexity, but frankly, iOS has gotten more complex, and obviously people are managing to use Android phones somehow.

It makes Apple better to have someone nipping at its heels. If some of my favorite iOS developers – people whose design sense and technical choices I agree with – are looking at this platform more seriously and exploring it, is it still worth laughing at? How many iOS devs need to take a closer look before we drop the rah-rah shit? If you call yourself someone who truly appreciates how something works, and you’re still laughing, it might be time to stop and think about why.

When iOS 7 launches with its current feature set for the next year and KitKat hits, I won’t be laughing. I’ll be watching with great interest. A rising tide, right?

I love the iPad mini.

When it was released, I got an iPad mini for the office for testing. I brought it home, put all my stuff on it to give it a proper test drive, and promptly decided it wasn’t for me. I liked my bigger iPad with its Retina display. I felt that Apple was being disingenuous with its promises of “iPad, concentrated” – it felt more like “iPad, crushed” to me. Sure, it was small and light, but honestly, there were too many trade-offs for my liking. I dismissed it, wiped the mini, put it in the testing pool at work and went on with my life.

Then something else happened. I didn’t go back to my larger iPad. I watched it, evening after evening, sitting on the TV console, fully-charged, ready to perform at a moment’s notice, but I never picked it up. I used the hell out of my phone, because the iPhone 5 is amazing, as we all know. But I didn’t feel like picking up that iPad. Every time I did, it felt so heavy. Like a really pretty manhole cover. Rene and I did a podcast in which he extolled the virtues of the mini, while I defended (theoretically, as it turned out) the need to have a bigger, nicer screen and a little more performance for the kinds of creative apps I was using.

Then it occurred to me: I wasn’t actually creating anything anymore on my iPad. It was, as I said, sitting. I watched and listened as my friends on the internet sang its praises, selling their large iPads, saying things like “it’s the best mobile device I’ve ever used”. I started to feel crazy, like I missed something… had I been too quick to dismiss the device? No, I know what I like, and my gut is usually right about things like this. Then I asked the people in my daily life who had them. Every single person said the same thing: it’s the best iPad they’d ever used.

With this gnawing at me, I couldn’t take it anymore. Deeply conflicted and doubting my own judgment, I ordered one, a white (HUGE departure from my lineage of black) 32gb Verizon mini. I sat back, suddenly relaxed that the decision was made. A weight had been lifted. If I truly didn’t like it, I could always send it back. I was ready to give it another shot.

Then it took two full weeks to arrive.

Agony. Having made the decision, I was ready to begin my new experiment. But I couldn’t. I had to wait and watch as a seemingly prehistoric process unfolded in front of me. I’m so used to Amazon Prime shipping speeds, watching as my mini was manufactured for a week and then stagnating as it trudged around the world was excruciating. It sat in a UPS facility in Kentucky for almost three full days. Doing nothing. I’ve had a 60" HDTV delivered to me from Amazon in less than 24 hours. This was torture. I casually wandered into the Apple store at the mall while my wife and I were shopping, in the hopes that they’d have a model I could grab that would at least be close to what I ordered. I was prepared to be flexible; sure, I would take a black 64gb LTE model. No problem. But nothing. Wi-fi only, everywhere I went. The cellular models were either the hottest sellers, or seriously undermanufactured.

When it finally arrived, I opened it and wept. Not really, but I was so happy to be done refreshing a shipment tracking page, I could have. I got to setting it up, put all my stuff in place, and configured it just so. Paired it with my Logitech Ultrathin (which looks positively gargantuan next to it now). Attached the Smart Cover I ordered while I waited for it to arrive. Began using it, picking it up, making it a part of my routine.

Verdict? I’m a jackass. I learned some things about myself and what I actually value. All the lip service I’d paid the larger display was truly worthless in the end, because I wasn’t even looking at it. The mini? I can’t put it down. It’s so light, I take it from room to room. I’d never done that with the larger iPad. I read more, I play games more, I bang out email, journal entries and draft posts more, simply because it’s there and ready. Everyone said it takes a few days to get used to everything being compressed a little, and it’s true. It’s been a week, though, and I couldn’t imagine going back. I stopped seeing the pixels about two days in, which was about 47.8 hours longer than I’d given it the first time. If only I’d not been so shortsighted.

The lesson for me is not about buying more crap and filling my life with more screens. It’s about not making snap judgments anymore. I find as I get older that I think I’ve got things pretty wired; that I know myself and what I think I like. The truth of the matter is that I’m woefully inflexible in my own mind sometimes, despite my ability to adjust to things in my real life (I just had a kid, trust me, I’m getting pretty awesome at “adjustment”). I have to learn to put aside my preconceived notions about things, and explore my options, because I’ll never know what I’m missing out on if I don’t.

Seems like a grandiose conclusion to draw over a gadget, but the epiphanies that matter the most to us don’t always come down on a bolt of lightning.

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Un-simplified, and happy.

I recently talked about my intentions to simplify my workflows by using the default Apple apps on iOS and the Mac (Notes, Reminders, etc.) as replacements for the many apps I like to jump between. My goal was to see if by just letting go of my need to tinker with the connective tissue between parts of my workflows I could improve both my base anxiety level (derived not from fear, but from a constant feeling of “could I be doing this more effectively?”) and my ability to focus more on the “work” and less on the “flow” overall. I stuck with it for several weeks, and the results are in.

It’s… not for me.

The short version: between heavy-handed interfaces and iCloud flakiness, I gave up because I felt that I was neither gaining relief from the productivity improvement demons nor was I focused on my work. Instead, I was waiting for the other iCloud shoe to drop (data loss) and talking myself into the idea that this was good enough for me, when the truth of the matter was that it really isn’t.

I’ve been reliant on Dropbox for so long I can’t even remember or imagine a world without it. Many apps take great advantage of the APIs Dropbox has in place to both sync settings and data with moderate to high levels of success based on the app and its implementation. There are two reasons I feel better about this path:

  1. Dropbox exists in a tangible way on multiple computers I own as well as in the cloud
  2. Flexibility between interfaces

The first one is easy. I don’t trust iCloud fully yet. Every time I saw three copies of a single note appear in the Notes app or a reminder re-add itself to a list after completion, I added a tiny tick mark to the wall in my mind. Which is not to say that Dropbox sync services are without folly; certainly they can and do fail from time to time, however I always have the opportunity to throw my data into another app and test the waters elsewhere. I can easily see my data in Dropbox, which is important not primarily for sync settings, but for things like my plain text notes, which might be transitory and not long-term in nature as I’d discovered, but important to see and preserve as I saw reason to take the information down and capture it. Seeing duplicate notes appear was the flip side to the coin where notes suddenly vanish, and I’m not comfortable with that.

Second: Apple’s UI choices are polarizing if nothing else. There are many choices I enjoy and find delightful, and many at which I continually level disgust and contempt. With the relief provided by giving up my tinkering ways to Apple’s choices comes a compromise I’m unwilling to make right now – I’m stuck looking at yellow paper that formats plain text in obnoxious ways and parchment lists that while functional, are hardly the optimal way to organize (in my mind, at least) the tasks and efforts I need to complete. By using apps that plug into Dropbox, I’m afforded a variety of ways to look at the exact same data. Sometimes I need that variety, and it comes at the price of my inability to sometimes stop myself from exploring other apps and interfaces. I look at these screens entirely too much each day to be unhappy with what’s staring back at me. I can work at leaving well enough alone with regard to fiddly bits, but I can’t work at liking a UI I simply don’t.

The fundamental truth I learned about myself, which I mentioned in the first sentence of that other post is that I am a tinkerer. I like to try different things, break stuff, put it back together, and start from scratch. It’s something I can’t really turn off entirely, nor do I want to. It’s a curiosity I’ve had since I was a kid, and I hope my daughter expresses the same interest in exploration, whether it’s with software or any other interest she’s passionate about. I try new apps and add layers of complexity because I need to. It’s an evolving little puzzle I do with myself, like a game of Jenga in reverse. Occasionally I find something rock solid and leave it working, but there’s always something else to move on to, some new thing to play with, some new web service to leverage to make the mental machine run a little more smoothly. Understanding this about myself means I don’t feel guilty anymore about trying a million different ways to do a simple thing because I can rest a little easier knowing I’ve ruled out the ways I didn’t know before.

So, back to plain text, back to Dropbox, like a favorite pair of jeans. Sometimes you buy new jeans, sometimes you wear a suit, and sometimes the jeans sit in your drawer for a few weeks. But they’re there, and you know it, and it makes you happy.

Simplified.

I’m a tinkerer. I’ve always been a tinkerer, I’ll always be a tinkerer. I fiddle, I test, I try, I look up, I download, I delude myself into thinking it’s all in the goal of figuring out some better way to do things. In some cases, it happens that it’s true. More often than not, I realize that I’ve gone down a road I didn’t need to, but the journey of discovery usually pays for itself.

I love this stuff. I really do. But time is fleeting lately, between craziness at work and a new tiny person with some serious demands on my time waiting for me at home. I started to wonder: can I strip away small bits of complexity from my workflows and actually enjoy what most people would consider the “Apple experience”? I’ve long crafted elaborate workarounds to avoid using the default apps that ship with OS X and iOS, but they’ve matured to a point with 10.8 and iOS 6 that I’m entertaining the idea of giving them a shot again. The place that sees the most impact (unsurprisingly) is with productivity apps, traditionally my most fiddly bits. It took some intestinal foritude to take these first few steps, but in the interest of personal self-discovery, I suppose it’s worth it.

I’ve tried dozens of task/to do apps. I go through them like tissues in cold season. I landed on using OmniFocus for tasks a few months ago. I was initially impressed with how flexible it is as a product (I’m a big Omni Group fan), and how you can adapt it to how you wish to use it. What I came to realize is that I personally wasn’t using more than a few of its terrific options, which made it akin to killing a mosquito with a rocket launcher. So I’m giving Reminders another look. With the release of Mountain Lion, a dedicated app ships with the OS, and it’s on iOS already. So far, it seems to be doing an extremely servicable job for what I need, and Siri integration is really nice.

I’ve used plain text files stored in Dropbox for basic note-taking for a long time now. I’ve long preached the flexibility of plain text as well as the fun of plugging multiple apps into a single stored location and being able to try all kinds of things. As it turns out, about 60% of the notes I take are of no value to me after a certain period of time, and so I deleted a bunch of them. This freed me up from the mental burden of thinking I needed to keep everything around. Once I cleared that hurdle, I decided to try Notes again. As with Reminders, OS X ships with a dedicated Notes app now, and I wanted to see if I could get by with it. I’ll still compose anything more than a transitory note in plain text and keep it in Dropbox, but for basic capture, I’m sticking with this for now.

I just got brutally honest with myself and realized that I never actually do cool things like converting my plain text captures into Markdown and then emailing myself HTML snippets while automating task generation. I love the idea that so many apps allow you to do so much more than the basics, but if I’m being honest, then I can’t pretend I use all that stuff. So if the Apple apps are good enough, then why the question at all?

My main hangups center on how much I trust iCloud. I feel like maintaining folders of .txt files that I can easily point to and drag somewhere else *feels* right to me. I know I can dig out the Mobile Documents folder buried in ~Library, but it’s not the same. And I could back up my OF database in Dropbox and have days’ worth of copies to fall back on should the app fail for any reason. With iCloud, I basically have to put my trust in Apple that these bits of information, upon which I rely for my daily organization are going to be there when I need them. I’m not super comfortable doing this, but at the same time, I’m trying really hard to let go of my need to grip everything so tightly. Partly because I’m tired of the endless tinkering with my workflow, and partly because I’m envious of people who don’t even have these thoughts. It’s a sickness, you know. A beautiful, enriching, crippling sickness.

The experiment’s underway. All my short-term text is in Notes, and tasks in Reminders across my devices and Macs. It’s a strange feeling, using apps now that I’ve long derided as “not enough” and realizing that they are in fact, just fine. I don’t know if I’ll stick with this – it depends on my neuroses about this data and how long I can keep them at bay – but it feels oddly freeing. Like a weight has been lifted. Fewer moving parts, fewer options and switches, and a focus on something else.

Actually doing stuff.

(to be continued, I’m sure…)

The tyranny of two screens.

I have this habit that I’ve developed. On both of my iOS screens (iPhone and iPad) I try, whenever possible, to have all the same apps and icons in the same places. The reason I do this is because in thinking about it, I like the idea that no matter where I am, and on either device, I always have a quick mental map of where apps are located and the stuff I want is always where I expect it to be. It’s sort of interesting to go between the devices quickly and it certainly seems to work pretty well when I’m using my devices in tandem.

However, the truth is that I don’t really use the devices the same way. I have certain apps on my home screen on the phone that make no sense on the iPad. Like Messages, for instance. Used constantly on the phone, almost never on the iPad. Because the whole ‘get your messages wherever you are’ thing only works if everyone sends messages to your email address. And uses iOS. And not everyone does, and the years-long habit of using phone numbers to message people is not going away, no matter how much Apple wills it.

So I find myself using my iPhone intensely for a few days, then reaching for my iPad after a period of not using it, to find everything needs to be rearranged. And because I have mental problems, I often feel the need to do this before I do anything else because I’ve been looking at things the other (new) way so much on the phone that it doesn’t feel right the way it is now on the iPad.

I start to wonder about just setting up apps completely differently on both devices, as I did when I first got the iPad, the way most people probably do. Is it more valuable to have the perceived speed gain from mirroring the app layout in both places, or should my specific use for each device dictate how apps are arranged? Does anyone else ever think about this or should I just start looking for a decent therapist now instead of waiting?

Maybe I’ll just move them around.

Locked in.

One of my favorite things about the changes to OS X and iOS is the interoperability between the platforms. This will only be increased as OS X moves to Mountain Lion, with tighter links between the devices joined with iCloud as it becomes more robust. On top of this, the iTunes App Store is an unbeatable location for software downloads, and barring jailbreak, your one-stop shop for your iOS devices.

The strongest guiding factor in how I chose a mobile platform in the past (dating way back to the early-mid-2000s) was the availability of software for my device. I began on Windows Mobile, because at the time, they seemed more exciting than their Palm counterparts. WM had a ton of software, but installing it wasn’t elegant or particularly easy. The devices were middling at best, and required some serious hacking to even be usable. After that, I moved quickly through BlackBerries in a six-month tryst. I didn’t purchase the original iPhone because the idea of not being able to install apps was just unacceptable to me. But when the App Store launched, it made something I’d been doing laboriously for years exquisitely easy. I landed on the iPhone 3G shortly after it launched, and never looked back.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve looked back lots of times. With Android, with webOS, with Windows Phone. I continue to look back whenever something catches my attention. That’s how I am. Something’s different now, though, and I’ve only recently been able to identify what that is. The idea of a platform lock in based on software purchases is not a new one; it’s happened on desktops for years. If you put a good deal of money into a platform, it’s hard to pull away from it when something new comes along. Psychologically, you attempt to add value to the decision based on the money you’ve already spent that is irretrievable. We know this as the sunk-cost effect.

However, I’ve discovered something far more compelling than a financial imperative to stay with a particular phone/platform. It’s something that isn’t as easily quantifiable, and can’t be assessed in a rational way as easily because there is an innate emotional component that ties directly to how I feel in the course of a given day. At its simplest, it’s my time, but that time is based and built upon complex workflows that I’ve refined over the course of years. Years spent on one platform (iOS) and strengthened by the addition of fantastic products and services that enable me to work more efficiently from wherever I am. I take great pleasure in discovering new apps that allow me to do things more smoothly or that add value to an activity in which I’m already engaged. That pleasure (and time-saving) translates directly to my dopamine receptors in some nerdy way, because I enjoy this stuff in a way that most people don’t, and can’t even understand. It’s a pure love of great software, but compounded with the benefits of enhancing (at least that’s what I tell myself) my daily life.

Sure, there are some apps that appear on many platforms. I live in Dropbox, and I can get it almost everywhere. There are plain text editors for every phone, I’m sure. I can scan documents with my phone and sync them as PDFs with a lot of different apps. But this isn’t always the case, and sometimes even though an app may appear on other platforms, it’s not as useful because to the developers it may be an afterthought since iOS is the main platform for which they build. More importantly though is not that I can get apps everywhere, but that I find myself unwilling to trade off to inferior versions of these apps or add steps to the processes that I can perform more easily on iOS. When I find a really great way to do something, I want to stick with it. I don’t want to spend time figuring out a new way to do something that probably isn’t as good as the way I’ve been doing it. And those words “spend” and “time” are more salient to me than any amount of money I can spend on software. I can always make more money; I’ll never get back my time – or at the very least, the perception of time.

The problem I’m facing as a lifelong lover of technology is that my excitement for new devices is still there, but slightly diminished because immediately after I feel the thrill of seeing something cool, there’s a part of me, however deep in my subconscious that surfaces a thought: “this is great, but it’s not going to fit”. It sounds dumb. Why can’t I just enjoy things? What’s my problem? As our devices become more interconnected, I dont see as much value in having any that aren’t. And as more manufacturers chase the idea that people are going to own all of their individual devices (as I do with Apple gear), it’s getting harder and harder to get the most out of things when they exist outside of your workflows.

I used to switch phones with what could only be described as alarming frequency. The only constants were that I’d enter my IMAP settings, add a few phone numbers, and that was mostly it. No platform interconnection, no syncing over the air, no compelling apps I simply couldn’t live without. Because they just didn’t exist. In the years since I’ve adopted iOS, I’ve created stores of application data, some of which I rely on heavily both personally and for business, and some of these can only be used within iOS and in some cases with a Mac. It’s not enough for me to try other platforms – I really can’t leave until I see a path on which to travel. For now, I’m locked in. Quite frankly, it’s a good problem to have.