I’m a huge fan of the MacStories website and the Club MacStories subscription newsletter. The newsletter has all kinds of fun information each week, including app highlights/mini reviews and workflow tips and tricks. They also have a Home Screens section featuring a reader’s home screen and descriptions of the apps on the home screen.
I had the pleasure of seeing my home screen published in the October 27 Club Macstories newsletter. Of course I knew about it in advance as I had to first submit my screenshot and then write up my thoughts on the apps on the screen, explaining the purpose of each app and why I like that particular app for its specific job.
I’ve never shied away from showing off my home screen since I learned from Ronnie Lutes that order and beauty can co-exist with functionality, and that how something looks affects how it works. He revolutionized my home screen setup, and it’s thanks to him that my iPhone home screen is attractive and highly functional. So without further ado, here’s a lightly edited version of what I wrote for MacStories.
I switch wallpapers often, but they’re almost always photographs that have meaning to me that can sit well in the background without fighting for my attention as my eyes scan my app icons. The particular image I had as my wallpaper when I wrote the MacStories home screen article is a photo that I took at Crater Lake of the dying sun illuminating a field of grass opposite the lake side of the road. You can find the full image here on my Flickr photostream. Currently I’m using a picture of clouds from above, which I honestly can’t remember where it came from.
I have had this same basic arrangement for some time now, but I am always tweaking things and making one or two changes every few months. It works, I like it, and any impulsive desire for change is usually appeased with a wallpaper swap or the very infrequent promotion of a new app to the home screen at the expense of another.
One thing I should briefly note is the number of Japanese language study apps I have on my iPhone. I lived in Japan for eight years as a boy, and I am working hard to re-familiarize myself with parts of the language I’ve forgotten as well as to learn many of the thousands of Kanji I never knew.
It may seem odd that I have two calendar apps here, but one of them is for purely functional reasons: Apple’s Calendar app shows the current date immediately to me on my unlocked iPhone. I refer to it often. Apple Calendar also notifies me instantly when my wife adds appointments to our shared calendar. Fantastical is more pleasing in day to day use for referencing my schedule or adding new items. Drafts, due to its versatility with actions and its Markdown enhanced plain text formatting, is the ultimate note app for capturing things that I need to remember or act upon later. It’s light, it’s fast, and it never tries to tell me how to use it. There are other mail apps on iOS, but they all have flaws. Apple’s Mail certainly has them as well, but overall it has less opinionated quirks than most and it’s hard to fight default apps that are used by the OS.
Day One is a highly lauded journaling app, and rightly so. It’s beautiful, has multiple journal support, and is maintained by a team of caring professionals. I use it to save memories of and for my daughter, as well as capturing passages from books I read in my own separate journal. Scanbot is one of two iOS scanning apps that I find the most useful, and it’s my current go-to for that purpose. Apple News is Apple News. It has vastly improved since its introduction, to the point I now enjoy using it on a regular basis. Midori is one of many Japanese language study apps on my home screen. Midori is not only a dictionary, it can also translate whole passages of text — either ones pasted into it or ones you type out yourself. This is handy for helping read difficult passages of text in Japanese as well as helping you to make sure you’ve chosen the write Kanji to convey the meaning you intended in text you’ve written. It is truly invaluable.
Things 3 is the to-do app I love the most. It is flexible and comprehensive without beating you into the GTD box. In addition, it is visually pleasing and a delight to use. Hello Weather is a fun and useful weather app that is beautiful and includes a very nice widget that I make constant use of. Photos has to be on my home screen because it fits visually and it also is something I am constantly diving into. Flipboard is the second part of my news fixation solution, along with News. I love the interactive nature of Flipboard, and I have several magazines that I dump articles of interest into to share with others.
MyFitnessPal is the diet and fitness tracking app that you both love and love to hate. Since its acquisition by Under Armor, annoying ads and nudges towards the paid model have crept in, but it’s still the most useful of this genre of apps. I don’t actually see too many intrusive ads, although others have told me they do. iKana and iKanji are a pair of apps from ThinkMac Software, and they are wonderful study tools for learning the basic Japanese writing systems as well as the Chinese characters that the Japanese have adopted and use as the basis for written communication. Japanese is very similar to Midori, but with a few additional touches and a nicer UI.
I knew the default geek narrative is that Tweetbot is the only Twitter client worth acknowledging, but (like Jason Snell) I don’t subscribe to this view. Twitterrific isn’t perfect, but neither is Tweetbot, and Twitterrific more closely suits my style both visually and functionally. It also syncs well with its new Mac counterpart. Google Translate is useful for messing about with Japanese to English and English to Japanese conversions. It’s become much better with Asian languages in the past year or so — prior to that, it could be embarrassingly bad at times. TangoRisto is a delightful app introduced to me by my Don’t Nihongo It Alone co-host, Jeff Ruberg. It encapsulates Japanese websites such as NHK Web Easy, and adds functionality such as filtering furigana for different skill levels, as well as easy lookup and reference capability. It really is a must-have for anyone trying to up their Japanese reading comprehension game. I love to read, and iBooks is my favorite reading app on iOS. It’s not perfect — the Kindle app does a couple things better — but overall I enjoy the reading experience in iBooks the most.
I work in a semiconductor test environment in which we use a mix of metric and imperial units (for the record, metric rules). PCalc is helpful for conversions and replacing that famous back of the envelope for quick math, and includes a handy, oft-used tip calculator layout that is easily accessible from its icon via 3D Touch. I prefer Safari for my web browsing needs. It’s fast, it is the default, and most importantly, Apple care the most about privacy. That matters. Interact is a wonderful Contacts app companion from Greg Pierce of Agile Tortoise. Not only does it make grouping contacts from iOS easier (something Apple’s Contacts app can’t do), it also has an incredible scratchpad for entering contact information in a fast and natural manner for saving to your Contacts database in the format that Apple requires. It’s brilliant. Finally, Overcast is my favorite podcast app. A close second is Pocket Casts, but I love Marco’s design philosophy, the recommendations engine, and the ability to set a default podcast listening speed as well as to override it for individual podcasts. I listen to everything in 1.5x except for Japanese podcasts, which I set to 1x.
This is my home screen. All the rest of my apps are contained in folders on the second home screen page. I use Spotlight heavily to launch other apps, or leave them open in the app switcher.
One thing I think my home screen conveys is that iOS has an abundance of rich, beautiful, and functionally essential apps available. I use an Android device at work, and I’ll charitably omit my opinion of Google Play and the quality of a lot of the apps on that platform. iOS device owners are truly blessed, and we should all help try to make the platform sustainable for indie app developers.