What’s On Your Home Screen?

iOS 8 Home Screen


It doesn’t matter what operating system you’re on and how you organize your screens there’s always one main go-to screen.  In iOS that’s called the home screen.  Everybody organizes their apps in different ways but one thing remains fairly consistent and that’s the most important or most often accessed apps typically end up on the home screen.  I actually arrange my screens based on themes.  For example I have a full screen devoted just to camera and video editing apps.  Since they are my guiltless pleasure I have nearly enough to fill up an entire screen.  I reserve another screen for entertainment apps such as Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, iTunes, etc.  The theme my home screen has going for it though is quick access to my most used apps.  I’ve decided to share my home screen with a brief description of the apps encompassing it.  Think of it as my top ten list for app recommendations (in this case top 28 list because that’s how many can fill up my iPhone 6 screen including the bottom four located on the dock).

Here’s my list in order from top to bottom and left to right according to the included screen shot (click on any link to download):

1)  Fantastical – I’ve tried several calendar apps and I just keep returning to Fantastical.  I believe it really sets the benchmark for calendar apps.  I prefer agenda (list) views over calendar (monthly) views and an agenda view is front and center in this app.  Rotating your screen horizontally gives you the traditional calendar view so it should appeal to everybody.  It’s always worked fluidly and flawlessly for me and easily bests the stock Apple Calendar App. You’ll notice that speed and reliability are very important to me as you read through the rest of this list.

2)  Photos – I’ve replaced virtually all of the stock Apple apps except for 9, 8 of which show up on my home screen mostly out of necessity.  There are other photo apps but in my experience the stock Photos App gives me the fastest access to my pics and until iOS 8 was the only place you could delete photos.

3)  Litely – As previously mentioned I’ve got another screen that houses all my photo and video editing apps except for this one (and Instagram but it’s also a social network).  With its dozens of preset filters and zippy/simple interface it’s really my secret sauce to serving up endless sunsets that are so easy to come by in my part of the world out to my social feeds. Turns out Litely was written by the same guy who wrote seven of the original Instagram filters.

4)  Google Maps – One word…Awesome!  Does any other mapping and navigation app come remotely close?  It recently saw an update to Google’s Material Design experience and it’s oh so lovely to look at.

5)  Checkmark 2 – Little known and still overdue for an iOS 8 update it’s still the best reminders app in the App Store in my opinion.  It’s best feature is location-based reminders with the ability to postpone said reminders.  For example you can set a reminder to take out the trash 10 minutes after you arrive home because if you’re like me and if your phone dings in the car the second you pull into the driveway then by the time you get in the house and are gang tackled by the kid and dog you’ve done forgot about the reminder 5 minutes later.

6)  Safari – Necessity here because though I love Chrome on any other platform Safari just offers a zippier experience in iOS though that’s changing as Apple is opening up their walled garden more and more.

7)  Settings – Necessity again because I change a system setting at least once a day (usually wallpaper) or am usually looking to connect to a wifi network.

8)  App Store – Because I shop for apps and look for updates daily.  Still a choppy experience but getting better.

9)  Google – Two words…Google Now!  Check it out.  It’s both a little creepy but so so cool when it dazzles you with just the right information at just the right time or place.

10) Weather – This is the lone Apple app that I actually prefer over third-party apps because I think Apple got it right.  I’ve tried a half-dozen weather apps and I recently dumped them in favor of the stock Weather App because it just does one thing and does it well.  It quickly displays all the pertinent weather info upon opening the app and does it blazingly fast.  It’s got a decent flat interface that doesn’t fill your screen with ads like so many other weather apps do.

11) Evernote – This one’s actually just filling a void left behind when my favorite note taking app was shuttered.  I was a big fan of Springpad, a direct competitor to Evernote until it abruptly closed up shop.  When it did it offered a streamlined method to port all of your notebooks directly into Evernote hence it’s arrival on my home screen.  Nothing against Evernote which actually is quite pleasing on the eyes and is certainly light years more robust than the stock Apple Notes App.

12) Rise – Rise is my alarm app.  I was duped into purchasing it with the allure of tapping the screen anywhere to snooze but found out after the fact that you had to leave the screen on all night in order to take advantage of its full feature set.  Leaving the screen on all night albeit dimmed just seems silly so I don’t.  Nevertheless I keep it because it’s stock set of alarm sounds and remaining feature set are better than the stock Apple Clock App.

13) Mail – Another Apple mainstay but only on my home screen until Inbox (see below) accepts my Hotmail account.

14) Wunderlist – Bar none the best list making app and I’ve tried them all!  Super easy to use and uncluttered but can be as feature rich as you want it to be (think sub lists for lists).  Especially love sharing a grocery list with my wife because you can go back through completed items and re-add them to the list again.  Handy for things you need every week like milk and bread.  Completely free to use and ad-free to boot.  It syncs shared lists with ease and allows you to drag to reorder items.  It’s the small things that count and being a lifelong list maker Wunderlist truly lives up to its name.

13) Drafts – One thing Apple’s stock Notes app does well is it allows you to dive right into creating a note fairly quickly.  Drafts one-ups it.  The app defaults to opening right into a brand new note every time you open it.  It’s got a nice selection of fonts and share options so for me it really has replaced the stock Notes App more so than Evernote has.   At $9.99 it’s a bit pricey though.  I’m still on an older version and waiting for a deal to upgrade to the latest but it’s still the fastest app period when needing to tap out a quick note.

14) Misfit – This is the accompanying app to the fitness tracker I use (the Misfit Flash).  The Jawbone Up app gets all the attention for fitness trackers but I find Misfit’s to be more than par for the course.  It’s got a crisp flat design and for an app that I frequently check throughout the day I can’t honestly think of a single hiccup I’ve ever experience.  It’s quite stable and that should always count for something.

15) Google News & Weather – Seems I’m always trying out a different news service.  This is the flavor of the month for me.  It’s claim to fame is being able to Google any term and creating a whole news feed on it.  For example when I was researching the aforementioned Misfit Flash fitness tracker prior to purchase I created a whole news feed that offered up several pre-launch reviews since it was new to the market.  It also tipped me off when it was finally available for purchase since they were being tight-lipped on the exact date.  It also shows a snap shot of local weather on its home screen.

16) Asana – Another list taking app.  This one’s claim to fame is that’s an enterprise app.  I’ve begun to track my projects and daily to-dos in it at work.  Not sold on it yet and really it is meant for team collaboration which I don’t do a lot of because that’s how I roll.

17) Kindle – The king of reading apps.  No other reading app comes close to its feature set yet it will get out of the way when you need it to and let you just read.  I bought into the Amazon reading ecosystem long ago when I preordered their 2nd generation Kindle eReader and have never looked back.  The Kindle App a mainstay on my home screen and each successive version adds clever little things to further enhance reading experience like page numbers, percentage completion, their X-Ray service, and estimated time remaining to read.

18) Pocket – A read it later service.  It literally is formerly known as “Read It Later”.  It’s an app that allows me to read web links that I save to read later in an uncluttered mobile friendly canvas.  It gives the Kindle app a run for the money on number of reading features.  It’s one of the few apps that actually gets the low light reading experience right by offering a dark gray background with off white text rather than the deep black with bright popping white letters most other reading apps do.  It’s so much easier on the eyes in the dark.

19) Paper – Facebook sucks but like the other billion people on the planet like it or not I’m stuck with using it because all my other friends use it.  Paper is one of the rare things they cooked up that actually enhances the experience.  Born out of one of their labs it’s basically a heavily gesture based alternative to the traditional Facebook App sans ads (for now).  It also allows you to subscribe to a stream of curated news feed.  Not fond of their daily selection of news content I’ve turned off those feeds and use it exclusively for viewing and posting to my Facebook feed over the decidedly vanilla and cluttered traditional Facebook App.

20) Twitter – Nothing flattering to say here.  Does its job adequately, no praises per say but no complaints either.

21) Instagram – I must admit to a bit of nostalgia for Instagram.  It did after all spawn my shutterbug app addiction.  It works well and stays fresh enough.  I just never understood it’s love affair with square photos.  Why does it always seem when technology gives us more screen real estate something comes along to put black bars all around it?  Still mad they sold out to Facebook too.  Forever tainted but like Facebook, we’re stuck with it because everybody uses it.  At least it’s been mostly left alone to thrive since selling out and the few ads that I’ve seen begin to populate my feed are usually tasteful.

22) Bible – Did you know this app has been downloaded 161.4 million times and counting?! There are actually better apps for traditional bible study (see Faithlife Study Bible) but the Bible App has the best overall package with a thriving social feed and an ever-growing library of free community supported devotionals many authored by prominent Bible thumpers.


Dock Apps

23) Phone – These next four apps encompass my dock apps that show up on every screen.  The first is the stock phone app and I’m beginning to rethink its place here as I consider how little I use it.  I don’t place a lot of calls and most usually am on the receiving end of calls so I’m not sure I can justify its coveted place anymore in the dock.  I’ve never really pondered searching for a replacement phone app.  Open to suggestions…

24) Inbox – This is Google’s next great thing.  Think Google Now for Gmail.  It’s currently an invite only affair and I’m super glad I snatched an invite.  It replaced my all time favorite app (Mailbox by Dropbox).  Though I believe it still carries a Beta moniker it certainly doesn’t feel like it.  What Inbox does is basically serve you up a feed of emails automatically organized in categories like Promotions or Financial but rather than leaving you guessing at content by what the subject line says it will pull out the pertinent parts and put them front and center.  For example it will offer a link to track a package without having to open the message or serve you up a movie ticket confirmation number right in the subject line.  It is also written with a heavy dose of Google’s new Material Design experience which personally I can’t get enough of.  It takes liberally from many of my favorite features offered up by Mailbox and even gives you the option to add reminders to your message feed which just seems to be a natural place to add reminders after all.  How has nobody else thought of that yet?

25) Songza – If there’s one app on this list I would encourage anyone to download it has to be Songza.  You simply will not find a larger library of curated playlists anywhere.  You can pick from moods to genres to activities.  Google recently purchased and incorporated these playlists into the Google Play Music App but for now seem content to leave this free ad-supported service intact.  The ads aren’t in your face either and mostly consist of a small static banner at the bottom of the screen and you can rest assured that no loud car commercials will interrupt your feed like so many have ruined the Pandora experience for me.  Please download it, you’ll thank me later…tip check out the “Songs From Apple Commercials” playlist.  It’s delish!

26) Messages – And finally the last app in my dock is the stock Messages App because it’s adequate for me especially now with the latest feature set added with iOS 8.  Most of my friends use iMessages so really it’s a no brainer for me.  I’m actually aware of the plethora of better alternatives but truthfully none of my core friends and family use them so…

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The Show That Was The Original iPhone Unveiling

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Remember Steve Jobs on the two year anniversary of his passing by reading this great article that gives a fantastic behind the scenes look at what it took to develop the iPhone and make the world believe it was truly the way forward.

Size Matters | The Screen Size Debate

Credit:  Apple

Credit: Apple

September 20th was the official launch of the new iPhones 5C and 5S and just prior to it’s release every tech site and news site all rushed to get out their verdicts on the new models.  For the most part all the reviews were positive.  It’s really hard to argue with Apple’s solid hardware designs and reliable and vast App Store but every single review I read dinged Apple on one common thing – screen size.  The rumors were all abuzz with a larger screen for the iPhone but all proved to be untrue.  Android has toppled iOS in worldwide market share in large part due to affordable designs and big and bigger screen sizes.  It’s the same game that has played out year after year whether it’s TVs, laptops, or smartphones.  What’s lost here is the value of true functionality, portability, and ultimately purpose.  The purpose being that of a smartphone.  By definition a smartphone is limited by size because of it’s inherent requirement to be portable but size can also limit functionality.  How do you define and strike the right balance of portability, functionality, and features?  That’s ultimately the debate in play in the smartphone market with ever increasing screen sizes.  Personally I define it one way with one question.  Can you fully operate the device in one hand?  This is precisely the marketing ploy Apple baits us with.  Most people can touch their thumb anywhere on the iPhones’ screen without having to readjust the phone in any way with another hand.  This simple subtle fact I believe is at the core of the very purpose of a smartphone.  In my opinion if it takes two hand to operate it then just save you money for a full blown tablet.  Don’t be swayed by giant phone screens unless you just don’t care about portability.  Make the overall experience your priority.  I do believe there’s a market for larger screens sans the Galaxy Note 3‘s 5.7″ display but I treat that market as really the outer fringe of the tablet market.  Even Samsung knows the Note’s screen is a stretch that’s why they’re solely paring it with the Samsung Gear smartwatch for now.  Gee I wonder if the smartwatch market will play out the same way?  Will we soon be toiling over whether 1.3″, 1.6″, or 2″ is the proper screen size for the smartwatch?

What’s My Favorite Gadget?

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Credit: Apple

Kindle Paperwhite

Credit: Amazon

If you asked four years ago, three years ago, even one year ago my answer to this question would have been one and the same – my Kindle eReader.  Really?  Yes, I’ll get to why soon but to answer that question today is a bit of a conundrum.  First you need to know that I’m a voracious reader and naturally by reading this you must know that writing is a passion of mine so it might make some sense that the Kindle was my choice for so long but that’s not the main reason.  I’m a big fan of things that focus on doing only one thing and not things that try to be all things to all people.  I’ve owned a Kindle ever since I pre-ordered the 2nd generation Kindle back in 2009.  I”m referring specifically to the Kindle with an E Ink screen, not the Kindle Fire tablets that get so much attention.  Next to paper E Ink is still the best way to go for pure reading.  I pretty much ditched print from the get go allowing exceptions for only a couple of my favorite authors.  I won’t even attempt to knock print form because I actually morn its decline with many of you but I stop short of feeling guilty.  Let me tell you why.  Amazon’s Whispersync cloud technology means that I can go anywhere with my entire library of books and just like how iTunes and the iPod freed most of us from those giant cd albums once you go paperless so to speak you’ll never go back.  Amazon’s controversial low pricing practices don’t hurt either. Read More

App Discovery | Timehop

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Welcome to my new series that I will called App Discovery.  I will provide posts like these periodically and they will differ from App Reviews by their depth.  In this series I will try to highlight apps I feel worthwhile for fellow Tekkies to check out so it is presumed that I offer at least a TekYa rating on apps showcased here.

To start I would like to showcase an app I’ve found to be at least novel if not timely.  Timehop available only on iOS serves one purpose and that is to serve you up daily doses of precisely what you did exactly one, two, three years ago and so on.  It does this by tapping into all of your social network feeds and regurgitating what you were doing, where you were doing it, what you were saying, and pictorially what you were sharing years past on the same date.  It can tap into all the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Instagram.  It goes deep on the photo front by syncing with Dropbox Photos, Photo Sync, Flickr, and even your iPhone camera.  Syncing with all services is as simple as signing in and okaying the usual obligatory do-you-really-want-to-give-all-access questions and for me synced flawlessly.

I love the reminders of all things past.  A couple days ago I was reminded that my son started crawling for the first time three years ago which is fantastic considering next year on the same date it’ll be displaying this year’s Instagram reminder of my son taking his first jumps into the pool and swimming.  One of the toughest things for apps to do is to garner at least once daily usage.  This app’s formula is perfect for such success.  I look forward to finding out what surprises await me each day since there’s no way to either look forward or backwards in the app unless, of course, if you want to methodically dig down each individual social feed.  The last morsel of history the app gives you is a snippet of news from years past via USA Today such as the six year anniversary of the first iPhone launch.

I will say the app isn’t very old and thereby is a bit buggy in its infancy.  I’ve waited for an update before going ahead and recommending it.  The latest update seems to have brought some stability however I am still unable to share to Facebook which seems silly anyways since I would likely just be resharing an already shared moment.  Nevertheless if you are fairly active on social networks I highly recommend the app.  It does one thing and does it simply and well and that almost always garners a TekYa rating in my book.

Dear AT&T Please Open The Throttle: What I did with access to a month of unlimited data

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I live in the heart of tornado alley, in fact I live within 20 miles of the very powerful EF5 that struck Moore, OK and the largest tornado ever recorded just a few days later near El Reno, OK.  Aside from a very near miss the day before the Moore tornado and spending this past weekend repairing my fence I’ve come out mostly unscathed as this year’s tornado season starts to wind down.  Not that I take joy in others’ misery but a fortunate thing occurred this past month as a result of the massive damage and lives put on hold.  AT&T decided to lift most voice and data restrictions for those in the affected area for a month.  Apparently that included me.  You see I’m one of the dwindling holdouts who purchased an unlimited data plan.   AT&T wooed me into another contract with the promise to grandfather my unlimited data plan in only to throttle me two months later.  That’s been about two years ago now and I’m still very bitter about it.  I pride myself as being one with common sense and knowing when to timely interpret the writing on the wall but on this issue I’ve decided to dig my heels in.  If there’s not a clearer issue of false advertisement I haven’t seen it and I just can’t understand why one of those big brother federal agencies you always hear about haven’t stepped in yet to squash the practice of throttling users with unlimited data plans.  I’ll get off my soapbox for now and get to the meat of this post which is what I did with a month of unfettered data access on a device running on arguably the fastest LTE network in the states.

To start I simply unleashed the reigns on one of my favorite music apps Songza.  Songza is one of many music streaming apps whose approach differs by allowing you to choose playlists by the mood you’re in.  It’s also got a great pool of playlists created by artists and brands.  Tip: check out the Songs From Apple Commercials playlist, it’s fantastic and surprisingly lengthy.  It’s fair to say I streamed from Songza at least four hours a day.  When I was in the mood for a specific artist or song I happily tuned in to Spotify and selected my choice at will at its extreme music quality setting no less.  This was a welcome experience after months of dealing with Spotify’s confusing interface and juggling my iPhone’s limited data storage when on wifi just to download the next day’s playlists.  If I ever felt in the mood for one of my own albums stored in iCloud I guiltlessly downloaded at will scoffing at the data warnings barked at me.

When tired of music I easily cleared out my queue on my Hulu app.  Now I don’t typically spend much time on YouTube except to view a video link I come across through the digital universe but I must say I got into the spirit quite easily a couple of times as I chased a couple rabbits after viewing a link.  There were a couple of  video podcasts that I usually would wait to download offline that I purposely streamed because I could.  When it came to watching Apple’s 2 hour long keynote speech and iOS 7’s unveiling at this year’s WWDC I skipped my employer’s putrid internet connection in lieu of my iPhone’s Safari stream.  The whole experience was quite liberating to be honest.  When the dust finally settled I had burned through 10 GB of data twice the normal amount I’m allotted on my unlimited data plan before being throttled on LTE (note: it is 3GB if you’re on a HSPA+ only device).  To be truthful I probably am the type of user that the powers-that-be at AT&T legitimize the decision to throttle but I must ask why else build the LTE network?

Relaxing restrictions for tornado ravaged victims was quite gracious of AT&T no doubt but I must say there’s massive amounts of irony in the fact that I finally got to experience my promised unfettered access on my LTE enabled device as a result of restrictions lifted to help victims.  Here’s some unsolicited advice AT&T, if you want to create some sort of brand loyalty, don’t offer your customers the promise of the the fastest network in America by getting halfway there by limiting their access.  Final thought, the folks at Chevrolet could make the Silverado the most fuel efficient truck in history overnight by adjusting the speed governor to 35 mph right?  Is this a fair comparison?  Sorry I just couldn’t stay off my soapbox.

Buying Into A Platform

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The motto of this blog is “Star Wars or Star Trek, Apple or Google, The Battle For Supremacy and Relevancy Thrives Here” and it is in this spirit that I write this post.  Choosing a platform is the quintessential decision we are faced with on a daily basis every time you fire up a PC, smartphone, TV, or glance at a billboard.  This is a battleground waged almost primarily through advertisements and press.  Apple or Android, Windows or Mac?  Let me first burst your bubble, you won’t find a single answer-to-it-all recommendation here.  Don’t leave though because just like you I battle the same desire to go all in on one platform.  There’s the allure of simplicity, uniformity, and accessibility in the idea of buying wholly into one platform.  Nevertheless I recently have come to terms with one fact…no platform exists that can adequately be all things to all people/me.

Oh yes many try, but at some point all fail.  How about some examples starting with Google.  It’s no secret that Google search reigns supreme.  I won’t digress into a comparison with other search engines; after all it’s part of vocabulary to Google something when you perform an online search and not to Bing it.  Besides every time I see the word ‘Bing’ I think of Chandler’s annoying girlfriend from Friends (Janice) wooing him in her nasally voice “Chandler Bingggg!”  Ick!  Yet comparing Google Docs to MS Office is also a gross mistake.  In this case feature by feature Office trumps Google docs by a long shot.  Sorry to disappoint again but for purposes of another article I’ll stay away from the Apple (iOS) to Google (Android) comparison.  That’s a whole different can of worms.  Instead how about another conundrum- internet browsers.  There’s Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari to name a few.  The lines blur a bit here but if you’re priority like me is speed and access to the cloud then Chrome is the clear answer.

Want a piece of hardware, then look no further than Apple the undisputed king (in the court of public and this engineer’s opinion) of innovation and good product engineering.  Let’s talk about some apps.  For instance note taking apps.  Try the popular Evernote or my personal favorite Springpad.  Have you seen the pathetic stock Notes app on the iPhone?  Honestly who still uses yellow note pads anymore, much less a faux one on a tiny screen?  Thankfully Notes is getting a makeover in iOS 7.  I can go on all day and would likely end up with a very long laundry list of me too products to compliment a few very good ones but I think I’ll just get straight to the point.  That point being hardware and software makers have their strengths and weaknesses.  Diving all in on one platform (Apple people are likely going to strongly disagree with me most here) will only be your loss.  My advice, find what you like and go for it.  Focus on things that try to do one or two things best rather than being all things to all people.  If it really is a good product it’ll offer cross platform integration anyways.  After all last I checked you can still open up Word and perform internet searches through Google on the Chrome web browser all on an iMac.  Don’t just stick to meat and potatoes when you can have your cake and eat it too.