It’s been what feels like years since I’ve done one of these, so let’s do a deep dive into my iPhone home screen. And before you ask, I can’t in good conscience share the wallpaper, but you can get it by supporting The Iconfactory on Patreon.
My dock is reserved for the most important things I want to do on my phone.
I use iMessage to talk to the people I’m closest with, and it lives in the bottom-left, where it has been for the entire time I’ve used an iPhone.
Things used to be the pretty app that never quite got updated in time and lacked major features the other guys had for years. No more! Things is feature-rich, still looks better than any other task manager I’ve seen, and has powerful automation and recurring task functionality that make it indispensable for me.
Things is really good with Shortcuts as well, and I have a few non-regular projects that I have set up that involved about 10-30 tasks, and whenever they come up, a single tap in Shortcuts creates all of those tasks and assigns proper due dates for them based on when I’m creating the project. It’s amazing.
Castro excels at a few things:
- An amazing queuing system that makes sure my favorite shows are always at the top of my queue.
- A beautiful UI.
- Ability to sideload youTube videos as podcasts.
That queue is the main reason I use it, and for those unfamiliar, Castro has a “queue” and an “inbox.” New episodes in your feeds go into your inbox where you can decide to add them to your queue or archive them to just skip that episode. This makes the “queue” page exclusively a list of episodes you are going to listen to. I subscribe to a bunch of shows and I don’t listen to each episode of all of them, so this works with how I listen to podcasts.
This gets more magical when you learn that you can set show-specific rules, so for those couple shows that are in my “drop everything and listen to this” category, they will skip the inbox entirely and go straight to the top of my queue so I never miss them.
Audible is bar none the best audiobook app on the iPhone, mostly due to its extensive library of books at the best prices out there. What more do I need to say here?
Top Row: Photography
I love taking photos, and this whole row is devoted to the 4 apps I use to get the most out of my phone’s camera.
I use it to see my photos…yeah, that’s really it. You know this app already, so moving on.
I shoot most things with the stock camera app for a couple reasons.
- I get the benefit of all of Apple’s smart processing of photos, and the results are almost always unbelievable.
- It has everything: photos, videos, slow-mo, all in one app.
- It’s hella fast to launch, so I always get the shot.
Again, this is a stock app so I’m not going to get into it more here.
Finally, a third party app on this row! Halide is my RAW shooter of choice, as sometimes I really want a flat, raw image to do more extensive edits in post. Basically, I shoot most things with the stock app, but if I know I’m going to stylize the photo more than normal then I’ll use Halide to get the most image information possible for those edits.
I’ve tried all the rest and no image editors work as well for me as Lightroom. I pay Adobe $10/month for access to Photoshop and Lightroom, and Lightroom gets way more use for me. I love how the app is the same across macOS, Windows, iPadOS, Android, and iOS, and my library and images sync across all devices effortlessly.
I know Darkroom gets a lot of love, but it’s never quite worked for me, especially since it doesn’t help me edit across all the devices in my life. I know I’m an outlier as I sometimes take shots on my iPhone and edit them on my Windows PC, or I’ll shoot on my Pixel and edit on the iPad. The cross-device/platform sync is essential for me.
Row 2: Information
The second row on my home screen is devoted to things that I use to gather information, or log things that I'll reference later.
It’s my web browser and I use it because as someone who spends most of their computing time on an iPhone and iPad, it’s the best browser in both of those places. If I was primarily on a Mac or PC all day, I’d probably use Edge because I love that on the desktop, but their mobile apps are not nearly as good.
I don’t use Notion for nearly as much as some people, but I use it to log my daily activity (workout history, dog walk times, alcohol intake, games played, etc.). I have a reminder set up every day to log my day in Notion, so it lives on my home screen almost exclusively to do just that.
I use Letterboxd to track what movies I have seen, as well as what movies I want to see. I love being able to see what I’ve watched over time and Letterboxd makes that easy. It also has some social aspects, so you can see what your friends are watching. You can follow me there at mattbirchler.
Row 3: Distraction
Yes, I have a “distraction row” on my home screen. Sometimes you just want to have fun and let your mind wander.
Not a stock app, but also what do I have to say about Twitter that you don’t already know? The most interesting thing is probably that I don’t use a third party app, which maybe makes this a little notable.
I prefer the official Twitter app because it has all the service’s features on day one and the algorithmic timeline is the only thing that allows me to follow the people I want and see the best stuff as often as possible. I sometimes go day or two between checking Twitter and I don’t want to have to scroll through hundreds (or thousands) of tweets to find the wedding announcement from someone. Twitter.app will make sure I see that tweet immediately when opening the app because it’s a major event for that person, while the reverse-chron timeline treats everything equally, so I feel compelled to scroll through everything to make sure I don’t miss any important things.
Another stock app! I would say I’m generally unsatisfied with all email apps on iOS, with no app scratching every itch for me. I use Mail because it seems reliable and shows full emails, even long ones, very nicely. It sucks at notifications though, and archiving emails is a little slower than I wish because the swipe gestures are harder to pull off than something like Spark or Outlook. It’s a good enough app, but it’s also something I’d love to swap out with something better, if only that something existed.
Slack is used mostly for work, but I’m also in a few private Slacks with friends that I enjoy using to chat about personal lives and video games. I know some people like Discord for this, but I genuinely love Slack’s interface and prefer to chat here than basically anywhere else.
Reddit is a bit of a wild west, but there is enough good stuff there to make it a decent place to scroll for a little bit when I want to be mindlessly entertained for a few minutes but don’t know exactly what I want to see. Apollo is the prettiest, easiest to use app I’ve seen for Reddit.
Row 4: Targeted Activities
If my third row was all about distraction, the row below it is for targeted distraction. When I launch Twitter, Mail, Slack, or Apollo, I don’t really know what I’m going to get. However, when I launch these 4 apps, I have a much better idea of what I will get, and I tend to have an idea of what I want to do when I go into the app.
This app has the potential to suck me in for a long time, but I don’t love holding my phone to watch videos for long, so this is more of a way to watch things for a couple minutes at a time. I typically watch things from my watch later queue to kill a little time.
I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber and use this to listen to it, so yeah…
Many RSS apps have come and gone since it debuted 10 years ago, but my heart still belongs to Reeder. In my experience, no app combines beauty with speed better than this. NetNewsWire might be faster, but it doesn’t work with Inoreader, and I find it to be harder to quickly scan my feeds. Unread is more beautiful, but it’s also much slower to use for reading a lot of feeds.
I read a lot of news sources and I also maintain a weekly newsletter that needs content, so I’m going through a lot of stuff, and Reeder simply makes it easiest for me to do this work.
Nike Run Club
This is a super personal pick, but I really like Nike Run Club for tracking my running workouts. I think the maps and stats are presented well, it has nice achievements, and the professional athlete “you can do it” and “great job!” messages are irrationally enjoyable.
And with that, I should probably go for a run now, huh?