By Matt Birchler
Topic: ios
Posts: 73
Page 1 of 8 Older Posts

How I'd Redesign Alarm and Timer Notifications on iOS

How I'd Redesign Alarm and Timer Notifications on iOS

Apologies for the iPhone 13 screenshots on an iPhone 12 body, my mock ups haven't been updated for the 13 yet…

Above you can see what is presented to the user when I timer or alarm goes off on iOS. The UI is the same, but the inputs are not what I ever expect. The big orange button in the middle of the screen is clearly the "default" action, and the gray button at the bottom is the secondary one. They're slightly different, but I'd sum up the two options on both screens as:

  1. Thank you for the alert, I'm done with this.
  2. I need more time.

What's always confused me is that the timer makes "I'm done with this" the primary action, while the alarm makes "I need more time" the primary action. Why is this? Even after years with this UI, I still get it wrong sometimes because I have to do some thinking on "is this an alarm or a timer?" which isn't terribly hard, but it's harder than normal when you're either tired and have a phone blaring annoying sounds at you.

I think at this point Apple believes this is the right way to do things, so I have to consider why.

Option 1 is simple, annoying, but if often a good reason to leave something alone: it's been like this forever and changing it would cause its own confusion and anger. This is true for all software, and it's doubly true for iOS which runs on over 1 billion devices.

Option 2 is that Apple does consider the primary action on timers and alarms to be different. Maybe most people stop their timer immediately, while most will snooze their alarm at least once, so they are optimizing for the most common action. That's definitely possible, but without any actual user research you and I can only make semi-educated guesses if this is true.

Option 2.5 is that since alarms are often for waking up, people are more likely to kind of blindly paw at their phones to snooze the alarm, and they're more likely to have the phone in their hand and be able to touch a smaller button to stop the alarm.


No matter what the reason, I think there are a few main problems with the current UI, even if there is a logical reason to have their order flipped.

  1. The order of options is flipped between timers and alarms.
  2. The colors in the UI don't seem to indicate anything. Orange is destructive? The opposite? 🤷‍♂️
  3. The buttons are smaller than they need to be.

Here's my 15 minute mock up of what might be more useful:

This mock up tries to address the problems listed above while causing the least confusion to existing users.

  1. The actions are now in the same order.
  2. The colors are very clear about which one is "destructive" and which one will just delay things.
  3. The buttons take up way more space and are easier to hit.

There are a few other tweaks I've made to make things better, in my opinion:

  1. There are icons on each button, which adds another visual indicator what each button does.
  2. There is descriptive text on the "repeat" and "snooze" buttons to tell you what will happen when you press them.
  3. I've maintained Apple's size relationship, so it remains easier to hit "stop" on the timer and "snooze" on the alarm, but maintaining the same order of buttons.

Before I go, let me reiterate right here that this is a 15 minute mock up, not a final solution I think could ship exactly like this. The colors are clear, but they're a bit garish and should be refined. The sizing of the buttons is also very negotiable, as is the specific wording used in each button. This also doesn't take into account other new features Apple may want to add to this "while they have the patient on the table."

With that, I'm curious what you think! Is this UI inconsistency something that bothers you? Do you think this solution is headed in a better or worse direction? Again, I know the colors are a bit much 😛

What I Like About the New Safari

What I Like About the New Safari

I've written my fair share about what I don't like about the version of Safari releasing this fall, so today I wanted to mention the things I actually do like about it.

  1. The new tab gesture on the iPhone is nice. It does make we wish it worked from any tab and not just the last one, but still, it's nice when it works as expected.
  2. Swiping between tabs on the iPhone is good too. I usually have no more than a few tabs open, and swiping my finger across the bottom of the page is nicer than bringing up the tab switcher.
  3. When I do have to open the tab switcher, it is nice that I can swipe up from the bottom bar to get there.
  4. I like that sharing takes the same number of taps as before, which is more an improvement over beta 1 from June than the last version of Safari, but I'm still counting it as a win.
  5. The tab view on the iPhone looks very nice.

Now as you can probably tell from my cheeky header image, I'm still not sold on this being an overall improvement, but I did think it was high time I said something nice about it because there are good things to be found, even if I get a sweet sense of comfort whenever I go back to the current version (adding that if you know me, I'm hooked on the latest and greatest, so this is not just me being more comfortable with what I know…I love change!).

Chrome Becoming a Password Manager on iOS

The beta version of Google Chrome for iOS recently gained the ability to act as a password manager. This is going to be huge.

For lots of people, Chrome is the place they store their passwords and payment details. While people like me (and probably you) like 1Password or LastPass for this, there are tons of people who just use their browser's storage, and looking at web statistics, most of those people are doing that in Chrome.

The problem forever, and the reason people like me use a third party manager, is that those credentials couldn't be used anywhere besides Chrome. Once they can, that will mean Chrome has a free, cross platoform password manager that millions of iOS users are already bought in on. I think if Google has a good on-boarding that tells people how to activate this when it releases to everyone, it's going to be a big win for them and for users.

Anecdotally, I love 1Password, and use it on all my devices. My wife has a vault as well, but for the life of me I can't get her to use it. Even though it should be easy to use and because if she did use it, then she'd be able to quickly find passwords for my accounts if she needed to get into one of them, she doesn't like to use it because it's more work and "Chrome just works already." She's going to use this feature right away.

iOS 14 Could Make Changing Your Wallpaper Much Easier

iOS 14 Could Make Changing Your Wallpaper Much Easier

In case you didn't know yet, iOS 14 lets you enter jiggle mode by holding down on any empty part of your home screen. This lets you delete apps, move apps to your App Library, add widgets, and even hide entire screens. It should also let you change your wallpaper.

For those who haven't used iOS 14 yet, here's the concept next to the current version of jiggle mode in beta 1:

Pretty subtle, but I'd love to see this be how you get to wallpaper settings instead of bundling it in the Settings app.

“Android had it First.” “Well iOS had This First!” And Around and Around we Go

I was going to write a long article about each new thing in iOS 14 and whether each feature has been in Android already, but then I trashed the doc. I was getting bored writing it myself, so I can’t imagine how bored you would have been reading it.

Features like home screen widgets, cycling navigation in Maps, and picture-in-picture on your phone may seem like familiar features to Android users, but here’s the thing…

Here are some new features in Android 11 coming this fall:

  • Screen video recording
  • Uniform media controls in quick settings
  • New smart home controls
  • Airplane mode doesn’t turn off bluetooth
  • Pixel 4 face unlock can require eyes open
  • Better voice control
  • Allow location access just once
  • Auto-set dark mode based on a schedule
  • Scrolling screenshots (maybe)

There’s some other stuff there, but that’s a good chunk of the new features, and iOS users will probably already know where I’m going with this…all of this has been on iOS for years.

My point is that iOS and Android are mature operating systems and it is unreasonable to expect each platform to add new features that are totally unique. At this point, we can expect some new features, but a lot of the work is on filling holes (aka doing things the other guys have done for years) and refining the experience as a whole. Snarky tweets about “heh, heh, Android/iOS has had this for years 🤓” get likes and retweets, but they’re not particularly insightful commentary. If you just want to be snarky, that’s cool, enjoy! Let’s just not pretend that this commentary is anything more than fanboy bait.

I think the new widgets in iOS 14 look better than anything I’ve seen in Android widgets in 13 years and it’s stupid easy to make them look good on your home screen, but they’re also less capable and less flexible than what Android can do. The same goes for picture-in-picture, which Android has had for a little while, but iOS is adding a new ability to hide the video off screen and bring it back on demand. They caught up and then took the lead in this feature.

“Android had it first” and “iOS had it first” are mildly interesting data points now, that’s it.

The Value of Using Stock Apps

The Value of Using Stock Apps

This is part 1 of a two part series. Read the followup on the value of third party apps here.

I was chatting with Andy Nicolaides recently about task managers (as you do), and he was telling me how he tried using Things again after my recent article about how I use the app, and he said it didn’t work for him and he’d gone back to using Reminders. He also mentioned how he sometimes feels like his preference for using stock apps for as much as possible might be keeping him from enjoying some great third party apps. As someone who tends to prefer third party apps, Andy and I are approaching things from completely different angles.

That said, there are some definite advantages to using stock apps and I wanted to give those reasons a quick shout out here.

1. Here today, here tomorrow

How many photo library managers can you think of that have come and gone since iCloud Photo Library launched in 2015? How many task managers have either disappeared or languished since Reminders launched in 2011? How many mail services have disappeared since Apple Mail came out in 2007?

The advantage of using stocks apps (on iOS, at least) is that they generally have a longer life than third party options. There are things like OmniFocus that were around before Reminders and are still going strong, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

2. Predictable business models

This one doesn’t bother me as much as it does some, but the nice thing about something like Apple Notes is that you know it’s going to be free forever. You know iCloud Photo Library is going to cost you however much storage you need to save your photos.

The odds of Notes switching to a subscription model next year is basically zero. Also, if you start using it today, it’s not like Apple is going to release Notes 2.0 in a few months and you’ll need to pay again to get the updates.

Apple and third party devs have different business models, and each makes sense for each party, but from a straight up consumer basis, the one that is more likely to stay the same for longer is more appealing.

3. It’s just plain cheaper

Say what you will about the benefits of those other apps, but there’s no getting around the fact that since the cost of developing Apple Notes is absorbed by the income Apple gets from hardware sales, Notes is able to be free to the end user. You really need to get something significant out of the paid options to make them worth your while.

4. Keeping up with new OS features

Did your photo manager, email client, task manager, note taker, web browser, camera app, music player, news reader, podcast player, calendar, calculator, and messaging app have dark mode enabled on the day iOS 13 launched last year? If you used all stock apps, the answer is yes! If you used third party apps, then the answer is likely no, not all of them.

Or look at Google Docs/Sheets, which Connected has turned into a meme in asking each week whether it has added a fundamental feature that iOS enables (split view before, multi-window now). Months and months go by and then they finally add it, usually around the time the next version of iOS is in beta and has something else they won’t get to for a year. If you used Pages or Numbers, they supported those almost from day one.

5. Predictable Privacy

Is your email app selling your email data to advertisers? Do you trust putting personal information in your notes app? What if those apps are acquired by a company you don't trust tomorrow?

By buying into the Apple ecosystem, you probably trust Apple more than most companies. Again, their business model is selling you hardware and some premium services, not selling your data for profit. Lots of third parties are excellent here too, but you really have to check for each one if you want to be sure.


Look, my iPhone and iPad home screens are full of third party apps. For me, the benefits they allow (especially having web interfaces and working cross-platform) provide me value, but there is definitely a strong case to be made that it’s safest and cheapest to use stock apps unless you have a good reason not to do so.

Save Today’s New York Times Front Page with Shortcuts

Save Today’s New York Times Front Page with Shortcuts

Okay, so this one requires some credits before anything else.

  1. I modified Brian Renshaw’s shortcut which saves the page as a JPEG to Day One.
  2. His was modified from one by Matthew Cassinelli.
  3. His was modified from this one on Reddit.

The Shortcut

Download it here.

Before anything else, make a folder called "nytimes" inside your Shortcuts iCloud folder. Otherwise the shortcut will error out because it doesnt know where to save the file.

You can run this from the Shortcuts app, or you could run it from the home screen widget, or you could even set it up on an automation to run every day automatically. iOS still requires you to confirm you want it to happen, but it gives you a persistent notification on your iOS devices to make it happen.

What it Does

  1. Downloads today’s front page of the New York Times
  2. Saves the file to iCloud Drive (/Shortcuts/nytimes/2020-03-29.pdf, for example)

And that’s it…it’s pretty darn simple. My contribution was simply to make this a little cleaner and save the file named nicely with no usr input: simply tap the shortcut and it will be done in a second. Forgot if you ran it already today? No worries, just run it again and it will overwrite today’s PDF if it exists already.

Saving the file as a PDF takes up a little more space than the JPEG version in Brian’s version, but it also means you get high quality, indexable text you can use to find things at a later date. I don’t use Day One anymore, but I suspect the reason for the JPEG was because Day One doesn’t support PDFs for diary entries, but I’m not sure.

Bonus Shortcut

This one is embarrassingly hacky, but I used it to get all of the 2020 covers in one go.

Download the Jan 1 - Mar 29 covers with this shortcut.

If you know of a better way to do this, please let me know! Better yet, update it yourself and share it so more people can enjoy it.

UPDATE: Jimmy Little improved this version of the shortcut to return however many days of results you'd like. This is way better, so use it instead! Download here.

A Slower Apple Photos Sync

A Slower Apple Photos Sync

I don’t know if this is happening to everyone, but I’ve noticed a pretty big regression (in my eyes, at least) in Apple Photos since around the time iOS 13.1 shipped. Basically, no matter what is going on with my iPhone and no matter if the battery is at 5% or 100%, photos seem to upload to the cloud on some sort of schedule I can’t figure out.

Basically, I’m seeing the above image a ton, and it’s annoying me.

Previously, you would take a photo and it would start uploading to iCloud the moment it was done processing. This was really useful for two reasons:

  1. I knew that if I took a photo and my phone was destroyed a minute later, my photos would be backed up and I would have zero data loss.
  2. I could take a picture/screenshot on my iPhone and then use it on my iPad seconds later.

Now neither of those is valid since my phone will wait a while (sometimes an hour or more passes) to so the upload. I’m sure this is a decision that was made to improve battery life (and the message says as much), but it’s not something I’ve seen the Mac or iPadOS do, so it’s a bit of a pain to have it happening on one device only.

How I Use Things 3 to Keep Track of Christmas Shopping

How I Use Things 3 to Keep Track of Christmas Shopping

One of the things I struggle with year after year is keeping track of Christmas gift lists. I never know what to ask other people to get me, and I have never been good about keeping track of what I think other people would like. The latter part is especially frustrating because I have plenty of moments of “they would love this!” throughout the months leading up to Christmas, but when it comes time to actually buy gifts, I can never remember.

Sometimes these ideas go into Apple Notes, or Drafts, or worst of all, my memory. If GTD has taught me anything, it’s that my head is not a good place to keep track of lists of things I need to remember: I need a system to offload my brain.

My revitalized integration of GTD throughout my life this year has given me a new idea this year and it’s working out incredibly well for me. This might sound less magical to some people, but buying Christmas gifts is really just a project and the gift ideas are tasks in that project, so putting them into a GTD system makes a ton of sense.

Introducing Things 3

You could do this with any app or paper-based task management system, but I think Things 3 has tools that make this a really nice experience. Step 1 is creating a project called Christmas Gifts. If you want to have some fun, throw a 🎄 or 🎁 in the project name too.

Headers Make Sense of Large Lists

From there, you want to use Things’ headings feature which you can access by tapping on the three dots icon at the top right of the project view. I used these to create sections inside the project for different people. I have ones for:

  • Me
  • My wife
  • My immediate family
  • My wife’s immediate family
  • General gift ideas

As I come across things that I think certain people would like, I add them as tasks in this project and drag them to whatever section they belong in.

And because Things lets you add notes and tags to tasks, I make sure to add a link to the item and tag it with the specific person I had in mind for it. Things will not automatically sort this project page based on your tags, so you still need to manually sort stuff, but unless you’re buying for a ton of people, I don’t think it’s too much of a hassle.

Sharing Things I Want

Things very kindly lets you copy a task from the app and paste it into anything else as plain text. It brings over the task name (product name), the notes (link to the product), and tags (who it’s for). So when my dad, for example, asked me for a list of gift ideas, I just selected the half dozen tasks in my “Me” section, hit CMD+C on the iPad keyboard, and pasted them into an email.

I removed the tags because that wasn’t really important for him, but the information was all there and it was very little work to format it nicely in my email app.

Marking Stuff Complete

Collecting the information is easy enough, and organizing it is pretty simple, but here’s where it gets really nice for me. Since these are tasks, you can treat them like action items in your existing task management system. I tend to buy gifts over the course of a few months and the monthly budget only allows for some things to be purchased at once.

So to stagger my purchases throughout the season, I start assigning due dates to items on the list. This lets me stick to a budget and get everything on my lists for other people without breaking the budget.

Also, because these are tasks and Things does a good job of showing you what you have previously completed, I can easily look at my previously completed tasks to see what I’ve bought already.

Other Apps

There is no reason you could not do this in Todoist, OmniFocus, or any other task manager out there, but Things is what I use right now and I think it has the best UI for sorting out tasks for something like this. I’d love to hear if you are doing anything like this, and if you are using another app like Todoist, I’d be really interested to see your setup.

Why I Liked the Android 10 Update

This can only go well, right?

This was actually a video I made in September but didn’t feel like posting right away. As the description and title cards try to make exceptionally clear, this is not a video bashing Android, it’s just fun to see Android folks praise the virtues of things iOS either has or has had for literally a decade. The Android 10 update was really the “let’s add a bunch of things iOS does to make things safer for our users” update, and I think that’s why I liked it.

Page 1 of 8 Older Posts