Newsletter Update

Newsletter Update

I wanted to share two quick updates about my newsletter, Birch Bark.

First, I've disabled all tracking in the emails that get sent out. I had this on at first since I wanted to be able to see what items people found the most interesting and got the most engagement. After doing this for 17 issues, I've learned that this is not particularly useful to me and has had zero impact on what I choose to share in the newsletter. So as of this Friday's newsletter, it's all gone. My life won't change at all since I wasn't using the data in the first place, and yours will either stay the same or get better since sometimes ad blockers would block the tracking links.

Second, and this is an experiment, I've added a sign up form inline on this site. I know, I know, I'm not a huge fan either, but I want to try it for a few days at least and see if it drives any additional subscribers. The newsletter has been growing slowly, but the churn is really low and I think the people who are subscribed like it (this is mostly based on anecdotal feedback, although a glance at the analytics I just turned off back this up) and I think more people would too, they just don't know it's a thing. You should be able to dismiss it once and never see it again, but let me know if it's constantly pestering you and I'll either tweak it or remove it.

If you've made it this far, you have probably already seen the form, so I hope you filled it out, but you can also head on over here to signed up today.

Black Lives Matter, and so Does Democracy

Black Lives Matter, and so Does Democracy

I won’t take much of your time because there are more valuable voices to hear now, but I want it on the permanent record of this site where I stood during this time period in history.

As a kid, I remember learning about the Civil Rights movement in school as a kid and wondered how there could have been anyone against that movement at the time. A couple decades later and now it’s all too clear to me how that happens.

I stand behind the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It’s shocking we need to be reminded of this.

I stand with the protestors who are attempting to protest their government’s inaction on a literal life and death issue.

I despise those who are trying to take these protests and warp them into something else, as well as those creating false narratives in order to muddy the waters and justify undemocratic behavior.

And of course, I’m not only ashamed of our current president’s handling of this situation, I’m afraid that his violent instincts around squashing opposition, including peaceful protests, are a culmination of all the fears we had about electing this guy in 2016. He’s not pro-democracy, nor is he pro-Constitution, he’s interested in power. This is a dark road we’ve gone down further than I even feared he’d take us.

Oh, and if you were looking for that unsubscribe button, I won’t stop you. If this post makes you uncomfortable or you think I should stay in my lane and just talk tech, bye 👋

A Better Computer

A Better Computer

Today I'm excited to introduce my new YouTube channel, A Better Computer. This channel will be devoted to helping you make the computer in front of you, whether it be an iPhone, and iPad, or PC, better than it was before; we want to make it a better computer. Here's the trailer!

If you have read this site at all, you know I have a lot of experience using and experimenting with tons of apps across a bunch of platforms. I know what I'm doing and I want to share what I know with you, just like I've learned so much from other people out there.

Much like the trailer, each video will be quick, to the point, and highly produced. I can't match the top tech YouTubers in terms of physical sets and camera production, but I can make a mean screen share, so I aim to have the best ones you've ever seen.

Here's the first tutorial that's already there:

I have a lot to learn about YouTube, and I'm starting completely from scratch on this project (I'm not even using the BirchTree name!). As I write this draft, I have one subscriber...me, so go ahead and subscribe today so you don't miss what I've got coming up.

Point of order, I plan on posting about one video a week, but that schedule is subject to change. Right now I'm just doing tutorials, but I expect to grow into also doing things with previewing software and reviewing new things as they are released.

There is Still Room for "Real Cameras"

There is Still Room for "Real Cameras"

Over the past few weeks I've been selling a bunch of stuff on eBay so I could break even on a new camera. Now I'm a huge proponent of smartphone cameras, especially those in the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4, being good enough for basically everything these days, but for me, there apparently still is room for a dedicated camera. Why? Let me explain.

Quality in the Details

First, let's get this out of the way: the iPhone and Pixel take great photos, but neither of them are perfect. They do great when looking at photos from afar, on a phone, and often even on a desktop monitor, but when you zoom in, they cut some corners. Here's a close up of my quarantine stubble:

Those were each taken in my kitchen with medium lighting, and while they both look good, the iPhone clearly approximates some of the data in my facial hair, while the Sony captures it quite well. You can also see some visible "liquefaction" in the bokeh behind me on the iPhone shot while the Sony camera has a "creamier" quality to it.

Better Portraits

Next up, let's look at some selfies. Here's the iPhone 11 Pro front-facing selfie camera:

Looks pretty good, although the sun got a little into the lens and washed some stuff out, but we could improve this in post. Also, since this is a fixed focus lens and has a pretty high aperture, the whole scene is in focus. Fine, but not always what I want.

Here's the same shot with the back camera on the same phone:

The quality difference is pretty stark, and this is clearly better in my opinion. I have far more detail and the background has a bit of softness to it. I'm quite happy with this photo, but let's look at the Sony:

Now this was shot in RAW, so I edited it a little to make the colors more in line with the iPhone photos, but the quality is clearly higher basically all around. My face has less sharpening applied so it looks a little more natural, and the background has a lot more bokeh happening, which I like for this shot. Of course, I could close the aperture a bunch on this camera to get it to not be blurred if I'd prefer. Also, the sky is a little blown out in this shot, but I could reclaim that data if I wanted (RAW 🙌), I just liked the blown out look over there.

Better Depth Overall

And depth overall is just nicer on the Sony camera. Here's an attempt to get a photo of a single leaf on a bush on the iPhone:

And here it is on the Sony:

I cranked up the bokeh to show the difference, but again, since I control the aperture, I could make the background more crisp if I preferred.

The iPhone is Still Better in Some Ways

Shooting on a normal camera again has made me appreciate some things on the iPhone and Pixel cameras more than I did before.

First, almost every photo I take on my iPhone or Pixel are good. Some of them are great, but 95% of them are at least good. You literally just point your phone at anything and it will get a good shot. The Sony can take better photos, but it also requires more work from you to get them. That shallow depth of field I love? That also means that I have less room for error when focusing, lest I miss focus and have a bad image.

Second, night mode is really something else. Now, the Sony doesn't do horribly here, but it's definitely not as good as either Apple or Google's current offerings.

And third, there's something really magical about taking a photo and having it instantly be uploaded to your online photo backup, or be able to share it within seconds. Having to plug the camera into my iPad and import the photos is annoying, and the wireless sharing option is not any more convenient unless I want to do it when I've only got my iPhone with me.

Wait, What Camera Are You Talking About???

I'm using a Sony RX100 Mark 3, which is a 6 year old camera which still retails for $600. Yeah, this isn't the latest and greatest DSLR, and there have actually been 4 more revisions on this exact model since it launched in 2014, but it's still a great camera. Here's a couple requisite Sherman pics I got with it in the my first day.

My Place in Tech

When I look back on the past few months of things I’ve discussed at length on BirchTree, a few things jump out:

  1. Magic Keyboard for iPad
  2. What gets to call itself a podcast?
  3. Stock apps vs third party options
  4. Buying into a philosophy when using the iPad

The common thread between all of these is that they all address something that is causing the tech community to feel like they need to get into 2-3 unique camps, and that they don’t want to concede any points to the other camps.

For the Magic Keyboard, I voiced an opinion that the weight is not ideal, and I’d prefer it if it didn’t add so much bulk, but I understand why it’s there and love the product despite that. For podcasting, I said that while I greatly dislike podcasts going exclusive to specific apps, I thought that didn’t mean they ceased being podcasts. For stock apps, I explained the benefits of using Apple’s stock iPhone apps, despite personally not using almost any of them. And with the iPad philosophy, I agreed with the “complaint” that some voiced with needing to buy into one to use the iPad to its fullest potential, but explained how that was the case for all computing platforms, and that was kinda the whole point.

I hope that I am a sobering voice in the world of tech bloggers. I don’t try to write things that are scandalous or are just written to stir the pot of controversy, and I am not on any company’s list for getting pre-release hardware for reviews, so I don’t tend to go viral. I definitely have opinions, and I hope that if you have followed me for more than a few weeks, you have a good idea of what I think, but I try to make sure that my opinions are presented as such; they are my opinions, they are not facts.

I think we need the people who rile things up, the world is a more interesting place with them in it, but I’m just not one of those people.

How I Use Things 3 To Organize My Life

How I Use Things 3 To Organize My Life

Intro

First things first, I am a strong believe in the idea of “offloading your brain” into a task management system. This means everything I need to do in the future, and I do mean everything, gets logged as a task in my task manager. I find this frees up space in my brain to not think about what I have to do at any given time, I can just refer to my system and do what it says.

Some people like to set higher level tasks and have like 2-3 todo items per day, and that’s a valid system too, but it doesn’t work for me. I typically have 15-30 tasks to complete each work day. For reasons I’ll get to soon, Things has some features that make this very easy to manage.

The Inbox

The inbox always baffled me, but last year I finally read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and it clicked for me. I add things to the inbox when they come up and then I have a recurring task set up to triage my inbox every day. Sometimes I’ll often triage throughout the day, but there is a repeating task at 7:30am each day to make sure that everything is out of my inbox and somewhere else.

I also value being able to add to the inbox easily. Since I add so much, it needs to be simple and quick.

It’s very quick on the iPhone and iPad, and the Mac’s Ctrl+Space shortcut is hugely useful. The Mac app even has another command (Ctrl+Opt+Space) that does the same thing, but pulls in the website you’re currently looking at in your browser, which is really nice for saving tasks with linked web pages.

After the Inbox (Areas and Projects)

After a task is put in the inbox, it needs a few things to escape. First of which is an “area” (I think OmniFocus calls these “Contexts” but they’re the same thing). An “area” is where a task falls in my life. I have 5 set up now:

  1. Morning (things I need to do before the rest of the day)
  2. Home (things around the house or just things I need to do for me/family/friends)
  3. Work (all the stuff I do for my employer)
  4. BirchTree (blog post ideas, podcast schedules, YouTube posting steps, etc.)
  5. Freelance (any work I’m doing on the side)

Every single thing I want to do falls into one of those areas, and if I ever make a task that needs something else, then I’ll simply make a new area.

Projects are sub-categories of areas. So for example, “Release Notes” is a project under my Work area, “Shopping List” is a project under my Home area, and “Birch Bark” is a project under my BirchTree area. These can either be finite projects that will come and go, or they can be ongoing things that will never end.

All tasks get assigned an area, but not all tasks get assigned a specific project. For example, I have a task on my list today to clean up the shoes by our back door. I could theoretically have a project for “Chores” or something, but I just assign it to the Home area and consider that good enough.

Oh, and as a rule I give all projects an emoji to help pick them out of a list quicker. You don't have to do this, but it helps me a ton.

Due Dates

I assign due dates to almost everything. I tend to live my day-to-day in the “Today” view of the app, which predictably shows me what I have to do today. Due dates mean that I see what I need to do on specific days whenever that date hits (duh).

One thing I really like about Things over OmniFocus, which I used before this, is that I can assign tasks a due date without a time associated with it. I have a task today for work called “Give feedback for test mode ticket” which I need to do today, but it doesn’t really matter if I do it at 8am or 9pm. The dev is going to work on the changes tomorrow, so as long as it’s today, then I’m all good. An alert that goes off at a random time today is not useful here.

Of course there are also tasks I do that are time-sensitive, and those get timed alerts. I have a task where I keep my daily standup notes and that alerts me at 10am each day, right when the standup starts.

And then there are things without dates. These tend to be lower priority things that I want to do someday, but there’s no rush right now to get them done. For example, I have a task to replace the spare tire in my car. This is not something I need to do right now, but I don’t want to forget about it, so it lives in my “Home” area and I’ll set a date for it down the road (more on this in the “weekly review” section below).

Weekly Review

I used to balk at this idea of a weekly review. “I don’t have time for that!” I would think. But I’ve figure out a way to do it that is quick (less than 5 minutes most times) that helps me make sure I understand what I’ve done, what I have coming up, and if there’s anything I’ve missed.

This is of course a recurring task at 3pm on Fridays, right before I pack it up for the weekend.

  1. First, I go through the “Logbook” section of Things, which is a log of all the tasks I’ve marked complete. I don’t get much out of this 15 second activity other than satisfaction at seeing how much I was able to accomplish this week. Sometimes it’s a quick dopamine hit to see a few important tasks marked as done.
  2. Second, I look at what I have upcoming in the “Upcoming” tab. This shows what I have next week, and this lets me get some info in the back of my mind so I’m not surprised at something when I come in next week.
  3. Third, I click through each area and project and see if there are tasks that do not have due dates that really could use a due date. I set those and move on.
  4. Finally, take a second and look at my projects and brainstorm anything I haven’t logged yet that needs to get done. If I need to send an email on Monday, I make a task. If I’m all good, then I wrap up.

Again, this whole process takes a couple minutes most weeks. It's just meant to be another task that takes a lot of time, it's just something to take stock quickly on what I've done and what's next.

Recurring Tasks

Things gets a lot of grief for how it does recurring tasks, but it's method works for me. The recurring logic is pretty powerful, and I have some tasks repeating every weekday, every week, and every month.

One thing I really like is that I can have notes automatically added to recurring tasks, like my daily standup task:

This appears everyday for me, and everyday I enter a list of things I want to talk about at the standup, and when I mark it complete, that note stays forever in the logbook, but tomorrow's task still only has the "1. " to start the new list. Notes edited on the day a task is due are only applied to that version of the task, and changes made to the recurring task before it's due are saved for all occurances afterwards. Not sure I'm explaining this well, but it works great for me, and is unlike how I've seen other apps handle notes of recurring tasks.

Organization

Here's my view of work tasks today:

I've masked a good portion of it, but you can still see the structure. Basically, I have 4 general work tasks, one task for Collect Checkout, and a bunch of them for something else. I like having my projects clearly organized, and since many of these tasks don't have specific times they're due, I'm able to sort them however I want.

I also like that Things organizes tasks into their respective projects/areas. This helps me keep my work stuff and home stuff separate (although OmniFocus has more power here).

Forecast

To see what's next, Things has an "Upcoming" page where you can see every task from tomorrow until the end of time. I don't use this a ton, but I do like being able to see what I have coming up on Monday before I sign off for the weekend.

Shortcuts

Finally, I use Shortcuts to automatically add a bunch of tasks at once when certain things need to be done. For example, 2 weeks a month, I am responsible for collecting and posting release notes for my company's products. It's not 100% consistent though, and setting recurring tasks would only lead to a mess. Also, I have a bunch of little things that I need to do. They're the same every time, but I can't miss any of them lest the whole thing fall apart (yes, this should be better automated, but it's not yet).

I have a couple shortcuts that have actions to add about 5-6 taasks to the following Monday or Wednesday. Things, like most other task managers out there, has good Shortcuts support that lets me create these tasks, assign them to the right areas/projects, and give them due dates without me needing to do anything besides tap the button.

Takeaway

I don't think my system is the One True Way to Get Stuff Done. in fact, you may think I'm a crazy person after getting this far. I'll say three things in my defense:

  1. This is what works for me. I've never been more productive than I've been in the past year since adopting a lot of the behaviors described above. I manage a design job, this site, a podcast, a newsletter, a YouTube channel, a social life, and freelance work, often fielding questions like "how do you do all this?" Well, the last 1,700 words should give you an idea how I keep things straight most of the time.
  2. I've tried a ton of other systems and apps and nothing else has worked as well for me. Name the app and I've tried it, I've paid for it's premium subscription, and I've come back to Things. A few other apps could do it (OmniFocus is clearly my #2 option, with Todoist a distant, but doable third).
  3. This is my work calendar this week. To say that I task switch a lot is a massive understatement, and I really need a way to keep everything, including the really small stuff, straight. My head is shifting from thing to thing too much to "just remember" everything.

A Perpetual Hate Machine

The internet enables us to talk to each other about anythings we want at all times. You have the unusual pleasure of having access to the world’s information at all times, giving you opportunities to learn, to grow, and to share that growth with others. You have the freedom to try and make people’s days better with a kind word here and there.

Desipte this, I’m constantly shocked by how many people use the internet, explicitly social media, to do nothing but talk about all the things they hate. At best, some will find interesting ways to tell others why they hate something, but in general it seems to be lazy, misguided hate that they just have the spew somewhere. Use memes, use fowl language, call people names, threaten people, whatever. Whatever you do, don’t you dare suggest that opinions exist either, make it damn clear that there is the side that is right (you) and a side that is evil (literally everyone else).

This isn’t hyperbole, either. I have my DMs set to private on Twitter because I’ve literally had people tell me to kill myself because they didn’t like an iPhone vs Pixel photo comparison I did. Think about that.

And it goes to smaller things too. I see people who’s Twitter feeds are mostly complaining at brands about how much they hate their products. There are people who @ strangers constantly to tell them why they’re wrong about everything. There are fanboys who you can tell they like one brand because their timelines are exclusively them talking shit about their competitors.

This behavior, of course perpetuates more of itself. When someone tells you they hate you and people like you, then it’s hard not to respond in form. Even if you resist and are kind as hell in return, what are the odds of keeping that up over time as you get hit with this hate everyday? I mean, people are constantly setting limits on their Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/reddit usage (or quitting altogether) because they feel so bad when they use it.

What if you want to just find success as a blogger? Well, the odds of an article where you complain about something is more likely to get traction than something about how much you enjoy something else.

I don’t know how we fix this, and maybe we can’t. Maybe it’s human nature that when given a megaphone, they use it to spew hate, but I refuse to believe this is most people, and it’s certainly not going to be me. I enjoy a snarky tweet as much as the next person, and I’ve certainly written my fair share of negative articles, but on average, I hope that what I produce is positive.

The internet can wear you down and make you feel insane, but I hope this site, my podcast, my newsletter, and even my social media feeds are all places you can go to feel better than you did before (this post notwithstanding, of course). You may not always agree with me, and not everything is about how much I love something, but I hope to create things for the world that build thing sup rather than tear things down.

Using Zapier to Automate My Life Just Enough

Using Zapier to Automate My Life Just Enough

I’ve never gotten into Zapier, mostly because it was too expensive (free plan, but you probably want to pay for the premium tier) and it didn’t make sense to use when free services like IFTTT existed and I felt did the same thing.

Well, I recently started using Zapier more seriously than ever before and I have to say, it’s pretty incredible. Here’s what I’ve set up so far, and how I’m using each one.

Send Birch Bark Articles and Videos to Todoist

I have a weekly newsletter where I share a bunch of links, videos, art, and music that I loved that week, and I’ve been using Todoist to keep track of all these things throughout the week and then I pick things out from there on Thursday afternoon when I compose the email. I’ve got 4 different projects in Todoist that I use to queue up content.

Zapier allows me to automate 2 of these. I save everything I read to Pocket, so one of my “zaps” is to automatically add any story I favorite in Pocket to my “Birch Bark Links” project. This lets me simply like the things in Pocket’s UI and not spend time using the share sheet, finding Todoist, adding the tag, and saving the task. That’s not horrible, but when I want to be fast, tapping a star icon and having the rest happen in the background is amazing.

Similarly, I have a zap set up that adds a task to the Birch Bark Videos project when I add a YouTube video to a specific, private playlist. I was hoping Zapier could do this when I simply like a video, but that does not appear to be possible.

Still looking for a way to automate my music and art picks, but that’s trickier since there’s no Apple Music integration, and my art posts are more manual and just require a little more work.

Post BirchTree Posts to Twitter (2x)

Zapier has a native integration into Ghost, which means when I post something to this blog, I can have Zapier automatically tweet out a link to the post. There are two reasons this is cooler than what I was previously doing with IFTTT.

First, I can authenticate multiple Twitter accounts in Zapier, so I actually have this configured to post to @mattbirchler, my personal account, as well as @_BirchTree, the site’s “RSS feed on Twitter”. IFTTT only let you authenticate one Twitter account, so I could only post to one. Followers of the @_BirchTree account hadn’t seen a new post since December, so I hope they are happy this is back working!

And second, since this is a native integration, these tweets are sent immediately when I post something new. IFTTT used the RSS feed and checked it for updates every 15-30 minutes, so I would post something and then Twitter would get the link an arbitrary time later. This lead me to actually posting things earlier than I might have wanted to, just to get the Twitter post to go out at the time I wanted. Now I don’t have to choose. This post should be posted at 7:30AM CDT, so check the time on the tweet to keep me honest here.

Make a Task in Things when Pitchfork has a “Best New Music” Review

Pitchfork has an RSS feed of all records that get a “Best New Music” designation, and I like to see what those are because sometimes they turn me on to amazing music I would have totally missed otherwise. This automation just watches that feed and adds a Things task to my inbox with the album title, review summary, and link to the review.

Log the Daily Weather in Airtable

This is a silly thing I’m just doing because I can, but this is taking the daily weather and logging it as a row in a spreadsheet I have set up in Airtable.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, and honestly all I can think of is to do this for years and be able to build charts that show the weather over time, but like…I think I’m just going to delete this one because other people can do this so much better 😋

Post my Instagram photos to Twitter (2x)

This one is super exciting to me, and is another time that Zapier’s ability to link to multiple accounts on the same service are useful.

I like to share photos, and Instagram feels like a good place to do that, but the vast majority of my audience is on Twitter, so to get my photos in front of the most people, I typically post to Twitter only. And since Twitter and Instagram have some bad blood, the cross post tool in Instagram doesn’t attach an image to tweets, so it’s pretty useless to me. Zapier lets me post to Instagram and then have the description, the link, and most importantly, the photo shared in a tweet a few minutes later.

I also have a second account, simply_sherman where I post dog pics. Again, being able to post here, and try to grow this account (I’ve set an arbitrary goal of 1,000 followers by the end of 2020, so go follow Sherman!), all while sharing those shots to Twitter as well is super nice.

Log Transactions in Airtable

This is not one for me so much as a demo for people using my company’s software for processing payments. It’s a demo that uses webhooks to log specific transaction types (aka ones you need to take action on) to an Airtable database. It’s a slick proff of concept, and it’s a cool way to use webhooks without needing to write any code yourself.

Audit Birch Bark Newsletter when it’s Sent

And finally, this one simply makes a new item in Things for me whenever my Birch Bark newsletter goes out. I’d love to be able to do more with the MailChimp automation, like maybe exporting a daily subscriber count to a spreadsheet, but that is not possible right now.

Use ScreenFlow Like a Pro with a Few Simple Tips

Use ScreenFlow Like a Pro with a Few Simple Tips

One of the most valuable apps on my Mac is ScreenFlow, which is a screen recorder and powerful video editor rolled into one. I love this app, and I use it basically every single day at my day job to make video tutorials or even tiny GIFs that I use to communicate new features our company is rolling out to its products.

So with hudereds of hours of experience with it now, and a workflow that I think is really efficient, I decided it was time to try and help other people get better screencasts with it, so I made this video, which takes you through a quick project where I share exactly what I do to get something that looks good, is helpful to viewers, and isn’t so much work that you’ll never want to do it again.

Enjoy, and if you want to give ScreenFlow a shot, it has a free trial here. It’s $129 if you want to buy it, so you really need a use case for it, but if you do, I really think you’ll like it.

P.S. This is not a sponsored post, I just really like ScreenFlow.

My Home Screen: May 2020

My Home Screen: May 2020

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.

The Dock

My dock is reserved for the most important things I want to do on my phone.

Messages

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

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.

I change task managers every year or so based on my current needs, so you may also see OmniFocus or Todoist here from time to time.

Castro

Castro excels at a few things:

  1. An amazing queuing system that makes sure my favorite shows are always at the top of my queue.
  2. A beautiful UI.
  3. 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

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.

Photos

I use it to see my photos…yeah, that’s really it. You know this app already, so moving on.

Camera

I shoot most things with the stock camera app for a couple reasons.

  1. I get the benefit of all of Apple’s smart processing of photos, and the results are almost always unbelievable.
  2. It has everything: photos, videos, slow-mo, all in one app.
  3. 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.

Halide

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.

Adobe Lightroom

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.

Safari

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.

Notion

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.

Letterboxd

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.

Goodreads

Basically the same concept as Letterboxd, but for books. I use Goodreads to track what I’ve read and occasionally to find new books to read. You can also follow me there!

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.

Twitter

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.

Mail

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

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.

Apollo

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.

YouTube

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.

Apple Music

I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber and use this to listen to it, so yeah…

Reeder

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?