The bare essentials

Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler. —Albert Einstein

I just read about an experiment with using just the stock iOS apps to get work done, and it resonated with me. I was listening to the Enough podcast and the host made an excellent point about how the best tools are picked up and used without thinking. I don’t need 16 kinds of hammers, so why do I have that many different writing apps on my iPad?

The experiment is simple. Try, with as few exceptions as possible, to use iOS devices with only Apple software. I’m including downloadable apps like iBooks and Podcasts in this.

Why would you do this? In a word, integration. Because Apple is a closed ecosystem, Apple apps have the ability to integrate more tightly with the system and each other than third party apps that have to rely on Apple’s public APIs. For example, even though it’s downloadable and not part of the OS, Apple’s Podcasts app has the ability to change the skip forward and back buttons in the media controls and lock screen to 15-second forward and back buttons. Apps like Downcast can’t do that.

But more importantly, Apple’s apps integrate with Siri and Spotlight. Which means I can ask my phone to show me tasks about something specific in Reminders, but not if the tasks are in Remember The Milk. Notes in Apple’s are indexed by spotlight and accessible via Siri, but notes in Simplenote or Evernote are not. Siri can send an email via Apple’s while I’m driving. It can’t send one via Sparrow.

And since buying an iPhone 5, I’ve become convinced that Siri is the “next big thing” everyone is waiting for from Apple. It’s been right in front of us for a year now, but most of us didn’t realize what we were looking at. Voice is the next leap in UI after touch. It’s how you’ll control that TV Apple isn’t officially building.

Google’s going down this road too with Google Now. But the two products, while superficially similar, have a fundamental difference. Google Now is about your device telling you something, just when you need to know it. Siri is about you telling your device to do something, the instant it’s on your mind. They’re really 180 degrees apart.

And of the two, I think Siri is more important. But the big limitation with Siri is that, so far, it doesn’t have system-wide hooks the way Android’s sharing system does. You can tell Siri to do a lot of things, things that frankly I would have put off entering into the phone if I had to type them (I do a much better job of ubiquitous capture now), but only things that use the built in applications.

Which brings us back to using only the stock apps when possible. Now, for me, some exceptions are inevitable. I have literally thousands of books in my Kindle library, and I use Amazon’s WhisperSync to read them seamlessly on my iPhone, iPad, laptop and, yes, physical Kindle Keyboard. So while I could convert them all to epub via Calibre, sync them to iTunes and from there sync them to my iPhone and iPad for reading in iBooks, I’m not going to do that. It’s a little harder to shop for books from my iOS devices if I’m in the Amazon ecosystem instead of Apple’s, but reading is so much better that I don’t care.

Google Voice is tough one to give up. I really like my GV number (2KIRVIN), and really, REALLY like that it isn’t tied to any particular phone. Most of my friends and family don’t even know my Verizon number, because they don’t have to. I could forward texts to iMessage, but I don’t want to go back to caring how many texts I send. And I’d only be able to reply from my iPad to people who also use iOS.

But by and large, so far I’m finding it pretty easy to stick to Apple’s apps. Calendar, Reminders, Podcasts, Maps, Camera, Mail, Music (I have iTunes Match), Pages, Numbers and Safari are all fine.

So what third party apps do I use?

  • Audible (see Kindle)
  • Kindle (see above)
  • Flipboard (not stock, but means I don’t have to install Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and a Google Reader client)
  • Pocket (Apple’s Reading List in Safari is too hard to get stuff into still, but it’s a first attempt)
  • Cisco AnyConnect/Citrix Receiver (for work)
  • Pandora (this may go away if Apple’s rumored streaming radio service materializes)
  • Dropbox/AirFile
  • Letterpress/Bejeweled
  • Netflix/Amazon Instant Video/YouTube
  • Squarespace
  • Writeup/Day One/Evernote/Simplenote/Notes/Drafts

And that last line is the one I can’t unravel. I need to figure out where, definitively, to put my notes, and whether there need be any difference or distinction between notes, drafts and journal entries. But that’s a topic for another time.

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