Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

“Bravely Default”

Seth Clifford:

For years, I’ve eschewed using the default iOS apps in favor of third-party offerings, because maaaan, I always knew better. Apple’s apps are for regular people, and I’m a PowerUser™, maaaan. I’d configure all kinds of workarounds and extra steps because I wanted to wring every last bit of functionality out of my devices, and the basic starter apps just weren’t ever enough.

Something’s changed though–well, two things–in the past few years. I’ve lost my taste for fiddling a little bit, and the default apps Apple ships with its devices have gotten, well, better. Better than other things I could use? Not in all cases. But better… enough.


Certainly I have specific pieces of my workflows that must remain more complex; OmniFocus is a great example. The complexity-to-ability balance is tilted way in favor of the amazing productivity gains it offers when life throws a lot of stuff at me. But that new Notes app looks hot. Dark Sky is cool, but I just end up opening Weather way more often. I’m rediscovering that using Reminders for very simple nudges can be highly effective outside of OmniFocus. Most shockingly for some nerds, I’m just using the built-in Podcasts app. Why? Because my use case is having a podcast show up, and me listening to it.

It’s interesting that Clifford called his decision to switch to mostly default apps “brave”. He’s kind of right — using the default anything amongst a tech-savvy audience is practically begging for an onslaught of confused @ replies and backlash.

Every so often, as with most nerds, I think about my workflow and reconsider my assumptions of The Way Things Ought To Be. Am I using the best Twitter client for me? Am I using the best calendar replacement, or is there a better one out there for my specific use case? And then I realize that I haven’t really changed much in my workflow in about five years because I’m largely doing similar stuff as I was then, albeit in different proportions. And that realization raises all sorts of other questions, but that’s an internal crisis for another time — first, I have different email clients to try.

What I’ve realized is that you should limit your exploration outside of default apps if:

  1. there’s an aspect of the app that you use all the time that is either not present, is woefully buggy, or is inadequate; and

  2. the app or its function is something you use constantly.

If it’s an infrequently-used app or you can live with its features, keep using the default. It’s probably fine, plus you get all of the benefits of the app being integrated with the rest of the system in some way. But if it’s an app that you use all the time and it’s driving you crazy, you may want to look into something else.

Take Clifford’s example of using the default Reminders app over OmniFocus for simple reminders. I don’t use OmniFocus at all — I only need simple reminder capabilities — but Reminders is woefully inadequate even for me, because it is my only todo list. I create reminders for specific dates and times a lot, and doing it in the Reminders app is a huge pain in the ass for something that should be such a lightweight function. It requires:

  • tapping in the blank cell to create a new reminder,

  • typing the reminder title,

  • tapping the little info icon to bring up the details view,

  • switching the date reminder to “on”,

  • using iOS’ still-a-little-clumsy date picker to assign a date and time, and

  • tapping “Done” to save it.

That’s too complicated. In Fantastical, I just tap the “new” button, type “remind”, then the title and time details in natural language, then tap “Done”. As this is something I do a lot, it saves me enough time and stress that I find the $5 I dropped on Fantastical a no-brainer. But I wouldn’t try anything else now because my grievances with Fantastical aren’t worth it. That’s really the tradeoff. Find one app that does what you need it to well enough that you can live with it, and stick with it. And, for a lot of people, that’s going to be the default.