Twenty Seven

If I had to use one word to describe how I feel right now, and how I’ve felt for a little while now, that word would be conflicted.

I’m 27 now, and decisions need to be made. Not just “what am I wearing today?” or “what am I eating tonight?”, but real, substantial decisions that will all have a major impact on my life, whether that’s for the next few months, the next few years, or even 5-10 years from now.

It seems no matter how old you are, there will always be someone to give you advice. Life advice, in particular. The kinds of things adults tell you when you’re young, but you don’t listen because, well, you’re young. When you’re young, people tell you to study hard. Get a good job. Earn real money. Buy a house. Settle down. Grow up1. And all before you’re ready for any of it, or really understand what it all means.

Now that I’m a little older, I get a slightly different set of advice. People tell me to spend my money on experiences, not things. They say everyone’s a little weird; nobody’s perfect. Everyone has flaws, but that doesn’t matter because everyone is capable of greatness anyway. People say it’s better to love and have lost than to have never loved at all. They tell you to aim high, shoot for the stars, chase your dreams, dance like no one’s watching, forge your own path, live your best life, love freely, and remember that anything is possible. Maybe not all in the same breath, but it’s all been said before. None of this is particularly new.

And now that I am a little older, there’s one piece of advice that I hear more often than any other: life’s too short.

I have a problem with “life’s too short”. Several problems, in fact, chief of which is it serves as a cop-out for the real problem: time is a cruel mistress. Youth is wasted on the young, and the advantages of being older don’t necessarily outweigh the negatives. Unless you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you’ll have to work like the rest of us, and unless you get lucky, a lot of the time, your dreams will remain just that2.

It’s enough to make anyone depressed.

“Life’s too short” makes me angry, too. Life’s too short… to what? To catch public transport? To wash your dishes by hand? To spend your days at a unfulfilling desk job, eating the same thing you had for lunch yesterday, doing the same thing you were doing a week, a month, a year ago? Perhaps, even, life’s too short to study hard. Life’s too short to get a good job. Life’s too short to earn real money, buy a house, or settle down.

Or on a more personal note, maybe life’s too short not to travel the world. Too short to have to reconcile giving up what you enjoy doing for the faint promise of career progression. Too short to not go to The International every year, or not get to one esports event in a different country. Too short to not spend time with family and friends. Too short to not talk to that pretty girl you like. Suddenly, you’re not sure what you should be doing any more, and all because life’s too short.

Congratulations, you’re now as conflicted as I am.

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Now With No Comments

I’ve now disabled comments here. I probably should have done this a long time ago, but every time I went to do it, a little voice in my head said that I should keep them around as they weren’t costing me anything. While that’s probably true, they weren’t really adding anything, either.

So I’ve disabled Disqus and turned comments off. The comments themselves are still kept in the database, if I want to re-enable them at some point in the future, but otherwise you know how to reach me if you want to comment on something I’ve posted.

The Support Call

This was perhaps the only time I ever saw all six lines tied up with calls.
Two or three wasn’t uncommon, on busy days, but six was unheard of.

At its peak, Next Byte boasted upwards of 20 stores all around the country, and I spent the tail end of my high school and all of my uni-going years at just one: Next Byte Hobart.

Today, the Apple landscape in Australia is a lot different to what it was a decade ago. We now have more Apple retail stores than we ever had Next Byte stores. In a world of slim profits on Apple hardware and an unparalleled customer experience from the Apple owned and operated retail locations that’s nigh impossible for any reseller to match, any third-party Apple presence is either small enough to fly under the radar, or niche enough to carve out a market of their own. For the rest of us, Apple retail stores in every capital city besides Melbourne, Darwin, and Hobart means our in-person sales and service needs are fulfilled, with any gaps covered by Apple’s online presence.

I have plenty of stories from my time at Next Byte. Maybe one day I’ll even write about a few of them, once I’m a little more comfortable the statute of limitations has passed. The one I want to tell today is about this one time I answered the phone. I thought it was going to be like any other support call. It wasn’t.

It’s a regular day in 2014. Or close enough, anyway, for the purposes of this story. I don’t know the exact date.

The phone rings. I answer it, give the usual greeting, and find myself talking to a distraught girl. I brace myself for what I think is going to be a pretty standard support call. You know the type — “my iPhone won’t turn on”, or “I accidentally deleted all my photos from my computer”, or even “I’m 83, just bought my very first computer from you, and can’t remember how you told me to access my email”.

Now at the time, we weren’t, strictly speaking, supposed to provide technical support over the phone. Management frowned upon employees spending lengthy amounts of time on the phone, and you could see where they were coming from; we were employed to sell Apple products, not do Apple Support’s job for them. But being the local Apple brick-and-mortar, we’d often get calls for completely mundane things. In the interests of helping the customer out (and, ideally, an improved chance of their business at a later date), we were unofficially allowed to help out where we could, or where we didn’t think solving the customer’s problem would take very long. If it did, well, there was always Apple Australia’s support number, even though palming the customer off to them felt like a cop out, at times.

Anyway, at first I think it’s a regular support call, and even though we’re not supposed to provide technical support over the phone, I figure I’ll at least hear her out, and see if it’s something I can provide advice on, or point her in the right direction, if not.

But as she starts explaining the issue, I come to the realisation that the issue she’s describing isn’t, strictly speaking, a technical one. She says she accidentally swiped left on someone, and was wondering if there was any way to go back so she could swipe right instead.

Having come across pretty much every problem in the book, at the time I prided myself on my extensive technical knowledge of Apple products and services. Which is why I was unusually confused about this particular issue, and had no idea what this girl was talking about, at least initially. Her refusal to give any further details, or to even name the app in question, only added to my confusion. Eventually something clicked, and I realised that she must have been talking about Tinder, the dating/hook-up app that had come out a few years ago and had only just become popular on our remote, faraway island.

Not being a Tinder user myself and not knowing how the app worked, I remember providing some generic advice along the lines of deleting and reinstalling the app. The idea was to do a kind of reset, even though I had my doubts about whether it would have worked. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about how successful a reinstall would be probably depended on if Tinder stored its matches server-side and remembered who you had previously “liked” or “disliked”. I figured a reinstall was at least worth trying, especially if we were talking about this poor girl meeting the guy of her dreams.

She seemed genuinely upset by her accidental swipe left, and listening to her talk about it, it was almost as if the person she had swiped left on was her ideal type. Even after I told her I wasn’t sure how the app worked and couldn’t guarantee anything would work, she kept asking me if that was the only thing I could think of to try. Recalling something I had heard about the app, I even suggested making another Facebook account1, but she just really, really, wanted to go back in time and re-match with this person.

A few of my Tinder-using male colleagues had a good laugh over that one later, but sometimes I wonder what happened. Did the girl ever find the guy? Are they now living happily after after? Or was he just looking for something different?

I guess we’ll never know.

  1. As an aside, using Tinder (or any other dating app or website) opens up some interesting questions for people looking for love. Sure, the world’s a little different now, and there are more ways than ever to meet new people. But would you want to entrust your future to an algorithm? Then again, maybe using a dating app or website is only half the battle, and it’s all just a numbers game after all, in which case an algorithm becomes your best friend. But that’s a post for another time. 

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and the Price of Early Adoption

Yo, am I supposed to be able to see through these rocks, or what?

The end of the year is upon us once again. Wherever you look, there’s one game that’s making every game of the year list. I’m talking about PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, of course, and no matter how many GOTY lists I read, it’s always PUBG this, PUBG that. Always in the top 5, if not at number one.

Don’t get me wrong, PUBG is a fantastically good game, and it absolutely deserves all the praise it gets. It’s been the only game I’ve really played this year besides DOTA and a minor fling with CS:GO that only lasted a few weeks. There’s just something about the battle royale gameplay of PUBG that makes it appealing to everyone, whether you’re a lone ranger slowly working your way towards a solo chicken dinner, buddied up with a friend trying to win as a pair, or working tactically as a squad, against a whole bunch of other squads.

You loot your way across the map. Hopefully the play area shrinks in your favour, lest you spend the entire round “circle-chasing”, constantly riding the outside edge, one bad encounter away from death. Occasionally, when you decide that you like the look of a set of buildings and decide to make camp, some unlucky squad will drive up, only to be gunned down by your squad’s perfectly orchestrated burst of assault rifle fire from multiple angles. Sometimes, you’ll be that unlucky squad, and other times, you’ll will that encounter, only to die to a unfortunate circle shrink mere minutes later, pinned down by two other squads.

Maybe you’ll be involved in an epic car chase. Be half-a-second late to save a mate. Jump out of a window to get into a better position. Crawl prone through some nice wheat as the battle erupts around you. Spray and pray with the micro-uzi. Get a lucky headshot to kill the last man in the squad. Notice someone out the corner of your eye. Revive someone, only to have them be immediately downed again. Or, if you’re really unlucky, get your entire squad wiped out by a single mortar round.

Has anyone seen my guns? I knew I left them around here somewhere…

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a lot of fun. It’s all the more impressive that this game reached 1.0 just a few short weeks ago.

That’s not to say PUBG has been without its fair share of bugs. Everyone who has played before 1.0 experienced some kind of wonkiness. Nothing particularly game-breaking, just frustrating inconsistencies between patches that make you want to quit playing the game forever. I’m not talking about the patch-to-patch balance issues — we have to be a little lenient, given that it was listed as early access for the vast majority of 2017 —
stuff that was “working” in one patch is now completely broken in the next.

All of this might sound like PUBG is a broken mess of a game, but honestly, PUBG has been pretty good in that department. There aren’t many bugs that I can remember, and while the game will likely have “balance” issues due to what seems like an inconsistent ballistics model, those are unrelated to any technical aspects of the game. It’s by no means bug free, but animation bugs are about as worse as it gets.

But isn’t that the price you pay for being an early adopter? Isn’t the trade off of a few bugs — many of which you might never run into, most of which have workarounds, and none of which break the game completely — worth being able to play one of the undisputed standout titles of the year?

None of this is particularly new, of course. Even for games that aren’t listed as early access on Steam, games from developers and publishers bigger than PUBG have always had more issues on release than they do months after their initial release. Not because they couldn’t live up to their astronomical-levels of hype, but due to technical issues plagued them from the outset.

Prey is one such game. I’ve been playing Prey in the last week of the year. I remember the demo coming out a few months ago. At the time, I was quick to dismiss it after an hour of uninspiring gameplay. Truth be told, Prey didn’t even make it onto my radar of games this year. Seeing it on as many GOTY lists as PUBG changed that, and I thought I should give it another go.

I’m glad I did, because Prey is great, exactly the kind of action-RPG that I am into. In more ways than one, I’m glad I didn’t play it when it was first launched, because it apparently had save-corruption issues when it first came out. Save corruption bugs are the worst of all, because they’re lost progress, putting them squarely in the game-breaking bucket.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Arkane/Bethesda has had launch issues with one of their triple-A titles. Dishonored 2 suffered at the PC performance altar when it first launched late last year, and it took a bunch of patches until it were finally fixed1. Even after six months, I still ran into one performance issue with one specific part of Prey, even though the game ran perfectly otherwise.

And isn’t that the ideal scenario? Wouldn’t you rather wait a few months to play a game you’re really looking forward to, just to make sure that all the bugs are ironed out of the 1.0 release, so you can have the best possible experience of the game?

In a perfect world, games would be released with zero issues. In reality, games are often broken on launch because programming is hard and because people aren’t perfect, so we end up with these bugs and issues. In the world of pre-order bonuses and where games spend years in development, it’s hard to not want to play a game as soon as it comes out, even if that means using a VPN to get a few extra hours playtime because the game has already been released in a different region. All I’m saying is, sometimes waiting can pay off.

But bugs can be fun too.

I call this one “the level 3 helmet squad”.

  1. Although, to be fair, I don’t remember any of these performance problems a year after the fact. Probably because the game is so good, any negative experiences early on were minor in comparison. 

The Liked List

I’m trying out a new thing this year. It’s called the Liked List, and it’s a bunch of links to stuff I liked in Instapaper from the last year.

Back in 2011, I wrote a piece saying that I do most of my reading in Instapaper. Not that I don’t do any reading on my computer — I read stuff there all the time — but as a rule of thumb, anything that needs more than a couple of minutes to read goes to Instapaper. Putting longer reads into Instapaper means I can get through it in a distraction-free interface in as many bite-sized chunks of my day as I want, or read all the way through something before I turn in for the night. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I open up something I’ve been putting off reading. Sometimes I get all the way through something, and other times, I get tired and fall asleep pretty quickly after that.

A few years ago, Instapaper introduced a feature where you could follow other Instapaper users to see articles they liked within the app. That’s pretty much the only way to see what someone else is liking within Instapaper, unless they’ve specifically set up their Instapaper likes to go to some other service via Instapaper’s built-in sharing options, or via something like IFTTT.

Instapaper also has public profiles of someone’s liked items (here’s mine), but it’s a feature pretty much no one knows about. Sharing likes between users seems like one of those features that never really took off. Which is a shame, given that it would probably be one of the best ways to discover great reads, whether they be your garden variety hot takes, internet think-pieces, or stuff you would’ve missed otherwise, either because you’re not subscribed to that particular RSS feed, or didn’t see it retweeted on Twitter1.

That leads me to the other thing I don’t like about just following people on Instapaper to see what they like; there’s no context. Why was this particular article interesting to you, and why am I going to find it interesting? I mean, time is precious. If something is going to talk half an hour to read, I’m not going to read half a dozen things on the off chance I’ll like them too2.

Anyway, enough about niche features, you’re here for the list. The Liked List for 2017. In somewhat reverse chronological order of when I liked it, and excluding extremely popular stuff you’ve probably seen elsewhere, or stuff that I don’t think is noteworthy enough to write about…

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The Agony and Ecstasy of Personal Transport

I don’t drive. Crazy, I know. Even coming from Hobart, living 20 minutes by car from the CBD, or 40 minutes by bus, I’ve never really found the need. And if I didn’t need to drive in Hobart, where everywhere is at least a good twenty minutes away by car, then I probably wasn’t going to need to drive when I moved to Brisbane, a city with vastly better public transport infrastructure than Hobart.

But for a little while now, I’ve wanted to explore Brisbane. I’ve visited all the big shopping centres, walked through all the Westfields, and now feel as though it’s time to branch out. As much as I like walking, walking has two major downsides. For starters, it takes a long time if you want to go anywhere, and walking outside in Brisbane heat might as well be classified as self-harm.

So for the past couple of months, I’ve been asking myself: how do I get around Brisbane that isn’t walking or driving?

Biking is the most obvious answer. You could probably pick up a semi-decent bike for under $1000, and would easily satisfy any kind of personal transport you had. While I’ve always been impartial to biking, I’ve never owned a nice bike, so now is probably not the time to start. Besides, the thought of having to ride on the road, alongside cars, is kinda scary. Yes, I know bike paths exist, and Brisbane has some very nice bike paths that look increasingly tempting and very rideable, but there are a few things that keep me from going all-out and buying a nice bike.

If I’m going to get a nice bike, I’m probably going to want some kind of return on investment. It seems crazy to have a really nice bike only to ride it on the weekends, which means I’m probably going to want to ride to work. But what kind of person voluntarily does hard physical exercise for 20-30 minutes, twice per day, in anywhere between 25º and 35º heat? Even if my workplace has great after-trip facilities, there’s no getting around the fact that I’m going to arrive at work as a gross, sweaty mess every single morning. Nobody wants that.

Besides, some quick maths says that a nice $2000 bike, at current public transport prices, is going to take over a year of riding to work before it pays itself off. And if I’m being honest, “biking culture”, if we’re calling it that, is a little too serious for me. Strike bikes off the list, at least for now.

What about an electric skateboards? They’re all the rage these days. Even if they seem a little “how do you do, fellow kids”, they’re actually super cool. The two most popular names, Boosted Boards or Queensland’s own Evolve, are definitely not for the faint hearted. A guy I know has the Evolve Carbon GT, and it’s basically the Ferrari of electric skateboards, with carbon fibre construction and an insane 1500W behind each rear wheel. Unfortunately, the Evolve Carbon GT, being the Ferrari of electric skateboards (after seeing it you’d want nothing else), comes with a price tag to match; the all-terrain model comes in at a touch under $2000, and for that money you could get a very sweet bike indeed. So cross electric skateboards off the list, too.

Which is where the Xiaomi M365 comes into play.

The M365 was perfect. Not overly flashy, but capable enough of getting me from A to B. It was the cheap and cheerful alternative to whatever else I was thinking of buying, and for a while there, was the thing for personal transport. I can only begin to describe what it felt like, scooting around the local neighbourhood, on my way to the shops to pick a few things up, or feeling the wind in my face after a long day at work. When it was good, it was great. That’s “ecstasy”, or at least was.

Unfortunately, long-term reliability issues made the M365 less appealing than what I originally thought it was going to be. I ended up clocking less than 200KMs on that thing, which seems like a terrible shame for how much I spent on it. While it’s entirely possible that later revisions have fixed the problems I (and many others across the world) have experienced, that’s kind of the price you pay for being an early adopter of a new and groundbreaking method of personal transport from a company with no proven track record in the field.

What about a regular skateboard? Too pedestrian.

A longboard? Too impractical.

A Segway? Too nerdy, even for me.

An electric bike? Too expensive.

A Vespa? Good heavens, no.

In light of any real options, it looks like the jury’s still out on what the most suitable of personal transport is.

In terms of daily commutes, I’m pretty lucky. It’s a short 2.5 KM walk between home and work. If I don’t feel like walking (which is, if I’m honest, all the time, even when it’s not 30ºC before 9am), work is just one train stop away, and living closer to the CBD than my work is means that I’ve never had to deal with the hell that is a packed train during peak, as fun as my colleagues tell me that sweat-pit sardine experience is.

All of this will change next year when I move. My daily commute via public transport will go from 15 minutes to somewhere in the 40 minute range, and to make matters worse, I’ll have to switch transport methods along the way; either taking a bus then a train, or a train then a bus, or two busses. This particular public transport debacle probably could have avoided if I chose a better location to buy my own place, but eh, that’s just how it goes. It’ll have to do.

I figure if I’m going to invest in some kind of personal transport to make my daily commute a little easier, I might as well do it now while I have an easy commute. Unfortunately, even though my commute will take longer, I shouldn’t be paying any more for it after I move, so I might as well get something now so it can start paying for itself while I have an easy commute, instead of next year when I have a terrible commute.

My head says I should get a bike. It’s the practical, sensible option. I’ve got most of the bits I need for practical commuting and some I don’t, including clip-in pedals and shoes, and would really only need a rack to store a change of clothes in two and from work.

On the other hand, my heart wants an electric skateboard. It’s the cool, fun option. There’s no risk of suffering from heat-related injuries during my everyday commute, I don’t have to worry about bike maintenance or the potential of a flat when I’m halfway into my ride, and if I buy an Evolve, at least I’ll have some kind of local warranty if things go wrong.

All I know is, I’ve been thinking about this on and off for the past few months, ever since my electric scooter died, and I’m still no closer to a decision. That’s agony.

Happy Fun Park

We had passed it a few times. Driving to Aeon, you could see it from the highway. In the daylight, it looked abandoned and near-derelict, a collection of small-time amusement park fare. A merry-go-round, bumper cars, and a bunch of those games of skill that tempted you with stuffed animal prizes. Nothing permanent, but a collection of the kind of amusements you might find at the show of a small, regional town. Which made sense, this being Sitiawan and all.

The sign on the front said Happy Fun Park, but I wasn’t so sure.

We went back when it was actually open, at night. While it looked abandoned during the day, that changed completely at night. Flashing neon lights and fluorescent lighting lit up the rides and small booths, and some generic dance/electronic music added an almost cool vibe. My cousins weren’t too interested in any of the rides — they seemed mostly designed to entertain teenagers, not semi-independent twenty-somethings — but we went on the Ferris wheel anyway, in the hopes that it would give us a decent view.

One of the rides was the swinging-hammer type that did a fulled 360-degree rotation around its centre. I had ridden one of those in Hong Kong in what would have been nearly a decade ago, so I wasn’t really interested in riding it again, and especially not alone. Eventually, I convinced one of my younger cousins to ride the swinging ship with me. You know the type; it’s a gentler ride, but can still make you feel a little funny. Unfortunately, the novelty wore off after about 30 seconds, but the ride seemed to go on forever, or at least entirely too long. I thought my cousin was going to throw up, but she just looked mildly sick — this was after we just had a massive banquet dinner, so I’m not sure I blame her.

I tried my hand at a game of skill with another cousin. I didn’t completely understand the rules, but the idea was that you had to pop balloons with darts. Having played electronic darts at a bar a few nights prior, we gave it a half-decent go and got pretty within one or two balloons of a prize, but we ended up missing the last one and ended up winning a absolutely nothing.

The way you paid for rides and amusements was with these small purple tokens, and I ended up keeping one of the tokens as a memento.

A reminder of simpler times, perhaps. Or maybe to just have fun every now and again.

My iPhone X Home Screen

It’s 6am. A frankly unbelievable hour. Nevertheless, I’ve caught the earliest bus I can tolerate, all in the hopes I’ll be able to pick up an iPhone X from one of the three Apple stores in the greater Brisbane region. I’ve chosen Chermside as my go-to — hopefully it’s a little less busy because it’s a little more out of the way, even though the Brisbane CBD store is easier to get to.

It’s not that I forgot to pre-order the iPhone X, it’s just that I wasn’t sure I wanted one. I wasn’t sure then, and I’m still not sure I want one now. But I might as well try. By the time I arrive at Chermside, the queue is maybe 40-something deep. The Westfield is eerily quiet at this time of the morning, but it’s nice. Peaceful, even.

I end up lining up for the iPhone X. It’s the second time I’ve ever lined up for any iPhone. I put in a reservation with the Apple blue shirts when they start working their way through the queue at around 7am, who congratulate me on my new iPhone once we’re finished choosing. The store opens at 8am, but it’s still about another hour after that I get to purchase my iPhone X. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

You probably saw where this was going when I started writing about my iPhone 6 and 7 home screens, years after those devices were released. I thought we needed some kind of catch-up before getting to today’s iPhone X home screen.

Given that it’s only been a year since the iPhone 7 was released, not much on my home screen has changed. I’m still using a home screen organisation method that’s similar to the CGP Grey method, and only a few apps have been swapped out.

Starting from the top:

  • Notesy has been switched out for Editorial, as the former has been removed from the App Store. They’re both pretty similar apps, even if Editorial has a bunch of powerful workflow-type actions that I’ll probably never use.

  • Slack was relegated to a folder after I discovered I wasn’t using it as much as I wanted to be, and Soulver makes a return to the home screen in its place.

  • Vesper was also removed from the App Store and my home screen. I’ve got Yammer in its place, because I’m now a corporate drone and a slave to the man.

  • WhatsApp was moved to a folder because I hardly use that either, and the Discourse app lets me check AppleTalk without having to load up Safari, even if it is just a glorified web wrapper.

  • Ecoute was moved into a folder because it’s hard to beat the inbuilt Music app when I’m an Apple Music subscriber. To be fair, Ecoute still works with iCloud Music Library, but the built-in Music app has Apple Music integrations that aren’t available on third party apps. I’m also using a manual playlist for the “play all music from playlists within a folder” problem that I described as one of my main reasons for using something other than Music originally.

  • Tootdon is on my home screen at the moment because I’m trying out Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter. Mastodon feels a lot like App.Net right now, but we’ll see how it all pans out.

It’s been two weeks since the release of the iPhone X, and so far, Gmail, Google Maps, Clear, Editorial, Soulver, and Discourse don’t support the larger iPhone X screen. I’m kind of surprised Google’s apps aren’t updated, I can understand why Clear hasn’t (they’re apparently working on a complete overhaul, but the app was very custom to begin with), but apps like Editorial, Soulver, and Discourse are a little behind. Discourse is particularly puzzling, given that it looks like just a super-barebones web wrapper that you wouldn’t think has much custom code.

But there’s another problem with the iPhone X that’s just as important as non-optimised apps: it’s almost impossible to find great wallpapers for it. Even if you do manage to find something with the right resolution and the right aspect ratio, the quality of the screen means you’ll quickly notice any imperfections. Thankfully, a few recent Samsung devices (the S8, S8+, Note 8, and slightly older Note 4) all have displays with similar aspect ratios. If you can tolerate a slightly zoomed wallpaper, then there’s a whole range of 2560×1440 wallpapers that you can find. I’ve also been using Vellum.

My iPhone 7 Home Screen

For the first time since the iPhone 4 was released, the iPhone 7 introduced no changes to screen size over the previous model (notwithstanding S-revisions). But sometime during the two years of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 7, I switched to some variation of the CGP Grey method of home screen organisation, once again covered by Ben Brooks. There’s now just one page of apps, at least one row that has no apps at all, and four icons in the dock. Everything else goes in one of the folders.

The advantages of this method of home screen organisation make a lot of sense. The days of having pages and pages of apps were over since Apple introduced folders, and this takes that idea to the next level. No longer do you have to rely on muscle memory to remember which apps are where, and instead, you can rely on Spotlight to find the app you’re looking for. Letting go of any inclination to organise those top-row folders is also incredibly freeing.

Your most-used apps can still remain on your home screen, and with iOS 9 and the introduction of Spotlight suggestions, sometimes you don’t even have to search for the app you want, as it appears in your Spotlight app suggestions. If you’re thinking of adopting this method, I’d highly recommending hit “show more” within Spotlight to show eight app suggestions instead of the default four.

Unfortunately, this requirement for some folders and just one page of apps meant that I had to make some decisions about how many individual apps I had on my home screen. Thankfully, changes to usage patterns made that a little easier. This is going to get a little lengthy, but stick with me.

Let’s talk about what was removed, to start off with. If I was going to keep one of the Camera or Photos apps around, it was going to be Camera, as I could always access Photos from within Camera. The argument could also be made for removing Cameras, as you have shortcuts to it from the lock screen and Control Center, but I still wanted it on my home screen too. With a folder dedicated to games, off went Threes. Passbook, Facebook, and Wikipedia also went — not that I don’t find those apps useful, but I found I wasn’t using them enough to justify a now-scarce spot on my home screen. Once I realised I hardly used the App Store app for finding new apps or basically anything at all, that was also moved into a folder.

Pocket Weather Australia was moved into a folder, which initially proved to be a bit of a dilemma thanks to the fact that the CGP Grey method doesn’t work well with folder badges. Folders only have one badge that is the sum of all the badges on apps within it, and because I use Pocket Weather’s badge to tell me about the current “feels like” temperature, I had to turn off notification badges for every other app in the same folder. As it turns out, none of the apps in there have badges I care about anyway, so off went that switch.

Boxie fell victim to “internal team issues”, which meant that development ceased and the app was removed from the App Store and my home screen not too long after.

Exactly seven apps remain unchanged from my previous iPhone. Fantastical, Clear, Notesy, Instapaper, Vesper, Swarm, and Tweetbot remain the staples of my third-party iOS experience, all representing the best-in-class versions of their respective App Store categories. Tweetbot 4 had only recently been released, which is why I was running it in tandem with the old version until I had a chance to do something about my numerous written, but not tweeted, drafts.

Now, changes.

It was during the period between iPhones that I started a new job in a new city, which meant a work email account. Not wanting to cross the streams, I decided to ditch Mail in favour of Gmail for my personal email. This turned out to be a pretty good choice, as I gained push email and smarter notifications at the cost of not using the built-in mail client. Living in a new city also meant I needed the most accurate data possible for Maps, which meant swapping out Apple’s aesthetically-pleasing maps app in favour of Google’s more accurate one. The jury’s still out on which one I prefer.

Sick of Apple’s unending changes to the Music app which removed features I used, I was trialling Ecoute and Cesium as potential replacements for the default Music app. At the time this screenshot was taken, I had settled on Ecoute as I liked how it created a playlist from a folder of playlists containing all the songs within the folder.

Additions to the home screen this time around include:

  • 1Password — I think I added this because I wanted to focus more on using strong, unique passwords for online accounts. Owning multiple computers meant I was logging into those accounts multiple times, and because I haven’t ponied up for 1Password on multiple platforms, the iOS version is the next best thing as my iPhone is always with me. Which is a good thing, as the 1Password iOS app is great.

  • Slack — I’m not sure why this app is on my home screen. I’m a member of exactly one workspace, which hasn’t had a message in any of its channels in months. I could easily swap this out with something else, but for now, I enjoy the nerd cred that I get from having it there (even if I’m the only one that knows about it).

  • NextThere — A new city meant new, real-time public transport options, and that meant NextThere. No other public transport app comes close to the everyday convenience offered by NextThere when it comes to knowing the next train or bus departing from your closest station or bus stop. And besides, who doesn’t want a smiling bus on the their home screen?

  • Outlook — This is for work email only, although I’d prefer using it for Exchange and Office 365 email over the built-in Mail app. Something about a first-party app just makes me feel more comfortable about the reliability of the thing, you know?

  • WhatsApp — My permanent WhatsApp status says “I begrudgingly use WhatsApp. Please don’t message me here unless you really have to.” I really have no idea why this was on my home screen at the time of this screenshot.

  • Copied — With the demise of the iOS version of Pastebot and no replacement on the horizon, I wanted something capable of doing some iOS clipboard management. The need is largely negated now that iOS and macOS talk to each other and I can copy stuff between both operating systems, but having an on-device clipboard manager has still come in handy on occasions, especially when I’m trying to copy and paste between my iPhone and iPad.

The folders themselves are self-explanatory. I could delete most of the Apple apps now that that’s a thing you can do as of iOS 10, but I keep them around. There’s a bunch of apps in the Tools folder that I rarely touch, and even more apps within Rares that I use maybe a handful of times per year. Games tends to get a few new additions here and there, but for the most part that stays pretty static too.

The eagle-eyed among you will note that I’m not sticking completely to the CGP Grey method of home screen app organisation, because there’s three apps in the row that’s supposed to kept free. I’ve been using that row as a trialling ground of sorts — some apps stay there temporarily to encourage use while I give them a red hot go, and from there they’ll either get promoted to a folder, or if they’re particularly good, a coveted spot on the home screen.

And if they’re not that good, then it’s the little X for them.

My iPhone 6 Home Screen

The last time I did one of these was back in 2013 not too long after the iPhone 5 was released, so we’re definitely long overdue for an update on my home screen. I think it’s interesting how this kind of thing changes over time, either because apps stop getting updated, better alternatives come along, or my own usage patterns change. Either way, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

I don’t have a definitive screenshot of my very first iPhone 6 Home screen, but I think is the closest thing, and it’s certainly the only home screen screenshot from just after the iPhone 6 release back in September 2014. As you can see, not that much has changed from the iPhone 5 home screen: besides adding another row of apps, introducing a whole new dilemma for home screen icon organisation, I’m more or less using the same apps.

Old favourites Fantastical, Clear, Facebook, Boxie, Instapaper, Soulver, Notesy, Vesper, and Pocket Weather Australia all make a return, and Tweetbot retains its coveted number-one spot on the dock. This being a year after the introduction of iOS 7, most apps and their icons have made the jump to feature the divisive flat design.

Changes to apps between my iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 include swapping out the much-loved, but unfortunately no longer updated Articles for the surprisingly great official Wikipedia app, which has all the features I care about in a mobile Wikipedia interface. Following the developer joining Apple, Articles isn’t the first app that was abandoned, and it certainly won’t be the last to be swapped out for a more modern alternative.

The demise of App Dot Net also saw the removal of Felix from my home screen. A pity and a damn shame it’s no longer available in any shape or form, as I’d rate Felix in my top five iPhone apps of all time based on aesthetics and usability alone despite the fact it was tied to a promising, if ultimately doomed, social network.

Sometime in 2014, Foursquare decided to split its app into two. Foursquare became the app for place recommendations, while Swarm was the gamified version, the one you used to check into places and collect mayorships based on how many times you had been there recently. Because the mayorships and check-ins was the original reason I joined Foursquare, I decided to keep Swarm on my home screen. Foursquare was relegated to a folder.

Threes is the only game to feature on my home screen, but mostly because it’s perfect for the in-between moments that life sometimes gives you.

Note that I’m still using multiple pages of home screens, with single icons on the first home screen, some folders on the second, and mostly games on the third.