iPhone Home Screen and Watch Faces

With iOS 14 bringing widgets to the home screen, I suspect my iPhone setup will go through a substantial transformation this fall. So this will likely be my last iPhone home screen update under the current iteration of Springboard. Although, to be fair, I thought similarly during the beta period in which iPadOS gained widgets on the home screen and that didn’t turn out as I initially thought.

The difference this time around, though, is that adding widgets to the iPhone home screen doesn’t force you to shrink the size of the rest of your app icons or push all of your app icons to one side for no good reason. Even considering how widgets on the iPad home screen played out, I’m far more hopeful that I’ll actually use widgets on my iPhone home screen.

iPhone

iPhone Home Screen — August 2020

  • Fantastical: The best calendar app for iOS.
  • Instagram: a little shortcut I put together that launches the Instagram app on iPhone and opens the Instagram website on iPad.
  • Headspace: An excellent meditation app, highly recommended by The Sweet Setup, and something that I can expense at Automattic.
  • Ulysses: My favorite writing app — everything I publish on Initial Charge is written in Ulysses.
  • Define: A simple shortcut that asks for input and then searches for the definition of the given term in Terminology.
  • Simplenote: An application that I occasionally do support for at Automattic and all of my work-related notes and weekly updates I share with my team.
  • Things: The first and only to do list application that ever clicked for me. I’ve stuck with it for years and I have no interest in even attempting an alternative — at least not in their current iteration.
  • Reeder: My Instapaper client of choice. It gives me the ability to sort my saved links by domain and makes it much easier to load the original web page.
  • Day One: This has become more and more important in my life with Josh around. I do my best to journal all the most important moments and it has become my repository for all of the bests photos I take of family and friends.
  • Apollo: I probably spend more time on Reddit than I should, but Apollo makes it so darn enjoyable.
  • Edit: A simple scratchpad/note taking app. I use it for drafting email, composing tweets, and taking notes that I don’t intend to keep long-term.
  • Balance: a shortcut that displays a menu listing all of my finance-related applications and launches the chosen app. It’s a simple way to keep my home screen tidy while still giving me quick and easy access to these types of apps.
  • Bear: For all of my non-ephemeral, non-work-related note taking.
  • Calzy:My favorite calculator app for iOS.
  • Prism: I maintain a music library in Plex and this is my preferred method of playback. It’s more akin to the simple, straightforward Music app for iOS that existed before the introduction of their streaming music service.
  • Unread: A gorgeous RSS reading application with native support for sharing to read later services.
  • Tweetbot: The best Twitter app ever.
  • Overcast: I’ve tried just about every podcast client on the platform, Overcast is the best. It offers all of the most useful features — strip-silence, voice boost, the ability to subscribe to password protected feeds — and can has iPad support.
  • Pandora: With my Plus account, I can pick a station and listen to ad-free music that I’ve curated over the course of nearly fifteen years with their thumbs up/down system.
  • Dark Noise: I just recently switched to Dark Noise from Noisli when I discovered at the app had the ability to create custom mixes. I’ve been enjoying the custom icon options.
  • 1Password: My favorite password manager on any platform.
  • Screens: I use this to manage our home media server and help out when my mother-in-law runs into trouble on her iMac.
  • Wegmans: Given the state of things, we’ve been ordering groceries for delivery more frequently. Wegmans our favorite store in general and by far the best grocery store in our area.
  • last.fm: A shortcut that opens the last.fm website so I can check the services recommendations.
  • WordPress: Another app that I do support for at Automattic, but I also use this to manage a few websites alongside a few family members.
  • Google Photos: My wife and I use the service for backing up our photos to the cloud. We prefer it over iCloud because of its ability to automatically share our photos with one another.
  • Slack: For work-related communication.
  • YouTube: For watching videos on politics, board games, video games, comedy, and more.
  • Blink: The app is no longer available on the App Store, but it’s still the best way to quickly grab links to applications that I can share here on Initial Charge or on Twitter.

Apple Watch

Apple Watch Face — August 2020

Pride Digital

Modular

My strategy for watch faces has changed since Josh was born. I use my Watch more as a status and information screen instead of using it to actually perform actions — like marking items off my to do list, logging my weight, or starting meditations. Josh has a tendency to play with the Watch’s screen while I hold him and this altered complication setup mitigates his ability to perform actions that I’d prefer he didn’t.

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Moving to the MacBook Pro

13-inch MacBook Pro

After Apple started transitioning their notebook line away from the notoriously unreliable butterfly keyboards, I started pondering what my new work laptop would be. My first work-issued laptop was the 2018 MacBook Air. Although I absolutely loved the machine’s weight, size, and overall design, the keyboard was fundamentally flawed.

I started having issues with the keyboard just a month or two after I received the MacBook Air. But I just dealt with the annoyance of duplicate and missed key presses because I needed it for work. I live too far away from an Apple Store to easily bring it in for repair and that left me with the only option of sending it in by mail, which usually takes at least a week. I couldn’t be without my work laptop for that long.

Then, about a year later, Josh was born and I was on parental leave for four months. I took that opportunity to send in my machine and get the keyboard replaced. It came back about a week later and the keyboard worked perfectly. That’s excellent, but my faith in the butterfly mechanism was tarnished.

I came back from parental leave earlier this year and knew that I was due for a replacement machine in April. Apple had already released the 16-inch MacBook Pro last November with the new scissor switch keyboard and I wasn’t going to order a new laptop unless it had the new keyboard. The 16-inch is just too large for my liking, though. I like to move around the house throughout the day while I work — spending some time at the kitchen table, some time in the living room, and some time in the office. Between that and the extra heft while traveling to work meetups a few times each year, I would much rather have a smaller machine.

The next Mac to return to the scissor switch keyboard was the MacBook Air in March. All the benefits of my 2018 MacBook Air with a new, more reliable keyboard — what’s not to like? I still had another month to go before I was able to order a new work laptop and although I found the new Air intriguing, I felt it was in my best interest to wait and see with the 13-inch MacBook Pro update had in store.

I didn’t have to wait long, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro was announced in May. But that left me with the question, which MacBook to choose?

Luckily, I work for the best company in the world — we’re able to choose what machine is best for each of us and our work, with limited restrictions. So I could essentially get whatever I wanted, configured however I wanted. With price being no object, that means you have to choose a machine entirely based on it’s own merits — there’s no need to make concessions because a component upgrade is too expensive.

I hemmed and hawed for quite some time about what machine would actually be better for me and my work. I liked the form factor, lighter weight, and lack of Touch Bar on the MacBook Air, but how much would I appreciate the extra horse power of the MacBook Pro? And would that additional performance be worth the trade offs in portability?

I had it narrowed down to two different configurations:

MacBook Air

  • 1.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
  • 16GB of memory
  • 512GB solid-state drive

MacBook Pro

  • 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
  • 32GB of memory
  • 512GB solid-state drive

Most of my friends that I spoke with suggested I choose the MacBook Pro, but the decision wasn’t too easy for me. I overvalue portability compared to most of them. I want the thinnest and lightest laptop I can use and will typically give up performance for it. And that extends to the power adapter that the machine uses as well — 30 watt power adapters, which the MacBook Air require are much smaller and lighter than the 61 watt power adapter that comes with the Pro. I know I can use third-party power adapters (and trust me, I do), but it becomes tricky when you want to use your laptop under load with a lower wattage adapter — the battery depletes even when plugged in.

Then there is the question of the shape of the machine itself. The MacBook Air features that iconic wedge shape, while the MacBook Pro is flat. I rarely use an external keyboard, so would the flat shape effect my ability to type comfortably? The answer isn’t obvious and given the state of retail at the moment, it’s not like I could go out and try the MacBook Pro for some amount of time in store. And even if I could, the environment isn’t exactly great from an ergonomics standpoint, so I doubt I’d be able to get a good impression of what it would feel like to use in practice.

And the other major downside of the MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar. I have heard almost nothing good about it and the overall impression that I see online is that the Touch Bar makes your computer worse. Things are a bit different with the current iteration, though, specifically with the escape key being a physical key. But without much experience with it, I’d still err on the side of preferring a machine without one.

But then we get into the topic of performance. This is where the MacBook Pro really starts to shine. Based on Geekbench 5 benchmarks, the MacBook Pro is only marginally faster than the MacBook Air on single-core tasks, but it’s one-and-a-half times the performance on multi-core tasks. It’s difficult for me to gauge whether I will really get much benefit from that extra performance in my day-to-day tasks, though.

I spend all day in Chrome, Slack, Simplenote, and Things. Those aren’t particularly intensive applications, especially since I typically have less than ten tabs open in Chrome at any given time. I also have some menu bar apps open, like iStat Menus, tyke, Droplr, One Switch, and a handful of others. That’s a pretty accurate snapshot of my daily work and I don’t need a ton of CPU performance to keep up.

But this might not always be the case. I have an opportunity to spend time working on support for our mobile apps in the future and with that comes the possibility of more intensive applications. Specifically the iOS Simulator and Android in emulation so I can test our apps in different environments. This is a far heavier workload than what I’m doing currently and is the single reason I ultimately decided to spring for the increased performance of the MacBook Pro instead of the better portability of the Air.

Impressions

I ordered the 13-inch MacBook Pro in space gray with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7, 32GB of memory, and a 512GB SSD. I’ve been using the machine for my daily work for about a month and although I had some hesitation with a few of its features, I’m very happy with the decision overall.

Here are my miscellaneous thoughts and impressions on the machine’s features, when compared to the 2018 MacBook Air that I upgraded from:

  • Physical Size: The difference in thickness and weight of the MacBook Pro was immediately obvious when it first arrived. But it only took a few days before I completely forgot about it. When I pick up the MacBook Air now, I am reminded of how light it is, but in my day-to-day it hasn’t had much of an impact.
  • Keyboard: It feels different than the MacBook Air. And while I appreciate the scissor switch keyboard’s reliability and key travel, I do find myself missing the stability that came from the butterfly switches. Not enough to go back, mind you, but I can understand to a certain extent why Apple was fond of the butterfly mechanism. If they were able to fix the reliability issues entirely and increase key travel, I think the butterfly keyboard would actually be more enjoyable to type on.
  • Touch Bar: I’ve been skeptical of the utility of the Touch Bar since its introduction, but have had very little experience with it up until now. Having a physical escape key seems to be a massive upgrade from the previous iteration and I’ve actually found the feature to be a positive addition to my workflow, although minor. I currently have my Touch Bar configured to display the extended Control Strip with display brightness, keyboard brightness, and volume buttons on the right with Quick Actions, Mission Control, and Show Desktop on the left. I only have one Quick Action configured, but I imagine it will get more useful to me as ideas for automation present themselves in my work.
  • Performance: I haven’t had much of an opportunity to test out the MacBook Pro’s performance. I’ve been sticking primarily to my everyday tasks so far and it has tackled those handily. I’ve run Geekbench a few times and the performance results do bear out what I’ve seen listed in their benchmark browser.
  • Battery Life: I don’t have exact measurements on battery life and mileage may vary depending on your workload. I have found that the Pro’s battery life is worse than the MacBook Air, but not by so much that it impedes my ability to work away from a power adapter for prolonged periods of time. One interesting wrinkle in this attribute is my use of Turbo Boost Switcher Pro, which lets you disable Turbo Boost at will. When this feature is disabled, I’m still seeing better performance and better battery life when compared to the 2018 with Turbo Boost enabled. So if I ever needed to work for longer stints without a power adapter, disabling Turbo Boost would likely do the trick.
  • Power Adapter: The MacBook Pro’s power adapter is large compared to the MacBook Air’s adapter. And massive compared to the third-party Anker power adapter I had been using. But I’ve since purchased Anker’s 45 watt adapter with a similar form factor and although it doesn’t provide as much power as the included adapter, it seems to at least maintain the current charge when the machine is under load.
  • Thunderbolt 3 Ports: The MacBook Air offers two Thunderbolt 3 ports while my new MacBook Pro offers four. There has been exactly one instance where I’ve used more than two ports — I had my power adapter, iPad Pro using Sidecar, and my Apple TV HD connected so I could display its screen in QuickTime for screen sharing on Zoom. I’m sure there are still a lot of Mac users that wish they could have more ports, but I think Apple’s offerings are just fine.

Unless something radically changes over the next couple of years, I expect my next Mac will be whatever the 13-inch MacBook Pro iteration is at the time of purchase. It offers an incredible balance of horse power and portability, which makes it the perfect machine for my work and travel habits.

The Best Apple Setups


—April 30, 2020

Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro


—April 27, 2020

iPad Pro Home Screen


—April 11, 2020

The iPad Pro


—April 1, 2020

MacBook Keyboards


—February 26, 2020

The State of iPad


—February 20, 2020

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