iPhone Setup

Throughout 2018, I shared updates to my iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV setups each month — you can find a full history of my home screen updates in the archive. While I’m not returning to a monthly schedule this year, I thought the beginning of a new decade was the perfect time to share my iPhone setup again.

iPhone Home Screen, January 2020

I’m still using my linen wallpaper and don’t expect it to change anytime soon. It serves as an excellent backdrop to my application icons — not causing any readability issues with the app names while still offering a bit of texture to keep things interesting. I’ve published the wallpaper in a number of resolutions, so if you’re interested, it’s almost certainly available for your device.

The overall structure of my home screen layout strategy is also unchanged. I still keep everything on two pages and in two folders. I keep an empty row on the first page and two empty rows on the second. I’ve experimented with different layouts over the past year, but always return to this setup. It’s just too hard to retrain the muscle memory I’ve built up over the past several years.

I still keep each of my two folders with no more than six icons per page. The folder on the left, currently titled ★, is only one page deep. Of the apps in folders, I keep my most-used on the first page. But I used to meticulously rank every app within the subsequent pages of the  folder based on how frequently I use them. That’s proven to be too time consuming. Now, I only do that for the first page, the rest of the folder’s apps are simply in alphabetical order.

This has certainly cut down on the amount of time required to reorganize my home screens, but it also better serves how I actually launch these apps. More often than not, if an app is buried in a folder, I just launch it with a Spotlight search. And when I don’t, at least having them in alphabetical order makes it a bit easier to quickly swipe through the pages to find what I’m looking for.

I’ve started saving more shortcuts on my home screens. At the moment, I have Jetpack, Define, Balance, Stream, and Instagram.

Jetpack is a simple launcher that opens the WordPress app, deep linking to the modal view of Initial Charge’s stats. I explained a bit more about how the shortcut works in the piece where I shared it. But you can also find the shortcut in The Toolkit.

Define is a launcher for Terminology, which is my preferred dictionary app. The shortcut asks for input and then searches Terminology for the provided word’s definition. Using a shortcut instead of the app itself gives me a couple of benefits. For one, it streamlines the process of searching for a word. And secondly, it lets me hide Terminology’s icon in a folder — I’m not too fond of it.

Balance and Stream are similar shortcuts. Balance displays a menu listing all of my banking and financial apps while Stream displays a list of apps I use for media playback — Infuse, TV, Channels, and so on. I can select which app I want to use and the shortcut opens it for me. This let’s me condense all of my banking apps and all of my video apps into a single home screen icon for each. I could use folders, but I like seeing a nice, simple icon instead.

And then there’s Instagram. I could use the actual app instead, but the shortcut I use allows me to have the same icon on my iPhone and my iPad. You see, the shortcut I use checks to see what type of device you’re launching it on. Then, it opens the Instagram app on an iPhone or, if you’re using an iPad, displays Instagram’s website within the Shortcuts app.

For each of these shortcuts, a custom icon was at least partially the draw for me. I like having a nice clean home screen and although Shortcuts has a great selection of glyphs built-in, I’m using icons from MacStories’ collection. When the offering was initially announced, I sort-of scoffed at the idea of buying an icon pack that’s designed for such a narrow use-case.

I ended up buying them on a whim, though, and I’m glad I did. Each icon has a subtle shadow that adds a bit of polish when compared to Shortcuts’ built-in glyphs. Whenever I add a shortcut to my home screen now, I use a MacStories icon.

You might notice that I don’t keep a weather app on my home screen. That category has been a staple on my home screen since my first days with an iPhone. But since I work from home, the weather isn’t something I keep track of as closely as I used to. I do have a weather app installed, though, it’s tucked deep within the  folder. But I primarily interact with it on the widget screen.

I’m using Hello Weather at the moment. I’ve tried more weather apps than I can count and Hello Weather is my current favorite. I love how it lays out the forecast information and it has the best weather widget by far — with large text for the current temperature and an easily glanceable current conditions graphic.

Today View Widgets Screen

Hello Weather sits at the top of my widget screen alongside Shortcuts, Notes, Deliveries, AutoSleep, and Batteries.

I use the Shortcuts widget to launch some work-related shortcuts, which help smooth out the rough edges for creating the next day’s to do list, adding my weekend work days into my calendar, and adding my template to Simplenote where I log the tasks I complete each week — which I share with the rest of my team. The rest are for personal use:

  • “Launch Ulysses” opens a new sheet in Ulysses with my writing template — you can find the latest version in The Toolkit.
  • “Take-Out” opens a list of local restaurants that I can choose from. When I select one it either initiates a phone call, opens the restaurant’s website, or their app so I can order.
  • “Daily Journal” opens a new entry in Day One using my journaling template.
  • “Feedings” helps me log Josh’s bottle feedings into a note.
  • Focus Time” enables Do Not Disturb for the next 30 minutes.

I keep the Notes widget collapsed so it only shows me the most recently edited note. That is typically the “Josh Tracker” note, which is where the shortcut mentioned above logs its data. But my wife and I occasionally have a shared note for grocery shopping, to dos, or some other random thing that we are organizing. In those instances, the widget keeps that specific note easily accessible.

Deliveries is another obvious one. I enter packages using the share sheet extension and then I can track their progress from the widget.

AutoSleep has come and gone over the last few months. It’s not data I need to be glanceable, but I found that when I removed the widget, the app wasn’t consistently pulling sleep information from my watch. This meant I had several days with no sleep tracked in the app. I could open the app to force a sync, but adding the widget means I don’t have to do that. Which is nice since I only look at my sleep habits every month or two.

And then there is iOS’ built-in batteries widget, which I think everyone should use. Especially if they have an Apple Watch, AirPods, or other Bluetooth device that offers information for the widget.

Heading back to my home screen, there are a handful of other notable apps that I wanted to discuss — Headspace, Spark, Prism, last.fm, and Google Photos.

When I last wrote about my home screens, I was still using Oak as my go-to meditation app. It was free and was an excellent option for getting started in the world of meditation and mindfulness. But as I’ve built the habit into my life, I wanted something a bit more robust, with a larger collection of sessions.

Headspace comes highly recommended by Mike Schmitz, in his review of meditation apps for The Sweet Setup, which is what lead me to it initially. I’ve been very happy with the app since I started using it a handful of months ago, the options for meditations is vast and most allow you to choose how long you want the session to last and what voice you’d prefer. To be clear, this is a subscription I’m able to expense for work, but even if I couldn’t expense it, I’d still be using it.

As for email apps, I’ve tried just about every one on the platform. Most of them are passable, but have their own annoyances that kept me coming back to Apple Mail. But the changes Apple introduced in iOS 13 finally made me run away from my old stand-by. When viewing a message, they moved so many useful actions inside of a junk drawer button. And that button looks a bit too much like a reply icon. I don’t know what they were thinking, the change is nonsensical.

Meanwhile, Spark was updated with a new, sleek user interface. The old card interface was one of the reasons I always stepped away from it in the past. With it gone, it’s become my favorite email app.

Prism is another new addition over the past year. It’s an excellent music player app that I’m using to stream my Plex music library. I wrote a review of it in April of last year, but in short, I love this app. It’s a simple, clean audio app that is reminiscent of what Apple’s Music app was like before they introduced their streaming service. Back when the app was good.

The last.fm icon is actually a shortcut that opens the service’s website. For some reason, the last.fm app doesn’t display any of the site’s recommendations, it only displays your listening history. That’s neat and all, but the only reason I use last.fm is for its recommendations. I’ve linked my account through Plex and everything I listen to is automatically scrobbled to the service.

Music recommendations are table stakes on streaming services, but aren’t as readily available when you maintain a library of audio files. With last.fm, I don’t have to work to find new music. I can listen to the music that’s already in my library with Prism and Plex will send that listening data to last.fm. Then the service will generate recommendations based on my listening history. Once a month or so, I can simply take a look and sample some of the music it surfaces for me. If there’s anything I like, I can purchase it in iTunes and add it to my Plex library.

Google Photos has been on my iPhone for a long while, but last month, I went all-in. It’s now the cloud service we use to backup our photos, in full resolution, and every photo I take is automatically shared with my wife and vice-versa. I still use Apple Photos for sharing with family and I prefer its editing tools, but Google Photos is the best cloud backup service for photos and video.

That’s all of what I would consider to be the most notable applications and trends in regards to my home screen. But if there are any questions you have about why or how I use a specific app, please reach out. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have about my setup.