Tag Archive for ‘Deliveries’

iOS Widgets

Recently, I’ve become hyper-obsessed with iOS setups. I’ve always been interested in the topic and would regularly reorganize my iOS home screens, but I’ve taken it a step further over the past few months. As some of you may know, I’ve started documenting the changes I make to my iOS setup and Watch faces. But I’ve also started focusing on specific areas of my setup — reevaluating RSS apps, testing all of the power user email clients on the market, thinking deeply about what apps I use on my Watch to optimize my dock, and reassessing my device’s Today View widgets.

I plan on writing about all of those topics at some point, but today I wanted to discuss widgets. I believe iOS’ Today View is one of the most underutilized aspects of the system. There’s so much power in having a dashboard filled with shortcuts and relevant, glanceable information, but I get the impression that most users overlook the feature. In conversations I’ve had with friends and family — many of whom I would think of as “power users” — they usually only had a few widgets enabled and it didn’t sound like they used them all that frequently.

Today View Widgets on my iPhone

What makes Today View so useful is it’s ubiquity within the system. No matter where you are, you’re no more than two swipes away from your widgets. Whether you’re at the lock screen or knee-deep in a complicated spreadsheet, they’re always there. I do miss the good old days when iOS would remembered your place a bit better — displaying Notification Center or Today View based on what you most recently accessed. But the new normal hasn’t done much to slow my use of widgets.

Apple does place some restrictions on what developers can include in their widgets. But what they can do is more than enough to turn your Today View into an immensely powerful productivity tool. To emphasize that point, I thought I’d share my widget setup with a bit of commentary on what I use each widget for in my daily life.

I’d also love to hear about other iOS users’ widget setups. If you make use of an app’s widget, that I don’t have listed below, or use one of the widgets below in an interesting way, I’d love to hear about it.

Today View Widget Icon Grid

Fantastical for iPhone and iPad: This is my calendar app of choice and it features a great Today View widget. In the widget’s expanded view, it shows a full monthly calendar with event indicators and a list of the selected day’s events. I often use this view on my iPad — when I need to glance at a calendar when I’m in another application. But I usually keep Fantastical’s widget collapsed on my iPhone, which displays my next event or appointment.

WaterMinder: In the most recent update to my Home Screens page, I mentioned removing WaterMinder’s complication from my Apple Watch. I’ve added it to my Watch’s dock, but I wanted to increase the number of interaction points to ensure that I would continue tracking my hydration. Not only does WaterMinder’s widget serve as a small reminder to drink enough water during the day, because of how frequently I glance at my iOS device’s Today View, it also gives me an easy way to log my intake.

Workflow: A staple in every iOS power user’s arsenal and my most used Today View widget. Workflow allows me to convert the contents of my clipboard to title case, open the compose screen in Tweetbot, order food from my favorite restaurants, download YouTube videos, open my feature article template in Ulysses, and much more. It’s one of the most powerful, versatile applications on the platform and the widget gives you access to the workflows you use most.

Activity: I wear my Apple Watch everyday and like to keep a close eye on the activity data it collects. I could probably do more to keep myself physically fit — exercising regularly would be high on that list — but those three rings are great motivators to prevent a sedentary lifestyle. And although I have the Activity rings prominently displayed on most of my Watch faces, the rings are a less precise representation of the data. There’s a lot of scenarios where the rings tell me roughly how close I am to my goal, but it’s nice to see more concrete numbers from time to time. The Activity widget gives me a subtle nudge to remain active whenever I look at my device’s widgets and let’s me plainly see how many more hours I need to stand today or how many more minutes of exercise I need.

Hello Weather: This is my favorite weather widget, by far. It displays the current temperature in big, bold text alongside a clear icon for the current conditions. My only complaint is that I wish it displayed the hourly forecast when the widget is expanded.

Things for iPhone and iPad: My interest in task managers and to do list apps has always been fairly shallow. I used them, but I knew that my usage wasn’t as effective as it could be. Things changed that. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but the app really clicked with me over the past couple of months. I use Things constantly in my day job to keep track of the tasks I need to accomplish and find it useful when tackling household chores and various Initial Charge-related work. Things’ widget displays up to eight items from the app’s Today list, which let’s me quickly check off items without leaving my current application and gives me the ability to see an overview of my tasks without even unlocking my device.

Lookmark: Whenever I come across a new app recommendation, discover a new album from one of my favorite bands, or hear of a new TV show or movie I might be interested in, I immediately save the item to Lookmark. It’s a wishlist app for iTunes and App Store content and the Today View widget displays your most recently saved items. I can throw the app into a folder and interact with it, almost, exclusively through the app’s action extension and widget. And it works flawlessly.

Deliveries: I order a lot of items online, especially from Amazon, and I use Deliveries to track when they are expected to arrive. The app’s widget let’s me keep track of delivery dates without having to launch the app directly.

Launcher: This is a versatile tool that lets you build shortcuts to just about anything on your device. Right now, I have it setup with shortcuts to albums in Plex that automatically begin playback. I might be writing about this in detail soon, but in short, I built this workflow to generate links to music, movies, TV shows, or playlists in Plex. Use it from the share sheet in Safari when viewing the content in Plex’s web app. You can share the link with a friend or family member that has access to your Plex library or, as I’ve done, drop it into a new shortcut in Launcher.

Automatic: I received an Automatic Pro as a gift last Christmas and it’s a tremendous product. It tracks my driving distance, gas mileage, and offers insights on improving my vehicle’s efficiency. Automatic’s widget displays your car’s current status — which means it usually tells me where my car is parked, since I’m not often looking at it while driving. The widget could be a lot more useful, displaying my vehicle’s gas mileage and recent driving distance or offering a shortcut to log gasoline purchases would be nice. In its current form, though, the widget serves as a shortcut to the app itself and I’m sure knowing where my car is parked is going to be invaluable the next time my wife and I travel to a larger city.

Batteries: I can’t imagine using iOS widgets and not having this one enabled. It displays the current battery percentages of your iOS device, AirPods, Magic Keyboard, and so on. As an additional benefit to using this widget, I can remove the battery percentage indicator from my device’s menu bar and still have quick access to the data when I need it.

Essential Apple Watch Apps

I absolutely love my Apple Watch. I’ve worn it every day since I purchased my Series 0 in December 2015, with the only exception being a handful of times when I’ve gone on vacation and didn’t want to hassle with another device to charge every night.

The Apple Watch has become an essential part of my everyday-carry. When I’m not wearing it, I still find myself looking toward my wrist for the time or to glance at the weather. I just feel lost without it.

But the Watch isn’t just an important part of my life because of complications, notifications, or having the time on my wrist. Those are certainly the best parts of the experience, but despite what the naysayers would have you believe, there’s some great third-party software available for the platform and I’d like to share some of my favorites.

Vekt on Apple Watch
Vekt: A gorgeous weight tracking application for Apple Watch. The Watch component is about as simple and minimalist as it gets. When launched, it displays your most recent weigh-in, spinning the crown will adjust the number and display a button for saving the new reading. Once saved, the application will display an appropriate emoji depending on whether you lost or gained weight.

The iPhone app adds the ability to input a target weight goal and view your most recent readings on a simple graph at the bottom of the screen. There are plenty of other weight tracking applications available for iPhone and Apple Watch, but Vekt is my favorite. It features one of the most beautiful icons on my Watch and offers just the right amount of functionality for my needs.

WaterMinder on Apple Watch
WaterMinder: Just a few months ago, I started keeping track of my water intake. I’ve spent most of my life without proper hydration and it was time for me to get it under control. WaterMinder makes it easy to keep track of my intake and live a healthier life as a result.

On iPhone you can configure WaterMinder with shortcuts for your most common drink sizes, set a daily goal, and view detailed history and achievements. On the Watch, WaterMinder let’s you quickly input drinks throughout the day and monitor your progress toward your goal.

In the app’s settings, you can also choose from two different Watch layouts and complication designs. I prefer the ring-style design because it let’s me see the icons I’ve chosen for my shortcuts, but the default allows for quickly adding a drink without the need to scroll.

Cardiogram on Apple Watch
Cardiogram: This heart health app can show your most recent heart rate reading in the app’s complication, display your readings for the day on a graph, and allow you to record a continuous heart rate reading whenever you want. My wife has been having some heart issues recently, occasional rapid heart rates when she’s inactive. Cardiogram gives her an easy way to look back at her readings and monitor any abnormalities that she can discuss with her doctor.

On the iPhone, Cardiogram lets you pull further back on your heart rate data to see larger trends and compare your statistics against the rest of Cardiogram’s users. This application is the perfect companion for anyone concerned about their heart’s health.

Carrot Weather on Apple Watch
Carrot: This is the best weather app for Apple Watch, by far. It features incredible information density while continuing to be readable. And the app’s complication is no slouch — displaying both the temperature and current conditions. If you want the weather forecast on your wrist, Carrot Weather is the best app for the job.

Deliveries on Apple Watch
Deliveries: An application that helps you keep track of all your deliveries. Add tracking numbers to the iPhone app and you can quickly glance at their status on Apple Watch. I’ve used Deliveries on my iPhone for years and have had it installed on my Apple Watch since day one — it’s the best delivery tracking app available.

Things on Apple Watch
Things: With Things on Apple Watch, you can check off items on your to do list, add new items using dictation, or move tasks to a later date. It’s a surprisingly full-featured application on the Apple Watch — there isn’t much you can’t do on the Watch that you can do on iPhone.

Typically, I would consider it a bad thing for an Apple Watch app to offer so much, but Things pulls it off quite well. The interface is kept so simple with access to the most important things right on the main view — checking off items and adding new ones — that I often forget that I have the ability to add notes and deadlines to a task or move them to a later date. Those options stay out of your way until you need them, which is key on a device with such a small screen.

PCalc on Apple Watch
PCalc: I’ve tried a handful of calculator apps for Apple Watch and it’s not even close, PCalc is the best option available. I use the application almost every week, when my wife and I go grocery shopping, to help us stay within our budget. But it doesn’t just offer the usual addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division operations, it also features robust unit conversion and tip calculation.

The Best Lock Screen Widgets for iOS ➝

A great list of iOS widgets by Lory Gil. I make extensive use of widgets in both my iPhone and iPad, checking them several times each day. Here’s my current setup on iPhone:

And on iPad, I also use Omnistat’s battery widget, PCalc, and CornerTube.

Deliveries ➝

Eddie Smith:

My favorite feature is being able to forward a shipment notification email right into their June Cloud service, which grabs the tracking information right out of the email. It can even use the order number in the initial email Amazon sends after an order—making it totally uncessary to look at any other Amazon emails that follow.

I’ve used Deliveries for years and never knew about this feature. It might be a game changer.

App Sore Beginnings and Apple Watch

With Apple’s release of a new application platform, Apple Watch, I thought I’d take a look at some of the first applications I downloaded in the App Store when it launched in July 2008. The App Store truly was a revolution, but it didn’t start out so smooth. Many of the first applications are no longer being developed and a lot of them missed the mark out of the gate. It took a while before we started seeing software that would stand the test of time and really make our iPhones feel like a necessity.

The first five applications I downloaded from the App Store are:

  • ShoppingList: an application that allowed you to create shopping lists (obviously). The app was last updated in November 2013 and wasn’t installed on my iPhone for very long. I only ever remember using it once and it was worse than simply using the built-in Notes app.
  • Super Monkey Ball: A really neat game where you tilt your device to roll a monkey around the stage. The goal is to collect as many bananas as you can and make it to the finish line without falling off the platform. This app was last updated in June 2009, but Sega has since released a couple of sequels. There weren’t too many games available when the App Store launched and this one lived on my iPhone for quite a while because of that. I remember it being a fun, yet occasionally frustrating game (because of difficult levels, not poor game design).
  • Pandora Radio: The first application I downloaded on the App Store that I still have installed on my current iPhone. I don’t use it too often anymore, though. My music collection has grown to the point where I typically have everything I want to listen to downloaded on my device, so there’s rarely a need for streaming. Pandora has basically been relegated to playing Christmas music or the genres I don’t listen to frequently in order to accommodate friends and family who don’t share my musical taste.
  • Mobile Fotos • Flickr Browser & Uploader: This was back when I actually used Flickr, now I use Twitter and iCloud photo streams to share my photos. I was surprised to see that this app was updated relatively recently, October 2014. But given that there’s only three reviews of the current version, two of which are negative, it doesn’t appear to have a healthy user base.
  • WeatherBug – Weather Forecasts & Alerts: An app that’s still around and being actively developed, with a solid user base. But, I didn’t use it for very long. I distinctly remember going back to Weather Underground’s web app shortly after trying out WeatherBug. It just never appealed to me and I haven’t gone back to it since.

Of the first five applications I downloaded from the App Store, only one of them has lasted the nearly seven years that the App Store has been in existence. But what’s even more telling is that if you expand out to the first 150 applications I downloaded, you’ll only find four more apps that are still installed on my iPhone — Remote, Yelp, Deliveries, and Instapaper— only two of which I use regularly.

Remote, Apple’s iTunes and Apple TV controller app, is something I only launch once every month or two. It gets lauded as this amazing application, but I find it to be a bit fiddly. You always have to choose your device when you launch it (instead of it defaulting to your most recent choice) which takes a little longer than I’d like. I basically only use it when I need to type long strings into a search field on the Apple TV. And, that’s still not really a great experience. I’ve been plagued with a bug where I’ll type a word or two and suddenly it’s replicated two or three times over and I have to delete the entire query and retype it (but, that’s a whole different story).

Yelp is an application that lives on my phone simply for the convenience of it. But, I really only use it during the two or three times a year when I’m in an unfamiliar town and need to find a restaurant to eat at. There’s other services like it, but Yelp’s been my default for nearly seven years, now.

Deliveries is still one of my favorite applications on the iPhone. It’s so simple and easy to use and I typically have a package that I’m tracking at least once or twice a month. The app has been removed from my phone a time or two, when I wasn’t buying much online, but with my recent Amazon Prime subscription I can’t imagine uninstalling Deliveries unkess another app in the same category comes along that knocks it out of the park.

Instapaper is an app that I use almost every day. Deliveries is great, but Instapaper was really the first incredible application that changed the way I precessed news. There’ve been many services that have cropped up offering similar features, but I’ve always stuck with Instapaper. The app launched the day after the App Store did, but I didn’t start using it for several months after it was released. I think that even if there’s a great application available on a new platform it takes users a while to really understand it and to start appreciating how good it really is.

But, many developers didn’t understand what applications would work well on a mobile device like this at first. There’s plenty of junky apps that have since been abandoned in that initial 150 that I downloaded. Over time, though, the quality of the applications released went up and the likelihood that a new application would stick improved.

One things that’s important to remember is that developers could actually test their software on real devices before the App Store launched — a luxury that developers of today did not have when they were building for the Apple Watch. Not to mention the fact that there was years of development on applications targeted for similarly sized devices (Windows Mobile, Palm OS, and Blackberry). And while that likely didn’t have a giant impact on developers building for iOS, it certainly must have played a role on some level.

Developers will eventually have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t on the Apple Watch. It’s just a matter of giving them enough time with the tools and hardware to grok the things that aren’t immediately obvious. Over time the glances and interactive notifications developed for the Watch will improve. And when the full SDK is released, third-party developers will begin to have an opportunity to truly define what the Apple Watch is good for. Until then, it’s a waiting game.

I remember shortly after I bought the iPhone, I was having dinner with my family (at Chili’s if you must know, it wasn’t very good) and I was asked by my sister why I needed an iPhone. I didn’t have a great answer. I came up with some reasons, though, like how I alway’s carried an iPod and my cell phone with me everywhere I went and now I only needed to bring one device with me.

The truth is though, I bought an iPhone because I wanted one, not because I needed it. And I think that was the same reason everyone bought an iPhone during that first generation. It wasn’t until the following year — when the App Store was released and software developers had time to build for it — that anyone really felt the need to buy an iPhone.

Now, every single person that was sitting with me at Chili’s that night owns an iPhone. But, none of them would have been interested in it if not for third party developers building software that they felt compelled to use. And software that good takes time.

The Apple Watch might not seem like a must-have device to people who get hung up on whether or not they need something like it in their lives. But all of us early adopters that see what platforms like this can be in the future — who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on devices that we want to own — we know that once developers have enough time to build for the platform, there will be a lot more people feeling that they need to own one.

It might be hard to see in hindsight, but there are millions of iPhone owners who didn’t understand why anyone would need to spend $200+ on a cell phone, until they “needed” to themselves. And, in time, I think the same will be true of the Apple Watch.