I’ve put a lot of thought into what goes on my home screen. The home screen is fascinating because it’s a place where small changes significantly affect my behavior. I pick up my phone between 80 and 100 times per day. It’s likely that less than half of those pickups have a specific goal in mind.
That makes positioning important. Some apps are on the home screen for convenience, while others I truly enjoy. I’ve gone through each app one by one, and written a bit about why it’s there.
The bottom row
I’ve kept the bottom row for apps that I open several times a day. Starting from left to right:
Messages is the only Apple product on my home screen, and also my least favorite. My biggest qualm with Messages relates to syncing across devices — I constantly see texts missing or out of order. I would gladly switch to Signal if my friends were there as well.
I used to use Sunrise up until they were acquired by Microsoft, and haven’t found a replacement since. That said, the Google Calendar app is good. It’s one of the few apps where I’ve left push notifications on. You can customize when event notifications are sent, so I get them one minute before my next meeting starts. Typically, all of my meetings are on the same floor, so it gives me enough time to check the meeting room and walk over — I’m almost never late to a meeting.
I’ve tried the Apple calendar app, but the syncing also seemed a bit unreliable. I usually find myself forced to go to calendar.google.com anyway to do anything advanced.
I’ve tried a lot of email apps (Sparrow, Airmail, Mailbox, Polymail, Inbox, Astro, Handle… I could go on), but find that Gmail is consistently good. I get a fair amount of email, but feel like it’s not enough to justify the $29/month of Superhuman. I typically process email on desktop (using the multiple inboxes feature, filtered by star type). The mobile app is mostly used to read and respond quickly. I’ll occasionally disable notifications for Gmail to focus or relax.
Notion is everything I wanted from Evernote and more. I do all of my journaling, note-taking, and goal-tracking in Notion, and will likely follow this up with a post specifically on how I use Notion. I keep Notion in the bottom right to encourage myself to write more. Most of my subconscious pickups lead to consumption. I open my phone, and go to Twitter, or Instagram. I’m trying to see if I can wire subconscious pickups to lead to creation, even if it’s just opening my journal and writing a bit about what I’m doing. That can often help me refocus.
Spotify has changed the way I listen to music. They’ve excelled in music discovery in a way that sets them apart from other streaming apps, specifically Apple Music. The concept of dynamic, personalized playlists was a major step forward — I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t like Discover Weekly.
I recommend Breaker to anyone I talk to about podcasts. I listen to podcasts when I go jogging, so I usually get through several a week. There are a lot of small things that come together to make Breaker great. Their playlist concept works really well. Here’s my profile.
My favorite type of content is long-form. 400-word news articles are typically too short to build any meaningful understanding of an issue, so I often look for longer articles that I send to Instapaper. I like Instapaper compared to other alternatives because it’s dead simple and looks great.
I bought a Kindle a couple of years ago, but do most reading on my phone now. I’ve been split for the past few years on whether I prefer Kindle over physical books, but I’ve landed on something in-between. I’ll read a book on Kindle first, and if I like it enough to read it a second time, I’ll buy a physical copy. One feature I love that Kindle recently added was “Continuous Scrolling”, so you can read a book as if it were an article. I also have night mode on all the time. Paired with iOS’ Night Shift, I can read with my phone in bed and still fall asleep immediately.
I check Slack often enough to keep it on the home screen, but I’ve disabled badges. I prefer to use Slack on desktop, so I only use the app to read or send quick replies.
The best thing you can do to keep your accounts safe is to use a different password for each (and enable 2-factor), and that’s essentially impossible without a password manager. Account takeovers typically happen when one, less-secure site is hacked. Then, spammers will try the leaked email and password combinations on a variety of more secure sites to see if they get lucky.
I’ve been a serious language learner for a couple of years, and Chatterbug is my current favorite language learning app. I’ve also put significant amounts of time into Duolingo (German Level 13, Spanish 7, French 5, Italian 5) and Memrise (1.4m points), Lingvist, iTalki, Yabla, and LingQ.
Chatterbug excels because it combines several different exercise types into one app. Just hit “Start studying”, and you’ll get a balance of listening exercises, reading, writing, videos, and flash cards. They also help you schedule lessons with instructors at a super reasonable price (which I’d recommend for anyone learning a language — practicing conversation is key). I’ve improved my German substantially using exclusively Chatterbug.
I’m on Strava almost every day uploading runs or bike rides. In my experience, the community has been incredibly positive. It’s encouraging to follow your friends and see where they’re running.
Google Photos is my favorite Google product. The unlimited, high-quality storage was a masterstroke. The app also makes it easy to delete photos that have been backed up. Compare this with Apple’s offering:
I don’t often get the “this is magic” feeling of seeing new technology work well, but Google Photos brought it to me the other day. A Chromecast can be set up to play Google Photos albums in the background, and albums can be configured to automatically add of photos of certain people. I’ve set up an album to add photos of friends and relatives. After getting back from a trip, I saw photos of my parents I had just taken show up on screen. I take so many photos, but never go back to look through them. Now, I love having the TV on scrolling through old memories.
I use Chrome on desktop, so I use it on mobile as well. I tried switching to Firefox a couple of months ago, but there were a couple of work-related apps that required me to switch back. I’d likely use Firefox if I had no other constraints.
Google still dominates the mapping game. I recently took a road trip through rural Austria, and at one point, begged my friend switch from Apple to Google Maps because of poor directions. The offline mode is substantially better. I’ve also found that Google is slowly gaining on Yelp when it comes to restaurant review data. In the past, I’d use Yelp to find a restaurant, and then Google Maps to get there. Now, I’m increasingly just using Maps.
Twitter is the most used app on my phone, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that. It can be an incredible tool for learning if you’re diligent about who to follow. I’ve found people on the platform that have influenced my life in meaningful ways.
Other times, I feel like I consume too much, and move it off the home screen or delete it for a while.
I work at Pinterest, so I naturally use this app quite a lot.