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Blog // Productivity
2 months ago

State Of The Apps 2022

It’s time to review the apps and tools I have relied on the most over the past year. Here’s my State of the Apps for 2022.

December is the month when we assess our relationships and the value they bring us. This year, perhaps more than any other, feels like the right time to look at the relationships we have with the tools that power our lives, especially the apps we rely on every day.

Time For State Of The Apps 2022

The categories for this year’s review are mostly unchanged from 2021. I’ve added two new categories: Mindset and Travel.

The apps I use changed a lot in 2022. More than in recent years. I hit a creative wall mid-year, relocated from London to Melbourne, and took a break from blogging. This forced me to rethink the apps I used and how I used them.

You’ll notice that Mac and iOS interoperability is now a huge theme for me. Wherever possible I put my focus on apps that work and update seamlessly across all my devices.

Finally, if you see something missing, the chances are I’m just using the default Apple iOS app for that purpose. I quite like Apple’s Clock, Mail, and Weather apps, for example. Safari is still my browser of choice. All these apps have great interfaces and keep getting better.

Anyway, on to the review!

Writing – Thinking – Reading

Writing is the core of my work these days, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that things change slowly here. I still write in Scrivener, read most of my books on Kindle PaperWhite (mine had a water-based misadventure in 2021, but is still working well), capture highlights with Readwise, make notes in Obsidian, and use Bear for ad hoc writing, such as drafts of letters or other copy. And I still use Wordy for the human copyediting of each article I post.

But there have been some changes.

First, I’ve been on the beta program for Reader by Readwise, a new RSS tool, which has taken over my day-to-day reading of articles, essays, and news stories. Everything goes into Reader and is then read later on iPhone or iPad. This has replaced my previous use of Safari’s Reading List.

There will be a full article on Reader in the new year. But for now I’ll say it’s great to have a smart, well-designed RSS reader, which is integrated into my note-taking workflow.

Reader also has some AI-based tools built into what they call Ghostwriter. This lets you create quick summaries of your highlights, or even entire articles. You can even output summaries in haiku format!

I’ve also added Word back into my arsenal, specifically to use the Writefull AI tools. Once I have a good second draft of an article, I copy it into Word and run some of the tools in order to find copy suggestions and discover better subheadings.

I’ve also been trying out Lex, another AI writing assistant, when I get stuck on an article. Almost everything I get from Lex is useless. But it always manages to prompt me to write again.

Overall, I think AI assistance will become an increasing part of my writing routine. Not as a replacement for writing or creating ideas. But as an aid for tasks I struggle with, such as choosing headings, or as a substitute for the kind of early feedback I’d get if I were working with an editor throughout the writing process.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been keeping a literary journal in 2022. This started during a workshop with Sabrina Orah Mark. The idea is to write an entry every day, but as an explicitly literary activity, a journal meant for others to read one day. For this purpose I ink up my Pilot Custom 823 with one of the Iroshizuku inks I use (a different colour for each city I frequent), and a sage green dot-lined softcover Leuchtturm1917 A5 Medium notebook.

Productivity

Not having a dedicated workspace due to the pandemic forced me back into using Omnifocus as my main personal productivity tool. The question of whether to use a paper or digital productivity system is a huge one.

But when you’re facing constant interruptions, a digital system can be more robust. The way I use Omnifocus is more tightly regulated and focused, if you like. I’m not putting everything I can imagine in there. Just the tasks I must do and the most important projects at any time.

I’ve also taken to doing a lot of mind-mapping in MindNode. This started last year and has grown in 2022. I have a large mind-map with all my current commitments and smaller maps for each project. MindNode lets you turn a map into an outline, which is great for then creating the necessary tasks in OmniFocus.

Notion made a slight comeback for me in 2022 as I used it to hold travel information and share schedules. The Kanban display option has kept me using it for my editorial calendar.

I still love Fantastical as a calendar, and the way in which it handles time zones has helped me a lot in 2022. (Yes, I’m looking at you, South Australia, with your weird 30-minute time zone difference.) But I’ve stopped using Timeular to track time.

There were just too many disruptions in 2022. Time tracking has always worked best for me when I’m optimising a well-established routine. But routine was seldom seen in my 2022 experience.

And while most of my productivity tools are digital, I still make daily notes and to-do lists inside a Hobonichi Techo cousin (Japanese edition).

Mindset

After I almost abandoned Calm in 2021, the app way back into my life in the second half of 2022. Grief disrupted my sleep, and the app helped me address that. I also got into some of Calm’s mindfulness courses.

Much of my education time was spent on Zoom and conference calls in 2020 and 2021, but learning became app-ified again in 2022. I got into Masterclass in a big way, on iPad and especially AppleTV. I also spent a fair bit of time using Domestika. I particularly appreciate the global diversity of instructors on that platform.

Communication

Zoom still played a role in my learning as I returned to Japanese classes in 2022 and attended a variety of writing workshops and other events.

After a brief adventure with Line I went back to iMessages. As in 2021, this remains a category in which the default Apple apps shine.

The year ends with Twitter in chaos and the future of apps looking more uncertain than ever. I’ve been exploring the alternatives but none seems even slightly appealing. Sadly, most of the people I used to enjoy reading and interacting with on Twitter are no longer there. The platform drives little traffic to this site. New subscribers seem to come from other places. It’s hard to imagine Twitter remaining central to my digital communication strategy.

What do continue to be central are WordPress and MailChimp, which drive this site and my newsletter. In 2022 I dropped the monthly newsletter and refreshed the design on the subscription version of the blog.

But I feel a little hemmed in by both these tools, as they have changed and evolved so much since I started using them. WordPress has so many ways to break your site if you change or update it. MailChimp is powerful but unnecessarily complicated to use. I find myself reluctant to make changes in either, just to avoid the time I must spend in getting myself up to date with how they work.

Media

In 2021 I lamented the time I’d spent watching streaming TV services, and 2022 wasn’t much different. I spent big chunks of the year alone, packing, grieving, or adapting to a new location. TV was a solace. But I still want to rethink the time I devote to this in 2023.

Once again, Apple’s options reign, with my listening habits tuned to Apple Music and Podcasts. In 2022 I was particularly impressed with some of the curated playlists Apple put together in the jazz category, including New Latitudes, Outer Orbits, and Spectrum.

I still read the New York Times and Washington Post via their apps, but I’ve given up on all the other apps as I save everything into the aforementioned Reader app now. I’ve also increasingly found myself preferring the paper versions of magazines when available. Paper just seems to encourage more adventures and serendipitous reading – at least for me.

Creativity

Lightroom Classic and Photoshop still drive my photo workflow. Procreate is for my occasional forays into digital art on the iPad Pro, and Logic Pro and Dorico were my choices on the rare occasions I was able to do a little songwriting. I’m still using Amazing Slow Downer, the Boss Tone Studio, and WAZA-Air binaural headphones for guitar practice.

I did manage to create some music with the PolyEnd tracker, which is a standalone sampler sequencer that works differently to regular timeline-based music devices. It’s something like making music with a spreadsheet.

I also started using Melodics, a music learning platform that gamifies playing a keyboard or drum pads. My keyboard skills were getting rusty after closing down my studio in 2019, and this has been a fun little way to add some music learning to my evenings.

Like everyone else, I spent a hot minute playing with Lensa’s Magic Avatar mode. It was fun, but not $60+ a year worth of fun.

In the last few weeks I have started playing with Ableton Note, an iOS app, which lets you quickly sketch out beats and basic song ideas. I’ve been using it on flights and while sitting around at airports.

Travel

The pandemic changed travel, at least for a little while. This saw me using apps such as VeriFly to check off quarantine and visa requirements for the UK and US, and DPD for Australia.

For Japan, re-entry was via the new Visit Japan Web. At present it is browser based, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes an app in future. Japan also nailed it with an excellent, fast, paperless entry system covering all three stages of quarantine, visa, and customs.

Once again, my favourite travel app was Flightly. I love the way it helps you track your travel history and provides real-time updates on your flights.

It was interesting to compare each airline’s apps as well. American is probably my favourite, followed by Emirates. The Qantas app also works well. JAL had an excellent app for international flights, but ever since they consolidated international flights into their domestic app I haven’t been able to get it to work properly.

But what JAL does brilliantly is the app for managing food orders and shower reservations in its First Class lounge. You scan a QR code at your table, and your order is brought to you in minutes. You use the same app to book a shower stall if you want to freshen up before your next flight.

Food, Health, and Home

As in 2021, Erika Bloom’s Membership and Apple Fitness+ helped me keep myself in some sort of physical shape this year. Right now I’m enjoying the Fitness+ pre-ski season workouts.

My HomeKit automations were packed up when I left London in mid-year, along with my Anova Sous Vide cooker and Meater+ smart thermometer. Same with my Homepod mini. I miss asking Siri to turn on lights or play a favorite music playlist.

A Few Important Tools

Last year I expressed a desire to dedicate this review in future as much to physical tools as to digital apps. This is part of a broad desire to live a less screen-based life.

Well, I didn’t get there in 2022.

That was partly because of my relocation and all the travel. For the time being a digital focus, especially with regards to writing and personal productivity, makes the most sense.

But I still long to change this, to be less dependent on screen, trackpad, and finger gesture. I miss being messier, more tactile, and of course, less easily distracted.

The Future of Apps

It seems inevitable that in 2023 we’ll see more AI-like features being added to apps. I’ve already mentioned the ones baked into Reader by Readwise’s Ghostwriter features, and Writeful’s editing options. We’ll see this kind of stuff appearing more and more in all sorts of creative tools.

Personally, I’m a bit more excited about Widgets and Shortcuts. Apple keeps making these easier to use and I like entering apps from the perspective of a specific need. My iPad use is mostly built around widgets now and it feels so smooth to use the device that way.

Once again, the State of Apps didn’t highlight any virtual reality or augmented reality apps. I’m still skeptical about the value of VR beyond limited gaming and entertainment spaces. But AR could become an important part of life soon. Not because of any headset or glasses, but thanks to my recent experience using the new Apple AirPods Pro. But that’s a topic for an article in 2023!

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