Home Screens – TJ Luoma

This week’s home screen features TJ Luoma (website) (Twitter), Presbyterian minister by day, geek by night. TJ writes for The Unofficial Apple Weblog and frequently posts on automation. If that isn’t enough, TJ was our guest this week on the Mac Power Users. So TJ, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

My favorite iPhone app is Spotify, but for one very specific reason. Every morning I drive my son to school and hand him my iPhone 5s so he can control Spotify, which plays via Bluetooth to my car stereo. He’s almost 12, and getting to that age where music is likely to become really important to him, so I like that we have this setup in place. The nice thing about Spotify is that you can ‘star’ songs and have them cached to your iPhone. He has a playlist on my Spotify account and adds songs to it whenever he finds something new that he likes. He likes that he can hear the specific song that he wants to listen to, and not just songs related to some other songs that he said he likes.

In terms of “Wow, having this app on my pocket-computer makes life so much better” I’d say it’s a toss-up between OmniFocus and Safari. Before the iPhone I had a Trēo (actually, several: the 300, the 600, and the 650), and the web browser on it was atrocious. I almost never used it. I can still remember using Safari on my original iPhone and being amazed at how much better it was.

  • OmniFocus 2 for the iPhone is wonderful. It’s on my dock (having replaced the almost-never used Phone app) and if there’s a Dock badge, I know I’ve got something time-critical to work on. Getting Things Done isn’t perfect, but it’s the best system I’ve found for remember what I have to do and helping me stay on track. I used Kinkless GTD “back in the day” which was a great system held together by bubble gum, duct tape, and AppleScript. OmniFocus is one of those apps that I can easily take for granted, but what it offers me is exceptional. The OmniFocus iPad app is very good too (although I impatiently wait for its next update.). The iPad itself is the perfect “weekly-review” device for me.

My favorite iPad app is Instapaper. When I was growing up, my Dad read two newspapers a day, and he especially enjoyed the Sunday paper. I don’t think I’ve ever read a newspaper, because I have something better. During the week I send things I want to read to Instapaper, and then I try to read through my Instapaper backlog on the weekend. It’s sort of my version of “the Sunday paper” except that every article is something that I already know I want to read. My Dad would have loved a newspaper like that.

All Notifications Go to My iPhone. None to My iPad.

I don’t use any notifications on Mac OS X, mostly because I use 3–4 different Macs depending on where I am/what I’m doing,1 and I can’t be bothered to set customize everything properly on all of them, so I just leave them off entirely. It used to be that if a message came in via iMessage, I might hear it on 2–3 Macs and 2 iOS devices. Since there are some messages (namely, non-iMessage text messages) which can only go to my iPhone, I decided to centralize all notifications to my iPhone and only my iPhone. So now I only have one digital “Inbox.” Consequently, my iPad has been in “Do No Disturb” since iOS 7 came out, which is great because I primarily use my iPad for reading, and derive great enjoyment out of being able to use it without being interrupted or distracted. (Well, not by the iPad, at least.) Some of my favorite apps are ones that allow me to centralize my messages to my iPhone, which starts by being brutally harsh when any app says that it wants to send me notifications. I almost always say no, because they are always easier to turn on than off but on is potentially worse than off so my default answer isHow About No? I don’t even allow Mail.app to show an unread badge, although, since I use SaneBox I usually have a fairly clean Inbox anyway.

  • AwayFind isn’t on my home page, because the only time I need to work with it is when it sends me a notification. There are so many awesome things about AwayFind, but the biggest three are these: 1) it allows me to respond to Certain Important People right away, 2) when I launch AwayFind, I only see the messages from my important people, which means that I don’t get sucked into other email when I’m just trying to focus on Important Email Only, 3) it allows me to turn off automatic email fetching entirely. Everywhere.

  • Fantastical on the iPhone is what Apple should have made. The list view of upcoming events is the most logical way to use the iPhone’s screen size, and Apple’s calendar didn’t really offer anything like it until the recent 7.1 update. I still prefer Fantastical, not only for looking at my calendar, but especially for adding things to it. The ability to just write a sentence about what I need to add to my calendar is, well, fantastic. Badge icons tell me I have a specific event happening at a specific time later today, or a reminder of something I either have to orreally really should do today (i.e. call for an oil change). I use Reminders (usually via Siri “Remind me to…”) for simple things, and OmniFocus for anything more complicated.

  • Pushover ($5) replaced Prowl for sending notifications from my Macs to my iPhone. I wrote a basic shell script which uses Pushover’s REST API so I can easily send myself a message. For example, my Mac mini runs SuperDuperevery morning at 6:00 a.m. When SuperDuper finishes successfully, it triggers a shell script which tells me so. Lots of other examples like that, just little things, but they all go to my iPhone

“Which app is your guilty pleasure?”

I probably spent more hours playing the original Plants vs Zombies than I’d like to see tallied up and shown to me on my deathbed. More recently I find myself coming back to Dots whenever I feel like doing something mindless but fun. I could spend thousands of dollars in Comixology and I love reading comic books again on my iPad, which is one of the reasons that I’ll always be a “full size iPad” guy.

What is the app you are still missing?

A great text editor. I think I own more than 40 iOS text editors, because each time a new one comes out, I’ll try it, but none of them has combined the right set of features that I want with a UI that I love. It may be that I’m just impossible to please. I keep coming back to Byword, mostly because the UI is nice and the iCloud sync is pretty great.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

I use my iPhone a lot. A lot a lot. Many. Again, partially because of how I have my notifications setup, my iPhone is pretty much always either in my pocket or on a stand on my desk. My iPad usually goes with me to lunch, and then I use it most of the evening as we’re watching TV or whatever, unless I need to write something, in which case I’ll get out my MacBook Air.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

Sync. Being able to start something on one device and pick up another device and continue to work on it there? That’s pretty close to magic. I tend to prefer Dropbox over iCloud for document sync, because if anything goes wrong I can go to the website and see previous version, restore a version, identify conflicts, etc. When it works, iCloud sync is great, but the “black box” aspect of it worries me.

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

The first thing would have to be some sort of way for apps to share documents. It’s completely absurd that I have to add a different “silo” of text files for every text editor, and that pictures have to be imported and exported. It’s clumsy, it’s ugly, and it’s completely un-Apple-like, at least unlike the Apple that most of us loved for their attention to detail and “just works” aspect. I don’t know why it’s taking them so long, but it’s the biggest downside to using an iOS device.

The second thing is trial versions of apps and upgrades. The absence of both of those (along with the difficulty of getting a refund) is one of the major factors that has pushed prices towards $0, which has pushed the overall quality of apps much lower. There are some notable exceptions, obviously, but there are a lot of great apps which seem to have been left behind by developers who realized they just couldn’t afford to keep developing them. It’s also given rise to in-app purchases being abused in so many different ways. If Apple wanted a bazillion apps in the app store, well, now they’ve got them. Now we need to think about making the app stores – iOS and Mac – financially viable for developers to stick around long term, instead of what it is now, which is basically a lottery for a few apps that strike it rich.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

This picture of my mom and my son is my lock-screen picture. In my job as an ordained minister, I have to work every year on Christmas Eve. As soon as that service is over, I get in the car and drive 12-hours to go home to see my mom in the house where I grew up. My wife and son usually drive up a few days earlier when school break starts. She posted this picture with the caption:

Next time someone asks me why I drive 12 straight hours from Ohio to Massachusetts, I’m going to show them this picture. Somebody really loves his Grammy!

We’ve been doing this since 2006, and it’s what makes Christmas for me.

(My home-screen wallpaper is a solid dark blue or purple. I like my backgrounds to be plain and non-distracting.)

Anything else you’d like to share?

My home screen on my iPhone changes all the time, but there are a couple of constants. Anything that sends me a push notification has to go on the main screen. I have a “Comm” folder for any apps where someone might be trying to get in touch with me (Phone, Twitter DMs, Kik, Facebook, Pushover, etc) and I play a few “Turn Based” games like Words With Friends and Cribbage HD (I’m always looking for new players, so hit me up on Game Center, I’m “TJLuoma”) so those go into a folder called “Games.”

Due is my “nag me until I do this” app, especially for medication that I need to take every day. It’s repeating alarms are great, and it is persistent enough to keep me from forgetting things, which I have a tendency to do otherwise.

I arrange my iPhone home screen to be all of the apps I use most often. The first app on the second page is the App Store app, and I try to keep the second page mostly empty, because that’s where new apps that I am trying out will go. If it’s not on one of those two pages (or on the dock), I’ll launch it by searching.

On my iPad I have arranged things very differently. The first page is all Apple apps, and the second page is the apps that I use most often. Most of them revolve around reading of some kind or another.

A unsung hero of my app collection is DropCopy which is like like AirDrop, except that it works between iOS and Mac (as we’ll as iOS to iOS, and Mac to Mac). It’s the main way I send files between devices if I need them right nowand don’t want to have to go through Dropbox.

Whew. And here I wasn’t sure what I’d have to say about my home screens! I should have known. I have a friend (who is also a pastor) who says that if you ask a preacher for the time, they’ll probably respond with “That reminds me of a story…”

Thanks TJ.

  1. It’s not that I’m rich, it’s that I never get rid of my Macs. I have a “late 2012” Mac mini that’s my office computer, a MacBook Air which was new in 2010, a “hand-me-down” 2008 MacBook Pro, an iMac which was new in 2007, and a Black MacBook that’s old enough that I don’t even remember when it was new.