Home Screens: Joe Darnell

This week’s home screen features Joe Darnell (Twitter) (Blog). Joe produces the TechTonic podcast where he and Josua Peiffer talk about technology. Joe also harnesses all of his geeky superpowers to talk about coffee at Top Brew. You may know of Joe from his creation of the popular “Focus” wallpapers, that I still use. So Joe, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

Well, my home screen is a great representation of all my favorites. I start the day with Unread, use Overcast throughout, and after dark I’ll be deep within my Instapaper queue. At some point, all the other home screen apps are utilized for their intended purposes almost every day. 

Everyone I know likes to talk about their favorite Twitter or photo apps. They are important, for sure, but I’d rather highlight others that don’t get the attention that they deserve. Of note…


My favorite music genre is movie soundtracks. They’re far more entertaining than classical music, and they’re easy to listen to while you’re at work — rarely are there lyrics that demand my attention. 

It’s not the most popular genre, let me tell you, so music services don’t especially serve my tastes. As I write this, I’m listening to the Tron: Legacy original motion picture soundtrack by Daft Punk. Then I’ll probably segway into The Bourne Supremacy’s by John Powell. In general, I’ve found that Rdio meets my interests: a readable interface and a wide range of albums.

Rdio’s is the most visually attractive of popular music services, in my opinion. Their design was reminiscent of OS X Yosemite’s and iOS 7’s flat design before they were introduced in 2013. Rdio seamlessly works the way I want my music, even though it’s missing a few albums I would love, like the Cloud Atlas soundtrack.

I was turned on to Rdio by this video by Sandwich Video. 


This is another app that I discovered thanks to a great videoThunderspace features immersive thunderstorm and rain sounds that improve the quality of momentary relaxation and meditation. If I have a few minutes to spare on my schedule and it’s been a stressful day, I’ll find a dimly lit room, kick back, and listen to a thunderstorm for ten minutes. Very quickly I’ll unwind and clear my head.

Thunderspace isn’t essential to how I use my iPhone, but I have to say it has been one of the more effective apps. The sounds are rich, the interface demonstrates the developers’ thoughtful creativity, and I’m very happy to pay for each of the audio tracks — some of the best in-app purchases I’ve ever made.


This app is well known, but it’s impact shouldn’t be overlooked. I purchased my first iPhone with Instapaper in mind. Before Instapaper, I wasn’t convinced that I would get enough value from an iPhone. But for many years, I’ve juggled articles ‘saved for later’. On average, I read ten articles and watch three videos a day with Instapaper’s help.

With my Apple Watch, I’m using Instapaper and Overcast similarly. While exercising or doing the dishes, I’ll listen to Instapaper articles read aloud by Siri and control playback via the Watch. There’s a world of difference between how I mentally process articles I’ve heard versus articles I’ve read. When I’m listening to more sophisticated articles, I’m convinced I retain information better.

What app is your guilty pleasure?

At present, I’m subscribed to 47 podcasts using Overcast, so that has to be my guilty pleasure. But it’s more like my guiltless pleasure since my shoulder angel seems to like podcasts almost as much as I do.

Most of the time, I listen to all of my subscriptions’ new episodes from week to week. Just occasionally, I’ll skim some of the lengthier episodes. Overcast works exceptionally well for this, thanks to Smart Speed and regular playback Speed controls that maintain the quality of audio while accelerating the overall content. This way, podcasts don’t sound rushed even when they technically are. Since I downloaded Overcast in July 2014, I’ve saved ‘an extra 97 hours beyond speed adjustments alone’.

What app makes you most productive?

That’s got to be Fantastical. On my Mac, the no-brainer answer would be OmniFocus, but in the way I work and flow through the day with my iPhone, I get more done with Fantastical’s help.

But it wasn’t always this way. It took me a long time to warm up to Fantastical. I thought it was good on the Mac, but just okay on the iPhone. Once I had customized the app to my liking — hidden Reminders items, etc. — Fantastical made good sense. I plan each day using Calendar, OmniFocus, and Fantastical, then keep up with my schedule with Fantastical.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

That’s got to be iBooks (and the Kindle) app. I love reading and believe that books are rich resources. I keep iBooks or the Kindle on my home screen while I’m reading through a book that’s downloaded in the respective e-reader. 

Even so, I don’t read half as much as I would like. I’m a slow reader and it takes me forever to complete a book. Many people are concerned that they cannot focus on a good read with their smartphone, but I haven’t found this to be my problem. Once I’m reading, I’m likely to stay in a book for as long as I like. Making the time to read in the first place is the real challenge. 

Whether I successfully read or not, I prefer to read books using my iPhone and iPad. You know how Apple used to boast of the iPod’s “1,000 songs in your pocket.” I like the idea of 1,000 books in my pocket, too.

What is the app you’re still missing?

I’d like a professional level digital audio recording solution. The built-in mic and Voice Memos app don’t cut it. They work in a pinch for temporary files, but considering the level of quality I’ve come to expect from other features and apps, I want the iPhone to be a handy audio recorder that I would use for podcasts and presentations.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone, iPad, and by extension your Watch?

My ballpark figure would is forty times a day. Now that I use an Apple Watch, It’s not as often as it used to be. My iPad eats away at my time on my Mac, the iPhone eats away at my time on the iPad, and the Watch eats away at my time on my iPhone. And if I had to pick just one of them for all uses and I couldn’t have the others, I would pick the iPhone. Then I would use it about a thousand times a day. It’s incredibly versatile.

What Today View widgets are helpi
ng you out?

Originally, I thought that the Today View would be empowering, but it’s overshadowed by the usefulness of the Apple Watch’s Glances. I use several of those in the place of iPhone Widgets. In my Watch’s Glances, I use Settings, Now Playing, Overcast, Dark Sky, Fantastical, OmniFocus, Pedometer++, Activity, and Heartbeat.

If only Apple would liberate third party apps a little more, I think that Widgets would become very compelling. Presently they’re handicapped, so I will usually opt to use the app itself rather than its Widget.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone?

The iPod within. Honestly, playing podcasts is the feature I use the iPhone for all day long, so I don’t know what I’d do without it. Apple said it’s an iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. I still see it as the best iPod I’ve ever owned, more so than I’ve ever regarded it as a phone for phone’s sake.

Can we see your Apple Watch face?

Sure! I’m still growing accustom to this smartwatch idea, but there’s no greater accessory in my life. I’ve always been a watch wearer. I recommend other watch wearers use a smartwatch if for no other reason than they handle much more than the time and date.

Analog versus digital? Because I’m a designer that enjoys the charm of classic interfaces. The purple accent color? Because purple is my favorite, though red and orange on the watch face look great, too. 3, 6, 9 and 12? Because I can’t tell the time quickly without them.

The Watch Complications aren’t completely satisfying, yet they’re still useful. The temperature of my current location is in the top left. My not-so active Activity complication is in the top right. At the bottom is the current event in my iCloud calendar. 

What’s your wallpaper and why?

Here’s where it gets really nerdy, so I wouldn’t blame you if you stop reading at this point. Consider the rest of this article in podcasting lingo the ‘after dark’. 

I think that not enough thought goes into background pictures. They can be artistic, and most people think the background is there to be art for art’s sake. I strongly disagree, because the home screen is your tool box. Think of the background as the base of the toolbox. It can be visually interesting, but it shouldn’t ever be noisy and call attention away from your apps (the tools in the box).

Some backgrounds that come with iOS 8 are attention-getting in a mediocre way. They do well for marketing promotional shots of iPhones on bill boards, but they’re not user friendly on a person’s actual home screen. I prefer for my iPhone’s background to stay in the background yet look very pleasing.

I design my own background wallpapers. I created the Focus Collection: a series of simple wallpapers that are gradiated, out of focus, inspired by Yosemite’s design characteristics, and draw attention away from themselves. Presently, I’m using Mountains 1 in Focus Collection II.

Anything else you would like to share?

Well, since you asked, I’m one of those people that thinks about color groups, related services, categorical order, and an overall aesthetically readable app icon layout. my home screen organization is forever a work in progress, because a new app will be released, like say, Spark or Activity, and I have to move everything to give the newcomers a sensible placement. App layout is part art and part law-abiding science, so the two are never completely satisfied. It can be frustrating to waste time reordering icons to find the right mix of ideals, but once I’ve found what I want, I enjoy visiting my home screen that much more. And I can find stuff without using Spotlight as an app launcher.…

Thanks Joe.