Home Screens – Marina Epelman


Marina Epelman is a professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan, specializing in theory and applications of mathematical optimization (professional twitter), homepage. In her copious spare time, she eagerly follows Apple and the Boston Red Sox (personal twitter). I’ve got to know Marina over the years as we’ve spent time together at many Mac-related conferences. She always blushes when I introduce her as my brilliant math professor friend … but it’s true. So Marina, show us your home screen.

Marina’s “Home” Screen. (Click to enlarge.)

Marina’s “Away” Screen. (Click to enlarge.)

What are some of your favorite apps?

The contents of my home screen change a little depending on the circumstances. I took two screenshots for this writeup a couple of days before a trip (to WWDC 2018 “unconference,” as it happens) in quick succession: before and after I rearranged my home screen to help me pack and otherwise prepare for travel. In between, some apps moved to the second page (controller for the Sonos speakers in my house, and ATracker time tracker and Productive — since I would be putting my regular routines on hold). To replace them, I brought in Wallet (for boarding passes and tickets to WWDC-related events), Yelp, and AnyList (which contains my very detailed and elaborate pre-travel checklist, including a packing list for items to bring to the dog sitter — yes, “dog” is one of the items, as I am the dictionary definition of “absent-minded professor”).

I have many favorites that will likely be familiar to most readers — Overcast, OmniFocus, Carrot Weather (on Overkill), Drafts, PCalc (as a college professor, I am required to use the chalkboard icon). I want to highlight a few that might be slightly less common. 

I am very particular about my calendars, and Week Calendar has been in my dock for as long as I can remember. As you can guess, it has a superb week view, but also an excellent month one, which manages to pack information for a month worth of events on an iPhone screen. In addition, its settings options are very rich and flexible.

Scanner Pro from Readdle is a great scanner app, and my favorite in most circumstances. However, I highly recommend adding Office Lens if you ever need to capture and share notes written on whiteboards. It has a whiteboard mode that gracefully removes the unavoidable glare that office fluorescent lights cast on the boards, and does a very nice job framing the contents.

ATracker is an iOS app, backed by a web portal, that I hope will work out for me as I am trying to jump on the time-tracking bandwagon. It has a widget and a Watch counterpart, and some nice display options and calendar intergrations that set it apart from other time-tracking apps I’ve tried so far.

I have also been experimenting with using Notion as my app for note-taking and information tracking. The Notion system is very flexible and somewhat complex. Many articles and tutorials have been published about it lately, and I am not going to do it justice in one paragraph (see this recent review by the Verge, for example. At this point, I’ve only spent a couple of weeks with it, and it looks promising for bringing different types of notes and other bits of information together in one place, and linking easily between them. It is not as flexible and full-featured as some tools designed with a single purpose in mind, but I think it has enough power in most cases, and allows for easy export of individual items or entire databases if it becomes necessary. (Also, this math nerd appreciates the opportunity to throw in an occasional LaTeX equation into her notes.)

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Probably the same as for most people: social media, in my case, Tweetbot and Instagram (all those dog pictures and videos are not going to view and like themselves!). I don’t have them on my home screen — they are hidden away in the “Communicate” folder on the next page — but Siri suggestions don’t lie…

What app makes you most productive? 

I don’t use iOS very much for full-on productivity. I use my iPad occasionally to read and mark up research papers in pdf format, but most of my productive computer time is spent on a Mac (although, of course, I can get quite a lot done on an iOS device in a pinch). On the other hand, the iPhone is invaluable in quickly accomplishing so many small, useful tasks that I honestly don’t remember how I was getting through the day at work, or taking time off without falling too far behind, 10–15 years ago!

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

Workflow. Let’s see whether its transition to Shortcuts nudges me to start utilizing it more.

What is the app you are still missing?

I have pretty serious chronic migraines, and would love to have an app that makes it easy and convenient to track pain levels and medication doses at regular intervals throughout an episode. I try to keep track manually as best as I can using a pre-configured sheet in Notion, but the last thing you want to do while in pain and medicated is to remember to create database entries. A perfect app would have an easy and gentle UI but have enough persistence to help elicit information needed to understand pain patterns and effectiveness of different medications. Ideally, it would also collect information about what I eat, where I travel, and what I do throughout the day, and provide longitudinal data for my doctors.

In terms of productivity, I’d love to have a LaTeX writing app with access to any sub-folder in Dropbox (although it might be the Dropbox sync protocol that’s preventing it more than lack of effort by iOS developers).

How many times a day do you use your iPhone?

My sense is, I use my iPhone many, many times a day, but primarily for short, specific bursts of activity. 

Incidentally, David has been asking his home screen contributors to answer this question for years now — I am looking forward to a follow-up piece, comparing all those “my sense is…” answers to hard, cold numbers that iOS 12 will be providing! 

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I use widgets that provide either quick pieces of information, or access to quick actions: Up Next (next calendar event and alarms – sadly not currently available), Carrot Weather, ATracker, Productive, Batterie
s, and PCalc.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone?

Always having a map and a GPS navigation device on me. I am literally lost without one — often even in my small town.

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

I have a strong preference for ultra-wide external displays over, say, an iMac, and a laptop plugged into one takes up the valuable real estate on my small home office desk. So, if there is a “making Marina’s life better” department at Apple, they are working on a modern model of Mac mini.

Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.


I do indeed! I have multiple Watch faces set up. The two that I use most often are Modular and Simple. The former is great because of the density of information it presents without tapping or scrolling — perfect for running between meetings or sessions at a conference, especially when my hands are not free. The latter is the complete opposite — I switch to it when I am having a leisurely day with no events to remember and nowhere to rush. Lately, I’ve also been using the Siri watch face. Initially, I set it up when I realized that it shows a “Now playing” platter whenever I am listening to Overcast or Spotify on my phone, allowing me to change the volume easily even if the phone isn’t nearby. It has been slowly growing on me, and I am very curious to see whether it will become even more useful with third-party apps joining the party. (So far, the only non-native complication I have on any watch face is Carrot Weather.)

What’s your wallpaper and why?

Last fall, I set the wallpaper to “OLED black.” I thought that I would just keep it for the first few weeks with my new iPhone X, to show those curious just how black this black was, and how the icons popped against it. Half a year later, I still can’t get over how good it looks! 

Anything else you’d like to share?

This post was written and edited on the last day of WWDC week in the cafe at the visitor center at Apple Park. It’s a perfect Northern California day, and I can see the edge of the Spaceship roof from my table. The Americano was pretty good, too.

Editors note:

And with that answer we find exactly how slow David has been about posting home screen posts. More in the pipeline gang.