I’ve been trying out a couple of new apps this week, and although they aren’t related at all, I’m using both for the same reason.
The apps are Alfred 4 for Mac and Spotify. Both of these apps are replacing Apple’s solutions, Spotlight and the Music app.
It started with Spotify, and the reason behind the switch was the way search works in the Mac app. I have a thread with a few videos, but essentially Spotify searched as you typed your query, whereas the Music app only1 allowed you to see the results after you finished typing a query and then pressed return2.
This is most likely a minuscule quality of life enhancement to many people. But if there’s one thing I know about myself, is that I become frustrated quickly when it feels like I’m being held back. So I thought for once maybe I should try and see what I can do to make my life a bit easier.
This then opened my eyes up to Alfred.
I’ve been aware of Alfred for a while, but I always saw it as a much more advanced and customisable version of Spotlight. And while that may be the case, as I don’t need any advanced functionality, I didn’t give it a real go.
However, I started to think that forgetting the additional features, it might just be a better Spotlight. And after using it for a few days, I certainly think it is.
There’s not much I used Spotlight for, apart from opening applications, launching various system preferences, or looking up a definition. Alfred does all of these, and at a much faster pace than Spotlight.
I think it’s a bit of an odd situation where I’m using two alternative pieces of software simply because I can type and receive feedback faster, instead of it being a feature comparison. One thing is for sure. It does represent my recent attitude towards software. Where I would rather things “get out of the way” and just let me get things done and fast. It feels like a type of maturity.
I have many thoughts on how this relates to iPadOS because I think the OS is slower in general. But I’ll leave that to another day.
Music does have a short list of suggestions which do slowly appear as you type, but these aren’t actionable. They are simply links to a page in Music. ↩︎
Sometimes I’ve found that you actually have to hit return more than once to get the results. ↩︎
Castro has just announced over on their blog that widgets have finally arrived. They come in three different sizes, and they each offer a different level of information regarding your queue.
In the small size, you’ll be able to see the number of episodes in your queue, along with the total duration, and if you tap anywhere on the widget it opens to your queue. With the medium size, it has the same idea, except you see the title and a short description of the next three episodes. And the large size is the same but bigger, and with one more episode.
These widgets look great, and they’re already better options than the ones that are available in Apple Podcasts app. I use the small Podcast widget on my home screen, just so I can quickly go back to a podcast I was listening to. But it’s definitely lacking any real detail. Whereas, with Castro’s small widget, you can see how many episodes you have in your queue and even artwork for multiple upcoming shows.
Another cool feature is what you get when your queue is empty. With the medium and large sizes, you get the option to jump straight to Inbox or Discover if you’ve got nothing in your queue. That’s pretty handy.
I think now I’ve gotten used to launching Podcasts via a widget on my home screen, I’m going to give Castro a good try with one of the new widgets. I’ve always liked the idea of a queue, and I think I prefer the design over Overcast. Overcast is a really good app, and I used it for years, but it doesn’t seem “fun” to me, and when it comes to apps, I like it when the design has a bit of character.
Hopefully, I enjoy using Castro, because I’m a big fan of these widgets.
I Don’t Like It When Apps Change Their Tab Bar Items #
In the past few weeks, two apps I use a lot on my phone have changed the layout of their tab bars. It sounds like something that you couldn’t get annoyed about, but here I am. I’m sure this annoyance happens to other people, and to other apps that I don’t use, but the two that are bugging me today are Instagram and YouTube.
Okay, so putting aside the fact that Instagram seems to change their interface weekly, with the option to create a new post or story being moved all around the interface. They clearly do this only for a few users, as a lot of people I know haven’t seen any kind of change. But at least for me, every week there’s at least one thing that’s moved.
For now, I’ll focus on the tab bar. Although, who knows, it might even change tomorrow.
So what I have now is five items, Home, Discover, Reels, Shop, and Profile. I get that they want to push Reels as a feature (even though I think it’s terrible), and yes you can buy things on Instagram now (I also think this is bad). But why do these items need to fill up 40% of the tab bar?
I liked having the Activity item in the tab bar before, but you could argue that regularly checking your likes, comments, and follows isn’t that healthy. So moving that away from the tab bar, and adding just a tiny bit of friction may be helpful for some people.
But what about the most important part of Instagram, posting photos? Surely that deserves to be the most prominent action in the UI. Rather, it’s (currently) in the top left, at least for me, and only when you are on the Home screen. Weirdly, if you are on your profile you also have a button in the same place, but this is just to open a list allowing you to create a post, story, highlight, IGTV video, or Reel. Why there needs to be 5 content options is beyond me.
This change isn’t as drastic as what Instagram is doing, but it still messes with my muscle memory a lot.
The change here is the addition of the Create button in the centre. Although pressing this doesn’t actually take you to the upload interface. Instead, you get a boring list interface like the Create option on Instagram. But here you only have two options, to upload a video, or to start a live stream.1
It’s sort of the opposite of Instagram, where the changes there are to make you view Reels and use the shopping feature. But in the YouTube app, they seem to want you to create more.
I would argue that the opposite is how people use these platforms. Sure, a lot of people upload videos to YouTube, and maybe some people like to watch Reels and shop on Instagram. But at least in my mind, YouTube is the app where the majority of people would be consuming content, and Instagram is the place where you are more likely to be sharing content. Also seeing as the phone app is the only place where you can post images, since there is no iPad app (which I think is totally idiotic), and you can’t upload anything on the web interface.
Most of the time when apps change their UI, the annoyance is purely down to muscle memory and having to readjust to a new layout. But these changes just seem to be stupid to me. They seem to be geared towards attracting desired behaviour like shopping or starting live streams, rather than showcasing features that users do more often.
These two options are also totally pointless for me. Seeing as I don’t upload videos, and if I try to start a live stream I get told I’m not actually eligible to stream from a mobile device. ↩︎