Opinion


How Do I Know if the Grass Is Greener?

24th July 2021

For the past couple days I've been thinking about getting an Android phone. Not because I want to "make the switch", but becuase I've had an iPhone for over 10 years. And while I think the iPhone is a good phone, how do I really know that I don't love Android even more if I've never tried?

That, and because I think Android 12 looks really nice with the new Material You design.

And while iOS has recently gained widgets on the Home Screen, the design has largely stayed the same. Maybe that’s just a negative perspective, but after 10 years it can seem a tad boring.


But that’s when I start to think about the Apple ecosystem. How I’ve slowly built up a collection of movies, books, music, and apps that purely exist in this world. Add that to the various Apple devices I own, that each add their own weight to the locked-in feeling.

So it’s not like I’m ever going to make some major switch without truly thinking about it. But when I really think about how much I feel locked-in, I think back to my younger self, and my feelings towards technology back then. I liked the look of Apple products, but I mainly liked having endless control of my computer, I tinkered a lot, I broke things a lot, and I actually learned quite a bit along the way.

In general I preferred to be an opinionated user, rather than having an opinionated computer telling me what I could do.

While I’m not going all out attack on Apple — I use and enjoy many Apple products — but sometimes I get tired about the lock-in feeling, and start to think what it’s like on the other side.

And if I’m being truly honest, I think the best looking smartphones are the Google Pixels that come in white/black combinations, with my favourite being the Pixel 2 XL. That might sound pretty weird coming from an iPhone owner and app developer.

Maybe I need to come to terms with things and either settle for the closed ecosystem, or venture out and try new things. Because by being fully immersed in the Apple ecosystem, I’m saying to myself that I want every decision regarding my personal computing, whether it be the mobile computer, laptop computer, or the computer on my wrist, to be dependant on the ideals and decisions of one company.

The Many Forms of Triage

13th April 2021

Inboxes can be wonderful things. They can be a source for news, communications, and more general notifications. But like most things, inboxes can become overgrown. And a little gardening is required to keep everything tidy and make the inbox as efficient as possible.

Most people call this a "triage", which is essentially a process where you analyse your inbox, either when new items arrive or regularly, and immediately do a form of manual filtering and sorting.

What About Some Real Examples?

The most common example would be the email inbox. Everyone seems to have at least one email address, and all email (without any automated systems) lands in your inbox. It's then up to you to deal with it. A triage process here could be regularly visiting your inbox, immediately dealing with junk email, filtering out any actions that need to be taken, and moving the rest of the emails to their appropriate place. Maybe you want to store email confirmations in a folder, or there's some news that you want to read.

This process can take many forms and can be used in a vast number of situations. Many of them can be narrowed down to a form of an inbox, be it for emails, RSS feeds, or even the notifications on a device. But I also think triage happens in life, especially when you need to deal with many decisions as you go through life.

In my opinion, we all need to do a bit more triage nowadays because of the abundance of choice. Whether it's content being thrown at you from various places, people/companies trying to get your attention or just a stream of decisions you're presented with. With a bit of manual triage, you can discard unnecessary choices early on, prioritise essential decisions, and leave the rest for when you're more interested later on.

How I Perform Triage

When I think about triage myself, I'm essentially sorting things into five categories:

  • Anything that I need to do
  • Actions that aren't urgent but maybe interesting
  • Important information
  • Junk
  • Everything else

The first action I do is remove the junk and anything else that I'm not interested in. I'm usually quite harsh with this part. Because I've noticed that if I think that I'm probably not interested in something, then it will just linger in my inbox until I've deleted it at a later date, so I may as well deal with it as soon as possible.

The second thing is to filter out any actions that I need to take. Maybe a bill needs paying, and I've received an email, perhaps a user of one of my apps has contacted me, and I need to get back to them. No matter what it is, if it's something I need to do, it gets placed in my task manager (GoodTask) and prioritised.

After that, I work out if there are any actions that I want to do but don't necessarily need to do. These things may be interesting newsletters, any interesting article that comes through RSS, or a notification that I might want to deal with soon.

At this stage, I've dealt with everything urgent and potentially interesting. The final steps are relatively quick because any important information is sorted into relevant places. For example, emails with account information go in a specific folder, order confirmations in another, etc. Everything else can then be archived or deleted depending on whether it could be needed in the future.

Of course, after this process, nothing is finished. I'm left with actions in my task manager, interesting newsletters, a trimmed down reading list in my RSS reader of compelling articles, and maybe a few notifications on my phone that I'll need to deal with. But at least for that moment, the triage process is finished. And everything is more prepared for when I actually want to deal with the tasks later on. It's essentially keeping on top of things, trying and please my future self, and ultimately saving time and effort.

A Few Tips

After dealing with inboxes of many kinds and slowly working out how to quickly and efficiently triage items, here are a few tips that I think may help people:

Delete all junk and anything useless straight away. This may sound obvious. Because, why wouldn't you delete junk? My point specifically is that you should do this first. Because filtering out nonsense is probably the least taxing part of this process, so I find it best to get this out of the way first before taking a bit more effort to sort items on things like urgency and importance.

Don't be afraid to remove something that isn't interesting. This follows the same aim as the above point, where the idea is to clean first and then deal with whatever is left. I found that I usually kept "interesting" articles in my RSS reader for ages, and while it bugged me that the kist kept growing, I was sure that these things might interest my future self. It turns out they never did. I've now learned that if I'm not interested in something, whether it's a newsletter, article, or anything, I archive it. My future self can search through the archive if it turns out to be important.

Try not to take too long. The purpose of triage is to filter and sort items that come in an inbox quickly. So the longer you spend on this task, the less valuable it becomes. Because if your triage process is lengthy, you may as well deal with the actual items properly.

Determining non-negotiable can cut down time. I think this applies to most life decisions and can apply to things like triaging email, cleaning your RSS feed, choosing a holiday destination, buying a computer... Because you can make nearly every decision faster if you can eliminate anything non-negotiable early on. Maybe it's that your holiday destination needs to be a certain distance from a beach, your computer needs to be light and easy to travel with, or that you're not interested in a particular topic. By eliminating these things early, you can reduce the mental load of a decision and spend more time on what remains or spend less time and make decisions quicker. One example that I have is that I'm not interested in US politics, so if I get a podcast episode in my inbox or an article in my RSS reader that's focussed on US politics, then I get rid of it without hesitation. I can then spend my energy on something more important to me.

Going a Step Further With Automation

I wrote about my experimentation with email a while ago, and a major part of my end solution was the addition of SaneBox. The main benefit of SaneBox for me was to act as an automated form of triage. So when emails come into my inbox, news gets moved into a specific folder, the junk gets filtered out, and some emails that aren't important are moved to a "Later" folder.

A lot of this functionality can be built up manually with email rules that most providers support, but the advantage of SaneBox is that you can teach it. So, for example, if I get a newsletter that it hasn't picked up, I can manually move it to the @SaneNews folder, which will inform SaneBox that this is a news item, and it will be automatically sorted the next time an email from that sender is delivered.

I haven't had a lot of dealings with email automation, but I have set up various sorting rules in a few email accounts before, and it can be a very valuable tool. And like I just said, SaneBox is a level up from that, so if you want even more power, I would suggest giving that a try. I know Hey also has some interesting automatic sorting features, so again, that's one to look at if you're interested.

The Evolution of What I Write About

3rd April 2021

Something that I have been thinking a lot about lately is the content that I want to write about and how it's changed over the years.

When I first started writing online, I was focussed on writing about Apple, apps, and related technology news. At one point, I remember trying to cover all Apple-related news. That didn't last long.

Then I tried to do more app reviews. But after a while, this started to bore me as well. Since sometimes, it felt as if I was reviewing an app for the sake of it, rather than simply sharing something that I enjoyed using.

I've written a few blog posts about development and a few guides relating to development (which still get regular traffic). But I've never been the sort of person to spend most of their time on a particular thing, which means my development work is always done in bursts. So I realised that writing a development blog probably wouldn't be suited to me.

However, recently I've transitioned this blog to a "personal blog", and I think it's something I'm going to settle on for a while. I find it a lot easier to write about personal experiences, to share things that I've enjoyed, and also to sometimes comment on things such as news or other people's writing that I've read.

When I think back, there has always been a small part of me who just wanted to write something personal. But I think a more prominent role has always felt as if it wouldn't be that popular, so I shouldn't be writing about it.

That's also where my attitude has changed too. Whereas before, I would write reviews and cover news to appeal to as many people as possible. I've now adopted what may not sound like a very friendly attitude, where I don't particularly care what any "audience" may think about my writing. I write about what I want to write about, and I'm not contractual obliged to write about anything in particular.

It may seem odd to "not care" what your audience thinks, but I also believe that being more honest is better for myself and potentially for anyone that would be interested in what I have to say. But I'd much rather have no audience than have an audience that I don't want to write for.

I wrote about this a while ago in a piece called "Showing Your Own Perspective" but essentially, my point is that we should all be a bit more real* with our writing. Because I personally think there's so much more value to writing when it feels like there's a person behind it.

What Is Your Perspective?

6th March 2021

I wrote last month about showing your perspective and owning your biases. It’s something I’ve continually thought more about since transitioning this blog to become more personal, rather than try to attempt to write generalised reviews or present this site as a source for news.

Before I may have written about an interesting app in a general sense, explained its features, and analyses the pros and cons. But now I tend to write more about my own experiences with an app, good or bad.

I used to think that this type of review wasn’t worth writing, since if I’m writing about myself then it probably won’t apply to a massive audience. But I realised that when I was reading other people’s writing, while I was usually interested in the topic itself, I found the most value when the author made it personal and provided their own perspective. And that’s what I’m trying to do with my own writing.

Now when writing about a topic, I remind myself that if anyone reads my blog, they’re probably not coming here as their primary source of news. So I may as well make it personal because what else have I got? I’ve only got access to one perspective. My own.

Taking The Chance

2nd March 2021

A lot of the good things in life seem to only happen by chance. Which can be good if it happens to you, but can make you feel a bit jealous if it happens to someone else.

I’ve had my fair share of luck during my life. But I think I also had a part to play in getting that luck.

Because in my opinion, even if you get a chance at something, you still need to be ready for it.

For example, if you get a chance switching to your ideal career, you need to be ready and willing to make that change. Otherwise that chance may just pass you by.

Other times you need to earn your luck.

We've all heard of a few "overnight successes", but deep down we know that no success actually happens overnight. Or at least, it doesn’t happen overnight, without the countless hours of work that went into it beforehand.

So while luck may seem to be spontaneous, you need to put yourself in a position where you can better receive luck, and be ready to take the chance when it arrives.

I'm Not a Routine Person

1st March 2021

One thing people always talk about when trying to increase productivity, or as some kind of self-improvement kick, is to work on building regular habits in order to make a certain behaviour happen more often and become routine. But as much as I like the idea of doing things regularly, like blogging or even developing apps, I’m not actually a fan of having a routine.

I’m not exactly much of a planner either, so maybe that gives you a better idea of the type of person I am. Because again, while I like the idea of having a planned life and building plans, I’m not someone that likes to stick to them.

Instead, I prefer to make decisions on the fly, and just to take each day as it comes. Maybe this means I’m living in the moment or something, I don't know. But I know I'd much rather have a day with no plans, and just see what happens, than having regular tasks that need to be done.

I would say the only part of my adult life where I had minimal routine was when I was at university. Maybe that sounds odd, given I had four regular classes, and also worked part-time. However, university was only a few hours a day, and the classes would range from 9 am to 5 pm, so I had a lot of free time in between. But the best part of that free time was that it didn’t match up with anyone else’s. So I was free to just do whatever I wanted. And given I went to university in London, there was quite a lot I could do.

I had a zoo membership, so I frequently popped into London Zoo, and being a skateboarder, I went to Southbank a few times, and I went to the obvious tourist locations too. But in general, I just went to some random places with absolutely no plans. It was pretty fun.

But when I got a job, the routine kicked in, and my workday was (including commuting) from 7 am to 7 pm. So there wasn’t a lot of free time for any spontaneous decisions or trips.

I did try moving my working hours an hour earlier, which made my day a lot better. But nowhere near the level that working from home has.

We all know what’s going on, so I don’t need to explain much. But essentially, since being made to work from home, I’ve had a sense of that freedom, and it’s making life a lot more fun. I can sit in the garden when it’s sunny, go out for lunch (when I’m allowed), and just generally fit work around my life. Rather than adapting to the schedule that my company assigns me.

I think this may sound pretty odd, but one thing I’ve really liked about working from home is the ability to have a lunch-time shower. I can’t work out why that is.

Nonetheless, it’s clear to me that I’m not a fan of having a routine. Especially when it's dictated by someone else.

Showing Your Own Perspective

9th February 2021

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is perspectives and the benefit of owning your perspective.

Myself and many others, regularly fall into the trap of generalising an opinion before making it public. Not only because of the risk of not havingareelcomed opinion, but because you want to be relatable.

I fall for this a lot myself, and it’s something I’m trying to actively combat going forward, but it’s the lack of an honest perspective in my writing. Sometimes instead of saying my opinion or discussing a topic purely from my own perspective, I generalise.

Maybe it’s because we want to try and overcome our biases because that way you won’t seem better or worse off than other people. But I personally believe that personal biases form part of our perspective, and hiding from them is dishonest. We should always try to be aware of our own biases, as it can help us understand the world from other perspectives. But we shouldn’t try to hide them.

I write this not to put people down for trying to make their content relatable, but instead to encourage people to show their true selves more. Truly lean into your perspective, because that’s where the value is.

When I read someone’s writing, I find it much more enjoyable if they make it their own and put their honest perspective into it. Because, although I might not relate totally to an opinion, it’s fascinating to see how other people view certain topics.

That’s probably where I think it becomes more than just showing your perspective to readers because it may interest them. It enables much more than that. By sharing your outlook, you’re opening yourself up to others. Which helps everyone keep a bit more of an open mind, and reinforces the fact that not everyone thinks the same.

There might be the risk of offending people, but that shouldn’t necessarily be a sole reason to stop doing something. Because by taking that risk, you’re expressing yourself. You might not necessarily be right about something, and you might not even agree with yourself in the future. But that’s fine, because opinions evolve, and perspectives shift.

However, to enable that, we need more open dialogue, and for that, I think we need to be honest with ourselves and our audiences.

Why Can't People Make Things Clear?

19th November 2020

Sorry for the rant, but I just had to get something off my chest.

One of my strongly held opinions is that if you are trying to share information, then it is your duty to make it as easy to understand as possible. Especially in a professional sense.

It still baffles me that all through school and in every job I've worked, there's always been a problem with communication and sharing clear information. I'm talking about emails, documents, and even simple chat messages.

Here are the main problems I've encountered, and I bet quite a lot of other people have:

  • More than one font in a simple document.
  • Random line breaks throughout the document.
  • Assortment of bold, underlined, and italicised text. Sometimes used in combinations.
  • Text colour seemingly decided per sentence based on the current mood of the author.
  • No structure.
  • Worse than no structure. Bad structure. Sections in the wrong order, the visual hierarchy doesn't match the content, etc.
  • Different headings used to style text based on a whim not based on the content structure.
  • Many more that I'm forgetting.

I used to put it down to people just not being able to use computers properly. Because maybe it was my interest in computers that lead me to learn how to use them better? But while that may have passed 15-20 years ago, I don't think it does anymore. Especially in the technology-dominated roles that I've worked.

At one of my old jobs, emails would regularly come with more than three text colours, multiple fonts, sometimes font sizes, no clear headers, and probably only two or three paragraphs of text. What's worse, is that it was usually important information that people needed to understand in order to do their job.

When I read badly written/formatted documents or emails I always think to myself, why has this person not just put a bit more effort into making sure people can understand it? Or sometimes it feels like less effort would make it easier to understand.

If you want people to value the information you are sharing, make it easy for them to understand.

Sure, even if something is a real mess, most people will probably be able to understand it. But it may lead to misunderstandings, or questions later on when people want to clarify something. So by keeping things simple and to the point, you save yourself a lot of time.

There's also the fact that you could look unprofessional if you are incapable of making things clear. Because to be honest, if I read something that has no structure, no clear message, and the formatting is all over the place, my opinion would be that the author didn't understand the topic they're writing about.

Maybe when I try to explain things at work, I spend too much time making everything easy to understand, but I definitely think some people don't find it important at all. And maybe this is unimportant to most, but it really irritates me.

HomePod Mini First Impressions

18th November 2020

My HomePod arrived this morning, so I thought I'd give my first impressions of it. I've had an original HomePod for quite some time, and I love it, but I did always think I'd like a smaller one in my office. That's why I ordered a Mini as soon as it was available.

Turns out, it was a pretty good decision too. Because for £99, I think the HomePod Mini is much more value for money than the £279 HomePod. I'm not saying the HomePod isn't worth that amount of money, but instead, I think the Mini is so cheap for what it is.

Obviously, the main part of the HomePod is what it sounds like. The original HomePod has an incredible set of speakers and can be pretty loud. With that in mind, I was expecting a speaker the size of the Mini would sound drastically different. I mean, still Apple quality, but noticeably worse than the bigger variant. However, they're a lot closer than I imagined.

The HomePod has an expected much higher level of bass, but the Mini still has a decent amount. I've complained in the past that the HomePod has too much bass, so I wasn't going to complain if there was a little less. It can also be pretty loud. I have it around 50% right now and it's certainly enough. I had them working together at one point, and it was amazing, so I'll probably end up getting another Mini at some point.

I tried sending music between the Mini and my iPhone 12 a few times, and it's definitely faster than before. But I have to be honest and say that it wasn't as fast as I've seen in reviews, so maybe I need to find the sweet spot?

One side-note I have about the Mini is that the cable it comes with is what all future Apple cables should be made out of. It's a braided cable, similar to the bigger HomePod, but the thickness of a typical cable.

While the HomePod will always have the size advantage over the Mini, the difference in sound quality doesn't seem to match the difference in size. The Mini is a great speaker. I think that this is the product that will Apple to compete with other devices from Amazon and Google. I don't think that they will ever match the price points or ubiquity of either two, but I can imagine a lot more people are going to be thinking about a HomePod now.

More Thoughts on Apple Silicon Macs

12th November 2020

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Macs transitioning to Apple Silicon today. I started focussing on the differences between Mac models, and also how they can improve the chips in order to transition higher-end Macs like the MacBook Pro 16” and even the Mac Pro.

It sounds like a mammoth task, especially when the Mac Pro has a configurable option for a 28-core Intel Xeon processor. And also that much larger memory options than 16GB exist, with quite a few people finding the sound of 16GB too low anyway.

However, as I’ve been using my iPad Pro 10.5”, I started to think about how well this performs. It came out in 2018, and iPads have come a long way since (which is also why I plan on moving to a 12.9” soon). But still, I have never experience a time where I feel like the machine was too slow.

When Apple announce a new iPad, they tell us what chip it has, and in relative terms how much more capable it is. But when it comes down to it, most people don’t really care what chip is in their device. They just want to use the device for the tasks that they want to achieve.

That’s something that I think Apple has really achieved with the iPad platform. With models being separated into the iPad, iPad Mini, iPad Air, and iPad Pro, you don’t need to know the technical details, you just need a rough idea of what type of use you want to use the machine for. If you want to use it as a consumption device, maybe you just need the base iPad, or if you’re working with big video editing tasks, you may want to opt for the Pro.

All I’m saying is, with the iPad, you match the model to the job you want it to do. But with Macs, you also had to choose between processors, which is something the ordinary person probably doesn’t know too much about. So if Apple starts using the same line of thinking with the Mac lineup, maybe the choices will become even simpler?

I think if you break the lineup into three categories, laptops, workstations, and desktop computers, they can start to be easier to understand:

  • MacBook Air
  • MacBook Pro 13”
  • MacBook Pro 16”
  • Mac Mini
  • Mac Pro
  • iMac 21.5”
  • iMac 27”
  • iMac Pro

In most cases, you’ll know what type of Mac you want, you just need to pick which variant. For example, if you wanted to pick a laptop, you could be left with two questions, “Do I need a Pro model?”, and “Do I need the bigger screen and graphics capabilities?”

If each model comes with its assumed uses, Apple can design each model to fit. Which means the messaging to customers can be even simpler. You want a portable Mac for typical use? MacBook Air. You still want it to be as portable, but also need some more power? MacBook Pro 13”.

Apple would essentially be saying, no matter what your use case is, there’s a Mac for the job, and it just works.