Essays on Technology and Culture

Simplify My iPhone

While preparing for my Social Media Sabbatical, not only did I purge my iPhone of the apps for all my social media streams, I also took the time to nuke apps I was either not using, or were simply redundant. With my Facebook account deactivated, I could no longer use Facebook Messenger, but also found myself unable to use TimeHop, an app that presents my social media posts for that day in the past. While it’s a nice nostalgia trip, keeping a journal will give me a better sense of where I was in the past than Tweets and Facebook statuses. I already keep one digitally and analog. Deleted.

I also noticed a surfeit of fitness apps on my phone. There’s FitBit, myFitnessPal, RunKeeper, Couch-to–5K, and Fitocracy. FitBit was the first to go. Having lost two FitBit trackers in the space of six months, I decided to use the FitBit app’s MobileTrack feature to stay in their ecosystem. Yet, step tracking seems to be the hot feature to add in apps, and before I knew it, several apps on my phone were tracking my motion data. When myFitnessPal added it, FitBit’s days were numbered. Why bother with two apps that do the same thing? It’s easier on my battery, at least. Deleted.

Tracking my exercise is a good way to not only see my progress, but motivate me to keep going. Many of these apps also integrate, so my runs in RunKeeper appear in myFitnessPal, and in Fitocracy. But, why do they need to be in all these places? So people can applaud my efforts and support me? Maybe if people I knew actually used the darn apps, this would happen. In myFitnessPal, the only social fitness app I’m keeping, I have four friends. Of these, only one has touched the app within the last two weeks. I’m keeping it around, as it’s the best food tracker I’ve used. Couch-to–5K is staying until I finish the program. The rest. Deleted.

Then there’s the bevy of utility apps I wanted to keep in my phone “just in case” I needed them. Apps like PDFPen Scan+, DeGeo (to remove location data from my photos), a few photography apps, such as Hueless (for black and white photos), my Google Voice client, PDFPen Scan+, and various apps I use for local services once in a blue moon. With these apps, there’s no point in keeping them around, as I never have cause to use them. When I do, I’m just a few taps and a fingerprint (if that) from downloading them again. Deleted.

Enough, Patrick Rhone’s former podcast, had a recurring feature called “How Bare is Your Air?” where guests try to see if they could live within the confines of a 64GB MacBook Air, paring down their apps to the bare essentials to get their work done. It’s useful to think this way about an iPhone, too. What’s the bare minimum I need to do my work? Thinking that way, I could also toss the various apps I use to replace the built-in ones: Mailbox, Fantastical, Dark Sky, SmartPlayer, Overcast… None of these are essential, but I do prefer them to the built-in apps.

Clearing out the redundancies and unused apps, however, frees space on my phone and in my head. It also makes my phone’s battery a lot happier. I’m not about to turn my iPhone back into a dumbphone, but clearing out the crap and cruft sure feels a lot better. Now, I need to do the same to my iPad, and to my Mac. I don’t think the effects of clearing out either will be as dramatic, but it will still feel good to be getting by with what I need instead of wishfully thinking about apps I should use. It’s better for our devices, and it’s better for our heads.