an apple a day

A typical day in the life of a devoted Mac and iOS user

This week I read Kyle Vanhemert’s piece at Wired titled Nobody Knows What an iPad Is Good for Anymore, which prompted Federico Vittici to explain how he uses his iPad Air 2. Those pieces inspired me to take a look at how I spend my day with my mobile devices.

I’ve talked quite often about how I do specific tasks with my mobile devices, but I’ve never broken down exactly how I spend my day on them. Today, I’m going to examine a typical work day and a weekend day. My goal for this is to give people an idea of the tools, apps, and strategies I use to get through the day.

A typical work day

Wakeup time
My iPhone 6 Plus is my alarm and it goes off at 6:30 in the morning. I’d be lying if I said I got right up and faced the day, but the reality is I hit the snooze for a lot and then grudgingly acknowledge it’s time to get up. I’ll usually then quickly check my work and personal emails for any immediate crisis and also check to make sure that my first meeting is when I think it is.

After I’ve gotten ready, I’ll check Overcast to see if any new podcasts interest me for the hour-long ride into work. If none do, then I usually listen to a large playlist with songs I enjoy.

The work day
After arriving at work, I again check my emails and messages on the walk in from the parking lot. Once I’m at my desk, I put my iPad in my Origami Workstation and connect my iPad and iPhone to our guest wireless network.


During the day, naturally most of my work is done on my work laptop. My iPad is still an integral part of my day. I will usually keep Outlook open as my primary email triage device. I’m usually working on a document on my laptop and using my iPad to read my email lets me determine if it’s worth shifting my application focus to address the issue.

I also take the majority of my notes on OneNote for iOS. As I work on my documents throughout the day, I’ll also reference the notes on my iPad. Unless I’m taking notes on a conference call at my desk, I’ll rarely open up OneNote on my work laptop. A quick note I’ll drop into the Notes app on iOS.

Managing tasks is challenge. If someone asks me to do something, and I have my phone with me and I’ll create a Things action item. If the request arrives via an email, I’ll simply flag the email for follow-up. If it’s in a meeting I will use the checkbox formatting tool in OneNote to call it out.

The commute home is pretty much the same as the commute in. I’ll see if any podcasts have downloaded that I’m interested in. Otherwise, I’ll just listen to a playlist on the way home. At this point, plans for the evening will start to be made and I’ll use Siri to read incoming texts and respond to them.

At home
Once I’m home, I wouldn’t classify my actions as truly mobile. My Alienware Alpha is where most of focus shifts if I’m playing games. I also use MarkdownPad 2 to work on articles. My MacBook Pro usually sits to the left of the Alienware keyboard.

I feel safer surfing the internet on OS X, so that’s my browsing machine. One piece of freedom I do like with my setup is my MacBook Pro is now free from monitors and USB drives; the only cord plugged into it is the MagSafe cable. If I’m practicing my guitar, I’ll still use my amp simulators on my MacBook. This means I’m more likely to wander throughout the house with my laptop. Depending on what I’m working on, I might want a little but of change of scenery so I might go watch is snow from the family room while I’m writing.

At this point, for the most part, my iPad turns into a content consumption device. Primarily. I use it to read books on the Kindle App. I also read a lot of PDFs. Those I will usually sync via iBooks, but sometimes I’ll use GoodReader to access files from the cloud.

On the weekends, things can be very fluid. I usually keep my work email up (I’m really bad about balance), but I’m not producing much content. I typically don’t write on the weekends, so any creative activities usually involve music. If I leave the house I’ll always take my iPhone with me. If it’s a longer trip, or I think I may need to do some writing, I’ll take my iPad with me. I’m starting to force myself to use the on-screen keyboard more so I’m more productive without an external keyboard. If you ever want to see masters at on-screeen keyboards, hang around the Genius Bar at an Apple Store. Those people fly on the keyboard.

Changes I’d like to make

Steve Jobs famously referred to desktop-class devices as “trucks.” I’m not sure this is a fair comparison, but nowadays what Jobs would call a truck, I call a Digital Center. Even though iOS 8’s extensions and share sheets, combined with cloud services, have limited the need for a Digital Center. However, there remains a need in my life for a device that I can use to upload images to a CMS system, or just quickly download a file and store it someplace.

With that in mind, I was talking to a coworker this week about the Apple Watch and if he was getting one. When I said I wasn’t likely to get one I listed two reasons: it’s a Revision 1 of a new Apple category and waiting until next year’s model might be prudent; and that either my MacBook or iPad will need to be upgraded and that’s probably a better spend. The biggest slowdown I encounter on my iPad 3 is running out of RAM. I read a lot of large PDFs and there’s often quite a lag turning pages.

Until iOS 8 (and, frankly, my little Alienware box), I would be looking at a MacBook Pro. The Alienware Alpha settles my gaming and Plex server needs for now. My MacBook Pro is now my default device for things that need downloading or uploading.

That means sometime this year I’ll be upgrading my iPad. It’s the mobile device I use the most so it makes sense to upgrade it. By the time I can afford to upgrade it, it will be early Summer. That’s getting close to the October iPad releases so I might wait until the next revision to upgrade. One additional items I’ll also get is a keyboard case. Carrying the Origami case around is a little awkward at times. Another small change is I want to start making sure I grab my iPhone every time I leave my desk so I track the steps I take.

Last year I challenged myself to use the iPad more. This year, I’m challenging myself to use it as my primary mobile device and leave my MacBook at home.

7 Responses to “A typical day in the life of a devoted Mac and iOS user”

  1. Interesting that the writer uses outlook and one note as primary applications. Microsoft products. I still use the native mail and calendar and evernote. Not sure which is better.

  2. I think that iOS / OSX users tend to spend more time with their devices than the Windows / Android crowd, based on observation. I’m a university professor in comp-sci and am more or less never more than a foot away from an Apple product.

    I use my iPhone as an alarm, too, and the wake-up routine is to use the Notifications screen to look at the day’s weather (via Dark Sky), check for any early meetings, and see if anything horrific has happened in the world. I do a quick email triage next, as it feels faster to delete the overnight spam on the phone than anywhere else.

    Breakfast is spent catching up on news and tech web sites on the iPad, and to go through my Things inbox, assigning tasks for the day. Things is the center of all task-related work, and it is fed from every device…through Siri on the iPhone or iPad, via email on the 27″ iMac, or the laptop.

    I’ll spend part of the day reviewing my lectures on either the iPad or the Air. I take handwritten notes on the iPad using Notes Plus, which are uploaded to Evernote, which is the reference side of my GTD system. Depending on where I am in the house or office, I’ll be working on material on either the Air or the iPad…everything is stored on my private cloud server (Seafile running on a Linux server).

    My commute is about an hour each way, and I grabbed an iPad Mini / T-Mobile to use as a nav and entertainment system. There’s a spot on the center console for it and I use Waze for navigation. The Mini connects to the Bluetooth sound system, and I’ll use Spotify, iHeartRadio, and for news and music. T-Mobile lets you stream all three (plus a couple dozen other music services) at no charge, and also provide a free 200MB per month account, so I essentially get connectivity at no charge. Siri on the Mini lets me hear and send text messages if I need to, and record reminders directly into Things that I think of while driving.

    At school the Air goes into a dock at my desk for day-to-day work, and when it’s time to teach the Air and the iPad go with me. I run Keynote presentations from the Air, and use Reflection and Notes Plus when I want to draw on the board. I’ll have as many as 100 students in a lecture, and it’s much easier to see my drawings on the big screen, and then the Notes Plus drawings are saved off as PDFs and stored for the students to refer to later. If I’m teaching a programming course, it’s Xcode on the Air in class.

    Back in the office, it’s work on the Air until time to go home, when the Mini gets fired up in the car and I do a quick check of the Nest to make sure the house will be warmed up when I get there. Back home I’ll use the iPad to pull up a recipe, then read the paper (Boston Globe ePaper). I might end up in the home office on the iMac for some work (I do a lot of InDesign and Illustrator projects), then back to the iPad for a few games of Words With Friends, and it’s time for bed.

    This of course doesn’t include the secondary devices I use all the time…a few Apple TVs, iPods for the gym, routers, TimeMachines, and so on.

    Much of the glue for all this is the Seafile cloud server, so that everything I need is available on all my devices seamlessly. I suppose that iCloud would work, too, but I feel more comfortable with my own cloud build. There are a couple of hackintoses in the house, too, and I enjoy helping my students build their own hacks. And yes, I’m an Apple shareholder.

    I’m sure I could manage to get through a day without the Apple gear, but why would I want to?

  3. Nicholas Paredes

    Your mileage may vary… My girlfriend and I both got rid of our iPads in the fall. I just replaced hers with an Air 2. I am likely to wait a bit longer. My Retina just arrived, and I loaded Parallels with Windows 10 to have access to certain software. My aging Macbook Air is likely to not be replaced. Yes, I will get an iWatch. Since I design apps, I hope to have some wellness/productivity apps launched at some point in 2015.

    Through all of this I simply find that needs change. My eyes are a lot less happy with an 11″ Air than a Retina iMac. If Apple would have upgrade the Pro and provided a Retina Display, they would have sold another $5K in product. But, I simply need to do work when the sun shines, and surf when I am less busy. It is rather sunny for UX designers.

    Apple made a good bet with demonstrating productivity apps being used across platforms. This is what we need more of. Whether I use an iPad, a laptop, or a desktop, I need to remain productive in some sense. For me, that implies that the iPad should become more laptop like than iPhone like. We have yet to see that, but I am hopeful.

  4. Michael W. Perry

    In my case, my iPad 3 has offered a good reason not to upgrade my ancient white MacBook. I couldn’t convince myself there was enough difference between my iPad with a keyboard and a MacBook Air to be worth $1000. When Scrivener for iOS comes out—real soon now—the reasons will virtually disappear.

    The one lack is that the on-the-go (meaning hand-held) keyboards for iPhones and iPads are junk. They’re clumsy to hold and clumsy to use. They’re little more than shrunk-down ten-finger keyboards rather than cleverly thought out ways to use just two thumbs.

    The key improvement needed would have users enter letters with their thumbs as now but use pressure on the side to shift modes.

    The lower-left corner could shift into upper case, briefly if held and locking if hit twice.

    Lower-right could shift into number/punctuation mode with those same features.

    The middle of the sides and bottom/top could serve as cursor keys, freeing up four keyboard slots and being more intuitive.

    The top left could turn on the keyboard lighting and the top right could control various iDevice features such as lighting and sound level.

    Don’t take any of those as dogmas. Users may prefer other approaches. Test before selling.

    Finally, whoever makes it should make models for other companies cases. I don’t want to give up the protection my Otter Defender offers for a keyboard, however clever.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books