Apps and the time factor

What qualifies as a ‘great’ iOS app over the long run? For me it’s simple: It saves me time. It doesn’t have to have a great icon, a great design, sexy graphics or get lots of praise from tech bloggers. If any of those traits add to saving time (and they often do) great, but time and efficiency outweigh everything else.

I use Drafts because its simplicity and raw speed saves me a few seconds every time I have to capture an idea or reminder. IA Writer’s clean typography and lack of customization focuses my mind for longer form writing. Marsedit’s quick WordPress and browser integration saves me a few minutes for every linked list post I make. Omnifocus syncs effortlessly and reliably between my Macs and mobile devices; I spend little time worried about lost contacts or todos. With Reeder I can scroll through and consume a day’s worth of tech, design and film news on my subway commute home.

Paring down your app set to mostly those that increase efficiency or save time isn’t a groundbreaking idea, but it is easier said than done. Like many in the tech industry, I get a regular share of recommendations via Twitter and RSS. I use to always download what had buzz with the tech bloggers, what was ‘innovative’ and what just looked cool. Yet after playing with a hot new app for a few days, 95 percent of the time I’d delete it or move it to some back folder, never to be touched again.

Don’t let this be you. Make hard decisions on the apps and tools you use. Granted there’s always edge cases: Gaming apps by their very nature should be arguably something that takes more, not less of your time if it’s a fun experience. There’s also something powerful with occasional experimentation: I downloaded Clear knowing full well it wasn’t a tool for me. Yet just playing with the app for a buck and hour of my time gave me design inspirations for my day job. Not everyone has the same priorities either. With my mobile workflow, saving time is paramount; I want to get in, get my work done and get out as efficiently as possible. You might instead favor aesthetic beauty, or great icons, or other traits.

Whatever that app goal is, stay focused. Is that new app that’s new and noteworthy on the App Store really going to integrate well with your workflow? Is it really better than what you already have? Ask those questions before you download.