Reinventing the Home Row

I have been intrigued recently by apps that give a new spin on what have previously been stock features of the phone.  Apps that a) improve upon in minor ways or b) really try and re-invent some of the basic things we do every day.

Above is a snapshot of my new “home row”.  Sort of — I say sort of because this isn’t actually working for me, yet, and I’ll explain why in a sec.

Brewster is an app that I think of as a “launcher for people” — their goal is to be the fastest, most intuitive, way to initiate contact with anyone, regardless of mode.  It takes your contacts, twitter followers, facebook friends, etc, and makes it easy to find who you want to find and then contact them how you want to contact them (via SMS, phone, twitter, etc).  I really like the idea of flipping the paradigm to “people first, mode second”, vs how it is now: mode first (twitter, sms, etc), then person.

I love the potential of Brewster, but it hasn’t made it into my routine yet, for a few reasons: 1) speed.  It simply takes too long to fire up — the whole appeal of this app, to me, is that it’s the fastest, easiest way to find someone.  For that to work, it actually needs to be the fastest and easiest.  I would love it if they optimized the app startup process so that I see faces (ideally the best faces) super quickly.  2) intelligence.  Part of the promise of Brewster is to cut through the hundreds of people I’m connected to and surface the ones I’m most likely to want to contact.  Since I’ve authed them into my gmail, twitter and facebook, and they can see what’s in my phone, I would expect them to do a better job of this, but it’s not quite there yet.  3) A few bits of clunky UI — the Brewster UI is all hand-rolled, so it doesn’t feel native to iOS, and there have been a few times where that’s lead me to make some mistakes (for instance, canceling edits on a contact when I thought I was saving them). I assume this is to make cross-platform development easier, and I expect it to improve over time.  But as it is now, it’s not quite as easy to use as I would like or expect.

Sparrow is a really nice email client for mac and iOS.  The’ve made a lot of subtle improvements over iOS Mail, which I won’t go into detail on since it’s been widely blogged about.  The feature that made me switch was search — Sparrow’s search is so much better than iOS Mail search, and searching email is something I do a lot.  Sparrow has been my daily mail client for a while now.  They were just acquired by Google, so there’s some concern in the user community about what will happen to the app. For my part I’m not worried; it’s great how it is now.

Cue is the one I’m most excited about.  It’s the next generation of what was Greplin, a search appliance across all of your web accounts.  They’ve pivoted and the idea now is to “cue up your day” with a super-charged daily agenda that draws from your calendar(s), mail, twitter, facebook, etc.  This is a radical, socially-powered, reinvention of the calendar, and I really really like the idea.  And the job they’ve done executing so far is really nice.  There is so much potential here, really (think: surfacing important to-dos, linking to bios of people I am meeting with today, giving me travel information a la TripIt, etc.).

However, there is one simple problem which is stopping me from using the app completely: by default (and this is unchangeable), it draws appointments from every google calendar that has been shared with you.  For me, that’s about 50 calendars.  So my cue is full of seemingly random events from calendars that aren’t part of my real day.  I tweeted this feedback their way and got a response that they’re working on this, and I hope they prioritize it, because it’s a make or break feature for me (and I must assume it’s the same for many others).

Last, but not least is Chrome for iOS.  I’m a big fan of Chrome for mac, and my Chrome is totally tricked out with extensions and customizations that make it really work for me.   In starting to use Chrome for iOS, the one feature that’s come in most handy is google login and shared history — makes it really easy for me to access sites from my computer’s browsing history when I’m on my phone.  This is a super nice feature, especially on mobile where typing is annoying.  Of course, the big problem here is that  you can’t make Chrome your default iOS browser, so whenever you launch a link from another app, or from a home screen shortcut (I use several), you end up back in Safari.  Boo, Apple, for not making this configurable.  The solution here is to jailbreak my phone, which I just haven’t gotten around to doing yet.

So, that’s about it — lots of potential here, but some hurdles as well.  The screenshot above is what I want my home screen to look like.  Here’s what it actually looks like now:

I hope that will change soon.

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