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(Mobile) Weapons of Choice

Like any other code-worrier, I have a ton of applications on my (i)Phone, ranging from “things that look shiny but are useless”, through “things that I use once a year”, up to “indispensable and every-day”. Out of interest I’ve tried to work out what apps are the once that fall into the latter category, apps that are essential to getting my work done and which contribute strongly to the sense of never being out of the office.

First and obviously, mobile Safari and Mail. Nothing really interesting to say there, apart from mentioning that the relationship between Apple’s Mail and Google Mail using IMAP remains flaky and annoying, lending an aggravating persistence to messages you just want to erase forever. I find at worst I have to log into the web interface to really purge the stream of mail from servers and services and mail lists – all the things that are absolutely read-once.

The Google Authenticator for two-factor authentication works really well, particularly where you have a friendly system administrator who knows how to get a QCode up on screen that you can scan. An undocumented feature that is very handy is touching any token copies it to the clipboard, ready for pasting into another app.

The PagerDuty mobile app is superb, and Just Works. It perfectly fits the use case of being annoying at 3:00 AM and providing big friendly buttons that can be stabbed with a thumb while you are trying to wake up. They have obviously thought very hard about the use cases, and the features that are up front emphasise “are there any issues?” and “acknowledge this alert”. 10 out of 10.

I would also call out the AWS Console app. I actually find this somewhat simpler to use than the web interface for being able to quickly scan system metrics and statuses. The information delivered through this is super rich, and there are handy management features available (such as modifying DynamoDB provisioning) when you’re away from the keyboard. It’s got bullet-proof two-factor authentication, which fits nicely with the Authenticator. It’s a relatively painless cycle to jump into 1Password for the login password, paste into the AWS Console, flip out to the Authenticator, and flip back to paste the authentication token. The authentication lasts a reasonable amount of time too, so there’s not the pain of having to do the dance several times an hour.

1Password is indispensible. I can entirely rely on it being a secure repository for anything I need to hold securely, and because it’s dataset is distributed across all my devices, I am comfortable updating passwords frequently. On an older phone I did find it a bit annoying how frequently I would need to unlock it, but on my current phone (and I am guessing all future phones) I can use my thumbprint.

Slack has similarly thought well about the use case of their service on the phone – the experience mirrors the web and desktop interfaces nicely, and the delivered UI makes it pleasant to use (much more so than Skype by the way). I would not like to hold an enormous conversation across Slack on the phone, but for on-the-go messaging it’s best of breed.

Finally, I could not live without Things from Cultured Code. I’m not a subscriber to the GTD religion, but can see that the shape of the app is closely aligned with those ideas. For me it’s trivially easy to create new to-do items, and categorise existing items into “do today”, “do soon” and “god knows when i can do this”. I swing like a pendulum between being calmed by the ability to just focus on one or two immediate tasks, to freaking out at the length of the backlog of things not done. I’ve been using Things in various incarnations since it was an early beta, and love it to bits.

Actually, not finally. Three lesser stars. Agile Cards I only use every two weeks during sprint planning, but it just nicely does what it says on the box. There are dozens of these apps, this is the one that I have. Not indispensable, but handy.

Evernote should be indispensable, and I wish it was, but I cannot quite get comfortable with it. I need to school myself to use it more on both desktop and mobile, as I think that it should work as a general “dump stuff to remember here” – when I remember to use it, the snippets that I drop in there are useful, but I often find that I remember stuff by trying to keep the browser tab open, or pushing them to the Safari Reading List, rather than tossing the bookmark or a snippet into Evernote. The same problem exists with the Apple Notes – it’s a very handy place to drop small snippets of text and reminders, and synchs everywhere, but tends to be write-only.

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