My Minimalist iPad Pro setup

Keeping a clean slate clean

When I got my new 10.5″ iPad Pro, I, for the first time in years, selected to set it up as a “new device”, instead of restoring from the backup of my old iPad Air 2. This, plus trying it out as a development machine led me to a minimalist organization:

  • I only add apps I need, as I need them, only if I can’t find a better way to do whatever it is that’s driving the desire to install the app
  • Every app goes into a folder named “Stuff” that’s off on the third home screen unless I have a good reason to put it somewhere more visible (i.e. I use it enough that it’s efficient to have it less than a couple taps away)
  • I have one screen for work, one for personal – these are my “areas of focus” in GTD parlance and help psychologically to switch focus. (These areas of focus also have matching folders in OmniFocus, iCloud Drive (personal files), and Box/Google Drive (client/employer files)).
  • I put extremely high-use apps in the dock
  • I aggressively disable notifications

My Screens (“areas of focus”)


Before or after work, I’m on the “personal” screen. Aside from Settings and the App Store, I use it for video watching, texting, and reading. When I “leave work”, I swipe to this screen – feels like I’m leaving the office.


When it’s time to work, I switch to my work screen and start into my daily work checklist (in OmniFocus). I’ve found that on the iPad Pro it’s easy to focus on the task at hand. I had to make some changes to accommodate going from a 3-monitor Mac Pro with lots of toys tools (BBEdit, ExpanDrive, TextExpander, Magnet, Pastebot, Box/Google/OneDrive syncs, etc – I counted about 11 apps I used concurrently) to a single-screen iPad. It’s been an improvement, and spawned a lot of creativity, including a suite of JIRA command-line scripts, learning about mosh, contributing to Blink, re-learning screen and vim, and making better use of my Mac Mini as a server. I took these learnings back to the Mac Pro for improved focus there.


Despite appearances, I have a lot of apps. My iPhone, and old iPad, have an overly-“organized” collection of folders with semi-arbitrary classifications that contain these apps. Since I found myself using Spotlight search rather than thinking “is Google Drive in Business, Productivity, or Lifestyle?”, I created a folder named “Stuff”, and put any app not on the personal screen, work screen, or dock into it.

Putting the “No” in Notifications

You might notice there are no badges in the screenshots. I disallow notifications (including badges) unless the app’s notifications are something by which I really need to be interrupted. Otherwise, checking it goes into my daily checklist and I process it as an “inbox” using the GTD workflow. This includes email. I allow notifications from Messages, HipChat, the App Store, Settings, and Calendar.

The result: better focus

It’s easy to install apps without clutter – drag it into “Stuff”. I can quickly find the apps I use frequently; if I’m bouncing between three apps rapidly (e.g. Safari, Blink, and Box), I’ve found it’s smoother (because it’s more consistent) to hit Command-H and tap than it is to use the app switcher. I only have one thing to look at at a time, so I’m not distracted, and I can use split screen if I really need two things on the screen at once.

Six Reasons Your App Needs Release Notes

Including release notes for your app is good for business – and, more importantly, not including release notes is bad for business. Here’s why:

Release notes improve reviews

People often read reviews to decide whether they will use your app or service.  Several prominent, respected, quality services (including Uber and Dropbox) started to include their release process (“we release updates regularly”) as their release notes.  Their app review scores plummeted to 2 stars (Dropbox) and 1.5 Stars (Uber) on the App Store. Their apps are fine, their service is fine. The ratings plummeted right after they stopped including release notes. Why?

Think about it: Release notes are in the same place in the App Store as reviews, and reviews reset with each update. So, the people who write reviews are largely the same ones that read release notes. You may say, “apps auto-update and nobody reads release notes”. Think again – power users read release notes. No release notes, no reviews (or negative reviews) from your power users. That means your primary source of reviews is people who want to complain about your app or who are less likely to know how to use it.

Dropbox started including release notes again in January – the app’s now up to 2.5 stars; it’s hard to recover lost users.

Release notes build trust

Release notes tell users what you’re doing, and what you’re installing on their device with each update.  “Bug fixes and improvements” is vague but acceptable.  “We release updates regularly” is evasive and insulting.  Of course you release updates regularly, but what are the updates? 

Good release notes communicate to users that you respect them and want to communicate what you’re installing on their devices.

Non-release notes communicate the opposite: you don’t respect them and don’t care if they know what you’re installing on their devices or not.

Interrupting users is a bad user experience

Apps that don’t include release notes tend to announce new features by opening a screen that requires the user to read and/or dismiss it before using the updated app.  When a user runs your app, they’re trying to do something; That is not the right time to share your new features. What is the right time is when they’re reading through their app updates to see what’s new.

Releasing frequently wastes time

A suite of well-known apps states in their release notes, “we release updates weekly”. Why? You’re not releasing anything important enough for release notes, yet it takes the App Store’s reviewer’s time to check your update, it takes user’s bandwidth and time to download the update, and it takes your power users’ time to read “we release updates weekly” every week.

Release notes improve sales

I’m a power user. People ask me for help and recommendations. Apps that have release notes, especially clever ones, I remember and like more than apps that don’t tell me what they’re updating.  (If they don’t tell me what they’re updating, I assume they’re updating something they don’t want me to know about, or that their development process is so sloppy that they just don’t know what’s in each update).  As a result, I’m far more likely to recommend an app with release notes and to inversely recommend against an app that doesn’t have release notes.

Release notes increase user engagement

Power users, if not all users, read release notes periodically.  These all appear in a convenient list in the Updates section of the App Store (on iOS, not sure about Android).  If users read something interesting in the release notes from an app they haven’t used or have forgotten about, they may open the app to see what’s new.

Conversely, as I’ve written about before, users are likely to delete an app if they’re not using it extensively and see vague statements like “we update our app regularly” as the release notes.

If I were setting up an online store

There would be no cart. Clicking a “buy” button would queue the item for purchase, prompting for billing/shipping info if needed, only once.

Shipping would be free, and would be 2-day shipping. Shipping is a cost of business, just like paying rent for a storefront.

That’s it. Shopping should be simple.

Multi-Version Media format

Make living music albums. Make movies that don’t always end the same way.

The multi-version media format is a simple, cross-platform package file format that allows developers to write audio/video applications in which the media being played (eg a song or movie) can be a different version with each play. See the Amber G. App (iOS only) for the first such player (for which I developed the format 🙂 ).

Each media file (e.g. an MP3, M4A, MP4 or MOV file) is replaced by a specially-formatted directory containing multiple versions of the same piece of media (eg multiple live versions of a song, versions of a movie with alternate endings or extended scenes).


  • <media name>.mvm
    • media_list.json
    • <file version>.<extension>
    • <file version>.<extension>
    • <file version>.<extension>
    • ...

Example for the song “Alive” by Amber Griis:

  • Alive.mvm
    • media_list.json
    • Alive.mp3
    • Alive live drums.m4a
    • Alive crazy rock drummer.mp3


This file contains a specially-formatted JSON object that describes the contents of the directory.

    { "Name" : "Alive", "File Type": "mp3" },
    { "Name" : "Alive live drums", "File Type" : "m4a" },
    { "Name" : "Alive crazy rock drummer", "File Type" : "mp3" } 


This file sits at the root level of the directory in which your .mvm folders sit and simply contains a list (an array), in the order in which they should appear in a playlist, of the names of the folders in your player.


[ "Alive", "Fly", "Be In Love" ]

Note that this means your folder names must match what you want displayed. This is intentional to provide simplicity by convention.

“We update our app regularly” = delete

I read app release notes because I like to see what an app’s capable of doing. I’ve noticed that some apps have gotten lazy recently and just put something like “we update our app regularly”. When I see that, if I’m not actively using the app, I delete it. If I am actively using the app (I’m looking at you, Dropbox and Facebook), I try to think of other apps I could use instead (e.g. OneDrive, Google Drive, and heck, “nothing” sounds like a good Facebook replacement). See, I feel insulted that they want to just shove new code over my Internet connection onto my device when their changes aren’t even important enough to include in a text file they push to iTunes Connect. So, developers, if your release process is so agile that you release updates regularly, then track what you’re releasing and add it to the notes. Otherwise, I think your release process is crap and I’ll delete your app to keep said crap off my devices. 

Update 7/6/16: The Dropbox app is currently rated 2 of 5 stars in the App Store, despite being a great sync service and listed in The App Store’s “essentials” list. Why? No release notes. 

Oh, and I did delete Facebook (I highly recommend doing so), and switched from Dropbox to iCloud Drive.