Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 7, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, first of all, hi, hello, welcome, and second of all, you can read all the old editions at the Installer homepage.)
This week, I’ve been reading about the AI writing lives of real writers, rewatching the John Wick movies to prepare for The Continental, shopping for StandBy-capable iPhone docks, getting back into VR exercise with Supernatural boxing, and really, really, really hoping Microsoft’s controller-first vision for the future of gaming comes true soon.
I also have for you a new super-slick Windows laptop, two crypto-related podcasts you should hear, a reason to try Bard again, OpenAI’s new image-making tool, a smart home platform to try, and the Tesla of baby monitors.
Oh, and fair warning: this week’s pretty Apple-heavy. But it’s New Apple Software Upgrade Week, so there’s just a lot to go through. We’ll do the same for Android 14 in a couple of weeks, too, I suspect, so send me all your favorite Android stuff! And Meta Connect is next week, so maybe we’ll get weird with some VR stuff, too. Anyway, let’s get to it.
(As always, the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. What do you want to know more about? What awesome tricks do you know that everyone else should? What app should everyone be using? Tell me everything: firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you want to get every issue of Installer a day early in your email inbox you can subscribe here.)
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and I’ve decided that interactive widgets are the best thing to happen to the iPhone and iPad since, like, cameras. I don’t know. Interactive widgets are awesome! And with iOS 17 and iPadOS 17 coming out this week, a huge number of Apple developers have released new or upgraded apps with really fun widgets you can interact with right from your homescreen.
There are lots of good new apps to try — everybody’s favorite Shortcuts guru Matthew Cassinelli rounded up 160, which should get you started — but I’ve been thinking more about the different ways you might approach becoming a Widget Person. Because if you’re not already living the widget life? It’s time. Here are a few ways to get started:
I could keep going, but that’s a pretty good start. Think about it like this: anything you do on your phone that is just “tap the app, tap a thing, close the app” can and should be replaced by an interactive widget. And at least for me, that’s a lot more of my phone usage than I expected.
Oh, and a bonus: you can and absolutely should make your own widgets! Widgetsmith is a great app that just got a bunch of new interactive features — you can use it to make calendar widgets, weather widgets, photo album widgets, activity widgets, music widgets — practically anything you can think of. I also like Launcher, which lets you make widgets to launch apps, call someone, go to a webpage, and lots more — or almost anything else. I’m a heavy user of both, and my phone is slowly becoming widgets all the way down.
Have you found an iOS 17 widget you love? Tell me about it! I’ll feature some more next week.
Ben Springwater is the CEO of Matter, my favorite read-later app. (Matter just launched a feature called “Readable Podcasts,” which makes it easy to transcribe and take notes on what you’re listening to — it’s really cool.) He has also just been in the product-making game for a long time, so he’s a fun guy to talk to about what makes for great software.
I asked Ben to share his homescreen, plus a few things he’s into right now. I was sort of hoping it would just be a hundred different beta versions of Matter, and I was, I’m sorry to say, mostly disappointed. But Ben’s homescreen also turned me on to a bunch of cool new apps! So I’ll take it.
Here’s what’s on Ben’s homescreen, plus some info on the apps he uses and why:
The phone: iPhone 14 Pro Max
The wallpaper: I’m a proud new dad!
The apps: Safari, Perplexity.ai (better than Google for many queries), Calendar, Spotify, Untitled (beautiful, minimalist podcast app by @rishmody, still in beta), Endel, Audible, Slack, Superhuman, TestFlight (I look forward to a new TestFlight Matter build every day at about 6PM), Figma, Notes, Reflect (outstanding new notes app that strikes a nice balance between simplicity and power), Artifact, Nanit (“Tesla of baby monitors” is how I’ve heard it described), WhatsApp, Find My, Retro (it’s the Goldilocks photo sharing app), Arc, Tide Guide, Yoga, Fitness, Levels (eye-opening! Has spurred me to change how I eat), Phone, Apple Maps, Matter (my favorite and most-used app, both because I build it and because I “build it for myself”).
I also asked Ben to share a few things he’s into right now. Here’s what he came back with:
Here’s what the Installer community is into this week. I want to know what you’re into right now as well! Email email@example.com with your recommendations for anything and everything, and we’ll feature some of our favorites here every week.
“As a fellow Arsenal fan, I love FotMob — a service to check football (soccer) scores, stats, team sheets, player info, play-by-plays, etc. Polished and native-feeling apps for iPhone and iPad (which also works on Mac), with early support for new APIs. They’ve had live activities for almost a year and already support StandBy mode! I haven’t tried the Android or web app, but it’s there — and your favorite teams and players sync between them all.” — Erlend
“Blacklight shines a light on the websites you browse to see what tracking technologies it might be using. Is the site fairly clean, or does it look like a Jackson Pollock painting?” — Jason
“Saw your recent post about how to make your phone feel like new, and I think you missed something useful that I did recently. Took a long pin (or a needle would do the same) and removed a bunch of built-up junk from the Lightning charger port of my iPhone. It wasn’t charging well (often not charging at all) and now charges again like a dream. I also took the same needle and ran it across the earpiece on the phone, which seemed to clear out a bunch of gunk (sorry!) that had caused the audio quality to degrade. Sounds like new now.” — PJ
“I found out about VesselFinder recently. Watching it makes me feel like a God playing real life as a city builder.” — Sam
“I’m reading Your Face Belongs to Us by Kashmir Hill, and it’s very good.” — Creighton
“I’ve continued my descent into bliss / madness with Home Assistant; I replaced a couple more Wi-Fi devices w/ Zigbee ones — and things work better, thanks to mesh networking! The Home Assistant devs keep cranking out updates, and it really has changed my perception of what a smart home can be.” — Cassidy
“Apple made a big show of the ‘Double Tap’ feature at its announcement of Apple Watch Series 9 / Ultra 2. I was ready to trade in my first-gen Ultra for that upgrade alone. But a good friend and fellow tech geek pointed out that current Apple Watches can get the same feature by enabling the AssistiveTouch > Hand Gestures option under Accessibility on the Watch and selecting “Tap” for the Double Pinch option. Great for clearing notifications off the watch with one hand!” — Kirk
“Season 2 of The Afterparty on Apple TV Plus was really good. It’s kind of like Knives Out but with less emphasis on being clever.” — Ross
“Merlin Bird ID. It’s fun to be able to record a bird song nearby and be told what it is. The photo ID is also nice, but I find it hard to get a good pic sometimes. Pro tip: download the US and Canada Continental pack. It’s not much bigger, and you’re set if you travel.” — Mike
“App in the Air is like your flight-saver app. It alerts you fast enough about cancellations and delays, sometimes even faster than some airlines can manage. The app also caters to the aviation geeks, keeping track of your journeys and carbon footprint. It has a premium version, but if you are after stats, you get these for free: miles flown, hours flown, countries visited, boarding passes, and the names of airlines you’ve traveled with.” – Vivian
A good friend, who worked in the music biz, used to always complain to me about how many new artists were making “Spotify Music.” This, he explained to me, was a new genre: music meant to be listened to in playlists, in the background, and mostly in small bits. He thought Spotify Music was inoffensive and boring, and the lyrics barely ever made sense because they didn’t really have to.
Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with Spotify Music. And there was a good WSJ story this week digging into how Spotify — and really streaming in general — is changing everything from how artists get paid to the structure of songs themselves. PBS made a good video about this a few years ago, too. Check them both out, and I promise you’ll start hearing new music a little differently. (And if you encounter some really spot-on Spotify Music, send it my way!) It’s all about the algorithm, baby.
See you next week!
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