Hot takes on the same ancient applications

It never ceases to amaze me how many times we can revisit and recreate the same basic concepts for organizing our digital lives and work. Each of the core tools we still use today still looks pretty similar - in terms of mental models - to those produced by Lotus et al. way back when. Nonetheless, new technologies and UX concepts have kept them very much alive.

 🔥 UX

🔥 UX

Here are some interesting new versions of age-old applications I’m using.

Email: Astro

Astro puts a chatbot spin on the email client, with a smart assistant to send you notifications and suggestions. 

The team is also quick to innovate and just announced an integrations with Slack and Alexa. I’m looking forward to what they come up with next, but for now am very satisfied with the basics.

Defining feature(s):

Tried and True Email Features, Cross-platform

Astro doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before - at least for the features I find most valuable. It just packages them nice and tidily. Consolidated mailbox for multiple accounts, focused vs. other inboxes, VIP contacts, customizable filtering and notifications have all been done before. Outlook has had them for ages, but has had poor support for google accounts and cross-platform features. It took them years just to bring focused inbox to desktop!

New School Email Wizardry

Astro brings the new school Google Inbox and Mailbox features like snoozing and reminders, which I could not live without. As an added bonus they take the cake with nice-to-haves out of the sales automation world with features like open tracking (and notifications), reply-by dates and send later. I’ve used Mixmax and other chrome extensions for this type of thing in the past, but Astro is the first client I know of that brings them natively to mobile.

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Note-taking: Bear

Bear has gotten a ton of hype for its design and was just celebrated with an Apple Design Award. It’s beautiful and distraction free, with the markdown input features you expect and a few nice surprises - like automatically filling in a hyperlink with whatever the browser is open to.

Defining feature(s):

Tagging

I obsessively organize and reorganize my notes which becomes unruly after a while. Just like gmail did to the email folder, Evernote (and perhaps others) brought the tag to life in note-taking apps. Why choose where a note lives if it can live in n number of tags? 

Bear takes this concept up a notch by giving users the ability to add/edit tags directly within the note using hashtags, including nested tags. This combined with the markdown and simplified formatting shortcuts means you never have to touch the mouse. Evernote should have come up with this years ago.

Browser - Brave

Brave is an open source browser that has built-in tracker and ad-protection and makes browsing a pleasure. It recently had a high profile ICO and is very promising.

It’s currently in beta and so understandably I’ve found the desktop version a little wonky, but I’ve already made the iOS version my default browser and am focusing on that version.

Defining feature(s):

Built-in ad and tracker blocking

Though Safari allows users to add their adblocker, it doesn’t port to web-views or to Chrome, obviously. Having this baked right into my mobile browser is a lifesaver.

Password manager extensions

There are very few extensions available out of the box, but all the major password managers are there out of the gates. A much slicker way to auto-fill credentials than on other mobile browsers.

Multi-search

One of my biggest complaints with iOS is how many touches it takes to make a Google (or other) search query. Brave is the fastest way I’ve found to search and I love how clicking on an engine icon works as “Enter”.

Task Management: Todoist

Todoist is elegant and simple. Clean UX and a variety of views for power users without getting into Omnifocus territory. It’s as simple or complicated as your workflow and fits all shapes and sizes.

There is a lot of hype around Things 3 right now but I’m not sold on the price point (and multiple purchases for cross-device) before getting to test it out. I know what Ben Thompson will have to say about this pricing model.

Defining feature(s):

Quick Inputs

Todoist does an excellent job with quick inputs and smart capturing for due dates, projects and recurring intervals. This is a lifesaver when writing down a can’t miss task in the middle of a meeting or on the go, though I am disappointed with a iOS version compared to Android and macOS.

Documents - Google, for now…

I’ve been using Google Docs for over a decade (and later Sheets, Slides), like many, due to the ease of collaboration. But now I find myself using Apps simply out of convenience. True, Sheets will never be as powerful as Excel, but does it matter? For heavy accounting and modeling use cases it does, but for the rest of us I’m not so sure.  It also hooks up with other applications and BigQuery to dump data directly in.

Sidenote: My only complaint with Google Sheets is having to create a new document when I just want to do some quick equations. To get around this I keep a sheet bookmarked “Scratchpad” that I noodle around with an write over constantly.

Defining feature(s):

Sharing & Collaboration

Real-time collaboration is still magic all these years later but…

There’s a lot of interesting things happening here collaboration forward tools like Dropbox Paper, Quip and Notion . I think that this is where the most far-out and game changing developments are happening as teams redefine what exactly a document is and will be.


It’s refreshing to see some new life breathed into these old concepts. As long as developers keep making email clients, to-do lists and the like, I’ll keep obsessively trying them out.