The Power Usage of Default Apps

Sometimes being a power user means using specialized apps that allow for greater customization than what default apps or services can provide. Power users need special tools so they can tweak and optimize their workflows to the n-th degree.

I think there can be another definition of power user.

I like to explore the idea of being a “power user” of default apps. I like the challenge of artificially restricting myself to only default apps on all my devices (at least in areas where it isn’t prohibitively detrimental to my productivity). Creating this restraint does two things — first, it forces me to really know how to use the default apps and second, it forces me to keep my workflows and systems simpler than I may otherwise be inclined. Both of these are positive outcomes.

The default apps are often surprisingly robust. There’s rarely something I can’t do that I need to do with a default app. At the same time, since they tend to be simpler than other options I could avail myself of I’m forced to be more mindful about what “job” I’m actually hiring a piece of software to do. For example, I recently switched back to the default Mail app across all my devices (away from the incredibly customizable Airmail) because I realized I was using almost none of the customization available in the more advanced app. I was hiring Airmail to do a job that the default Mail app could do just as well — and actually a little bit better (it tends to be stabler and loads faster than Airmail). What I sacrifice in theoretical flexibility I gain in practical usability.

Obviously, there are gaps in what default apps can do. I’m actually writing this right now in Day One, a non-default app for journaling. What Day One does for me is valuable enough to let it break through my non-default app embargo because while I could use something like Pages or TextEdit to keep my digital journal, it would be a vastly diminished experience. Part of what keeps me journaling regularly is how enjoyable it is to use this app and the features it has specifically related to journaling. Another non-default app that I absolutely must use copiously is Slack. There is no Apple-made Slack client. Slack is Slack. And Slack is where 98% of my work communication happens. Thus, Slack lives on all my devices.

Default apps I’ve recently re-embraced, though, include Notes, Podcasts Numbers, iBooks, Twitter, Apple Music, and Apple Maps. There may be “better” versions of each of these apps made by a third party developer but I’ve realized that in almost every case the default version is more than suitable for what I truly need it for. The fact that the Twitter app is worse than Tweetbot is actually making me use Twitter less — which is probably a good thing. Same with the Podcast app. Using Overcast makes it so easy to find other episodes of shows I like I often ended up spending more time listening to podcasts than I actually wanted. The Podcasts app doesn’t have cool features like Overcast… but it does pull down the handful of podcasts I subscribe to and let me listen to them. Which is really all I need.

Challenge yourself to give the default apps on your devices a try for a week or two and you may surprise yourself in realizing what is and isn’t necessary for you to be productive and happy.


This article is part of an experiment where I try to write and publish an idea in 30 minutes or less (nearly) every day, typos and logical sloppiness be damned. Want to keep the discussion going? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter.