iPad Essentials

There are certain apps that I have been using for a number of years and at this point they have become essential to my daily workflow. Some of these make it on to my iPhone X as well, but for the most part my iPad is where most of the “work” happens. At one point I was shoving more and more on my iPhone with it doing more and more. I’ve since reversed this as it is rare that I don’t have my iPad around so my iPhone is more tuned to being a phone first then camera, music player, and clutch document editor or Slack messenger, etc. I am going to high level talk about the apps here in this post. Later posts might hone in on some of them in more detail. Most of them have excellent resources and detailed write-ups on them so I will concentrate more on how I specifically use them that others might find interesting or helpful.


Here’s the list of my essential apps:

The Built-ins

I used to scour looking for apps that did more than the Apple built-in (BIN) apps as they were not real grand a lot of times. This has changed over time and iOS updates. With every update to a BIN app I would evaluate if it could replace the 3rd-party app I was using especially if that 3rd-party app was on a subscription model. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-subscriptions, but I do worry about death by a thousand subscriptions if every app used that model. Just like with TV, I am not going to pay $5 a month for every single channel. I have a budget and there isn’t room for all my apps charging a monthly subscription fee.

There are some BINs that I think are really good, but I don’t use due to lack of some functionality that I feel is missing. The most notable (pun intended) is Apple Notes. It is a great app that has come light years from its initial roots. For a lot of users Notes would be more than sufficient to meet or exceed their needs and they can dump Evernote/OneNote. For me the only thing that holds me back is automation. I have IFTTT and other services auto-creating meeting notes, a daily Captain’s Log, and more. Surely I could just creat those manually or have a Workflow that does it that I would run but that isn’t quite the same and the time/effort saved by Evernote’s ability to be automated keeps me paying that yearly fee. However, iOS 12 is right around the corner and I will be watching for any improvement to Notes that will allow me to finally ditch my Evernote subscription.


This is the “never leave home without it app.” It is on my iPhone, my iPad, my Mac Mini and even in my Windows partition that I have to run for work every now and again. It is the first app that gets installed on any new device and recently switched over to their Family Plan subscription and got the entire household setup with it on their iPhones and iPads. I’m not even sure how long I’ve been using 1Password. I know when I started there weren’t apps for Windows and Android and I remember being excited when their iOS app came out, so pretty long time. There are other password keepers out there but I’m so used to 1Password it would take a lot to even test something else at this point. If you don’t have a password manager, please please get one and I would highly recommend it be 1Password.

Getting Things Done

Drafts 5, Fantastical 2, Evernote, Noteplan, and Day One are the core of apps of how I create, track, document and store almost everything. Meeting notes, notes about the things that happened in a day, tasks, events, etc. Textual documents start their existence in Drafts. This blog post was written in Drafts. Ideas, tasks, quotes, and longer email drafts are all examples of things that get started or captured in Drafts. Drafts is great at processing your text however you want. It is another app that I gladly pay for the subscription. I even made an action bar for Noteplan that I shared in the Drafts 5 Action directory. You can find it here.

Noteplan is a little new and recently replaced my Todoist subscription when I coupled Noteplan with Apple Reminders. I will say that Noteplan is a bit more on the geeky side of life and definitely not for everyone. I love it. It gives me a retro-command line warmth when I use it. It makes me want a config option to have it support VI keyboard shortcuts. This whole topic of how GTD will be detailed more in another post.

I stuck Day One in this grouping as it is my personal journaling app. I have over 1600 entries covering over 1400 days. I made a decision almost 4 years ago now to start journaling and I have missed a single day since. I try and not put anything work related in it although some of that does slip in, but mainly when I am personally struggling with something work related. Every New Year’s Eve I sit down and go back through the year with the family highlighting things we did or events that happened. Day One isn’t an app that I’ve subscribed to since I had purchased all the versions and only use one journal. I do like the “On this Day” and being able to scroll through entries so easy. Day One also has some great integrations with IFTTT that I use (like saving my Tweets automatically). I am very glad I am the decision to journal every day. I definitely recommend it to everyone. Life moves very quickly and being able to reflect on the depth and breadth of yours I think is very important. It is also therapeutic.

PDFs, Handwriting and Scanning…Oh my!

This next group (PDF Expert, Notability, Scanbot, Gladys) are some of my work horses. Anything beyond basic PDF markup gets done in PDF Expert. I’ve tried a ton and keep coming back to PDF Expert as it just seems to suit me best, my mind likes the interface, and they update it constantly.

Notability is my go-to for all things handwritten. I gave up on Penultimate and Evernote’s hand writing support is pure junk. OneNote had great hand writing support but I just couldn’t get over the UI and lack of automation. So, Notability and my Apple Pencil are a great combo. I have a number of default templates for various notes like meetings, brainstorming, paper types (grid, ruled, soccer field). One thing I don’t do is leave notes in Notability. Once the note is created it gets put into Evernote with everything else. Notability’ s most recent upgrade added search for hand written text and the ability to convert from hand written to actual digital text.

On the scanning front, Scanbot’s my fav. Like PDF Expert it suits me best out of all the apps I’ve tried. I do like the fax option for those archaic places that still make us fax (boggles the mind). I also like the “workflows” that you can save so when you scan something you can hit your workflow like “Send to Evernote Inbox” and it will do just that.

Lastly, Gladys is my “tray” app of choice. I like how you can take something (like a Tweet or image) and extract some specific link or data out of it that Gladys exposes vs just being an app that holds stuff that I’ve dropped into it.

News and Weather

This next group is how I get most of my news/rss and keep watch on any potentially severe weather. I switched from RSS to just following company’s and sites on Twitter a while back. I’ve been toying with moving back to RSS again. I do miss a lot of features of reading my feeds in an actual reader app. Tweetbot is my jam for Twitter. I am interested to see what happens with 3rd party Twitter apps with all this odd-ball pricing stuff coming from Twitter for their API’s and feeds.

Since I live in the South where the weather can get quite deadly at times I have numerous apps that help keep me up-to-date and hopefully safe. - RadarScope is extremely geeky and highly detailed if you understand what you are reading. RadarScope is another app that I pay for a subscription to. You are basically pulling feeds right from the radar that you select and you can even set what data feed you want and even some tilts. I use WeatherRadio for basically one thing and that is warning me about lightning strikes in the area. The app hasn’t been updated in a while so fear it is dead but it seems to have the best push notifications for lightning strikes. WeatherBug’s Spark does active location alerts (I think) so might have to switch back to that if WeatherRadio dies. Lastly, WunderStation is my favorite for checking out the hyper-local weather stations that people have connected to it.

Automation and Coding

This last grouping isn’t for everyone. IFTTT and Workflow are two applications that I wouldn’t want to live without but others might never find a single use for. There is nothing wrong with that as automation isn’t for everyone and for some people it is detrimental to how they work best. I definitely use IFTTT more than Workflow but I replaced some of the things I did in Workflow with scripts on my Raspberry PI that I could run automatically via Cron jobs. Told you this section isn’t for everyone.

Speaking of scripts, Working Copy and Pythonista are two unbelievably great apps. Working Copy has went from basic Git client on iOS to enabling people to replace parts of their workflow with their iPads. If you do anything with Git you have to check out Working Copy. If you collaborate on documents with others and need better versioning control, take a look at Git as it isn’t just for programmers anymore. Pythonista lets you have a Python interpreter on your iPad including the “batteries.” I learned Python a long time ago when I wanted to do more with Linux servers than what shell scripts were allowing me to do. As I became more manager and less tech I used it less. I got back into Python with 3.5 and have been using it as my relaxation method. Odd? Yeah probably, but I had always wanted to get into programming more but never really had the opportunity. I am definitely into the intermediate-hobbyist level now and quite enjoy the coding I get to do now. It has included some middle-ware items for work in addition to some personal projects. I’ll do some posts on those at some point. You should learn a coding language and Python is a great one to start with and if you want to learn Python and have an iPad then get Pythonista.

The last two apps are used to access other computers either work servers, my Raspberry PI or my Mac Mini mainly. Blink Shell is wonder as it supports Moshi-shell which is fantastic for trying to access a server via ssh over mobile. Screens 4 is the app that I use when I want to VNC to another device. These are again not for all but immensely indispensable for those that they are for.

You made it.

That’s it. The end of the first post. I appreciate you taking the time and hope you find something useful. More to come. Now go outside and enjoy yourself.