Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 25, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, welcome, so psyched you found us, and also, you can read all the old editions at the Installer homepage.)
This week, I’ve been watching Mr. & Mrs. Smith (which is awesome) and Argylle (which is not), reading about the tech vs. media wars, AI-created fake IDs, and multibillion-dollar arenas, debating canceling Amazon Prime, and trying out Crouton for managing recipes and grocery lists.
I also have for you Google’s new AI tools, a new-ish social network, a better take on Google Docs, a new weather app worth checking out, and a bunch more. Let’s dig in.
(As always, the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. What are you into right now? What should everyone else be into right now? Tell me everything: [email protected]. And if you know someone else who might enjoy Installer, forward it to them, and tell them to subscribe here.)
- Bluesky. The cool kids club of social media is now open to everyone! And as every site is required to do, it promptly crashed in a bunch of big and funny ways as people poured in. It’s still a pretty new service, but it has a lot of really smart ideas about social — I love the way it handles custom feeds and usernames in particular.
- Google Gemini. Great news: Google heard your complaints that Installer is too heavy on iOS-only apps and released the new Gemini app exclusively on Android. (In your face, iOS.) Google’s AI chatbot also got a new name this week, and Google also released its new and supposedly much more powerful model, Gemini Ultra, to the public.
- “Why ‘Shot On iPhone’ Commercials Look So Good!” This video moves so fast, I had to check my settings to make sure I wasn’t accidentally on 2x. But it’s a great look at the state of camera gear, a fun interview with an accomplished filmmaker, and a life lesson: understanding your tools is more important than getting “better” tools. Deep!
- The Ring Battery Doorbell Pro. Not the cheapest Ring doorbell out there, nor the most powerful, but this does seem like the Goldilocks model — more accurate sensors, all the features you want, super easy to install. I agree with my colleague Jennifer Pattison Tuohy, though: the basic Ring look needs a redesign.
- Craft. Craft is basically what Google Docs would be, if anyone at Google cared about making Google Docs nice to use. And this lovely little note-taking app just got a bunch of really nice collaboration features, which make it even more useful. Craft is still a little fiddly for my taste, but it’s a really well-made app.
- iCloud for Windows. Big week for iPhone-owning Windows users! The iCloud app got a big update, Apple Music and Apple TV are no longer in “preview” mode, and it’ll all just work better. And the best news? You basically don’t have to use iTunes ever again.
- Tokyo Vice. This is such an underrated show. I didn’t really get it at first, but it has this intense, relentless energy that kept me hooked. Reviewers seem to think season 2 is even bigger and better, and I’m psyched to dive back in.
- The Weather Channel app. You know I love a weather app, and TWC’s new one is a huge upgrade: it’s much nicer-looking, has lots of alerts and personalization (I currently worry a lot about UV index, not so much about air quality), and some nice news integration. iOS-only for now, though, and I do still hate the icon. Gotta fix that icon.
- Physical Media Strikes Back With Tim Simons. From the very good podcast The Big Picture, this is almost 90 minutes of talk about Blu-ray organization, box-set tips, what it means to own a movie, the changing entertainment industry, and much more. As the proud owner of exactly zero DVDs, this made me want to start a collection.
- MGIE. Lest you think Apple is sitting out the generative AI revolution, here’s something cool: a model designed to make image edits just by describing them. “More blues!” “Move that thing over there!” “Make my face less bad!” Not a real product yet, but a really cool idea.
This is the 25th edition of Installer! It’s our silver anniversary. This newsletter can now rent a car. Very soon, Installer will begin its quarter-life crisis.
First of all, thanks to everyone who has read, subscribed, and recommended stuff for these first 25 issues! This has been so much fun, and the Installerverse community has decimated my phone storage and increased my screen time in all the best possible ways.
Second of all, it’s time to do something I plan to do every 25 issues, which is to share my own homescreen! As Installer’s Head Tester of New Stuff, I’m constantly experimenting with new apps, new widgets, and new ways of using technology. So I figure that, every now and then, I should share how it’s going.
So here’s my homescreen, as it looks right now:
The phone: iPhone 15 Pro.
The wallpaper: A picture of my wife and son on the lock screen, same picture blurred on the homescreen. For some reason, having two different pictures just feels aesthetically weird to me, but I also don’t like having a super visible wallpaper obscuring all the icons. So this basically works.
The apps: Google Maps, Day One, Weller, Readwise Reader, Unread, Sofa, Phone, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Camera.
My dock has the four categories of apps I use most, but the apps in there change depending on what I’m testing or pretending will make my life better. Right now, the messaging app is just Apple Messages, the notes app is NotePlan, the calendar is Minical (which I just discovered this week thanks to Christopher Lawley), and the browser is Arc Search.
I’m using an icon pack from Ruffsnap, which I mostly like! It doesn’t cover every app I use, so I’ve had to repurpose some icons onto other apps; you’ll notice that is not the Day One icon, for instance. But I like the custom icons because they look nice and also because these Shortcuts bookmarks can’t have badges on them. The only apps allowed to have badges are the social, chat, and email apps in the Comms folder. (Content is news apps, games — that sort of stuff.)
This has been my homescreen vibe for a few weeks now, and it’s working pretty well! But I’m already looking for a better calendar widget (why does everyone make such ugly calendar widgets?!), and I’m already looking longingly at another notes app. Please send help.
Here’s what the Installer community is into this week. I want to know what you’re into right now as well! Email [email protected] or message +1 203-570-8663 with your recommendations for anything and everything, and we’ll feature some of our favorites here every week.
“If you are looking for a display that can show your calendar, I urge you to take a look at DAKboard. More than a calendar, lots of different things, and cheaper: monitor and Raspberry Pi for under $150. And it’s worth the five bucks a month — fun to build and integrates with so many other services.” – Doug
“Skylight is amazing. For my mom. Because it’s simple. For you, get the largest 720p TV or monitor you can for your space, a Raspberry Pi, and use the DAKboard project. It will change your life.” – Jeremy (Two DAKboard recommendations! Guess what I’m doing this weekend…)
“Griselda! Like every other narc show I’ve watched but the fact that everyone is Colombian and actually speaking in Spanish adds a ton for me.” – Ema
“I’m late, but worth a mention on the ‘how I get my news’ topic: WhatsApp Channels! I discovered this feature about two months ago and have used it daily since. I follow certain channels that I like (NYT, WSJ, sports-themed, even celebrity-themed, etc.), and their top stories make it to the WhatsApp channel that I catch up on as if it were a group chat with my friends.” – Santiago
“I don’t know if this counts, but my friends and I are playing StarCraft II again. It has co-op, and we just noticed.” – Forrest
“Radiant is a really nice, customizable Mastodon client for iOS. It’s free to use but has a reasonable upgrade as well. And Elk is also a great Twitter-looking web app for Mastodon.” – Harvey
“There is a series of apps that are called ‘Not Boring.’ A set of apps that look absolutely beautiful, with wonderful graphics and amazing haptics. I especially love the Weather app because messing around with the icons is awesome.” – Arjun
“I received the Analog Weekly planner from Ugmonk for Christmas, and I’ve been using the heck out of it paired with a Field Notes memo book. I take meeting notes in Field Notes and put key weekly tasks / deadlines on the Analog Weekly planner.” – J
“I’ve been using a free iOS app called ScreenZen to claw back control over my phone usage. Crucially, instead of just informing you about your usage at the end of your day, it helps you kill the compulsion by setting a countdown screen before you open an app. Other app blockers do this, but what’s special here is what it calls Pause Groups, so you can set different rules for different apps, websites, categories, etc. Couple these Pause Groups with Focus Modes and Shortcuts, and you have some pretty powerful stuff.” – Zack
“How about the Libby app? I’ve been using it since 2017. It’s free, one just needs a library card to use it, and I love it for the audiobooks it has.” – Pooja
The Super Bowl is this weekend, which means a hundred million or so Americans and I will be camped in front of the TV for about 14 consecutive hours on Sunday. Here’s a life hack: as always, most of the best Super Bowl ads are already online, so you can peruse them now and then use in-game commercial time for things like naps and beverage refills.
And here’s a fun game to play: when you watch the ads, try to figure out which one will get some celebrity sued the way all those crypto ads did a couple of years ago. Who’s going to court over an AI ad this year? I have some guesses.