505: Chris Bailey and the Noah's Ark of Dongles

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Great episode. I’m a fan of Chris - what I like about him is that he’s able to explain his preferences and thoughts clearly. You can tell he’s thought a lot about how he uses his tech and which technology he uses.


I too love TextEdit.

I’m usually very confident with my choice of software et cetera, but for some reason I felt a little guilty that I used TextEdit not BBEdit.

I still feel guilty I haven’t upgraded BBEdit since v.11. The free versions of v.12 and v.13 do everything I need (especially since I’ve mostly migrated my writing to Ulysses), and I still resort to it for GREP reformatting and powerful search/replace.

It was great to hear some love for Keynote as well, and magic move. Last summer I used that feature to make an animated video to go along with a parody of All About that Bass for school that I recorded. As they said on the show, it’s a great tool for simple animations.

I finally got around to listening to this today for my weekend walkabout. Really great talk. You can tell Chris puts a lot of intentionality and deliberateness into how he uses his devices and software. I was astounded about his admissions of writing primarily in TextEdit!

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Really enjoyed this episode too. I was especially struck by the brief discussion at the end about the future of computing: whether a mobile device like an iPhone would be the centerpiece of the future of computing or whether it would be cloud-based and accessed by dumb terminals. I feel like we may already have the former - someone’s iPhone is probably their most-used computer. I’ve been taking that one step further recently: for the past month, I’ve been using my “pocket computer” as a desktop computer too. Thanks to iOS 13’s mouse support, Shortcuts, the new Safari capabilities, and pre-existing support for Bluetooth keyboards and external monitors, I’ve been able to get 90% of my work done at my desk using my iPhone as a central hub. Its sounds crazy but (as long as I don’t need split-screen or Slide Over, which frankly is rare) I’ve truly been using my iPhone as my primary computer. It’s been really fun and actually feels like the future.


Interesting! If you don’t mind sharing, what is it that you are able to get done/workflows have you developed they allow you to get so much done on your iPhone?

I would love to see a picture of your setup, just to make it seem more real :slight_smile:

Here’s a piece I posted on a Reddit a little while ago that explains the basics: https://reddit.com/r/iPhoneXsMax/comments/bvtpqr/what_i_learned_when_i_used_my_iphone_xs_max_as_my/

My system has changed somewhat since then. Best way to illustrate is to describe a typical day.

1.) Get to my office on campus. I am a researcher at a major U.S. university. I work mainly with email, documents, spreadsheets, and browsers for web research.

2.) I have an NFC sticker on my desk that triggers a Shortcut which puts my iPhone into “desktop mode.” It enables Assistive Touch for the mouse support, lowers the system font size, and turns on Voice Control.

3.) I place my phone in an upright stand. I plug into the Lightning port the Apple-made VGA dongle (which also allows simultaneous charging).

4.) I typically sit the phone in landscape mode so it forces that aspect ratio onto the external monitor (it’s merely a decent Dell monitor, nothing special).

5.) Since it’s an iPhone model that doesn’t support a landscape home screen, I treat the Shortcuts app (which supports landscape orientation) as my “home screen.” I tend to mainly use apps that have landscape support. I rarely go back to the native home screen when in “desktop mode.”

6.) Bluetooth keyboard is a given. The mouse is crucial: it’s a Logitech MX Everywhere 2 mouse (Bluetooth). I assigned the notification screen to one of the buttons, the app switcher screen to another. One of the remaining buttons toggles Voice Control on and off (helpful in killing that function when someone walks into my office and needs to chat). The fourth button sends me to my “home screen” (the Shortcuts app). The final button calls up Siri/Spotlight search for those occasions when I need it. I usually summon apps via voice or the app switcher.

7.) The iPhone in the upright stand serves as a vertical visual trackpad. Because it sits right next to where the mouse is, I’ve developed the muscle memory to quickly move my hand up to tap on something when doing so is faster than voice or mouse control.

There are frictions, of course. I have to pick the phone up and tilt it slightly if I need Face ID. And the type of work I do only occasionally requires specialized software for short periods of time. In those cases, I have a Mac Mini nearby, plugged into the other monitor input. I flick a switch on the monitor and I’m able to tool around on the Mac when needed. I use iCloud for virtually everything and syncing has worked well for me. Frankly, my iPhone XS Max has a better processor than the Macs in my life (most of which are over 5 years old).

Finally, on my way out the door, I have another NFC sticker to tap that resets all the setting back to what I call “phone mode.”

I’m sure I’m missing something but those are the basics.


Holy Smokes! This is really great and creative!

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I know what you mean about feeling guilty for using TextEdit! I think TextEdit is definitely underappreciated. I use it all the time because I like Rich Text. I create a lot of text files (usually RTF, but sometimes plain text) on various Macs. The files sync to my iOS devices using iCloud, and then I can edit them in a great little iOS app called Mini Text. This has been working wonderfully for me for several years! (And, of course, this works in reverse if I want to start a text file on my iOS device and pick up later on my Mac.)

Now, when I’m editing HTML or CSS or manipulating comma-separated value text files, I like to use BBEdit (and before that it was TextWrangler)! So between TextEdit, BBEdit, and Mini Text, my needs are covered perfectly.

I was very interested to hear Chris Bailey talk about his love for TextEdit, especially given the wide range of text editing programs on both iOS and Mac.