Sherlocking FTW (AKA why going default works for me)

Warning - this post is going to be a little controversial. I have spent hundreds of dollars on productivity apps and utilities over 10 years and have subscribed to many of them as well. I have listened to most of the MPU shows and I am a fan. I am a Club Macstories subscriber too. Consider me one of you. A tweaker. An automator. Maybe even an innovator, like you.

However, recently I have changed. I have found that now, ten years into the App Store, Apple through its constant refinement (ie sherlocking) has basically solved most of the issues that challenged the platform in its earlier years. Most of the third party apps can’t come close to what Apple ships with its private APIs. Especially when you get a HomePod or Apple Watch involved.

Case in point - Apple Notes. It has become so powerful and so integrated that a billionaire CEO now runs two companies on it. Do you really need a text editor when this app can do it all? A full time writer, sure. But I don’t. And as a result of going all in with Apple Notes, I never need to worry about syncing or where my data is. Apple takes care of it for me in the background thanks to some slick private APIs. Bear for example wont sync anything you put into it with the share sheet unless you open the app. Why? Private APIs.

I am not alone. Rene Ritchie is someone too who uses the built-in apps heavily as well, as cited on a recent MPU. And even Mr Viticci is moving this direction of sorts.

There will always be a need for third party apps to fill in specialized use cases. However, the economics are terrible in the productivity arena. And quietly, Apple seems to be chipping away at the major needs. The default apps are good enough for most.

I for one embrace that ethos and find myself increasingly going default. This allows me to spend more time thinking about my work and less time on my workflow. I have reduced my number of apps from hundreds to under 30! I have longer battery life. And also peace of mind in that everything is always there and easy to find. It’s not just notes. Same goes for Reminders, Calendar, Mail and more. I live in the default apps and Shortcuts in iOS 12 will make them bettter.

It just works. That’s a phrase Steve Jobs coined years ago and most third-party productivity apps are now friction. Anyone else increasingly going default? Increasingly as productivity apps carry a growing mental and financial cost, I suspect more of us will go default and realize that the benefits are many.


I have been a huge fan of Bear andApple notes is so tempting. There is something beautiful about that interface, but notes does take care of Bear, Notability, and even a lot of instances of scanner apps. Part of the slow transition back to Apple stuff is a block in my mind that it’s not really for the “power users.” I think part of that is true, a developer can spend all their time focused on one app (Notability for example) but I find myself not needing as much power as I think.

I appreciate your post because I’m now looking back at Apple mail after relying on Spark for so long.

That’s the weird thing about the default apps. They are basic for all and yet can be powerful for few. I never used a third party mail app over concerns about mail scraping, even though their intentions are good. GDPR will change how these companies work.

I’m looking at Apple Mail again too, after Spark’s recent buggy update. Spark still seems better to me especially how it organizes messages.

1 Like

I go for Apple apps when I can, unless there’s something really compelling about the other app. There’s only 3 currently for me I think:
Fantastical’s method to add entries
Castro/Overcast’s audio quality for podcasts
Google Map’s accuracy in Thailand

I find myself using many of the default apps alongside third party apps, for various reasons. I use Apple Mail on my iOS devices because my work email is very locked down and won’t work with third party mail clients, but my personal email is on Spark. I use OmniFocus and Due for most of my task management, but Reminders runs my grocery list. I use the Camera app for most of my photography, but I also run the Moment app when I have their case connected. I’ll switch back and forth between the Files app and using the Dropbox app depending on what I’m doing.

The only built-in apps that I use almost exclusively over third party alternatives are Maps and Safari.

TLDR: developer gets on high horse about apple secret API’s in long rambling post

I would agree and I find myself actually annoyed, As a developer, I both understand why apple has and needs secret API’s that only they can use.

I think it’s amazing what the workflow team has done with shortcuts, but I believe that they should have been able to do that without being merged into apple. I recently left a very good job at IBM because I wanted freedom from corporate to develop what software I wanted, how I wanted to, and I think the bifurcation of the developer space is a bad thing.

If I want to do activities in the background I should not have to sell my company to apple and give up my creative control.

I just made a point in another thread Here about how I agree, that the apple services are good enough for most people, and my general recommendation, but that they don’t support every use case.

I can’t use apple notes for instance because I have a multi operating system life, I rely on third party’s to provide an experience everywhere, and if apple has secrets sauce that lets them have features that 3rd parties can’t replicate, that’s unfair.

Apple would never do this, because it removes the competitive advantage that their apps have, but I believe that the operating system should have all the special sauce in the world, but that applications built on top of that should be equal, apple should have to use the same services, go through the same hoops as the rest of us internally. And they should have taken a moment to think about why they need a special API for something, and that if they need it others probably do to.


I find this a very interesting post as I’m very similar to yourself in terms of using a plethora of apps and often wonder if I would be better off just using the standard iOS and MacOS native apps from Apple (except for very specific use case scenarios).

Definitely something to think about as we move in the upcoming OS releases on both platforms and the growing integration between them.

Great post. Like anything the best answer usually isn’t all or nothing. I use a fair amount of built in apps, but I go to outside developers for some. I think a lot of us can be drawn to new and shiny or bells and whistles.

Where Apple’s default apps lose me is sometimes they are too simple to a fault. Notes while great, didn’t have adjustable size text on the Mac until pretty recently. I got tired of squinting! Not having icons for bullets and numbered lists in the UI, forcing you to go to the menu bar or remember keyboard shortcuts, can be annoying. I bet those are pretty commonly used items in a notes app. I think that’s an example visual design winning over utility. They don’t have to go to the cluttered ribbon like office, but sometimes their design choice is a bit to spartan.

1 Like

The Katie philosophy, if it works why even look at other options? The constant search to save time is a waste of time (maybe?).


I would prefer to use, but it lacks an Omnifocus action functionality in iOS (with a link to the original email). It also lacks snooze and several other features in both macOS and iOS. So, I use Spark, despite its crashes and buggy email sync. Would LOVE a decent upgrade! I MAY give Airmail a try.

On the other hand, this illustrates how third-party apps can continue to offer innovations that distinguish them from the stock apps and maybe push Apple to improve the stock apps (see Notes).

I’ve been using Airmail for quite awhile with no issues.

1 Like

The only apps I have on my home screen are either made by Apple, social media (Twitter only) or ADA winners. I fear many of these productivity apps won’t survive. I know the Apple ones will be around. As someone who has been playing with software since the 80s it’s sad but many apps are being made less relevant. Even some of 1Password is less relevant than years ago because of iCloud Keychain.

Has Airmail addressed this week’s big WSJ story about third party email apps? I am sure they are well intentioned but this is the kind of stuff you don’t have to worry about with the defaults.

One of the reasons why I am loyal to Apple is their commitment to protecting their customers’ privacy. I am also a stickler about all of my privacy settings for every service and application I use–to the extent that I have any control.

That said, the reality is that to participate in today’s digital world, one has to do a “cost/benefit” assessment of ROI for the price of privacy being paid. I have tried to use Apple apps exclusively but doing so is extremely limiting if one needs to process and use information in more complex and collaborative ways. Here is a simple example. I tried using Apple Notes (AN) as a replacement for Evernote. While AN is adequate for storing basic information, it is a terrible solution for long-term storage and retrieval. You can’t create sub-folders in the iOS app. you can’t tag, use Markdown, etc. This is but a few of the reasons I switched to DEVONthink.

I also tried relying on Apple Mail but the lack of share extensions complicates the ability to process and integrate emails for project work. I don’t snooze messages as I consider that inefficient but I do prefer to schedule emails during off hours to be sent during business hours, one of many features that Apple Mail lacks. I can use Sane but then again, my emails are being processed by a third party. I checked Airmail’s privacy policy and here is a part of it:

“Does Airmail share my data with anyone?
Airmail does not share your information with any third parties. We are not in the business of selling your data. However, we may disclose information if we determine that such disclosure is reasonably necessary to comply with the law.”

That said, who knows what any third party does with our information and who has time to read, let alone fully understand, all of the privacy policies?

I guess I’ve come to the position that I will take every reasonable precaution I can, limit my use of 3rd party applications, but use them when they clearly, for my needs, give me a good ROI. For me, it is a compromise I am making to live in today’s world. I strive to make it a prudent one.


I’m with you in that I don’t think Apple get enough credit (and well deserved praise) for their unwavering focus on customer privacy.

This is another reason why I will also always stick with Apple for my personal computing needs.

This is a really good story on the topic of built in apps.. They’ve come so far they can cover most people’s needs. There will be a shakeout or productivity apps alas.

I think it’s a fairly reasonable approach to treat native apps as the default unless there is something out there that can satisfy a real need you have.

I think the real question everyone should ask themselves is how much REAL benefit are they getting from 3rd party apps over the stock apps. In most cases not much beyond aesthetics, which does not justify the ROI on any additional spend IMO.


I have to disagree, at least for the third-party apps that I use. OmniFocus offers a lot of capability that Reminders doesn’t (contexts/tags, defer dates, projects, etc.). Fantastical has great natural language parsing that Calendars doesn’t have. Spark offers things like snoozing and smart inbox that you can’t get in Mail. Overcast has features like Smart Speed and Voice Boost that have no equivalents in the Podcasts app. Bear supports Markdown and tagging, Apple Notes doesn’t. 1Password is far more capable than the built-in password functionality in Safari. The list goes on.


Hi Chris, clearly in your case you’re making use of the additional functionality of 3rd party apps. Not a lot of people do, and that was my point.

I also use 3rd party apps. I agree on OF vs. Reminders, I use Weather Underground vs. Weather, Google Maps vs Maps. As long as there is some real benefit aside from aesthetics, I’m fully on board with using 3rd party apps.

I hope this clarifies my stance.