Review: The New Day One

Day One

Day One

Twenty years from now, what will you remember?

Last week, a friend of mine found an old MP3 player in her drawer. Upon recovering the contents of the device[1], she synced its music back to her iPod nano, and then she gave it to me. It was full of songs we used to listen to years ago. If songs can be associated with certain moments or periods of your life, than that MP3 player was like a photo album in sound form. Memories. Old emotions and melodies coming back to life, not a distant echo anymore. It felt like grabbing the headphones of 16 year-old me, today, with the knowledge that those moments won’t be coming back, but the experience of someone who cherished them will.

But what do I remember?

In twenty years, I’m not sure I’ll be able to remember the songs I like today, or the faces of people that I care about now. I don’t even know if I’ll be around in twenty years. But I do know that I want to do everything I can to make sure I can get there with my own memories. We are what we know. And I want to remember.

Where the human mind can’t get, I think software can help. In the connected and post-PC era we’re living in, I believe the devices and apps we use play an important role in enabling us to create memories. But just as relevant as “content creation” has become to this discussion, we have to ensure the memories we create today will be preserved digitally for the future.

For the past few months, I have been using a new version of Day One to build an archive of my life. Released today, the new Day One goes beyond the previous version’s support for text entries and adds photos, location, and weather information in an app that, for me, has become more than a simple journaling utility.

Developed by Bloom, Day One went through a remarkable evolution to get to the major updates published today. Last year, I took a look at the app and noted how it was helping me build an “archive of my thoughts” thanks to its simple and elegant interface:

There’s one thing I never really considered storing in a digital archiving app — memories. I’m talking about things like “what did I enjoy doing today” or “I decided to take a walk with my girlfriend” — specific moments that matter in life, that are important, but which our brains often blur and forget after some time to make room for new data to process and maintain.

And then again:

I try to enjoy every moment, but there’s so much the human brain can remember and it’s perfectly normal if something will get lost in the process of assimilating thoughts and processing them to turn them into memories and experiences.

If 2011 Day One was the TextEdit of memories, the new Day One is their Evernote. With support for photo attachments, location data, and improvements to sync and Mountain Lion, today’s Day One wants to overcome the limitations of text to become the window into your past life.

Day One is visual memories.

Memories Aren’t Words

Traditionally, journaling applications have put their focus on text because that’s what you do in a journal – you write. Former versions of Day One raised to popularity thanks to good support for text-based entries, a nice calendar view, and cross-device sync (either with Dropbox or iCloud) that allowed users to jot down their memories anywhere. While honest in its intentions, I’ve always thought Day One wasn’t fully leveraging the potentialities of iOS. This is exactly the focus of the new Day One: to be a real journaling app, not a journal on a screen.

Apps are experiences.

Photos

The main page of the app has been overhauled to include a camera button (on the iPhone and iPad) that lets you create a new photographic entry with one tap. Snap a photo, tap Use, and Day One will create a new entry using today’s date. You can tap Done without entering text, and Day One will display the entry in the Timeline section with a larger thumbnail; or, you can add a description and some thoughts, and the Timeline thumbnail will be smaller. Text will be available alongside your photo in the single entry view.

Day One for iPhone

Day One for iPhone

Day One

Day One

Photos can be viewed in full-screen; you can move between entries by swiping vertically to activate a Sparrow-like switch action. The animations, the sounds, the presentation – everything is top notch.

Day One for iPhone

Day One for iPhone

There are some settings to control the way Day One works with Photos. On the Mac, Bloom opted for a simpler default open dialog to pick an image from the filesystem and drag it onto the compose window of Day One; unfortunately, you can’t drag an image from the Finder or any other app onto Day One’s dock icon or menu bar item (which is unchanged since the last version). In Day One for Mac, support for attaching media to entries is limited to the system open dialog, whereas I would have liked to see Photo Booth integration or at least a Service to easily get photos from the Finder into the journal. Day One doesn’t come with an AppleScript dictionary, either.[2]

On iOS, Day One sports Camera+ integration through the API to enable an editing workflow that lets you take a photo with Camera+, edit it, then put it into Day One. You can also edit photos with Camera+ after they have been taken and imported into a Day One entry; alternatively, you can open Day One’s settings, and choose not to save new photos into the Camera Roll, or to apply an Instagram-like crop square for new photos.

Day One’s implementation of photos has changed the way I use the app and think of journaling software. I used to see Day One as the app I’d fire up at the end of the day to sit back, relax, and think about the things I did and the people I met. Because of that, I’d sometimes forget to open the app, and I would go days without adding a new entry – paradoxically, I had “too much” to say, and Day One could easily turn into “another thing to do”.

Not so with photos: I now use Day One constantly, as I see it as an app that’s always there, ready to accept diverse kinds of data regardless of its length or cohesiveness with what I had written before. Being able to take a photo of a fleeting moment or a rare smile and knowing that it’ll be there has dramatically increased my usage of Day One.

Day One for Mac

Day One for Mac

Memories aren’t just words. In fact, I’d argue that words are just something we make up to communicate with others, while images – the things we see – are factual, visible, easy to capture and archive. It only makes sense for Day One to add support for photos, and I appreciate the efforts to make the functionality as frictionless and elegant as possible.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but, honestly, I don’t think words are even necessary. When I open Day One’s new Photos section (by the way, I always shoot and store unfiltered photos) and I’m presented with a beautiful mosaic of familiar faces and places, I know these Bloom guys are doing something good.

And so I would say: an emotion is worth a thousand photos. In its intrinsic simplicity – one entry = one photo – Day One gets this right.

Location

In the past nine months, I’ve visited a lot of different places and met new people. The new Day One wants to save the where and the how besides the what, and it does so by adding support for location data.

Day One location

Day One location

Day One’s use of location is twofold: new entries can fetch your current location, and location allows you to add weather information to an entry. By combining text, photos, location, and weather, Day One’s goal is clear: to become the rich journal that, thanks to an interplay of hardware and software, offers a natural experience free of the limitations of physical media.

Day One can get your current location using the standard Google Maps integration of iOS: you can look up the photo location (via GPS) if one is attached (same for entry date), use your current location, or manually search from the built-in map view. This process can be set to happen automatically upon the creation of every new entry, so that you’ll always end up with complete and rich entries no matter if you remember to tap the weather[3] and location buttons or not.

Day One Foursquare

Day One Foursquare

Where Day One 1.8 really gets interesting is the Foursquare integration. Available on the iPhone and iPad, Day One can now look up nearby places through the Foursquare database, which I found to be very reliable even in my relatively small town in Italy (I know it is more precise in the States and more populated areas). This is nice, as instead of adding an address, you’ll be adding “Nearby Places” like, say, “Mario’s Pizza” to an entry. But this is not the whole story. Entries that have been geotagged with Foursquare Places can also be used to check into Foursquare directly from Day One thanks to an authentication option available in the settings. Day One’s implementation feels right to me, as the check-in is optional (I don’t want every Day One entry to be pushed automatically to Foursquare) and lets me choose between normal check-in, private check-in, and check-in with photo – the same photo taken in Day One. It is a natural and streamlined feature that’s off by default, works well, and, in my opinion, is better than using the Foursquare app. I have grouped the “capturing memories” and “checking into places” functionalities into a single app.

I use the location feature a lot, because it is a fantastic addition perfectly suited to remembering where I was, which is just as important as remembering what I was doing.

In a future version of Day One, I hope the developers will consider a single Places view similar to the Photos one: a map that lets you see all the places you visited at once, like iPhoto for Mac does.

Better with Time

The new Day One isn’t a major update just for the number of new user features that have been added. The app sports several under-the-hood changes and minor refinements that contribute to making the journaling experience more enjoyable, intuitive, and faster.

For instance, iCloud sync has been tweaked to happen instantly and in the background; Dropbox integration now uses single folder access and the latest SDK for enhanced security and delta calls for faster updates that produce less network traffic. In my tests, I migrated from Dropbox to iCloud and then back to Dropbox, and Day One didn’t miss a single entry. It pulled down more than 120 entries in a couple of minutes, and the developers have made sure sync is always explained in plain English with nicely designed options and indicators.[4]

On Day One for iOS, Markdown text editing has been improved with a swipeable formatting toolbar for quick access to oft-used key combinations for italics, bold, headers, and lists. Day One features automatic list continuation (so you can enter new items in a list by pressing Enter) and auto-wrapping of selected words (so you can select a word, tap the italic button, and have it wrapped between asterisks). You can switch from the media toolbar to the Markdown one with just one swipe, and there’s also a third bar to check out word and character counts. I don’t use Day One as a text editor, but sometimes I want to jot down a longer thought, and Markdown comes in handy for formatting text the way I like it (it is automatically rendered to HTML once you exit editing mode).[5]

Day One Markdown

Day One Markdown

If I had to nitpick, I’d say the toolbar buttons could be a little bigger on the iPad, especially the navigation arrows and Tab key, which I use a lot but often fail to reach. Overall, I think the toolbar is a nice improvement, but it’s not my most used feature of Day One. I could easily live without it, yet I’m glad it’s there.

In the same Share panel where you can forward a Place to Foursquare, there are shortcuts to email an entry, or copy its text. On the Mac, the app uses Mountain Lion’s share sheets for Twitter, iMessage, and Email, and relocates copy, export, edit, and “show in Finder” to an “info” menu.

Day One

Day One

On the iPhone, you can swipe on a single entry to go back to the Timeline; a swipe on an entry while in the Timeline will bring up a Tweetie-like action bar to star an item, change its date, edit it, delete it, or share it.

Day One for iOS and Mac is now a consistent experience sharing the same feature set and interactions, adapting them to the platform they belong to if necessary. Day One for Mac (which reaches version 1.7) got a big makeover as well, adding full Mountain Lion compatibility with Notification Center support for reminders, Sandboxing, and a tweaked full-screen mode that presents a custom background that blends with the rest of the app (the effect is really nice and distraction-free). The Preferences of the Mac app include a new font option (Avenir, the new default font, is included in Mountain Lion) and additional font options; reminders can still be tweaked, and you can still choose a custom backup path. In the Sync tab, Day One shows all the available option with status indicators, and the app is capable of automatically finding an existing database in Dropbox.

Day One Photos

Day One Photos

The detail I appreciate the most about the Mac app, though, is the way images expands if you click on them. The way multiple images are grouped and minimized by default makes for a great timeline of your weekdays in Day One.

Say Hello To Good Times

In a world of Instagrams and text editors, Evernotes and Facebook Cameras, where does Day One fit?

Day One stands out because it’s not a tool, it’s a personal experience. I can tell you what Day One does, and I can write about the things I do with it. But I can’t tell you how you should use it.

With push notifications keeping us from being productive and the next cool link always a click (or tap) away in a Twitter client, Day One is your cozy little corner of digital life that’s only yours. Familiar and quiet, Day One doesn’t require your attention. It doesn’t ask, and it doesn’t judge you.

At this point, it’s clear to me that Day One wants to be more than a journal. I see Day One as a variegate, yet elegant mix of thoughts, photos, and data that, in the end, define what we do, what think, and what we remember. It still isn’t perfect: I’d like to see support for videos (though that might be tricky for uploads), and integration with services we’re already using to share moments of our lives. The obvious one is Facebook – but wouldn’t it be great to have our Instagrams pulled into Day One, too? I think there’s plenty of room for growth in this regard: Day One could easily become a destination for many of the status updates and photos we’re already sharing elsewhere.[6]

Twenty years from now, I’m not sure I’ll remember the things I did today. The tide of time will have probably erased the songs I liked and the faces I saw around town this evening.

But apps can help. And I’m using Day One to help me.

Maybe in a breezy night of August 2032 I’ll find the text and photos I once entered in Day One, and I’ll remember when iPhones made calls and RIM was still a thing. Maybe I’ll just smile, knowing that a tiny piece of memories was preserved by an app that, today, is sold at $4.99 on the App Store.

Who knows, maybe my friend will find an actual iPod in twenty years.


  1. It was one of those fake “iPods” that used to be huge a few years ago, though, frankly, I guess there’s still quite a market for them.  ↩
  2. I wonder if this is related to Sandboxing, which Day One now supports. Day One for iOS allows for some lightweight automation through to a URL scheme, documented here.  ↩
  3. Historical weather data is provided (within the past 3 days) by HAMweather. Day One also stores temperatures alongside conditions like “Sunny” and “Mostly Cloudy”, which have their own custom icons in the Timeline view. Fahrenheit and Celsius are both supported.  ↩
  4. With Dropbox enabled, I also tested deletion and modification of an item with multiple instances of Day One running simultaneously. Deleted items were pushed in seconds, and I didn’t encounter a single error with my Day One database. Items you modify on a device (say, your Mac) might require a manual pull to refresh on the iPhone or iPad if you want to get their changes right away.  ↩
  5. On iOS. On the Mac, formatting is visualized as you type. I assume this is related to a limitation of text views on iOS that the developers couldn’t work around for this version.  ↩
  6. Unsurprisingly, Brett Terpstra is working on a plugin for this.  ↩