How much the cost of satisfaction?

Apple had its ‘Far Out’ event this last week, in which they announced the latest in several product line-ups including AirPods, Apple Watch, and the iPhone. I’m not normally one to notice these things, having resisted the iAllure. That is, until this year.

A few things converged in 2022: My old budget phone found itself on life support while we travelled, I was looking for a way to more portably synchronise my writing work between my MacBook Air and phone or tablet, and I found myself reconsidering the Apple ecosystem as I listened to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple’s charismatic cofounder, Steve Jobs. After some debate, and while on a three-week road trip with intermittent network access and an increasingly dead phone camera and map service, I popped into an Apple store for the first time in my life and purchased my very first iDevice.

This all came after some serious head scratching: These are not inexpensive, after all. And quite aside from pricing a phone, is the current generation the right choice? I don’t have the money to buy every upgrade, so should I wait for the next release? Is this remotely good value? Am I locking myself onto a path I’m going to regret down the track?

I think we’re all familiar with analysis paralysis, and I had been going back and forth on this topic for a while before it came to a head during our trip. After jumping into the iDevice ecosystem I came across it again when deciding whether to adopt a new approach to managing my project information: If I’m going to change the way I keep notes, and move away from my old monolithic application and its poor sync towards something I can readily use on the go (because, frankly, a paper notebook is just more cruft) then which direction do I head? There are so, so many: Evernote, Obsidian, Notion, Todoist, Things 3, Agenda, Goodnotes, Google Keep, OneNote, Apple Notes, and many more.

On its face, Apple Notes seems like a no-brainer: It is pre-installed and does first-class sync between my Mac and iDevices. But it certainly lacks advanced features present in the others. Do I need them? How can I know? And once I start investing serious content into one system, what’s the cost of switching, both in transferring data and mentally jumping to a new process?

And so re-enters analysis paralysis. And maybe a more insidious problem: Switching. It’s a killer problem, and inherent in all these apps. After all, app developers want to market their product to new users, and that requires them to switch. Switching in turn means giving something up from the old system, even if it’s just comfortable familiarity, so there’s always at least some inherent dissatisfaction with the new product. Cue switching addiction, and off we go looking for the next shiny thing.

A recent Apple Notes related meme cropped up which illustrated this beautifully:

A recent Apple Notes meme: Note taking app workflows as a function of IQ. Source unknown [1] [2].

Sure, we can try and build some ultimate note-taking time-management guru workflow using a variety of apps, constantly tweaking it with the goal of achieving a productivity nirvana. Or, we could just use a simple notes app and actually do our job.

When all is said and done, these are just tools to get some other job done. In my case, replacing a physical notebook, and a hierarchy of reference material and notes. If I’m not a slave to the tool, I don’t have to adopt every bright idea from the latest app developer – I can use the tool most appropriate for today, and go all in.

So yes, I’m an Apple Notes user, wherever I may sit on the IQ spectrum. And the same decision-making process is how I answered the buy-it-now-or-wait-until-later iPhone question. If any other business needs a tool to get the work done today, are they going to say No, we’ll hold a committee to agonise about whether to wait until the latest version comes out in three months, or are they going to just purchase the tool and get the job done? Is there any reason our work is less deserving of similar consideration?

So yeah, there may be a new iPhone out, and later this year we may see M2 iPads, and whatever and so forth thereafter. The march of technology and product releases will move ever forwards, as it always does.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it reminds me of something Kar says to the Monk With No Name in Paul Hunter’s Bulletproof Monk,

So, I figured it out. Why hot dogs come in packages of ten and hot dog buns come in packages of eight. See, the thing is, life doesn’t always work out according to plan. So be happy with what you’ve got, because you can always get a hot dog.

Seann William Scott’s Kar to Chow Yun-fat’s Monk With No Name

So yeah, Apple’s event has some new shiny gadgets, and it’s fun to see technology progress (and great to see no more touchbars or butterfly keyboards). But the work will get done with the tools at hand for some years to come.

Here’s to the tools of the day.

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