I know how important it is to be motivated. As a means of giving you a look ahead, I thought I’d give you a quick tour of what currently resides on my own iPhone, after over ten years of living with one. I thought it might be helpful for blind iPhone users to have a sense of the choices I’ve made in terms of apps, so they could begin to consider what they want to explore for themselves. I’ll also describe how my most essential apps are arranged on my home screens. I hope this serves to satisfy curiosity and encourages you to explore beyond the apps that Apple provides. Those are great apps to start out with. However, third parties have often come up with solutions and combined capabilities that can add tremendous value to your iOS device.
Keep in mind that the discoveries and choices I’ve made were as much a product of what was available when I needed various capabilities. A lot has happened over the last decade as the current configuration of apps on my iPhone gradually came into being. Don’t feel like you need to grab everything I mention here. Think about what you want to do and find out about apps you’re considering. What you end up with will doubtless differ substantially from what I have.
My iPhone has many apps that don’t get used, since other apps have proved more suitable and capable. Other apps were obtained not so much because I required them, as because I wanted to see how accessible they were, instead of the ones I chose as my first picks for accomplishing what I wanted to do.
I’ve always had a fascination with the road not taken. In the iOS ecosystem, finding out what an alternative app is like won’t often break the bank. My collection of apps is therefore somewhat large compared to what I would theorize most of my readers would end up with. Nevertheless, this should give you a good idea of the kinds of possibilities that iOS offers.
Without further delay, let’s get started. Welcome to my humble digital abode. Come in and make yourself comfortable. Hang your coats up on the status bar and leave your shoes in the dock.
Before we begin, I’ll make one thing clear. My iPhone is as much a source of entertainment and mental engagement as it is a working tool. I have avoided the pitfall of thinking of it purely as a device for getting things done. The way I organize my home screens reflects this balanced use. An iPhone can fit into one’s life in many ways. People wanting to focus more strongly on productivity, travel, sensing their environment, or entertainment would doubtless organize their apps very differently. No decision make in this area is ever carved in stone. The past two years of pandemic life have resulted in substantial rearrangement of my various home screens. All home screens are numbered starting with page 1. Before page 1, there is the Today view.
The number of apps that fit on your dock and home screens will depend on the size of your device. On my iPhone, each home screen can hold up to 24 apps. My dock holds four. I keep apps I use regularly or want to have particularly handy either on my first home screen or in my dock. To be on that default screen, they have to be the apps I turn to first in a relevant situation, or else apps I use the most frequently. Just because an app isn’t on the dock or first home screen doesn’t mean I value it less. I might simply need it less often than others and not mind swiping through a few home screens to reach it. All that being said, swipe right this way.
The First Home Screen: Tools Used Most Often
I reserve this first home screen for the apps that I most frequently turn to in whatever situation they might apply. This is my virtual desktop of sorts.
At the top left, just below the status bar, you’ll find a wonderful app built for writers called Ulysses. You’re reading the results of its capabilities right now.
A flick to the right, the Notes app which comes preinstalled on every iOS device has now reached a point of excellence where it totally meets my need for keeping notes. With Siri integration and the newly added capabilities for note tags and smart folders, I couldn’t be happier. Having a separate app for notes and ideas is a very useful thing.
One flick to the right of the Notes app is Day One Journal. It has won my affection as an excellent and capable app. Journaling is a practice I’ve been trying to get back into since I’ve stopped blogging regularly about personal life events. There are real therapeutic benefits to writing down one’s thoughts. Journaling apps are built specifically for that purpose and have tools to support this practice.
Flicking right from Day One Journal, we enter my pair of primary reference apps. Presuming you can spare the onboard storage space required for the files containing the compressed contents, the Kiwix app gives access to many gigabytes of free reference material. This includes Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and other freely available wiki references. These usually require an Internet connection to search. Provided you have the room to spare, you can download these complete resources onto your device. Due to its splendid accessibility and ease of use, Kiwix has moved from being something kept around for emergencies to being a highly valued primary reference tool. If you ever find yourself in circumstances where cellular and Wi-Fi data is expensive or unavailable, Kiwix will see you through if you have loaded it up with the references you might need. One example might be anybody living in the far northern or rural regions of Canada, where connectivity tends to be far more costly than in more central urban areas. Get to a point where you have Wi-Fi access and download the complete text version of Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and many other references for use when you’re offline. You can then easily search all of them from within the same app. Those who don’t have the gigabytes to spare for offline references may find the Wikipedia and WordWeb apps to be fitting substitutes. They take advantage of constant connectivity to make use of online references.
Another flick to the right reveals the indispensable Google app. Whatever you might think of their privacy policies, they really know their stuff when it comes to quickly and efficiently tapping into the Internet for answers and information. That was, after all, Google’s original purpose. Regardless of circumstances, these apps should prove more than adequate for most situations a casual writer encounters.
Next come apps that keep me on track. They now include the Fantastical 3 calendar and the Reminders app included in iOS. Completing this trio is a new helpful addition called Focused Work. This is what is known as a focus timer and tics in the background while I’m focusing on a given task. It lets me know when to take helpful breaks and when I should resume focused work. It also lets me keep track of my cumulated focus time and other things associated with this. The PCalc calculator amply handles any mathematical questions I’m liable to throw at it. The late comedy writer Douglas Adams was said to have approved of an earlier incarnation of this compelling calculator. Its developer has gone to great lengths to make the app accessible to blind users.
A flick to the right brings us to apps which handle my communications needs in most cases. The Contacts app provides easy access to information about the people and corporations in my circle of life. It is followed by the Gmail, Messages, Skype, Twitterrific and Zoom apps. Zoom has proved so frequently used during the ongoing pandemic that it has been put on my first home screen. Together, these take care of the bulk of my social and work communication needs. Before the pandemic, I frequently contemplated which social media app to remove from page 1. Now, I find myself dreading the possibility of needing a sixth social app enough to warrant a place on the first home screen. How times change.
Next are four apps to help me with the real world. The Seeing AI and Voice Dream Scanner apps put artificial intelligence plus my iPhone’s camera to work, helping me read printed material and identify objects. If I need to borrow some working eyes to get something done, the Aira app is ready and waiting. Should I want to go for a walk, the BlindSquare app sees to it that I can know what landmarks are nearby and find my way home again.
We’re now within easy finger’s reach from the bottom of the screen, where two apps are well positioned to keep me aware of what’s happening in the world. Apple’s News app makes a fascinating, endless source of current information. It gives me access to current news as well as a wide range of magazines covering all manner of topics. Meanwhile, the Weather app keeps me informed of local conditions outdoors. It has now become good enough to replace the venerable Weather Gods app.
Completing this home screen’s contents are three more apps that don’t really group categorically but are, nonetheless, very handy. The Voice Memos app serves as a good basic digital recorder. There are times when I want to record thoughts or information read or spoken by other people. There are many other uses for a basic digital recording app. The assistEyes Wallet app is where I can safely store all the more sensitive information I might need in a hurry.
Finally, the Files app completes my first home screen. It gives me access to the files stored on my iPHONE, as well as in Apple’s iCloud and various third-party cloud services. Rounding off what I consider to be my work area is my dock, which is at the very bottom of any home screen you happen to be on. In my dock, I have the Phone app at the bottom left. To the right are the Safari web browser, the Settings app, and at the far right, the App Store. These give me access to four very frequently used things that need to be as handy as possible, regardless of which home screen I’m on. While I’ve sometimes moved one of these apps elsewhere to have a different app take a slot in the dock, at least three of these four have occupied my dock for nearly a decade. I doubt I’ll move any more than one of them from the dock at any time.
The Second Home Screen: Fun Meets Knowledge
With a three-finger swipe to the left, moving us onto page 2, I welcome you to “Heaven on iPhone!” This page is where I rest, recharge, and find out answers to the countless idle questions that come to mind, annoying my better half Sara endlessly. This home screen is all about literature, stimulating knowledge, entertainment, and enjoyable media consumption of all kinds. Apps that prove exceptionally valuable in these areas tend to find their way onto this home screen.
My complete personal library of audio and ebooks take pride of place at the very top. Information access is one of the benefits of owning an iOS device that I find the most liberating and valuable. Even while completely offline, this area gives me access to an inconceivable amount of precious stories, advice, and knowledge about anything I’m likely to be interested in.
here, you’ll find the Word of Promise Bible that combines a fully accessible and navigable text Bible joined with an audio-dramatized version.
Next come the Apple Books, Kindle, VitalSource Bookshelf, Dolphin EasyReader, Audible, and Voice Dream Reader apps. Together, these brim with thousands of informative and entertaining audiobooks and dramas I’ve collected over many years.
Voice Dream Reader is one of those “must have” apps. It is tremendously useful as a means of reading ebooks, particularly from independent publishers who provide them in PDF or ePUB formats. It can do a whole lot more, including play zipped MP3 files, which tends to be how audio dramas are often sold digitally outside of industry giants like Audible.
The Dolphin EasyReader app lets me access books on the CELA digital library, available to any Canadians who have a disability that makes reading regular print difficult.
Audible is a commercial service letting me acquire professionally narrated audiobooks as well as shows and audio dramas.
Beside these apps are a pair of dedicated homes for world-class audio drama produced by Big Finish Audio and Graphic Audio. Each company has developed their app to aid in the easy enjoyment of their creations. Thankfully, they were well aware of their blind audience and did a splendid job making their apps accessible.
Now, we enter the territory of streaming audio entertainment. The next apps let me access podcasts, music, radio stations, and other audio delights. One recent discovery has taken its place next to Graphic Audio. It’s called Storymore. It’s a streaming service I’m just beginning to explore which is dedicated to audio drama. Besides giving access to licensed audio dramas and public domain content, it also produces dramas available only on Storymore.
The Music app comes next and lets me tap into Apple’s massive music library. Furthermore, as of iOS 13, it can be used in conjunction with Siri to quickly tune into any radio station or Internet radio streams I might want to hear. This includes CBC Radio One, the AMI Audio stream, or Internet radio stations like Mushroom FM.
Next come the Apple Podcasts, Castro, and TED apps that provide me with an endless source of podcasts and short informative lectures, respectively. Being Canadian, I like my CBC. The dynamic duo of CBC Listen and CBC Gem apps are living proof of that. Past This is the BBC Sounds app. The BBC public service provides some splendid audio and video entertainment from the UK. The NPR app gives me access to stations and shows from National Public Radio. This is the American equivalent to the CBC and BBC. After that, I have the AMI, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Twitch, and YouTube video streaming services ready to hand and often used. You might not expect a blind person would be very interested. However, due to increased levels of audio description plus attention paid to making the apps accessible with VoiceOver, these services have become far more attractive and useful than they once were. YouTube is a wealth of interesting and informative content made by people all over the world and put up for all to enjoy.
The Third Home Screen: The Top Desk Drawer
Page 3 is a place for utilities, financial apps and apps having to do with physical and mental health. In effect, it is a place for apps of relatively high importance that didn’t quite justify a place on the first home screen.
At the top left, I have the Ferrite Recording Studio app. This has so far proved more than sufficient to any voice recording I’ve done.
To the right, the Supersense app comes next with all of its capabilities to make use of the camera and artificial intelligence.
The next three apps, Pages, Prompts, and Docusign, are all related to writing and dealing with documents. After that, the Google Drive app lets me access that third-party cloud space when I need it for something apart from archived emails.
The Watch app is a flick to the right. It lets me easily configure this handy tool on my wrist. The Health, Autosleep and Waterminder apps are all about tracking my physical health. Meanwhile, the Headspace app is a kind of meditative one-stop shop for mental wellness. I make use of it at least once most days.
Next come two apps which are all about providing soundscapes. The Nature Space app gives me access to a wide range of natural soundscapes that I find very helpful and pleasant to have playing while I write. Particularly during Winter months, I find it even more useful than music while writing. A newer complementary addition to the page is the myNoise app, which lets you build your own constantly changing soundscapes using different elements of sound. A quartet of apps are all there to help with physical fitness.
A newcomer to the page is called REVision Fitness Production. It has been designed to offer fitness instruction and workouts accessible to blind and sighted users. I’ve just started using this app and am impressed so far. The Zombies Run, Apple’s Fitness app and the First Aid app complete this grouping. First Aid is a reference containing instructions for emergency preparedness, as well as first aid, should such information prove useful.
Financial apps also seem to be congregating on the third page these days. There are currently six of them. First in the group is an app for my bank of choice. This is followed by the Wallet app included in iOS. The app for my cellular carrier and internet service provider sits beside the Mint app. This recent discovery has proved to be a very accessible budgeting app which can automatically track spending among many other capabilities.
Next comes the Numbers app, which is there in case I need to handle spreadsheets. Rounding off the group is the recently improved PayPal app, which is very accessible with VoiceOver and constantly being improved. I don’t use these apps every day, but when I need them, I head on over to page 3 and put my financial affairs in order.
The Fourth Home Screen: Utilities, News and Social Media:
Page 4 has transformed a great deal over the past couple of years. Taking three swipes to get to from page 1, I tend to think of it like the bottom drawer in my desk. It contains apps which I want to be handy, but aren’t used as often as apps on the first three pages.
The Deliveries app helps with tracking online packages which I frequently have coming my way. Another candidate for this spot is an app called Parcel, which people seem to think very highly of. The Find My app is next and will help find items I misplace provided they have Apple’s AirTags or are equipped with a location chip which Apple puts in its more expensive products. The Home app taps into Apple’s Home kit software, which interfaces with smart devices. So far, I only need to use this for configuring my HomePod Mini speakers.
The Camera app has gained some new capabilities, including the ability to recognize objects and read text. In case I have to take a picture, I keep the app handy. The Translate app is another of Apple’s apps which I keep ready on general principles. I have yet to put the app to any serious use, but it seems quite accessible and reasonably capable. In case the Safari browser has trouble on the web, I have an alternative browser called Crome ready and waiting.
A flick to the right of it is Garner’s Modern English Usage. I’ve used this app every so often while writing. Next to it are the Game Design and Natural 20 apps. These are both useful when contemplating game ideas.
Next comes Apple’s Support app. I have yet to need it for actually support, but it has helpful information and keeps track of what support you’re entitled to.
Although the Apple News app lets you tap into a tremendous amount, I sometimes find that other apps can lead to different perspectives on stories. I therefore have several news and information related apps. These include CBC News, City News Toronto, NASA, and Reddit.
The Apple Maps, Google Maps, Transit, and EventBright apps are there if I need to find out about local events or how a friend could use transit to reach me.
Towards the bottom of the page are a number of social media apps like Facebook, which I don’t use often enough to be on the first home screen but still have to be handy when circumstances demand. Facebook and its Facebook Messenger app are prime examples of services I use a bit grudgingly. Other services like Teamtalk and Discord are ones I use more occasionally. I also have the official Twitter app, despite preferring the Twitteriffic app because push notifications arrive more speedily at the Twitter app, where they can be announced on arrival if I wish.
The Fifth Home Screen: My Digital Endless Mall
Page 5 is for shopping and business interaction. On it are shipment trackers, Kickstarter, eBay, etc. You can get damned near anything online these days. Dinner, electronics, groceries, and everything in between. The fifth page is my favourite endless digital mall. Chances are good that either a store’s custom-designed app or its website will be accessible to me as a VoiceOver user. Accordingly, a mixture of both are on this virtual Promenade. Some examples are the Amazon website, the Apple Store app, the CNIB online store, and apps like Swiss Chalet or Uber Eats for ordering meals delivered from local restaurants to my door. Being in the Greater Toronto Area, we can use the Longo’s app and have groceries delivered as well. It’s a hip and happening home screen. You can learn a lot more about these apps in the section called A World Market in Your Pocket.
The Sixth and Seventh Home Screen: The Realm of Favourite Games:
If you counted up all the games which are accessible to blind players available in the app store, you would easily go into the hundreds and possibly exceed 1000. Many of these games are text games. Others make extensive use of sound and action. Pages 6 and 7 on my iPHONE are dedicated to my most favourite games. This has proved far more convenient than having a games folder. As my whims of play change and new games appear, I can easily move games off the pages and into the app library. Some notable choices are Sonar Islands, Six Ages, Dice World, and Choice Of Games.
Occasionally Useful Odds and Ends
These next two screens are where any apps that are useful every once in a while can be found. Here, there is an assortment of navigation apps like Goodmaps Outdoors and Explore that might prove more ideal for certain situations apart from what I commonly experience. I also keep a number of different writing apps including Scrivener, Voice Dream Writer, iA Writer, Wattpad, and several note-taking apps. The Personal Diary app is there. I tend to be more of a blogger, but one never knows. A wonderfully accessible dice roller called Natural 20 is there. There is a perfect example of one reason I have at least a couple of apps which seem to do the same thing. Natural 20 is still available and takes a very different approach than Ready to Roll did. Sadly, Ready To Roll is no longer available. Natural 20 is now my primary dice roller and has moved to the fourth home screen. There’s always the chance that apps I rely on will no longer be available, or that others will improve dramatically and be worthy of more common use. I’ve experienced things like that many times.
There are a number of Internet radio apps like ooTunes and Triode. The ooTunes app in particular has served me well for many years. I tend to use Siri and the Music app that comes with iOS. However, the ooTunes app still occasionally comes in handy. If your country has a public radio service, there are likely apps which help you find out about and listen to shows. I have apps for Radio New Zealand, Ireland and Australia among others.
There are other apps that struck me as a good idea to grab while they were free or on sale. Everything from fitness apps to messaging apps I’ve never had occasion to use. Many of the apps I cover later in this guide are ones that I briefly researched for review purposes or as possible different choices to what I’ve gravitated to.
Beyond the Ninth Home Screen:
Here be DragonsAt this point, we’ll end our tour. Beyond page 9, we would leave the more organized and reliable virtual floor and descend into the murky and ever-expanding equivalent of an unfinished basement known as the app library. These are apps which I don’t even want on additional home screens. Once you get past page 8, you’re getting to where it takes noticeable time to flick to the page an app is on. Thanks to the app library, I need not keep umpteen home screens and can let Apple organized the mess into an actually useable library of gatherings.
Here lie all sorts of apps. Any additional retail shopping apps tend to end up here as well as utilities. Apps that I rarely use but am loathed to remove from my PHONE. Part of the reason for this reluctance is how very tiny most apps actually are. The Audible and Music apps are perhaps as much as 100 megabytes combined. The Music app is less than 20 megabytes. Yet, I have easily 50 gigabytes of data in the form of audiobooks and music albums consuming space on my iPhone. Most apps don’t require much data at all, so why get rid of them? It’s not like my iPhone is any heavier, carrying them around. Some apps have been superseded by others. Others await possible updates or changes in my own circumstance that might make them more useful or preferable. There’s no hard limit to how many apps there can be on your device, besides the amount of onboard storage you’re willing to fill with them. I therefore find it expedient to keep them around in case they are radically improved to the point of deserving a spot on the first eight home screens. This has happened more often than I would have bet on over the past decade as accessibility awareness has grown and Apple’s accessibility tools have improved. Every so often, I rummage around in this virtual basement and emerge with something shiny and useful that I suddenly remember I have. It’s always wonderful to discover that an app that was once utterly useless due to inaccessibility has now become a joy to use.
Overall, I’ve found it exhilarating to be gathering the tools and games that have formed the real heart of my iOS experience. As things have developed, I’ve spent a lot of time on the cutting edge. That edge does tend to cut every so often. Several apps that I once greatly enjoyed have disappeared from the app store or simply stopped working for lack of upkeep. Others have been with me nearly since the beginning of my journey. I hope this brief glance at what’s on my own iPhone is helpful to you as you start building your own collection. At the very least, I hope it gives you a greater sense of the kinds of things that your iOS device makes possible.