Day One: Your Own Secret Journal

There is no shortage of writing apps for the iPad.

Some focus on being as minimal as possible, others focus on new and innovative features to take advantage of the possibilities afforded by a 9-inch touchscreen. Many of these are focused on publishing, but what of that most intimate form of writing, journaling?

The iPad is the same size as many of the journals that used to reside under beds or in secret cupboards hidden in a nightstand; what better way to marry the old and the new than with a journal? Day One aims to do just that.


Day One is actually a suite of apps under one brand: an iPhone app, an iPad app, and a Mac app. The three apps can be used separately as individual journals or can be synced together to form a cohesive journal that can be updated at just about any time. The iPad app, though, has the most potential for providing a deep journalling experience.

Read on to find out why!

Presentation

Browsing Your Past

Day One is incredibly well designed. For most iOS apps Apple is held in the highest regard: if you can match their style, you’re probably on to something good. Day One takes that idea and throws it right into the trash. Most of what Day One does goes against the principles of Apple designers by using custom buttons, textures, color schemes, etc. And you know what? It absolutely works.

This is Day One's main screen, showing previous entries on the left and the current (or currently selected) entry on the right.

This is Day One's main screen, showing previous entries on the left and the current (or currently selected) entry on the right.

The Day One app tries to find a good balance between adding new entries and browsing old ones. This has got to be a difficult line to toe, with goals at different ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, viewing other entries should be easy and as attractive as the rest of the app; on the other, if you can’t quickly add a new entry there’s no point in using the iPad app besides reading through your past.

Day One tackles this with a two-pane approach that is rather Apple-like. Entries are on the right with the latest entry appearing within the right pane. In this way you’re provided easy access to your previous entries and your most latest capture, fulfilling any needs someone could have for getting something out of their journaling.

Journalling the Present

New entries are created with a ‘+’ button in the top-right corner. The date is automatically filled for you, allowing you to begin typing whatever thought it is that you’re having immediately. You can choose to view a calendar of your entries as well, which, when combined with the ability to ‘star’ entries, allows you to easily mark a post as being important to remember.

In this way Day One allows you just enough features to really make your journalling fit your own personal needs, without offering you so many options that you end up fiddling with the app instead of using it.

I found writing new entries to be rather refreshing; beyond the benefits provided by writing your thoughts down, it’s also important that the app is as calm as possible. Everything is colorful without being distracting to the point where you feel attacked, and the transitions are simple enough to give you the feeling that you’re accomplishing something without giving you motion sickness.

In all, Day One is another one of those apps that is focusing on the user (which, really, is something that all apps should do). This is especially important given its mission statement: an easy journalling experience.

Further Functionality

Syncing

As I said, the Day One ‘app’ is actually a suite of apps for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. The developer was thoughtful enough to add Dropbox syncing, recognizing that keeping three separate journals is likely to accomplish the opposite of what a journal is meant to do: allow the writer to de-stress, get their thoughts on ‘paper’, and let things go.

Like many apps, Day One offers Dropbox syncing.

Like many apps, Day One offers Dropbox syncing.

Syncing is easy enough, and instructions are provided in the Mac app for setting up that particular file. Within the iPad app one only needs to turn syncing on from the settings menu and login with their Dropbox credentials. After that the app is populated with any previous entries that may have been made on another version of the app, and new entries are ‘automagically’ (a phrase that could have been coined by Apple itself) pushed to the cloud.

Hopefully iCloud support will be added in the future as the app is present on just about every Apple device, but for right now the Dropbox sync is fast and effortless.

Formatting

Day One is another entry in the seemingly-huge series of apps that include Markdown support in-app. Markdown is, in the most basic of terms, a syntax and formatting system developed by John Gruber to make formatting something for the web as simple and readable as possible. Many iPad and iPhone apps have been including this functionality lately, largely because we are discovering that the least amount of friction possible is desirable for a good app.

Instead of having to stop typing, hit ‘bold’, and re-tap the text field to begin typing again, Markdown allows you to place two asterisks at the beginning and end of a word, with the same result. Less travel, less thinking, great readability and excellent formatting.

Markdown is a writing syntax that makes it easy to write formatted text quickly.

Markdown is a writing syntax that makes it easy to write formatted text quickly.

One issue that I have is that while Markdown can be enabled in the iPad and iPhone app, the Mac app has no support for the syntax. While this would be a larger problem if, say, one were using HTML tags to format, it’s still jarring going from an entry that looks properly formatted in one place and slightly off in another. According to the developer the Mac app will support Markdown ‘soon’; I would say that releasing it for the iOS apps first was a mistake, but hindsight is 20/20.

For now, though, Markdown support makes this app a prime candidate for fast journalling with just the right amount of formatting. What fun would it be to write an entry without any italicized or bolded words?

Privacy

The best part about a secret journal has always been that it’s, well, secret…

A journal is meant to be that place where you can write about how awful your step-mother is for not cooking your favorite casserole or how your grandfather is obviously a demon because he won’t tell you all of the dirt on your father. All kidding aside, it is important that a journal be kept private.

The entire point of the exercise is to have a place where you’re alone with your thoughts, free to say anything that you would like without hurting anyone. This would be easier with a secret analogue journal, as it could be hidden fairly easily. What, though, of a journalling app contained in a device that is almost inherently social?

Day One's striking passcode entry screen. Any wrong answer immediately ejects a user from the app.

Day One's striking passcode entry screen. Any wrong answer immediately ejects a user from the app.

Day One has you covered. Under the settings, you can tell Day One that it shouldn’t show you any previous entries (anything, really) without requiring a passcode. While this is no doubt going to add a second or so to your launching-to-writing time, it’s important to weigh the risks of what you’re putting into that journal against how easy it is to write on that journal. To further the analogue comparison, it’s like choosing whether to put your journal between the mattress and box-spring (a place where it is less likely to be found, but a little time-consuming to get to) or on the coffee table in the living room (handy, but hardly private).

In most instances, I believe that privacy trumps access, but I feel that it’s is especially important when you’re writing who-knows-what that could hurt somebody else if they were to read your thoughts (and, not to mention, the hurt that you feel when someone has invaded your privacy).

Conclusion

Day One set out with one goal: to help you with your journalling. It provides many tools for doing so, including an easy-to-use syntax for formatting your entries, a calendar view and the ability to ‘star’ an entry so you can easily see what’s important, and the ability to sync your journal across multiple devices. Its most important features may be the two that seem the least obvious, though.

  1. First is how gorgeous the app is. While many would argue that this can’t be one of the most important things for an app, I would say that it’s absolutely paramount for an app to be welcoming but calming, at-the-ready but not pressuring. Everything about the app is incredibly well-designed, and I can’t imagine using another journalling app that doesn’t look as good as this one does.
  2. Second is the option to set a passcode. I harped on about this above, but it truly is that important. In the age of ‘status updates’ and ‘tweets’, it’s become harder and harder to enjoy a thought that isn’t broadcasted to hundreds (or thousands) of people. Day One offers you that sanctum, allowing you to keep your thoughts to yourself and away from prying eyes.

In short: I would be hard-pressed to use a different journalling app, and for its price-tag, Day One is an absolute steal, if you’re an experienced journaller that has recorded the last few years or someone that simply wants a place to vent about that awful thing that happened a minute ago. It is, truly, an app that does one thing well.


Summary

Day One is an app designed to allow you to capture your thoughts and create journal entries anywhere you happen to be, giving you powerful tools to keep a journal that syncs across devices but also offers advanced features for deeper customization and protection against prying eyes.

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