Common Denominators

Given that I spend a lot of time switching to and fro iOS and Android devices these days, I tend to want to get at my stuff on any device with the minimum amount of fuss.

Thankfully, these days most of the important stuff like contact syncing, calendaring, etc., “just works” – at least for a definition of the same that means that most of the data and semantics make it across platforms without causing me too much pain.

For the record, my master contact store is on iCloud, with a copy on a mobile-specific, sync-only Google account. Calendaring is a bit more ad-hoc, with most of my personal stuff on iCloud, shared family calendars on Google and per-project calendars on the corporate Exchange server1.

But there’s more to life (and personal content) than that, so in order to minimize the number of hoops I go through, I’ve settled (at least temporarily) on a few cross-platform apps that work reliably and consistently enough for me.


I’m a Premium subscriber for nearly two years now, and I still find it the best way to file away stuff in general across any platform, mobile or otherwise. I even have it set up under WINE in Linux (I loathe the web interface that much), and now that the Android version has not just caught up with iOS but actually gone a bit beyond it in terms of flexibility, I’ve found it a lot more rewarding in general.

However, writing notes in Android (either editing existing ones or starting new ones from scratch) is still among the lousiest user experiences ever.

It might be the relatively outdated Android hardware I’m using or UX corner cases brought to fore by platform fragmentation (I’ve even tried using it on Android x86, and it works well), but the end result is invariably the same: I throw up my hands in disgust, painstakingly type in a few topics, and then eventually flesh things out later on the iPad.

When (or if) that ever changes, then I’ll let you know, because it will be tantamount to winning the lottery. In the meantime, it’s my go-to destination for web clips, meeting notes and everyday flotsam and jetsam of a more structured nature.


If Evernote is where I bag and tag things, Dropbox is my digital garage, and pretty much the cornerstone of my “mobile” activity these days. Most of the apps I use either store their data on Dropbox or can read (even if indirectly) from it, and, quite honestly, it’s irreplaceable (so far).

The biggest pain I had with it was lack of client-side encryption but BoxCryptor fixed it - although I’m still keeping work documents in encrypted .sparsebundle files, since that’s what I started out with.

The Android version deserves a special mention both by including a simple text editor that I’ve used a couple of times to fix typos on posts, and by being frustratingly bad at scrolling through long lists and exposing action menus.

But, overall, it’s the service to beat if you need cross-platform cloud storage. Even established competitors like aren’t quite there yet, alas, and my only remaining gripe is the lack of ARM command-line binaries for running Dropbox on my home NAS.


If you don’t use a password manager these days, then you’re likely asking for trouble (or have a clerk to do backup copies of your little black notebook). I’ve been using 1Password for a while, and even if some of its inner workings irk me a bit, it’s the best solution for me by a long shot - it integrates with all my desktop browsers and runs on both major mobile platforms.

The only downside is that the Android app feels like something out of the 90’s (especially if you’re running recent versions of the OS), but it works well enough. On iOS, it’s made my life a lot easier when I need to hop over to Amazon to manage my Kindle settings or anything else that requires logging in to sites that I don’t patronize2.


Speaking of which, the (oft maligned) Kindle app has, much to my surprise, become my default e-book reader.

Disregarding the obvious bits regarding the wealth of content they have and my having owned a Kindle before iBooks surfaced, this seems to have happened both because I don’t much care for the alternatives in the Android space rather than to their personal documents service, which I use extensively but rather against my will.

I have a few Calibre batch jobs that mail me article compilations and whatnot on a weekly basis, but I honestly loathe Amazon’s way of managing your library. But those jobs have been running like clockwork for years, so it’s largely a matter of habit.

But it helps to have an application that is consistently dull and sucky on every mobile platform - I’ve become inured to their kludgey UI and stupendously limited feature set.

Google Reader

I’m still getting pretty much all my news via RSS (which is a telltale sign of how long I’ve been trawling news), and there is absolutely nothing else out there like Reader, so it’s only natural I’d use it on all my devices.

I find their web UI to be efficient but utterly dismal, and as such a perfect match to the Android app, which is sluggish to the point of being a nuisance to use when you have massive amounts of unread items.

I’ve obviously gravitated to Reeder on iOS, but of late a more interesting (and entertaining) contender has taken the field.


Besides the usual social network stuff (and perhaps because of it, given that I loathe Android’s usual social network clients), Flipboard has become my go-to app when I want to catch up on news - any news, on just about any “network”.

Even considering it’s not tablet-optimized, it works passably well on a 7-inch Android tablet, and while other people seem to favor Currents, I have to say that I hate Current’s visuals (both typography and layout) as much as I enjoy Flipboard’s branded layouts for some sources.


Before you ask, Pocket really doesn’t cut it for me. Honestly, I tried, but I prefer Instapaper’s unstated looks and feature set, so I pounced the instant the Android version came along.

It feels rather spartan, but it works - and, ironically, I probably tend to use it longer on the smaller, handier Android tablets than on my iPad. Which, I think, is a rather telling indicator of how the 7” form factor will take over the world - or, more to the point, the world’s couches.

Anything worth keeping, however, still goes into Evernote - Instapaper’s search function is handy, but Evernote works wonderfully as an archive, and I love the way liked items are synced to Evernote - at least as much as I hate filing them to folders by clicking on the trash can icon.

Seriously, Marco, could you fix that some day?

Opera Mini

This might be bucking the trend a bit, but I actually like Opera on mobile. The split browser concept has always been controversial, but Opera works fast, consistently and (more important to me) perfectly well over GPRS, and it’s been doing so for years.

Now that I don’t have excellent 3G coverage everywhere I go, their content compression’s the killer feature that makes me install it everywhere. But it is also the only browser where, regardless of platform, I can really use tabs properly (i.e., they load in the background, persist across app invocations, and are easy to manage).

All it needs is tab syncing to make it perfect. But then again, nothing is – either software or platforms.

But it’s possible to strike a good balance, and these apps might help you with that.

  1. I tried storing work contacts there as well, but the schema’s not flexible enough for cross-platform syncing without odd gaps. That’s why iCloud is my default contact store – a very flexible schema and superior editing capabilities. ↩︎

  2. I personally find Amazon’s utter inability to provide a decent on-device UI for managing your personal documents a sign that they’re in dire need of a clue bat. But I’m notoriously picky about user experience and yet am increasingly using more and more Android devices, so what do I know? ↩︎

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