Thursday, July 25, 2024

Apple’s Journal App Review: A Simple Journaling App With Some Smarts

Apple announced its brand new Journal app during WWDC in June this year. The app is said to help users to write down their thoughts, keep a daily log, and as Apple says, a “new way to reflect on and relive special moments”. It can also give you suggestions on what to write about, and that’s done by using data from your phone. Now, that sounds scary, but it’s actually not. The Journal app is currently available in iOS 17.2 Public beta 2 and will be available to all compatible iPhone users when iOS 17.2 is released.

I’ve been using Apple’s Journal app for a couple of weeks now, and here’s what I think of it.

Journal app features

I’ve never been one to write down my thoughts, but the Journal app made me want to. It has been proven that journaling or writing down your thoughts is good for your mental health. To me, writing things down was and is mostly associated with remembering things. And I’ve mostly used the good old Notes app for all note-taking endeavors. I’ve got notes going all the way back to my iPhone 4, which is when I first started using the Notes app.

Journaling is different though, and if you’re looking to start, but don’t want to use a pen and notebook, you could give the Journal app a try. You will have it with you almost all the time, since it’s on your phone, and all you need to do is pick up your phone and type. But why not just use the Notes app, and why Journal?

The Journal app has a simple user interface that shows your entries and suggestions

Well, Apple’s Journal app, apart from being a simple journaling app, also features some AI and machine-learning tech that make it a little bit smarter than the Notes app. When you first open the app, there’s not much happening. In fact, you’ll only see a ‘+’ button at the bottom of the app. Tap on this button and you have three options here. You can start writing a new journal by tapping ‘New Entry’ or you can choose to write using a topic suggested by Apple. These suggestions are sorted under ‘Recommended’ and ‘Recent’.

Apple lets you add photos, videos, voice memos, and location tags to an entry. There’s a filter that lets you choose between all your entries, entries with photos, or bookmarked entries. And that’s about it.

Journal app Suggestions

Let’s talk about the Suggestions feature in Journal because this is what makes it different from all the other journaling apps. When you want to write a new entry, Suggestions can help you. Your iPhone comes up with these suggestions using on-device machine learning. It uses your photos, videos, music, health data from your Apple Watch, and more to offer journaling ideas.

In ‘Recommended’, you’ll see some suggestions for what you can write about, along with something called ‘Reflections’. This lets you reflect on your day or life and includes questions such as ‘Write about something great in your life that you don’t always think about’.

On the other hand, the ‘Recent’ section, as the name suggests, simply shows you your recent activities, which may include a visit to a park nearby or a walk that you went on recently.

There’s also something called Moments, which Apple says your iPhone can learn to recognise over time. After using the Journal app for a while, you will be shown these special moments or memories from your life. It will include photos or videos from one of those romantic dates, a fun outing with friends, a bike ride, a marathon, a family get-together, and so on.

Memories are what we humans live for, but to go back isn’t realistically possible unless someone invents a time machine. The Journal app can give you a look back at those memories or moments and even let you write down things related to the memory. Using all the data that you allow Apple’s Journal app to tap into, it can figure out memories by itself and help you write them down.

Apple is also making this available to third-party journaling apps in the form of Suggestions API. Third-party apps can also tap into the API and show you suggestions, but they only get access to what you agree to share. The processing and machine learning will happen on your phone, which means that your data will be safe. Your Journals are only uploaded to iCloud for backup, but that is also end-to-end encrypted.

You can also share from other apps currently and write in Journal. For example, I was listening to a song on Apple Music, and I wanted to write down something related to the song. I simply opened the Share sheet and was able to add the track as an entry in the Journal app. I was also able to share a web page from Safari and add it as an entry in the app.

Journal app Settings

Since the Journal app has access to all your data, it may be concerning to some. What if it suggests you write about something that you don’t want to write about? Well, there are plenty of Settings that can help the app avoid such instances.

Journal app offers users plenty of control over their data

To access all the settings, you’ll need to open the Settings app and scroll down to Journal. Here, you can choose what Photos the app can access and whether to include Location and Captions. You have the option to Lock the app using Face ID, which is recommended, and you can also have the app help you keep a schedule. In Journaling Suggestions, you can choose what data can be accessed by the Journal app. There are toggles for Activity, Media, Contacts, Photos, and Locations. You can turn off all these, but I wish Apple had given even more granular control over things here.

Journal app – Should you use it?

Yes, if you’re someone who already keeps a journal. The Journal app lets you add media to your moments, and that’s great. If you’re new to journaling, you should still give the Journal app a try. The suggestions feature is really powerful, the app is easy to use thanks to the simple user interface, your data is safe, and you can protect everything with Face ID. However, it’s currently only available on the iPhone and on the iOS 17.2 Public beta 2. Apple did not mention if it’s coming to iPad or Mac, but who knows, it might. There’s also no search option to find an entry.

Overall though, I’d totally recommend using the Journal app on your iPhone app to journal. It’s been great!

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