Learn Ulysses: Video Course  →  Learn More

Matt Gemmell’s Sweet Mac Setup

Every week we try to post a new interview with someone about what software they use on their Mac, iPhone, or iPad. We do these interviews because not only are they fun, but a glimpse into what tools someone uses and how they use those tools can spark our imagination and give us an idea or insight into how we can do things better.

New setup interviews are posted every Monday; follow us on RSS or Twitter to stay up to date.


Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Matt Gemmell. I do a number of things. I’m a consultant user experience designer and software engineer, mostly for iOS apps. I’m a speaker at conferences worldwide, and I write for various magazines and other publications, as well as my own blog. I’ve been writing online for eleven years. I’m also working on a novel.

What is your current setup?

Matt Gemmell's Mac Setup

My primary machine in my home office is a 3.4GHz i7 iMac 27”, with an additional 24” Samsung SyncMaster display. The iMac has 32GB of RAM, an SSD boot drive, internal HDD, and a number of other volumes connected for various purposes.

As a developer, I always have a few generations of iPhones and a recent iPad or two as test devices. At the moment on my desk, I have an iPhone 5s, 5, 4S, and 4. There are various others in drawers nearby.

For travel, writing and conferences, I use a MacBook Air 11”. I currently have the 2013 model (1.7GHz / 8GB / 128GB), which is a magnificent machine, and probably my favourite device at the moment. I only keep active projects on the Air; the drive is usually half empty.

My keyboard of choice is usually an Apple Wireless, but I’ve recently bought a Logitech K760 solar-powered Bluetooth keyboard. It’s very similar in feel and action to the Apple Wireless, but doesn’t need batteries, and it can pair with three devices at once — so I can use it with the iMac, my current carry iPhone, and an iPad by just pressing a button.

I’ve used a Wacom tablet full-time as a pointing device for quite a while. My current one is an Intuos 5 pen+touch (medium), which is both a graphics tablet and a huge trackpad. I usually use it in touch mode for mousing around, and I use the stylus for Photoshop and for GUI building in Xcode or using the iOS Simulator. The touch functionality isn’t as polished as that of the Magic Trackpad (I have a few of those too), but it’s a good compromise to always have the stylus available for precision work.

I read a lot, almost exclusively using a Kindle (Paperwhite at the moment), though I do use the iOS Kindle app in odd moments if I’m out and about.

I’d be ashamed to tell you how many accessories, gizmos, cases, bags, sleeves, stands, adapters, headphones, etc. I have. I also wouldn’t want my wife to read this and find out.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

For my iOS design and development work, I primarily use the Xcode toolset and Adobe Photoshop CS. For any other kind of coding, scripting, or text-processing, I use my trusty companion, BBEdit. xScope is very useful for both graphic work and GUI development. I also use BBEdit (and Markdown) for all my short-form writing, including for the blog.

I do my long-form writing in Scrivener, which is unmatched for that purpose. I browse in Safari, read email in Mail, and use the stock Contacts and Calendars apps. My Twitter client on the Mac is TweetBot, and Twitterrific on my iOS devices. I read feeds using ReadKit on the Mac, and Reeder 2 on iOS. For App.net, I use Kiwi on the Mac, and currently Riposte on iOS — though I frequently switch to Felix and back.

I use Messages for chat, and Adium for IRC on the Mac (I work from home full-time, as do several of my friends from way back in my university days; we all sit on a private IRC channel throughout the working week, as a sort of virtual workplace).

I generally try to use stock apps as long as there’s not too much friction, but I have a few indispensable utilities. Alfred 2 is my Spotlight replacement; I sorely miss it on a new machine, until I get it installed. Dropbox keeps my current projects up to date between the iMac and the Air, and that’s also where I keep drafts and ideas for articles and stories.

This’ll sound like marketing, but it’s truly not: I honestly use my own little Mac app, Sticky Notifications, about thirty times a day. I never got into formal, centralised note-taking or task-list apps, and it suits me better to just have temporary stickies lying around.

I backup with Time Machine, run nightly clones of both my boot SSD and internal HDD using SuperDuper, and I keep off-site backups via CrashPlan.

I host my site with Linode on a standard LAMP stack, and I generate my blog statically via Octopress.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I’m very happy with what I have. The battery life on the 2013 Air is truly transformative; I love that aspect of the device. I’d like it to have a Retina display, but not at the expense of battery endurance. I wish my iPhone’s battery lasted longer; by contrast, the iPad seems to last for days and days.

As a heavy iOS user, I sometimes have the vague feeling that desktop operating systems are more complex than they need to be in terms of the interface. I don’t want OS X to become quite as ultra-focused as iOS, but I think there’s room for some adjustment. As I find my interests moving away from the technical and more towards creative output, I just wish that desktop machines demanded a bit less from the user.

I’d also like it if our devices were more connected, or perhaps if our data was more device-agnostic. I don’t want to have to care about whether something is on a Mac or an iPhone — I just want it to be where I am now. Dropbox, iCloud Tabs and such are beginning to get us there, but we have a long way to go.

Oh, and I’d love one of those Wacom Cintiq tablets where you’re drawing on an actual display. I have no real justification for it, but you asked.


There are more Sweet Setup interviews right here.