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.
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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?
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.
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