iOS 9 and the Death of “Everything Buckets”

Almost two weeks have passed since Apple’s WWDC Keynote, and in that time I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking about the new features they announced with iOS 9, particularly search.

While I mentioned search briefly in my initial WWDC post, the more I learn about its features, the bigger I think its implications are for education and iOS usage in general.

For me, it means the possibility I could be done using an everything bucket.

Everything Buckets

What are everything buckets? Developer and blogger Alex Payne explains them like this:

An Everything Bucket, since you’re probably wondering, is what I call applications that encourage the user to throw anything and everything into them. They’re virtual scrapbooks, applying a lightweight organization system to (often) unrelated data of varying types

The most popular example of an everything bucket, and the one I have used since 2012, is Evernote. Evernote’s slogan is “Remember Everything,” and they mean everything. From notes to recipes, receipts to entire webpages, Evernote can store it all and help you access it with powerful search features.

For years Macs and PCs have made it simple to search across their entire systems for information because files were not generally stored in an app. Files were stored in folders on the device's hard drive and accessed by apps. With the release of the iPhone in 2007 and subsequent advent of the App Store in 2008, the way people accessed data was changed dramatically. Apps kept data siloed making moving bits of information between them difficult or impossible, and searching for a file meant hoping you could remember what app is was stored in and looking there. For this reason, keeping important data in an everything bucket was incredibly convenient.

Everything buckets also made it easy to get started with a paperless lifestyle. A new users didn’t have to wonder where to store different types of files or information. It could all just be stored in one place.

While this sounds fantastic in theory, in practice everything buckets generally suffer from being jacks-of-all-trades. They are capable of doing many many things, but none of them extremely well.

For example, Evernote can be used for text editing, notes, spreadsheets, presentations, file management, web clipping, task management, recipe storage, and more. But can it do any of those things as well as dedicated apps? In my opinion no. Spreadsheets and presentations lack basic features that make them usable, and web clippings can regularly have strange formatting. Better solutions do exist.

Also, Evernote stores its entire library in a proprietary file format, so should the company ever go under, getting your data out of their service will be frustrating and difficult.

The alternative to using an everything bucket is to use specialized apps. For example Ulysses or Editorial are brilliant for text editing. PDFPen allows for far greater control over PDFs. These apps offer fantastic features that Evernote cannot because they are designed to be the best in their fields. Unfortunately, on iOS if I want to find everything I have on a particular topic across all of these services or locate a particular file and I don’t remember which app I created it in, I have to do a lot of work to search each individual app or service.

So the user has had to decide on convenience over quality…until iOS 9.

iOS 9

With iOS 9, Apple has revamped its system search capabilities to allow developers to have their app’s content appear in system searches.

What this mean practically is I can search for “Lesson Planning” and have PDFs saved in iCloud Drive from grad school show up with articles in Pinner and papers I wrote on the topic in Ulysses. Another example tweeted by Mike Piontek, a developer testing his app, Deliveries, for iOS 9 search compatibility shows search in action1.

While I’m not very interested in Sailor Moon, seeing websites, packages, and podcasts related to the show all together in one search is really impressive. And this is not even the full extent of what search will be capable of because on Mike’s device, he may not be running any more apps that are currently compatible with search due to this feature still being in beta.

It is exciting to see developers tweet their interest in search as this is the one place iOS 9 search has potential to lose to the everything bucket. Developers have to update their apps with compatibility for the service. If the apps I want to use do not update, or an alternative cannot be found, then an everything bucket still wins. From what I have read though, it is extremely easy for developers to add these features to their apps. I am hopeful that my preferred software will quickly gain compatibility with this new search.

Deep Linking

The icing on the cake for iOS 9’s search is what Apple is calling “Deep Linking.” With Deep Linking, app information from search (or messages, email, etc) will pull up in that app with a back button allowing you to return to wherever you originally accessed the information. So if I look at a recipe in Paprika and decide it isn’t the one I want, I can click “Back to Search,” and return to right where I left off and look for more recipes.

While recipes may not be used much in the classroom, the implications of iOS 9’s search in education are huge. Research can now be stored in many different containers, but all found instantly through search. This means iOS devices are going to be much more powerful tools for teachers and students alike. No longer will users have to decide between power and convenience (in apps or devices).

Conclusion

The everything bucket was an important system at the dawn of the mobile age. However, as the platform has matured, its use is waining.

As for my own Evernote usage, I will have to wait until iOS 9’s official release (likely in September) to see how developers integrate these features before I make my decision.

However, over the last few months I have already begun looking for apps that can give me a better experience than Evernote, and the new features they have added show little benefit for me as a user. Combine that with rumors of leadership changes, and I’m all too happy to find an alternative.

If iOS 9’s search is embraced by developers and is as powerful as Apple claims, then I believe the need for everything buckets will be gone.

  1. If you haven’t tried Deliveries, it’s one of my absolute favorite iOS apps as a heavy user of Amazon Prime. It’s by far the best way to track packages.