Table of Contents
Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 17, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. If you’re new here, welcome, so psyched you found us, and also, you can read all the old editions at the Installer homepage.
I also have for you a new Mastodon app, a bunch of new AI tools, a whole new Fortnite universe, an espresso maker, and much more. And I have some thoughts about messaging. Let’s dig in.
(As always, the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. What apps are you into right now? What have you read or watched or eaten or played or built recently? Tell me everything: firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you know someone else who might enjoy Installer, forward it to them and tell them to subscribe here.)
- Google Gemini. Talking to Google CEO Sundar Pichai this week, I got the distinct sense that he sees the new Gemini model as the moment Google starts to win the AI war. Is he right? Who knows! Gemini certainly has its issues. But you can play with it now in Bard and on the Pixel 8 Pro, and it’s coming to Google products everywhere really soon.
- Beeper Mini. What a saga this was! The universal messaging app released a new app for Android that did one thing —let you send blue-bubble iMessages — and did it well. So well, it seems, that Apple quickly figured out a way to shut it down. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this back-and-forth.
- The Artificial podcast series. I think every reporter I know is currently digging into the history of OpenAI, trying to figure out how this weirdly structured organization came to be the biggest thing in artificial intelligence. This episode of The Journal (the first in a four-part series, I think) is the clearest origin story I’ve heard so far.
- Mammoth 2. I’ve used a lot of Mastodon apps, and this is my new favorite. Mammoth is nice-looking and fast but also really devoted to helping you find good people and posts on the platform. It’s only for Apple devices, which is a bummer, but it’s a really nice app.
- Resident Evil 4’s VR Mode. You could argue that Resident Evil games have been the best thing in VR for a long time. Now, PSVR users are getting a pretty full VR version of Resident Evil 4, which is one of the best games in the series and was remade as one of the best games of the year. I might need to buy a PSVR for this.
- Lego Fortnite. I played a lot of OG Fortnite recently and actually loved the game minus all the tie-ins and branded stuff. But this is something else: a massive new island and almost an entirely new game within Fortnite. I’ve only played it a bit, but it’s very cool.
- Digital Foundry’s Grand Theft Auto VI trailer breakdown. Have you watched the GTA VI trailer yet? Statistically speaking, I think everyone on earth already has. And if you’re as excited about it as I am, you’ll love this 37-minute, absurdly deep exegesis of practically every frame and pixel we’ve seen so far.
- Disney Plus with Hulu. Disney’s combined streaming service is now in beta testing, which means you might start to see a Hulu tab inside of your Disney app. Fast Company has a fun story on all the unexpected challenges of shoving two services together like this, but ultimately, it looks pretty simple. Hulu is a channel; Disney Plus is the cable bundle. That’s where we’re headed.
- Visual Electric. A new and clever riff on AI image generation — this one gives you all kinds of dynamic control, so instead of prompting and re-prompting, you can tweak your images almost as if you’re in Photoshop. It also has auto-complete suggestions as you type, which has led me down some deeply weird rabbit holes.
I’ve known Dan Seifert a long time, and I can’t remember a time when he has only had one phone. This is partly an occupational hazard: Dan runs The Verge’s reviews team, so his home seems to frequently resemble a terrifying cross between a Best Buy and a FedEx warehouse. But Dan’s also just a multiple-device kind of guy, because the other thing I can’t remember is when there was one device that did everything he needed.
I asked Dan to share his homescreen with us, slightly terrified of how many screenshots I might get back. (Dan’s also a “download all the apps in the app store” kind of guy, just like me.) Somewhat miraculously, he only sent me two. Well, three, depending on how you count a foldable.
Here are Dan’s homescreens, plus some info on the apps he uses and why:
The phone: Apple iPhone 15 Pro.
The wallpaper: This changes depending on my Focus mode, but my current Work Focus has the Apple Astronomy wallpaper for Jupiter, which looks cool and was my favorite planet as a kid. Everyone had a favorite planet as a kid, right?
The apps: I love useful widgets, so I always have a large one taking up a good chunk of my screen. It’s a widget stack, so I can flick through things like my calendar, to-do list, Siri Suggestions, and weather. This is the homescreen I use for my Work Focus mode, so a lot of the time, the stack is showing Fantastical, which I love because it blends both calendar appointments and to-dos from my Todoist list in one view, while giving me a quick date and month calendar overview. Below that are Slack, Reeder for RSS, Artifact, and Apple News, the latter three of which I use to keep up with news throughout the day.
You’ll see that I have two to-do list apps here because, for a while, I was trying to see if I could make Apple Reminders work for me. I can’t, and I always fall back on Todoist, my one true to-do list app love. I should probably remove Reminders at this point, but I haven’t figured out another app to put there yet, and I like the symmetry of two full app rows. My home row is super boring, but Outlook remains the best email app on the iPhone, fight me.
The phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5.
The wallpaper: Something I found in the Backdrops app, the best wallpaper app for Android, that I thought looked cool. I don’t really get to see it all that often, though, because I crap my homescreen up with so much stuff, but oh well.
The apps: The Fold 5 lets me set different layouts for its inner and outer screens, and you bet your ass I take advantage of that. The outer screen is optimized for stuff I access most often while on the go, and once again, widgets and widget stacks play a big role here. The top widget stack has: calendar, to-do list, battery, Samsung’s version of Siri Suggestions (which works about as well as Apple’s version, read into that however you’d like), and the Alexa shopping list we use for groceries.
Below that is another widget stack with media widgets for Pocket Casts, Apple Music, Sonos, and my Galaxy Buds 2 Pro controls. Then a third widget below that is for the Samsung Weather app, which has a handy insights thing that came in the One UI 6 / Android 14 update. I’ve got some folders for music apps, smart home controls, and news apps like Artifact and Google News. FocusReader is my RSS app of choice on Android that I plug my Feedly account into, and I obsessively check the Play Store for app updates throughout the day, so there’s a shortcut to take me right to it next to the weather widget. Then there’s the ubiquitous Google Search widget that can now launch apps — so that’s mostly what I use it for — and my kind of boring home row with a folder for multiple messaging apps since Beeper Mini came out. Outlook is the best email app on Android, and Samsung Internet is the best browser on Android, fight me twice.
The inner screen is optimized for the things I do on a bigger screen, so there are a lot more apps and folders. I’ve got a books folder and a read-later folder for all the reading apps I use on my Fold, which is one of the primary things I do with it, plus social media time wasters like Megalodon for Mastodon, Threads, and Instagram. The calendar widget is a stack, of course, and I’m experimenting with the big battery widget, which is more useful when I have my earbuds connected and can see their status in it, too. Home row is boring again, but I took the phone app out of it because I don’t really take calls with the Fold open.
I also asked Dan to share a few things he’s into right now, other than constantly maintaining thousands of phones and widget stacks. Here’s what he shared:
- I’ve been reading the Silo trilogy of books about a decade late, and I’m about a third of the way through the last one, Dust. I loved the show on Apple TV Plus earlier this year, and I’ve been really enjoying the books, which have similar vibes, even if the story doesn’t line up 1:1 with the show.
- There’s finally a new season of Fargo airing now, and I love it. I’m extremely here for the Jon Hamm-aissance this year; he was great in the most recent season of The Morning Show, too.
- I stuck a MagSafe ring sticker to the back of my Z Fold 5 a few weeks ago, and it opened up a whole world of fun accessories I can share between my iPhone and it. Grips, kickstands, chargers, and batteries all work great, but my favorite is the hack I did by gluing a second MagSafe ring to the sleeve for an S Pen, and now I have a detachable S Pen holder without a bulky case.
Here’s what the Installer community is into this week. I want to know what you’re into right now as well! Email email@example.com with your recommendations for anything and everything, and we’ll feature some of our favorites here every week.
“I was just introduced to the Canadian ‘board game’ Crokinole, and it’s pretty rad. The boards are the size of a small table.” – Tom
“Throwback to an earlier Installer that brought up Omnivore as a read-it-later service. I have since moved all of my newsletters (including Installer) over to Omnivore and out of my standard email inbox. Having newsletters in a dedicated reader app not only cleans up my email but also is a much better format — and it has high-quality AI text-to-speech to read them to me.” – Nicholas
“Godzilla Minus One was fantastic and deserves attention from those that haven’t been traditionally interested in kaiju movies.” – Luke
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is an alternative story to the original comics. The cast from its movie adaptation is back. Combine that with the anime-like animation, and you have the perfect binge-watch for the weekend.” – Bahadir
“The Vergecast reminded me that this little device has connected my Nest devices to Apple HomeKit for over three years without breaking once. I forgot I even used it in my setup.” – Chris
“Informed. It’s a kinda new news app. Looks super clean. Articles don’t refresh as often as I’d like. Still rocking with it though.” – Omar
“Been loving the espresso I’ve been making this week with my new Wacaco Picopresso.” – James
“I’d like to recommend NowPlaying. This app is the most beautiful way to detect fun details about any song, album, or artist.” – Hidde
I’m writing to you this week from Las Vegas, where one of the year’s great sporting events is taking place. No, not that one. Not that one, either. Yes! It’s the Excel World Championships! There’s a huge community of exceptional Excel users out there, and they get together periodically to use spreadsheets to solve puzzles. It’s growing fast and is a surprisingly fun spectator sport — it even went kind of viral after showing up on ESPN last year.
If you’re reading this on Saturday, you can watch the finals live tonight on YouTube (look for me in the crowd!). If you’re not seeing this until Sunday, head over to the Financial Modeling World Cup’s YouTube page, and you can see all the competitions from this year. It’s nerdy, it’s thrilling, and I love it so much. If only I knew what a VLOOKUP was, I’d be unstoppable.