Do Day One’s Updates Keep It on Top?

It was a premature spring day in March of 2011 that users began downloading Bloom Built’s Day One en masse from the Mac App Store. People initially reacted by asking for more features and bug fixes, as the comments in our review later in the month of March show. It’s not that they didn’t like the app at all, but rather that it was incomplete for what it was meant to be. The majority asked for something that was not being delivered — something that arrived a month later: search.

Now, 20 months after the release of version 1.0 on the Mac App Store, I’d like to take another in-depth look at the features Day One has adopted since we last told you about it.


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Password Protection, iCloud Sync, and Photos

Security

Keeping your personal thoughts secure never used to be a concern, because they weren’t digital. Now, however, that password on your Mac may not be enough to convince you that your information is safe. That is, of course, understandable, and the developers of Day One agreed, so they added password protection in version 1.2 (released in August 2011). It’s a simple feature that you can turn on in the Security tab of the app’s Preferences.

Setting a password to "protect" your journal.

Setting a password to “protect” your journal.

Along with this new feature come some options. First there’s locking. You can tell the app you want it to require a password after a certain amount of time has gone by without you having accessed your journal. By default, this number is 20 minutes, though you can change it in the Security tab or even uncheck the box to disable it entirely (which locks the journal right after you close it). Lastly, there’s a checkbox for locking the app when your computer goes to sleep, which is also enabled by default.

Cloud Synchronization Improved

Switching on the cloud.

Switching on the cloud.

Day One originally came with Dropbox support. Its purpose was to keep all your files saved in a secure remote server. Then, in October 2011, Apple launched iCloud, its own “cloud storage” that Apple product owners were supplied with for free. Since this was more appealing to developers than the multi-step authorization process of Dropbox, many migrated to it, but some stuck to the old ways. Right now Day One offers both. To set up iCloud, go to the Sync tab of the app’s Preferences and click “Use iCloud…”. The same goes for Dropbox, but sadly the app does not allow you to have them both enabled at once.

Photographs

Importing a photo.

Importing a photo.

The biggest feature that’s been added since version 1.0, besides search, is support for photos. That means you can now use the app as an alternative to Instagram, Facebook, or Flickr. It’s a personal photo diary that can only be accessed by you on your devices. To start using the photos feature, create an entry and drag the photo to it. Alternatively, you can browse for the photo by clicking the camera icon and selecting your choice. The one limitation to this feature is that you can only have one per entry; this does cause it to look a lot better on the iOS app’s gallery.

Automatic Backup, Markdown, and Calendar View

Backup

Version 1.5 brought a lot of great features to Day One, from fullscreen mode to printing to nifty shortcuts like CMD + S to save an entry. One of the most notable, however, was automatic backup. Dropbox and iCloud sync are appealing to people who trust the cloud, but if you’re one of those insecure people who enjoy the safety of their computer’s hard drive (or backup one), it’s better to have something that automatically backs up all your thoughts to a safe place.

Setting up the backup.

Setting up the backup.

If you head to the Backup tab of Preferences, you can set up automatic journal backups. (They’re actually enabled by default and set to save daily.) There’s an option to change the frequency of these automatic backups, though there are only three settings: daily, every two days, and weekly — nothing custom. The other settings in this tab are the backup location and maximum number of files you’d like to store in the directory. Be aware that each backup contains all your entries, not just the ones since the last time you secured them.

Markdown

Adding some appeal to text.

Adding some appeal to text.

Remember that cool code by John Gruber? It may not be Leet, but it sure is an easy way to format things without a lot of unnecessary keyboard shortcuts. Day One supports it, too. Now, if you’re planning on writing a lot of words and need to quickly italicize them, you can always press CMD + I and it will make things easier, but don’t forget that you are using a lightweight markup language. Make use of it — the app wants you to.

Calendar View

Looking at a few months of journal entries.

Looking at a few months of journal entries.

Perhaps the niftiest feature this app has, calendar view is your way of quickly browsing old entries by looking at a digital datebook. You can scroll through every month you’ve made an entry in, click the day, and browse the entries for it. Everything is organized nicely, though you may get some lag when you get to the bottom. Maybe it’s all those heavyweight entries finally catching up with you. Of course, if you’re looking for something on a specific day, don’t waste time clicking it; instead, hover over the day and scan the text.

Extensions Like Slogger Make it Great

Slogger, a tool for social logging.

Slogger, a tool for social logging.

Thanks to Brett Terpstra, developer mainly of Simplenote client nvALT, you can now import your social activity into Day One automatically. Terpstra created a tool called Slogger, which uses services like IFTTT, RSS feeds, and Twitter’s API to access your social activity and add all your thoughts into a single journal. For some people, this might be annoying, but for others it’s a great way to keep track of all their digital life. You can even save Last.fm scrobbles instead of writing “I’m listening to Awakening by Switchfoot” in a journal entry. Before you download the tool, make sure you read the developer’s guide on how it works and are clear on the more complex things. (It is a script, not a full app that’s a one-click setup. Then again, all good things are.)

Encryption is Necessary for Survival

The app asks for authorization.

The app asks for authorization.

Password protection is one thing; keeping your thoughts completely safe is another entirely. You may think that adding a password to Day One will protect your thoughts from theft, but it actually won’t. First, it’d be very easy to decode due to lack of encryption and second, all the journal’s files are in plain text, which even a four-year-old could open without guidance. Knowing this, would you download Day One and trust it with your personal thoughts?

On Its Way to Glory Road

'Tis the season for journaling.

‘Tis the season for journaling.

Day One has won many awards so far, and the developers should be proud of their creation. However, there are still many things users both want and deserve. Security should be the developers’ top priority, not just bug fixes. If encryption and tags are both in the plans for this app, then great — they’re on the right track. Right now, even with all its UI polish and high hopes, it’s still missing what savants would consider the base element and that’s disappointing, especially for the rather high price of $9.99. Compared to MacJournal, it isn’t that bad, but compared to the Mac App Store competition, it appears steep.


Summary

In most areas, this could be called the best journaling app available for Apple products. In one particular — security —, however, it does not succeed. That's what brings Day One down below MacJournal and the competition.

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  • David

    Nice review. I’ve seen Day One trumpeted on the App Store, but being a MacJournal user I didn’t look into it too heavily. It looks to be a very nice program based on the review written here and the screenshots. It’s still new software, so I’m sure it will come along nicely.

    I only have one question – possibly a gripe. Why is $9.99 considered a “high price”? MacJournal costs four times that amount. I think that MacJournal’s price is fair for the software’s feature set – is $9.99 too expensive for what Day One is offering, or are we all getting used to the iOS “99 cent app” pricing? The review certainly didn’t make it seem like Day One is very light-weight compared to MacJournal.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      To answer your question, it may be a personal thing. I just happen to think that $9.99 sounds expensive. It isn’t for what you get, but when most people see that price they are turned away. The same goes for Tweetbot, though that’s more of an elite utility.

  • Jim Huls

    It amazes me that people consider $9.99 to be a high price. A few years ago an app like this would have sold for $29.99 and not widely criticized for the price.

    • SM

      I think the problem is that with so many new apps being released, people expect to buy several of them. So while the apps are of quality, people still want quantity.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      Times have changed and base price points are different now because of the way the products are promoted. I suppose it’s just weird to see something at $9.99 when you have a lot of other apps (not the same genre) for $.99.

  • Alex

    I love this app, but all the journal’s files are in plain text is a no go. Come on, it’s 2012. Encyption of personal data IS (!) standard.

  • Peter Brülls

    The “high price” caveat is quite bizarre. This is a moderately priced app, totally appropriate for what it delivers, considering that Apple prevents developers from paid upgrades.

    Encryption is a must? Meh – sorry, if your thoughts are so important, encrypt your disk (a sensible must of any mobile device anyway) and use a password. And why in Hell would you give a four-year-old access to your own account?

  • Mr. Milk

    High price? Based on what? Features and benefits, technical complexity or simply the cannibalized 0.99 tag?

    A password database (1Password) 49.99. A simple recipe database (Paprika) 29.99, an alternative iCal UI (BusyCal 29.99), a not-so-fancy GTD (Things 2) 49.99, another good to-do app (2Do) 29.99, a great twitter client (Tweetbot) 29.99.

  • Vanish

    Day One has tagging, very rich tagging in fact. I’m curious how you can mention Slogger without having read that Slogger 2 had to change the way it did tags to support the tag format Day One uses.

    As for encryption, I use a 3rd party tool to encrypt files on the fly. I’m good enough with that. I, personally, don’t write down (digitally or otherwise) any thoughts so private I would do anything to keep them secret. Even encryption can be defeated, and usually much more swiftly than you’d think.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      Sorry about the bit about tagging. I skipped over it and was mistaken. My mention of Slogger was meant to be brief because it’s not technically a “feature” of the app itself, but rather an add-on.

      I can understand that. Everyone is different in their use of a journal, and most users just don’t like insecurity. (Just look at the reviews in the Mac App Store for an example.)

  • http://www.jacoblo.se Jacob

    Frequent user of Day One and love it. Great app, great UI and no problem with the price.

    I would love a few ideas from Momento (http://www.momentoapp.com/) that would make Day One even more of a killer app.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      I’ve heard many great things about Momento, but I never tried it because it’s for iPhone and there’s not a Mac app. That part struck me as a shame.

  • Sterling W.

    Encryption or bust. Encryption on both the Mac OS and iOS versions and I’ll pay double the asking price.

    • Angry Bird

      Funny that it’s a JOURNAL aka DIARY app (hint: PERSONAL) but people make laugh at such a BASIC feature called ENCRYPTION.
      “OMgggzomlolllllzzzzz encryptstion, waht for lolzzzz”.

      (Edited to remove profanity.)

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      I would as well, simply because it’s a requirement. You can always turn on FileVault if you’re that unhappy with it.

      • http://juicycocktail.com/ Rafael Bugajewski

        Hi, I’m Rafael, the lead developer behind the diary app Memories (http://juicycocktail.com/software/memories/). We have a different focus than Day One and think that privacy is one of the most important values when writing a personal diary. It’s even more important when you store your thoughts in the cloud where theoretically everybody who gains access to the servers can read everything. While using FileVault will locally encrypt your entries, they still will be uploaded in readable plain text which kind of nullifies the solution if you want to store your journal in the cloud.

        Memories uses top-notch encryption which is comparable to password managers like 1Password and makes everything unreadable without knowing the password. There are also some other nice features. Let me know if you have questions or want to know a little bit more about how to securely store your private thoughts in the cloud.

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