A few weeks with Streaks

Last month, John Voorhees wrote a positive review of a new update to the Streaks habit-tracking app, and I decided to give it a go. In general, I like the app and will continue to use it, but there are some maddening aspects to its design and behavior.

First, the good stuff. The main Streaks view is very simple and easy to parse at a glance.

Streaks basic view

I have here two habits I’m trying to develop: reading fiction1 and writing more for the blog. Streaks can show two “pages” of habit buttons and each page can hold six habits. Because you don’t have to fill the first page to put habits on the second, you can use the pages to categorize your habits. I’m going to start using the second page to make some corrections to my diet.

My favorite part of Streaks is that it gives you lots of options for defining a habit. They can be duration-based, as my reading and writing habits are; counted, e.g., how many glasses of water I drank today; or negative, e.g., I did not eat chips today. And the timing of habits is realistically flexible. You can make them

I especially love this aspect of Streaks, because rigid scheduling—as you might do on a calendar—can be particularly hard to maintain when family and work obligations intrude. My 30-minute writing habit, for example, is set for four days per week.

Streaks task editing

I’m not trying to become a professional writer, so there’s no need to establish a daily habit. And travel for work often gets in the way of writing on certain days of the week. But I also don’t want to allow myself to let days and days go by between writing. The x days per week setting is the perfect way to handle this kind of habit.

On the other hand, I find the visual design of some parts of Streaks confusing. When I was first trying it out, I couldn’t figure out how to edit a habit. I seemed clear that I should start by tapping on the gear in the lower left corner of the main screen, but none of the menu items that appeared when I did that gave me the ability to edit a task.

Streaks settings view

Because my eye was drawn to the menu at the bottom, I didn’t notice that the badges on the icons above had changed to ellipses. It was only after going through every option in the menu at the bottom that I saw the ellipses and realized what they were for.

Navigating through the various screens is also often an exercise in searching for where to tap. Here are the sharing and statistics screens for one of my habits. You dismiss one of them by tapping in the upper left corner and the other by tapping in the lower right corner.

Sharing and statistics screens

A little more consistency would be nice.

More annoying, though, is Streaks’s seeming inability to communicate with itself across devices and even between functions on a single device. As a result, it often prompts me to get going on one of my habits while I am in the middle of doing it.

For example, my reading habit is set to remind me at 7:15 PM. If I start the Reading timer at 7:10 on my phone or watch and then begin reading on my iPad, I usually get interrupted five minutes later with a Streaks notification on my iPad telling me to start reading. I don’t think it’s fair of Streaks to remind me to do something I’m already doing.

Maybe this problem of inter-device communication comes from some limitation imposed by Apple and isn’t the fault of Streaks. But two nights ago I started the timer for a reading session on my watch shortly before 7:15. A couple of minutes later, the alarm on my watch went off telling me to start reading. This seems more like a problem with Streaks, but I suppose it, too, could be due to an Apple bug.

Overall, I like Streaks and will keep using it. The layout inconsistencies are mostly troublesome when you first start using the app—although they shouldn’t be there, you soon learn to work around them. The spurious notifications, though, are a more serious problem. I hate being nagged to do something I’m already doing.

  1. My outside-of-work reading has become way too biased towards news and opinion pieces; this is an attempt at balance.