Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Journal is a free app bundled with iPhones that allows users to easily record thoughts, photos, videos, and more.
  • The app emphasizes minimalism and simplicity, lacking the advanced features found in many paid journaling apps.
  • The standout feature of Journal is “Journaling Suggestions,” which intelligently suggests events and prompts for users to include in their entries.

Why pay for a journaling app when your iPhone includes one for free? Journal lets you record your thoughts, photos and videos, activities, and more in a simple, private diary. Here’s why you should give it a try.

Why It’s a Good Idea to Start a Journal

Everyone has their reasons for starting a journal, and everyone’s journal looks different. For some, it’s a means of getting thoughts down “on paper” while for others it’s a much simpler affair. Write down how you’re feeling, what you’ve accomplished, what you’re looking forward to, or even what you had for dinner last night.

One of the main roles of a journal is as a tool for processing your thoughts. Writing down how you feel can help you contextualize events in your life. These don’t have to be hugely traumatic events, your journal can be far more mundane and still have a benefit. You don’t even need to write an entry every day.

With digital journaling, you have even more options. Your journal could be a selection of favorite photos or videos. You can record audio and insert it into your entries. Journals like this can help you remember events that might otherwise get buried in your Camera Roll, or forgotten in the Voice Memos app.

You don’t have to read your entries, either, since the mere act of writing can be beneficial. That said, there’s no better place to keep personal records of your feelings or thoughts. Note-taking apps and word processors can feel impersonal and are often ill-suited to recording an ongoing stream of consciousness.

If you struggle to remember things, a journal might be worth a shot. If you’re lacking motivation and want to keep yourself accountable, try writing down the things you hope to achieve. If you struggle to see a change in your life over time, consulting past entries is a useful way to see how you and your life have developed. And if you’re convinced to start journaling already, give Apple’s Journal app a shot.

What Is Apple’s Journal App?

Journal is a free app that’s bundled with the iPhone. While you can technically keep a journal in any note-taking or word-processing app, Journal is designed to make it easy to record events, activities, and thoughts so that they can be consumed in an easy-to-digest manner.

The app prioritizes minimalism, lacking many of the more advanced features found in paid journaling apps. There are effectively two main views: your entries and the compose screen.

Journal entry in the Apple Journal app.

The Journal app is available to iPhone users as of the iOS 17.2 update. If you don’t see the app, try updating your iPhone under Settings > General > Software Update. If your device isn’t compatible with iOS 17, you won’t be able to use Journal.

Journal can be deleted like many of Apple’s other stock apps, and it can also be downloaded again from the App Store.

Why Bother Using the Journal App?

Journal is a free app, so you haven’t got much to lose by trying it out. Similar apps like Day One and Clearful lock certain features behind premium plans (though their basic functionality is also free). Third-party journal apps are generally a lot more feature-rich, which isn’t necessarily to everyone’s tastes.

Apple’s Journal app brings together many aspects of your life that you probably already track on your iPhone. It’s easy to import moments from your Photos library or workouts that you’ve completed from the Fitness app, but the app remains inherently simple and easy to use.

Journal is a bit like the default iPhone camera app. It’s designed to be as accessible as possible, at the cost of complexity. You’ll get more features and control out of a third-party app, but the basic functions of a journal are right there when you tap the icon.

The app stores entries in iCloud by default, so everything is backed up (and pushed to any other iPhones you happen to link to your Apple ID). If Apple decides to add iPad and Mac versions of Journal, this feature will be essential but, for now, it only acts as a backup.

There’s a good chance that Journal is installed and ready to go right now, on your most personal device. You probably have your iPhone in your hand, pocket, or next to you 24 hours a day. It’s always there whenever creativity or the need to write strikes, but Journal is also good at prompting you by highlighting things you might want to record.

Journal Suggestions Is the Standout Feature

If you’re looking for more than a personalized feed of your raw thoughts, “Journal Suggestions” is a feature that can help. When you start using Journal, you’ll be asked if you want to enable the feature. Go ahead, and your iPhone will intelligently suggest events or activities that you might want to include in journal entries.

With a tap, you can record events that your iPhone has identified based on photos and videos you have taken. This includes day trips, concerts, and dining out. Photos that you’ve taken while recording a workout like a hike will be grouped. You’ll also get the opportunity to include memories from Photos that happen to coincide with the current date, like a look back at what you were doing a year ago.

Recording a workout and photo within the same entry.

You can also include what you’ve listened to, often bundled with whatever you were doing at the time. If you listen to a podcast while working out, the two will be dropped into your journal together. Journal even seems to pull seemingly random events out of thin air, like trips you’ve taken in the past or festive periods.

While many of these suggestions are trivial, it’s nice to be able to quickly and easily record fitness milestones like your longest run or a new hike, remember a birthday meal complete with who was there and what you ate, or reflect on an impactful album you listened to. You can write a few words about the event you’re recording, or leave it blank.

Recording a strength training workout while listening to a podcast.

On top of this, you’ll also get “Reflections” which act as writing prompts. You’ve probably seen these before, and you might find them a little bit cliché. One such example we spotted was “Take a look around you and take a picture of something you’ve overlooked. What do you notice about it?”

Tweak Your Journal Settings

Privacy is important, so it’s worth noting that you can lock your journal. You can do this using the Settings > Journal menu by requiring a Face ID scan to unlock your journal (with the ability to use your device passcode if Face ID fails). Just remember that anyone who knows your passcode can access your journal, among other things.

Setting up a schedule and privacy controls in Journal settings.

This same menu lets you enable the Journaling Schedule which reminds you at an interval of your choosing to complete an entry. You can also disable the “Journaling Suggestions” pop-up screen under this menu, useful if you just want to get straight to writing down your thoughts when you hit the compose button.

While composing, you can easily drop in different types of media like photos, audio, and your current location, and add images directly from your camera using the corresponding buttons. There’s also a button on the far left of the toolbar (that looks like a wand or a pencil) to show the Journaling Suggestions pop-up.

Journal Isn’t Perfect

Journal is a very simple app, and for many that’s all it needs to be. As a private record of thoughts and life events, it works well. If you’re looking for more depth, then you might want to opt for a premium alternative like Day One.

Journal doesn’t allow you to share your entries to the web (not that you’d necessarily want to), and there are no collaboration features either. You can always edit an entry, copy the text, and share it elsewhere if you want. At present, Journal is designed as a wholly private experience.

Apple has yet to add Journal actions to the Shortcuts app, which could make it easier to record your thoughts in the future. There’s no home screen widget that lets you quickly start journaling, nor is there the ability to automate Journal entries based on activity (like completing a workout).

Journaling Suggestions is a neat feature, but it needs more time to marinate. I saw the same old suggestions in my feed, with nothing appearing from the Phone, Calendar, or Maps apps. There’s a Suggestions API that developers can access, but during my testing, only Apple apps appeared. In time, it would be good to be able to filter apps, too.

I’d love to see more control over suggestions when adding them to new entries. Journal often suggests that you record a small selection of photos and videos of an event when many more photos of that same event happen to exist. You can’t swap out these images for others, and sometimes Journal suggests blurry or sub-optimal images.

Just like Apple Notes, getting your entries out of Journal is a challenge. There’s no export option, and you can only copy text from the “Edit Entry” screen. Be aware of this if you’d like more control over your entries in the future, as it could be a big issue if you decided to leave the Apple ecosystem.

Apple’s Journal is a promising start, and its simple, no-frills approach makes it accessible. If you’re really into journaling you probably already use a more advanced app, but if you’re just dipping your toes then Journal is a great place to experiment without committing to a paid product.

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By John P.

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