Top of the Morning: A Minimalist Early-Morning Personal Assistant

Just like pretty much every single smartphone user around the planet, the first thing I do when I wake up (after I’ve come around, of course) is check my phone. Usually, it’s an endless list of notifications: e-mails, mentions on Twitter and pointless messages from apps such as appsfire saying that some generic freemium game is now offering me a complementary bag of gold or whatever (note to self: turn these off).

But besides all these notifications, I like to get a dose of what’s happening for the day. As a Brit, I need to know what the weather will be doing (as my life is based around it) and what appointments I’ve got coming up for the day and so on. Of course, I could check my calendar app (which is currently Agenda Calendar — highly recommended), my weather app and so on, but Top of the Morning from App Distillery lets you do this all from one screen. The developers very kindly provided me with a promotional code for the purposes of this review, so let’s dive straight in and see what it’s got to offer.

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The Interface

Upon launching the app, I was extremely glad to see that Top of the Morning broke away from what I like to call “that generic iOS interface.” You know the one I’m talking about — where the different sections of the app are arranged along the bottom in the form of icons and everything just comes up as a list. Instead, it is organised around grid squares and fills your entire display — there’s no iOS status bar in sight.

The home screen of Top of the Morning, showing the different "tiles."

The home screen of Top of the Morning, showing the different “tiles.”

If you tap on the little cog icon in the top-left hand corner of the screen, you can choose between a number of sumptuous colours for your background. Currently, mine is Plum, however there are six to choose from (all themed around food and drink, oddly enough).

There are plenty of different themes to choose from.

There are plenty of different themes to choose from.

Top of the Morning has five tiles: one for the time, one for the current weather conditions, one for your calendar and reminders (which takes up the bulk of your screen), one for any recent news, and one for the stock market. As of yet, there’s no way to add or remove tiles — you are stuck with the default view — and you can’t drag or rearrange tiles. Given that the version I was testing is the initial release, I would hopefully expect these features to be present in a future update.

The clock tile in fullscreen view.

The clock tile in fullscreen view.

If you tap on a tile, it will bring you into a fullscreen view. You can either pinch or double-tap the screen again to return back to the grid view. The app has some fancy sound effects which, unfortunately, do start to grate after a while (to turn these off, tap on the cog icon in the top left-hand corner of the screen and deselect Sound Effects).

The Features

As Top of the Morning is a version 1.1 release, I’m prepared to excuse any missing features from the app (which I will mention here though, for our readers’ benefit) as it is still in its infancy.

Top of the Morning tells you your local weather conditions for the next 12 hours.

Top of the Morning tells you your local weather conditions for the next 12 hours.

The Weather tile shows you the current conditions outside your window and gives you a forecast for the next 12 hours in three-hour intervals (remember this is an app you’ll likely to be checking first thing in the morning, so what’s the point of knowing the weather four days in advance?) with the chance of precipitation and current temperature outside. You can switch between U.S. (i.e. degrees Fahrenheit) and SI (i.e. degrees Celsius) units, but if you like to check the weather forecast for a number of different cities, you’ll sadly be disappointed here — there’s no option for it. Having said that, it is useful to know what the weather is doing outside your window, rather than 3,000 miles away, and if you enable Location Services in your iPhone’s settings the app will automatically pull the most local weather data.

Your reminders and calendar pop up in the centre-most tile. As always, these are pulled directly from any calendars and reminder lists on your iPhone and you can choose which ones should be included within the app. With reminders, you can also choose to show all those that are incomplete or just the ones that are due today. I found this a nice little touch as it helps you concentrate on what’s due today, rather than worrying about what’s due during the rest of the week.

The most recent articles from your RSS feed are displayed in a tile.

The most recent articles from your RSS feed are displayed in a tile.

You can incorporate your favourite RSS feed into Top of the Morning and you can also search for the most popular ones (mine is currently the BBC News feed). The app will display the five most recent stories and tapping on one brings up the full article within the app’s built-in browser. Again, this won’t substitute your RSS reader, as only five articles are shown at any one time, but like I said before: this app is all about focusing on one thing and I think a massive list of articles would be a touch excessive.

The stocks tile.

The stocks tile.

The stock market tile provides you with a quick market snapshot of either the United States, Asia or Europe — delayed by 15 minutes. One feature that I would like to see is the ability to add your own stocks to this screen — in this case, I had to revert to the default Stocks app on the iPhone. Just like reminders and calendar events, you can swipe horizontally across your screen to view different stocks.

The Verdict

As I mentioned above, I was prepared to excuse the various missing features in Top of the Morning as it is a release in the teething stage and I’m sure with customer feedback and some helpful suggestions, more features will be added in upcoming releases. That being said, I can really see some potential in the app. The interface is minimalist and beautiful, and the application is really easy to use. With a few tweaks and improvements here and there, I can see myself consulting this every morning before I (manage to) haul myself out of bed and get started for the day.


Summary

A minimalist "morning assistant," giving you a quick overview of any tasks and calendar events due for the day, the current weather conditions, recent news articles and stock quotes.

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