Behind Apple Journal’s simplicity resides a concerted approach towards wellness

You no longer need to pen your thoughts in drafts in your mailbox. Or scribble them down in a document. If you’re using an Apple iPhone, that is. The iOS 17.2 update brings the Journal app, first announced at the company’s WWDC annual developer conference this summer, driven by the core idea to get you back into the habit of writing regularly, something that can often be useful in providing perspective as you glance into the past.

Wellness is one of the reasons why Apple has made this app, in the first place. (Image: Apple)

There’s flexibility with the type of content they can post, be it text, photos, videos, locations, web links or audio recordings, along with the ability to share and integrate with third-party note-taking apps too. There is on-device machine learning that draws suggestions based on photos, videos, audio clips or even locations from various saves, to suggest journal entries. From what we noticed upon setting up Journal, it is a mix of deeper questions about life (Have you changed your beliefs recently? What happened?), music or photos picked from their respective libraries, to spark inspiration.

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Look closely at how Journal is structured, and it becomes clear that wellness is one of the reasons why Apple has made this app in the first place.

To be sure, a 2018 study by researchers from Pennsylvania State University did conclude positive affect journaling (PAJ) reduces mental distress and increases well-being relative to baseline. It is also associated with less depressive symptoms and anxiety after 1 month of regular journaling.

A 2006 study by researchers Stanford Medicine’s Eric Stice, Nottingham Trent University’s Emily Burton, University of Texas at Austin’s Sarah Kate Bearman and Oregon Research Institute’s Paul Rohde also concluded that writing a journal can be as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy in reducing risk of depression in young adults.

It is perhaps why Apple has given Journal all the tools in its arsenal, for personalised suggestions. Those, that are classified as “moments”, place you at the centre. That’s why it emphasizes the music you’ve been listening to, the photos you’ve clicked, perhaps even FaceTime calls with friends or family – anything that could be a signal to Journal about an important person, place or thing in your life.

We have spent comparatively little time on the Journal app to know how the expanse of suggestions pan out over weeks and months, but initial indications hint at a bias towards recency with music listening-led prompts, while it tends to go much deeper into the past with media. Life’s greater questions are thought-provoking.

The one device that tends to have everything, is the phone. Journal’s machine learning suggestions can pick from that, which makes sense to have this as an app on the iPhone. Though you always are at risk of revising a memory you wouldn’t want to – that is because algorithms have no context or sensitivity towards such matters, and it’ll go about merrily picking moments that it so pleases to choose and suggest. A thin layer to counter this is Journaling Suggestions (these showed up at the first run, but we couldn’t locate them later) that let you pick what Journal can or cannot access (Photos or Phone calls, for instance).

Interestingly, Apple is making the ability to suggest, which will work as an API (or application programming interface), available to third-party journaling apps as well. They insist that no matter what the app or type of suggestion, all processing is done on the device. If you do backup to iCloud, those are completely encrypted too. Sharing to Journal (such as a web link or a video file) is simple, as is sharing from Journal (sending as a message, email or pinning it in another app). Mind you, this will not be a replacement for an app where you may be bookmarking links to read later or for jotting down your to-do lists. It is simply meant to be a digital version of the good old diary, that we all let go of, at some point.

Journaling on your iPhone will be a simple way to reflect on your life’s timeline. Whether it leads to a better you, depends entirely on you.

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