The Apple Journal app was a disappointment, but with the new features announced at WWDC 2024 I may be tempted back

WWDC
(Image credit: Apple)

A few months ago I spent a week with the Apple Journal app trying to get a feel for it and test out whether this software beats out physical diary-keeping. As someone who’s maintained a diary since I was 12-years-old, I had high expectations for the app, but sadly they weren’t met. In reality, I found it to be a basic, boring diary app. However, at WWDC 2024 Apple announced a handful of new features coming to Journal that might actually get me using the app. 

If you missed the various revelations at WWDC 2024, Apple announced a whole load of new features for iOS 18, as well as macOS 15 Sequoia, and introduced Apple Intelligence. Amongst the bigger news like an updated Siri, Apple snuck in a few minutes to talk about a new Journal app and a refreshed interface, which piqued my interest and actually got me excited. 

What new features am I keen to try out? First off, there’s that brand-new user interface, moving away from the dreary timeline-esque layout to a more modern app look. This includes insights that track your writing streaks, how many words you’ve written in total in Journal, and a cool little graph to let you know how many entries you’ve done during the year.

Separating from the pack 

You can also keep a tab of how many restaurants you’ve visited each year, with all the information displayed neatly in one place. This is a very welcome change from the current Journal layout that just opens on your most recent entry, with a single drop-down menu and not much insight available. 

If you cast your mind back to my first experience with the rather boring Journal app, one of my main complaints was the fact that the application was kind of lackluster. I observed that there are plenty of better journaling clients on the App Store that can offer so much more, and for a journaling app on your phone you would think you’d get access to better features than just: ‘Here's some recommended photos from your trip today - write about them!’ 

One of the new features announced at WWDC that I feel adds to the user experience is the ability to log your state of mind. It may seem like a small thing to log how you feel with a sliding bar, but it allows the Journal app to distance itself from being just another note-taking app on your phone.

I mean, I can do that on the Notes app no problem, but as someone who journals for their mental health and to track how I’m feeling, having a nice clear log of the different headspaces and mood shifts throughout the week (or month, or even year) is a great insight, and one I think many people could benefit from. No more color-coding or shuffling through multiple entries to find how you felt, instead you can have a clear overview that automatically saves and categorizes the data you put in. 

 A massive improvement with search 

Finally, and I think most importantly, the one change that will tempt me to give Journal another go will be the ability to search. Apple touched on this very quickly before moving on, which is a little odd as I consider it to be the most important change! 

Right now, when you’ve got a plentiful amount of entries and you don’t want to keep having to scroll down for ages to find something specific, you have limited filter options to pinpoint what you might be looking for. This includes categories like Bookmarked posts, entries with photos, Reflections, and logged places.

But that isn’t really specific enough to narrow things down. I’m an emotional girlie, and with the length and depth of my entries, these categories are simply not helpful enough for me to find some long dramatic paragraph where I was deep in my feels - or a collection of photos or notes from places that are either very old or quite personal. 

However, we’re finally getting search capabilities! With all the features discussed above, actual search functionality feels like the bow on top. With better insights and mood tracking, I can already see myself reaching for the Journal app more, but now that I can effectively search for people, places, keywords, moods, and whatever else I may be looking for, I can actually see myself using the app for a lot longer.  

Search may seem like a relatively minor change to be excited about, but as I said already, the way the app is laid out right now makes it feel like your older posts just kind of get lost in the abyss. But, as someone who uses their diary as a best friend and confidant as well as a shopping list, thought dump, and just a place to be a little raw with feelings, it’ll be an absolute game-changer to be able to weed out the mess and get to what I’m looking for. 

Overall, the Journal app may have only taken up a few minutes of the WWDC 2024 keynote, but I’m buzzing and can’t wait to see the new refreshed version. Plus, Apple Intelligence improves your writing skills and offers suggestions, and I can see a lot of people not only using the app more, but perhaps even using it to store project ideas or scripts, logs, and other material besides.

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Muskaan Saxena
Computing Staff Writer

Muskaan is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing writer. She has always been a passionate writer and has had her creative work published in several literary journals and magazines. Her debut into the writing world was a poem published in The Times of Zambia, on the subject of sunflowers and the insignificance of human existence in comparison. Growing up in Zambia, Muskaan was fascinated with technology, especially computers, and she's joined TechRadar to write about the latest GPUs, laptops and recently anything AI related. If you've got questions, moral concerns or just an interest in anything ChatGPT or general AI, you're in the right place. Muskaan also somehow managed to install a game on her work MacBook's Touch Bar, without the IT department finding out (yet).