Noted Interviews: Julen Verea

The tech space is full of creative people, exciting projects and interesting products. With Noted Interviews, we tap into the brilliant minds of the people behind such works, letting you know why and how they do what they do, and giving you a better insight into who they are as individuals.

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Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Julen Verea and I’m the person behind AppFreak. You could say I’m a stereotypical nerd with too much to say about the way we use tech, so this site is a perfect platform to elaborate on geek topics.

During the day I work for a telecommunications company and I’m in contact with ‘normal people’ who have trouble with their gadgets. This is a huge inspiration for me. A lot of my writing aims to help others and in return, I often get very valuable feedback from the readers.

What inspired you to begin AppFreak?

"I CANNOT HIDE MY PASSION FOR SOFTWARE, ALTHOUGH WHAT REALLY INTERESTS ME IS THE STORY BEHIND IT."


I’ve always found writing a great exercise to collect one’s thoughts. Before AppFreak I toyed with other short-lived projects but this one was the idea I wouldn’t get tired of. In 2006, I discovered something called ‘The Delicious Generation’ which, to put it simply, was a group of Mac app developers who where making apps more visual, more fun. For the first time I realised that there was a person creating these tools. These guys could express themselves in an almost artistic way. I also learned some of them were working independently and were able to design apps unlike the apps I had used before. At that time I started to participate in online communities, would attend Apple Store talks, and began interacting with other like-minded people on a new social network called Twitter. Soon enough, the 140 characters were too short and I found myself posting on a blog.

I cannot hide my passion for software, although what really interests me is the story behind it. Federico Viticci from MacStories captures this idea perfectly when he says “I write about technology, but it’s really more about the people”.

You operate under the pseudonym AppFreak for the most part. Although your identity isn’t secret per se, why is this the case?

AppFreak's furry, purple avatar

AppFreak's furry, purple avatar

It probably doesn’t make much sense now but I like keeping this online identity alive. The reason is kind of sad. Some years ago I worked for a media company doing editorial work. My articles would be signed with my real name and our contract had some unclear clause implying we weren’t allowed to write elsewhere — you can picture an office full of very curious people who were definitely involved in side projects even if we couldn’t say it too loud. Not using my name was the way to go. 

When you meet people in real life the nickname doesn’t help at all and can lead to awkward situations. At the Mobile Games Forum last year, for example, I met a bunch of women in gaming studios and I swear the organiser looked very surprised to see I was a man and not a woman.

What does your current setup look like? What tools do you rely on to maintain the site? 

These days I spend so much time in front of a PC at work so I really enjoy the freedom a laptop gives me to move around the house. I use a mid-2012 Macbook Air upgraded with the 2GHz Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and SSD. I’ve been in love with its form-factor since the day the Macbook Air was announced and, in fact, I waited and waited knowing I had to get the best iteration of it. I decided to go for this his model as soon as it was announced and bought it with top-of-the-line specs fearing Apple would change the design on the next Macbook Air line!

Since I’m usually working in bed or on the sofa, I don’t have any external keyboard or mouse. For files I keep off the cloud, I use a LaCie Rugged 1TB external hard drive and some cheap 1TB Touros for things like Time Machine backups. I also have drawers full of impulse-buy gadgets and loads of cases and stuff I’m sent for review, but I don’t really use them.

Specializing in apps, I have to ask what your favorite/most used apps are and why?

On the software side I tend to use most of Apple’s stock apps with the exception of Fantastical for calendars. Apple's Mac Calendar app has received a lot of criticism but it has some neat system integration — creating events from Mail, for example — so I do launch it from time to time. 

I use the old version of iA Writer because I like its Spartan interface, typeface, iCloud storage and it helps me a lot with Markdown formatting. The majority of the time I jump to iA Writer once I have a consistent draft that I’ve put together on Simplenote. You wouldn’t believe the amount of things I put in there. Simplenote is great for writing down ideas on the go with the iPhone app without the sensation that they have to look pretty. I throw a lot in there and I would happily pay an annual subscription for the service. 

Other apps that make my life easier with Mac and iPhone versions of OmniFocus, Dropbox and 1Password. I tend to scan a lot of documents and convert them to PDF — my preferred app is Readdle’s Scanner Pro — and upload them to Dropbox. I’ve been using 1Password for nine years now and the way the iOS app integrates TouchID and Safari extensions has changed the way I use my iPhone.

What are your thoughts on apps for emerging platforms like the smartwatch/Apple Watch? Could they lead to a whole new gold rush in the App Store or are they simply extending the smartphone experience?

After listening to Marco Arment or David Smith on their respective podcasts about WatchKit, I’m not incredibly excited. The beauty of mobile apps is see how they do actual stuff like grown-up desktop apps but Apple Watch apps will have serious limitations. I’m afraid all the smartwatch applications we have seen to date (like notifications on the Pebble) won’t cut it. Compared to the iPhone market, Apple Watch sales are going to be so insignificant that those apps won’t have any impact on the App Store, in my opinion.  

"The smartwatch applications we have seen to date won’t cut it."

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Apple is in trouble by any stretch. The watch is going to be sold to a different type of customer. The Apple Watch doesn’t need to do many things well because it is mostly a fashion accessory. Comparing it with the iPod, for example, which was a music player first and, in addition, a gadget that was fashionable.

What tech are you most excited to see over the next 12 months?

With the amount of high profile acquisitions last year such as WhatsApp or Minecraft, I want to see if this app bubble can keep the momentum. Some studios are putting out incredible apps and some, like the awesome Citymapper, is probably ripe for acquisition. 

In the same way apps bring new life to existing tech, I’m really interested in the progression of podcasting as a medium. Last year Serial brought in a new audience and I’m really excited by the work of people like Myke Hurley at Relay FM and Jason Snell at The Incomparable

I haven’t looked into Apple’s HomeKit much but I’m hoping to see more and more home automation products out, even if they don’t use the platform. More competition can only make these devices more accessible and get more people to create cool stuff with them. 

This year I’m also going to be experimenting with the possibilities of contactless payment systems have available in the UK. There are some interesting applications, quirky hacks and integration with apps and existing APIs that I want to check out. Whether I succeed or not, expect a series of posts on the topic soon...

What does 2015 hold for Julen Verea and AppFreak

Now that you’ve launched Noted, I’ll be waiting for an invitation to write about something cool. Every year I motivate myself to attend events and the next one is EGX Rezzed, which this year is in London. On a personal level, I can only wish this year changes in life will allow me to continue writing and enjoy hobbies like board gaming.

Where can people find out more about you and your work?

The best way to get in touch is on Twitter @appfreak and check out my latest writing on appfreakblog.com.