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iPhone Journal app is now available, but there’s something you should do before you use it

Published Dec 12th, 2023 12:25PM EST
iOS 17.2 beta Journal app
Image: José Adorno for BGR

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When Apple unveiled the Journal app coming to iPhone and iPad in iOS 17, I thought I’d never want to journal on iPhone or iPad. Ever. It’s not that I don’t believe in the power of journaling for one’s well-being. It’s more about having those thoughts jotted down digitally for what may amount to little more than posterity.

I never signed up for the iOS 17 betas, so I never got to try the Journal app until now. iOS 17.2 is out with various new features and improvements, and my first reaction to it was, “Let’s delete the Journal app.” But since it’s part of my job, I first had to try the app and see what it’s all about.

You see, between WWDC and now, I’ve had a slight change of heart about the Journal app. I might not want to keep track of my mental state and feelings with it, and I might not want the iPhone to suggest anything to jot down. But I might use the Journal app to keep track of trips I take, or even my workouts. Especially if these overlap. And let me tell you that I have plenty of thoughts and feelings about training for a marathon on cold winter nights. Who knows what else I might jot down in the process?

If I were to use the Journal app, I’d first have to protect it with a password. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to do it, and I’ll tell you why it’s the first thing you should do if you decide to use the new Journal app.

Journal uses AI to suggest journaling ideas

The Journal onboarding experience informs you that it has AI features. Apple doesn’t use the term “AI” anywhere in its marketing speak for the time being, choosing “on-device intelligence” and “machine learning” instead. However, the Journal will use AI to pull information from the iPhone and suggest journaling ideas.

The Journal onboarding process informs you about smart suggestions.
The Journal onboarding process informs you about smart suggestions. Image source: Chris Smith, BGR

As expected you’ll be able to customize suggestions. You can enable Activity, Media, Contacts, Photos, and Significant Locations. Since I did say I only want to journal for specific use cases. I’m likely to only have a few of those toggles enabled. The Activity and Photos are the most likely ones, with special emphasis on the former.

You can choose what information to be part of those journaling suggestions.
You can choose what information to be part of those journaling suggestions. Image source: Chris Smith, BGR

But these splash screens made me realize the Journal app can contain plenty of sensitive data. There will be plenty of iPhone and iPad users who will want to use the Journal app for their well-being. Considering the smart suggestions that will let you quickly add links to people, places, and photos, you might want to keep everything private.

How to protect Journal with Face ID

The Journal app will keep track of your state of mind, and that’s very personal. It’s not about Apple accessing that data or someone hacking it. It’s about your Journal entries staying confidential and protected. Nobody with access to your iPhone or iPad should get access to that part of your life unless invited.

The process only works if you trust it completely. That means trusting it with the thoughts you might have about the people in your life, including those people with access to your iPhone and iPad.

How the Journal experience starts on iPhone.
How the Journal experience starts on iPhone. Image source: Chris Smith, BGR

Sadly, the app itself doesn’t offer a way to protect your Journal entries with a password or PIN. But any longtime iPhone user would know to head to the iPhone Settings app and look for a new Journal tab. That’s where advanced protection might lie.

That’s indeed the place where you’ll be able to lock your Journal with a password or Face ID. Unfortunately, this isn’t an app-specific password the app provides. You can use your device passcode to lock the app down.

The iPhone settings lets you lock your Journal app with a password/Face ID.
The iPhone settings lets you lock your Journal app with a password/Face ID. Image source: Chris Smith, BGR

A better, more secure way to protect your Journal app would be to pair Face ID with a different password like you would protect your internet banking apps.

Anyone with access to your devices, like children who know your iPhone and/or iPad password, could open the Journal app even when Face ID fails. And yes, I know that using an app-specific password means Apple then have to deploy a forgotten password feature.

I explained I wanted such a security feature for iMessage recently, highlighting the same password issue. The Journal app shows that Apple could add password protection to any iOS app and gives me hope that app-specific passwords will follow.

Meanwhile, I’m certain I won’t trash the Journal app. I’ll try to put it to good use for specific activities, like traveling and workouts. But I will lock it down with Face ID before I start doing any of that.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.