By Shadoe Huard

June 1st 2011

GTD Gets in the Way

Stephen Hackett, over at Forkbombr, on OmniFocus and GTD guilt.

For example, last week, I was working on a strategy for a component of our marketing, but got interrupted by a user with a sick Windows 7 notebook. She needed my help. So I helped. I didn’t stop to create a “Fix Bethany’s HP” project in OmniFocus, with tasks including “Reinstall Symantec” and “Run updates.”

I just did the work.

That said, I wanted to enter it into OmniFocus. I even thought about adding it after the fact, just to mark it as complete.

I enjoyed his post so much because gets to the heart of why I’m so confused by the Getting Things Done movement. So much is written out there about how to best way optimize your system and what software you should get that I always wonder if those ardent GTD people are actually doing anything but thinking about GTD. The irony is almost too much to take. 1

If you want get things done, it would seem obvious to just go ahead and do them. At least, that’s what works for me. 2

——-

1. This is the same sort of thing that is starting to happen with “minimal” writing software, where people are spending more time buying software than actually writing.

2. My struggles with procrastination, however, are a whole other thing.

Posted at 3:51pm and tagged with: tech, omnifocus, forkbombr, one column,.

June 1st 2011

If You Want to Get Better, Steal.   

A while ago, Marco Arment wrote a post about the design of smartphones before and after the introduction of the iPhone, citing how most smartphones now feature a similar design to Apple’s phone. As a result, smartphone hardware benefited from Apple’s entry into the market, speeding up smartphone innovation at an unprecedented pace. It’s a similar pattern that we are seeing in the tablet market today. Microsoft pioneered the idea of Tablet PCs early in the 2000s, but the design remained stagnant until the arrival of the iPad. Now every tablet is a large touchscreen surface.

This pattern also seems to be gaining popularity the high end laptop market. Putting a smirk on Mac enthusiasts everywhere, the recently announced Dell XPS 15z and Asus UX series laptops make litte attenot to hide their design influences. Despite being produced by huge PC manufacturers, one should be forgiven for throwing the word Knockoff around when describing these two computers. Even if they are merely settlling for creating copycats, it’s hopeful to see that PC OEMs are finally realizing that there is a desire for well designed computer hardware, a good thing for all of us.

PC hardware, especially laptops, have historically been atrocious. Outside of Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of notebooks, you would have been hard pressed to find a laptop or netbook that wasn’t:

  • Heavy, yet flimsy.
  • Made of cheap plastic
  • Using a terrible 6-cell Li-Ion battery
  • Lacking a good display
  • Burdened with terrible ergonomics, keyboard and trackpad

This was true also of the high end PC laptop market. Apple, with their critically acclaimed notebooks, has been dominating that market for years. NPD reported in 2010 that 90% of computer sold for 1000$ and up were Apple branded. PC OEMs, apparently having grown tired of being eviscerated in this space, have finally decided to try and create computers that could compete with the industrial design espoused by Apple’s line of computers. Heeding the words of Picasso, PC OEMs started to simply design desktops and notebooks that liberally borrowed from the concepts of iMac 2 and Macbook line. This trend became most apparent in 2009, with the introduction of HP’s Envy notebook line. With the Envy, it was apparent that HP had taken design cues from Cupertino on how to build a high-end notebook. It didn’t get everything right, notably the trackpad and battery 3, but the Envy’s combination of a light and sturdy metal casing, impressive display and high performance internals showed that it was possible to create a laptop that -ahem- Macheads could be envious of. Subsequent iterations were much improved.  Dell attempted something similar with the Adamo notebook line, a device clearly influenced by the Macbook Air. Unfortunately, Dell killed the Adamo earlier this year, presumably because it still couldn’t compete with the Air, which was getting better components while slashing its price.

That didn’t mean Dell was done taking hardware cues from Apple. Since simply inspiring themselves from the Macbook family hadn’t worked out, with the Dell XPS 15z, they simply decided to stitch together spare Macbook Pro and PowerBook pieces together and call it a day.  Asus, for their part, joined into the fray by repurposing a Macbook Air sample they managed to get their hands on and creating a whole new category to go with it. To HP’s credit, the Envy line at least managed to not cross the line between inspiration and theft.

It is easy to criticize this copycat approach to building notebooks. For consumers however, it’s a breath of fresh air to finally be able to purchase a top quality Windows laptop designed for adults. Every one wins when more laptops feature attractive, sturdy designs and long-lasting enclosed batteries. There is one downside. So long as OEMs continue to crib directly from Apple, they’re hardware will always be one step behind. Whenever it actually ships, the Asus UX series laptops will seems comparable to a MacBook Air today 4, but it will surely immediately fall behind as soon as Apple introduces a refreshed model.

Perhaps more interesting is the reason why it took so long for PC notebooks in this style to start appearing in the first place. Apple has been providing amble subject matter to steal from since the introduction of the Powerbook, so why are we only seeing these copycat designs now? I suspect that as Apple’s brand awareness has skyrocketed thanks to the iPhone and iPad, consumers have also become more aware of their other products, forcing other companies to offer something similar. Just as cellphone salesmen started to hear “Do you have something like the iPhone?” back in 2007, computer vendors are probably getting more and more questions related to “Something like that Macbook Pro”. It remains to be seen whether PC makers are looking at Apple for inspiration simply as a quick fix solution to this problem or because they are actually trying to drive hardware innovation. Watching what happens at the middle and low end of the computer market and seeing if the improvements made at the high end segment trickle down might be a good indicator.

Overall, there’s nothing wrong with all these copycats. Consumers win because they have a broader range of high quality computers to choose from. If PC computers continue to innovate and offer competitive products, it’ll provide extra incentive for Apple to continue to deliver the groundbreaking products that they’re known for.

That should be enough to put a smile on everyone’s face.

—————
1. And really, the whole market.

2. PC OEMs still offer very few all in one desktops. Most of them are HP touchscreen enabled computers, which are rather atrocious.

3. You could blame the poor battery life on the early generation i5 & i7 processor in the envy, which weren’t optimized for mobile use.

4. Possibly beating the Air to Sandy Bridge







Posted at 3:27pm and tagged with: apple, asus, copycat, dell, macbook, one column, tech, readlater,.

May 31st 2011

Let Us Explain Why You're Going To Hate Us Even More

No one knows why, but Lodsys is still answering questions on their blog. On why they’ve started litigating third party developers:

Lodsys chose to move its litigation timing to an earlier date than originally planned, in response to Apple’s threat, in order to preserve its legal options.

Translation: TIME TO CASH OUT!

Posted at 5:15pm and tagged with: lodsys, tech, apple,.

May 31st 2011

The Problem With Microsoft’s Idea of Social   

Microsoft seems to take great pride in the social media integration that’s built right into the Windows Phone platform. By creating a very focused platform designed with deep integration of messaging services within the operating system itself, Microsoft has adopted a specific design philosophy with Windows Phone which seeks to sets them apart from other Android, webOS and iOS devices. With the announcement last week of Mango, their latest Windows Phone software update, communication was touted as an important pillar of the platform moving forward. It’s a fantastic idea; with people participating in various social networks simultaneously, it makes sense to want to create a device that integrates all of them together in a meaningful way. Yet despite their best intentions, the way they’ve gone about implementing such a system just falls flat on its face. While seemingly well fleshed out, new features in Mango like the threaded messaging system and contact grouping show just how little Microsoft has actually considered the way someone might use their phones outside the confines of a controlled press event.

Consider how one might actually use something like threaded messages in real life. No real consideration seems to have been given to the reasons people use different messaging platforms. Is there really a need for using SMS, Facebook Chat and messenger simultaneously to stay in touch with friends when anyone you contact through SMS is bound to almost always have their cellphone near them? Conversely, there isn’t any point to using SMS for those people whom you exclusively contact through online messaging services precisely because you don’t have a number to reach them at. Microsoft doesn’t seem to have caught on to the idea that people use different messaging services to communicate with different people in their lives. Having a unified space for all your conversations only makes sense in theory. Besides, who has ever consistently carried out a single continuous conversations over multiple messaging services at the same time, if at all?

Although each is unique in their own ways, Windows Phone treats all messaging platforms the same. The problem is that a service like Facebook Chat is useful BECAUSE it’s built into Facebook’s larger network, where users can share posts and links together. Threaded messages in Mango don’t contain the same level of interactivity. They take messages out of their context. Everything is reduced to being an SMS message. If a user wants to have a Facebook conversation with multiple friends,or even just view a link he’s received, won’t he be better off using a dedicated client?

Microsoft takes social integration as a literal term, where various services are dumped together is some superficial manner, no questions asked, with users being left to dig any meaning out it themselves. This isn’t to say that there aren’t talented people working on the platform, it’s in fact probably one of the most innovative departments Microsoft has going right now. Somewhere down the line though, things seem to go awry. There’s precedent for this sort of social crowd “featuremandering” in their mobile division. The same problems seen with Windows Phone could also be observed in features of Microsoft’s defunct Kin phones. Similar to contact grouping in Mango, the “Loop” was feature on Kin devices that was meant to be a repository for updates from all the various social networks you were connected to. Engadget’s review of the Kin describes the issue at hand with Microsoft’s efforts:

“The basic premise of the Loop also presented problems. The idea is that you can quickly glance at all of your friends’ updates and respond to them quickly, but it soon becomes a daunting task just trying to understand who is saying what. The average Facebook user has 130 friends (we tested with accounts of over 700 and 200), Twitter adds noise to the mix, MySpace compounds it… and the phone only updates every 15 non-user-adjustable minutes. Sometimes less! What happens is that you can’t really keep track of any conversations, and your friends (or in our case, lots of people you don’t really know) become less about their individual voices, and more about random shouts in a big crowded room.”

Fast forward a few months to their review of the Windows Phone 7 launch and the message is eerily familiar:

“With Exchange or Gmail, this strategy is probably fine in most cases — contact sync is one of the main reasons you use Exchange ActiveSync. But seriously, Facebook is another matter altogether. If you’re a normal human being with maybe a couple hundred or fewer actual contacts, you’re used to just flicking through your contact list to get to whomever you need. Having all of your Facebook contacts mixed in with the rest of your friends and family could be a real mess, right?

All in all, unless you’re a hardcore Facebook user (which, let’s be honest, many people are), you’re going to be annoyed by how deeply and irrevocably integrated the service is in this phone. The fact that your Photo hub is populated by pictures taken by people you may not know that well is a little disorienting, and not giving users control over which groups of friends they see creates a feeling of chaos that isn’t always welcome.”

So now Mango introduces group tiles to solve the problem, simply dividing up all your friends into smaller, more manageable packets. Again, sounds good in theory. In practice, it makes sense for users to accumulate large groups rather than multiple small ones, a strategy with problems of its’ own. Staying up to date on Facebook requires staying in contact with large groups of people. The idea of a small, isolated social network is anathema to something like Facebook. Is this the solution Microsoft sees to make connecting and sharing easier?

Also perplexing are the things that aren’t incorporated into Mango’s new communication features. Why isn’t there support for Skype or messages from your Xbox Live contacts? Don’t they seem more useful in a threaded conversation, where you could jump from an SMS text conversation into a video chat, or into a game your friend as invited you to? In a way, the video demos of Mango only really show you half the picture; how to view your friends social activities. What it doesn’t show you, is how to actually reach out and participate in those activities. It may be that for those things, Windows Phone is still dependant on the browser and applications.

On their News Center webpage, Microsoft states its goal in regards to communication in Mango:

[The} next release of Windows Phone – available to consumers in early fall – was designed and organized around the person or group of people users want to communicate with rather than the various apps used to reach them.

Superficially, they’ve achieved this. Windows Phone is definitely a mobile operating system that attempts to roundup all your social activity into one place. The UI designed for this is actually pretty impressive and sells the concept pretty well. It’s too bad that doing anything beyond simply viewing updates from your live tiles or sending plain text messages to your friends is going to require using a web client or application to do so. Services like Facebook and Twitter by their nature require that they be used within their own ecosystems. While it’s possible to build software that could incorporate all these social networks together, using them simultaneously would be neither simple or useful. Microsoft’s quest to achieve something like this shows just how hard it is to get right. The truth remains that people who actually need to use multiple services at once have a need for deeper experiences than what Windows Phone is offering by itself. If you envision yourself actually wanting to use threads or group tiles, you’re going to want to be able to do more than just what’s being shown off in their promotional videos.

If your not one of those power users, then it is probably all rather useless to you anyway.

Posted at 3:10pm and tagged with: tech, mango, one column, microsoft, windows, phone, 7,.

May 31st 2011

iCloud a Reality at WWDC

Apple went ahead and revealed the 3 subjects they they’ll be discussing at WWDC, revealing the existence of their iCloud service in the process.

I’m in agreement with Stephen Hackett, who thinks the announcement is simply to set expectations from the get go. Apple rumors these days, especially those concerning iOS devices, have a tendency to make their way into mainstream media. It makes sense for Apple to want to control the message at that scale.

I’m particularly amused by the ambivalent description of iCloud:

“iCloud®, Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering.”

Nice way to confirm it’s existence without giving anything away.

Posted at 11:42am and tagged with: tech, apple, WWDC, iCloud, Mac,.

May 29th 2011

Shawn Blanc Interviews Chad Sellers on The Amazon Mac Store

SHAWN: How are you giving Amazon your application? When you update your app, how do you get that update to Amazon?

CHAD: Currently, I email it to them. They are working on an online submission system, but it doesn’t exist yet. It’s non-ideal, but they processed my latest update very quickly.

Just cut. No time to measure...

Posted at 12:33am and tagged with: amazon, Mac, apps, tech,.

  • All Together Now - May 28th 2011
  1. 1. Shawn Blanc

  2. 2. Mark Benioff

  3. 3. Steve Lyb

  4. 4. Ed Oswald

  5. 5. Michael Scott

All Together Now is a collection of quotes picked from the web this week and curated together into a particular perspective of my own.

Posted at 10:00am and tagged with: all together now, tech, quotes,.

There is a way to do things where, if you find something you’re passionate about, you jump right in. 1 It’s the concept that they can take a proprietary, undifferentiated offering at a lower price and somehow make an impact on a high-value, highly differentiated product that’s loved by customers. 2 [They] boldly declare them revolutions, and contributions to the greater good of our lives. 3 As the go-to guy on technology for a local business, I can tell you I wouldn’t buy into this system. 4 If you don’t have a level of discipline, you end up ruining the product. 5

May 27th 2011

Instapaper as a Writing Tool   

Up until recently, I couldn’t come up with a reason to purchase Instapaper, Marco Arment’s popular reading archive application. From all the recomendations I was hearing, I had downloaded the free version of the application last year to try it out. After doing the initial setup, I never went back to it. I never had the urge to “read later”. Shame on me.

I thought the reason might lie with my own habits not lining up with those of the typical user. When browsing websites and blogs, I tend to read articles on the spot. If I don’t have the time, I simply leave the browser open, bookmark the page or remember roughly where I found the article. It seemed redundant to use Instapaper when I was also using applications like Reeder, which already stored all the articles of my favorite writers in one place. I really wanted to like Instapaper. It has a great interface and Marco has obviously put alot of thought and passion it. I simply could not justify it.

Until I started writing.

Doing research for this site, I’m always collecting articles and news items from all over the web for future use, sometimes for projects I don’t plan on writing for weeks. When the time would come for me to refer back to them for the piece I’d be writing, I found it really distracting having to switch back and forth between my text editor and my browser to look up some piece of information in my browser history. As I collected more and more articles, trying to remember what was what from all the bookmarks I was accumulating was becoming cumbersome. I needed a better solution. Which is when I turned back to Instapaper. I realized I could use it as a giant virtual folder for storing research instead of things I wanted to read for leisure. Now, whenever I find an article I might want to use in some future article, I save it to Instapaper. I can then fire up the application on my iPhone or iPad while I’m writing on my desktop, where it’s much easier to refer to and less distracting while I’m writing.

It turned out that I was looking at Instapaper from the wrong paradigm. As silly as it sounds, I’m more interested in Instapaper when I think of it as a writing tool rather than a reading application. It’s a semantic distinction, but it’s what allowed me to finally see the value of it.

Posted at 11:27am and tagged with: instapaper, writing, tech, one column,.