My 2013 in a flash

Oh yes, another [Insert best / worst or other appropriate adjective] of 2013 list for your reading pleasure.

If the first line of this post mocks a list of this nature then why create another of my own? A valid question, however my irreverent tone is only due to the sheer number of these lists currently circulating my Twitter timeline (many of which I have duly re-tweeted), RSS Feed and everything in between – the concept is one I have never really had an issue with. If anything, I find these types of lists to provide a reasonable summary of the year gone by, and often serve as a reminder to go back and check out those [again, insert appropriate item here] that were lost in everything else that occurred throughout the year.

The original draft of this post was in fact a very structured list format. In the end things became a little too regimented and lengthy. Hence, the end result is a much briefer, and hopefully less boring version of few things I enjoyed throughout the year. There is also a high likelihood I have left a few things out, though as I sit here and write, below are a few things that spring to mind from the past 12 months. All were not necessarily new in 2013 but are simply what I personally may have discovered in the past year, or used a lot more of over the same period.

A year of upgrades

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

A fairly major upgrade for the family in the latter half of the year was the purchase of a Mac Mini (Late 2012 Model; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5; 4GB RAM; 500 GB Hard Drive) as our home computer. I have particularly enjoyed the level of integration achievable with my iOS devices since firing up the Mac.

When Apple released the Retina display equipped iPad mini a little earlier than expected in November with somewhat limited supply, I managed to pick up my desired model (WiFi; 32GB; Space Gray) through the Apple on-line store.

Speaking of upgrades, I was quite impressed with the iOS 7 upgrade in September. OS X Mavericks was also released in October, though in itself had minimal impact for me personally, given I was learning OS X for the first time anyway.

What would a tech roundup be without a couple of accessories for the little space gray pocket rocket…

Hit the link and check out the fantastic piece of design and function that is the Twelve South Hi-Rise for iPad mini / iPhone 5s, which looks great and performs perfectly on my desk.

A surprising addition here comes courtesy of Aldi, with what is probably best described as a shameless rip-off of the Jawbone design, this Bauhn rechargeable bluetooth speaker (sorry, couldn’t find a link) is right on the money. For the princely sum of $29.99, this speaker is exactly what I have been searching for, without having to pay in excess of $80.00 plus for the established “brand” models. It pairs like a champion and sounds great.

I have also enjoyed writing much of this post with my new Logitech Ultrathin keyboard mini. Although some touch typists may find the keyboard a little cramped, I find my decidedly unrefined four finger typing well suited to this device.

Apps

Well, where to start. There are numerous best of and must have lists of apps floating around. Many of which I have saved in my Pocket queue for later reading.

Firstly, for what it aims to do and ultimately does, 1Password is without peer on both iOS and OS X. If you do not use this app to create and store robust passwords, go and buy it now.

The integration of Fantastical and Siri on iOS continues to amaze me. The fact that I can simply tell Siri “I have a meeting with X at 9:30 on Friday at the Y” and have the exact entry appear in my calendar is brilliant. As I have previously mentioned , I continue to write 90% of my posts in Editorial for iPad, simply because I find the workflows immensely useful and the added features make this an outstanding app, worthy of its inclusion in the App Store’s Best of 2013.

Many of my favourite apps such as Omnifocus 2 for iPhone and Tweetbot 3 for iPhone received ground up re-designs for iOS 7, and I cannot praise the developers highly enough for what they have achieved here.

Many apps have also become integral to various workflows I have now set up, which are by no means complicated, but certainly work well for what I need. I have begun to utilise Drafts to create lists which I then send to an Inbox list in the native Reminders app, which are then automatically pulled into Omnifocus (with a task automatically created from each line in the original Drafts list). Again, the use of URL Scheme automation in iOS for examples such as this is pretty amazing.

I have also used Pinboard as a bookmark repository on an ever-increasing basis. Articles I save in Pocket to read later are, upon archiving, automatically sent to Pinboard with tags preserved by an IFTTT recipe.

Finally, I have really enjoyed using beautiful interface of Flipboard to read articles of interest. It is also a great way to scroll through Instagram or Twitter, and of course I have created a couple of my own magazines with articles I intend to refer back to as well.

Out and About

Another great year for coffee in Brisbane.

Strauss
Strauss – Elizabeth St Brisbane CBD

The opening of Strauss in Elizabeth Street brought a new class of establishment serving great food and specialty coffee in this fine city. I highly recommend a visit in 2014 if you have not done so already. Another venue just over the bridge at South Brisbane is also worth your time and taste buds – Merriweather Cafe.

The common denominator of the above cafés being the coffee served originates from Cup Coffee Roasters, which began in West End and has expanded to a larger roastery at Woolloongabba. It was here I recently attended a Brew Class, on filter based brewing methods which was a fantastic experience and highlighted how much I don’t know about such things.

For great Italian espresso, Bar Linea continues to be my mid morning saviour for a quick 10 minutes of solitude and a brain recharge.

My home coffee roasting (as regular readers will note) continues unabated, and I have been pleased with my overall set-up, which provides a fairly efficient way to go from green to roasted bean. I am certainly beginning to refine my tastes and roast profiles and look forward to seeing what comes through Ministry Grounds in the new year.

Next Year

Although there will be no resolutions listed here, I do have some ideas about what I would like to make some progress on next year.

I plan on improving my home roasting skills and continuing to provide family and friends with some of the results – possibly recovering some costs along the way. I’d also like to visit a lot more of Brisbane’s great coffee hotspots, particularly those in the outer suburbs. I do not plan on reviewing these establishments, however will happily recommend visiting those that are of a high standard.

In the technology realm, I will continue to learn as much as I can to improve my iOS and Mac workflows, and in particular am keen to improve the organisation of my photo library. Probably the biggest achievement of 2013 was commencing this blog in May, and that is another area I plan to work further on. My initial aim was to sign up to WordPress, pick a theme and few widgets and focus on content, with the look of the site to be attended to later. Apart from registering a domain name, that is pretty much how things went, so it is probably time to put in a little more effort on the design front.

Most importantly, in 2014 I get to spend another year with my amazing wife and kids, of whom I am immensely proud of each and every day, and whatever I have (or think I have) achieved would not be possible without them.

Advertisements

Retiring my iPad 2

Well, this will be the last post tapped out my trusty iPad 2, with a new Retina iPad mini (Space Gray, 32 GB WiFi model) currently in transit. Although there has been a delay in my order, according to the shipment tracker, the much anticipated item has made its way from Shenzhen in China on Saturday (the day the order was placed) to Sydney, today, Wednesday 19 November. Surely it’s not such a stretch to think it might find its way to Brisbane in the next 24 hours.

In retrospect, this iPad 2 has served me well over the past 18 months, purchased after a rather disjointed initiation into the world of tablet computing through an Acer Android model I owned for approximately 6 months. Though it was some time ago now, I remember firing up my iPad for the first time and almost immediately noticing a more cohesive user experience, along with a seemingly endless supply of apps to choose from. Obviously things have changed on both counts since then, with the Android ecosystem having significantly improved, and the iOS App Store now actually having an endless supply of apps (well almost).

A lot has evolved with my workflows and information consumption over this time, with the iPad at the core of those changes. Probably the most significant was commencing this blog some seven months ago, in which every post is written on my iPad either in Byword or more recently Editorial, as iOS automation becomes more and more embedded in my writing workflow (more on my most used iOS writing apps coming soon). Prior to this, a key aspect of beginning this blog was learning to write in Markdown (achieved on this very iPad through an excellent iBook by David Sparks and Eddie Smith) , with the knowledge that much of my writing would be done on the iPad, and needing a time efficient way to write web content when not at my desktop.

These ‘creation’ workflows, along with my ‘consumption’ of information through RSS, Twitter, books, magazines and other multimedia, see the iPad at the centre of a good part of my non (day job) work time. I am expecting a smooth transition to the mini and am looking forward to the extra portability, improved performance, and of course the fabulous Retina display.

This iPad 2 has been an ever reliable companion, serving me well through a couple of major iOS software updates, always maintaining a level of performance commensurate with its fantastic design. I’m sure there are quite a few more years left in it for another user, however with fond memories, it is time for me to bid farewell to this old friend.

Was that a knock at the door?

Apple soft launches Retina iPad mini

Photo 26-10-2013 7 01 24 pm

So It seems later in November doesn’t mean late in November after all.

A certain amount of online interest was generated late yesterday afternoon when the Apple Online Store went offline, returning a short time later featuring the iPad mini with Retina display, shipping in 1–3 business days (16 or 32GB Wi-Fi models; remaining variations in 5–10 business days).

I have previously written about my intentions to upgrade to the Retina model from my current iPad 2, as it will better suit my mobile commuting and needs. The only concern is actually obtaining one, as all indications point to a very limited release due to constraints in the supply chain.

Obviously there are no surprises (apart from the release timing) in relation to the device itself, with the specifications announced last month when Apple launched the mini and its larger sibling, the iPad Air. All of the goodness is now common for both devices, including the A7 chip, M7 co-processor and 64 bit architecture. The mini now catching up to the larger version in both internal hardware and 2048×1536 Retina screen.

As yet there is no word on availability with retail partners, and my Twitter updates seem to suggest varying availability in Apple Stores country to country. I guess time will tell, however I will be visiting a couple of retail outlets today out of interest. In any event, it appears those who have deferred the iPad Air vs iPad mini with retina display purchasing decision now have to make a call (with the exception of those lucky souls who will end up with both).

The iPad mini with retina display is available for order through the the Apple Online Store now, starting at $479 AUD (16GB Space Grey or White Wi-Fi models).

iPads and Mavericks

Photo 26-10-2013 7 00 07 pm

Earlier in the week yet another Apple event unfolded, this time unveiling the new model iPads, Macs and immediate availability to download (free) the latest desktop operating system, OS X Mavericks. Though an avid iOS user for the past couple of years, I have only recently (about a month ago) picked up a Mac mini as our home machine, transitioning from a windows PC in the process.

Obviously with much still to learn and get my head around as far as OS X is concerned, I was happy to close the loop and begin living full time in the Apple ecosystem. I envisage many apps and workflows will function more seamlessly for having done so. As you would expect, “closing the loop” means everything with the exception of my work office because, as I have touched on in previous posts, the large corporate Windows network is certainly not going anywhere.

As is usually the case, there are many great reviews on the announcements made at the 22 October event, and the video can be streamed if you are interested. My main reason for tuning in to the excellent TUAW Live Weblog early on the morning of the 23rd (Australian time) was firstly to hear about the refreshed iPad line up, and secondly for an update on the availability of Mavericks.

iPads

Photo 26-10-2013 7 01 24 pm

Having mentioned in a post a few months ago of my plans to downsize my iPad 2 to an iPad mini when Apple next renewed the line up, I was particularly keen to see if what I was hoping for (and had split the rumour mill in the event lead up) came to fruition – an iPad mini with Retina display.

For me, that wish was granted, and I will be off to purchase a space grey, 32GB WiFi model once they hit the stores. The fact that the weight and thickness increased a little will not be a concern for me, as coming from an iPad 2 I will be improving on both counts anyway.

The features I am really excited about? Apart from the improved display, I am pleased Apple went with the A7 chip in the mini, as I had expected this for the full size iPad however thought the mini may have received an A6 instead. I am looking forward to a zippy experience with the latest processor and 64 bit architecture, which will scale well as developers begin to take advantage of this hardware in the future.

Was I tempted by the specs of the full size iPad Air? Most definitely, however the majority of my iPad use is comprised of reading, researching and some writing – much of which occurs on a bus (or a couch), along with watching TV shows when my brain requires a less intense commute. The iPad mini is a perfect fit, as I often do not have the space when sitting on the bus to easily (and privately) work on my iPad 2, and am looking forward to an easier time with the smaller form factor of the mini. There are also many times when I leave the office at lunch time to head for a cafe, and often think I should use the time to draft another post, however am often not keen to carry my iPad 2 with me. I am assuming the mini being easier to carry, will lower the resistance to picking it up as I leave the office.

I have long been eyeing the iPad mini as my next purchase, however in assuming Apple would refresh the line in the latter half of this year, preferred to wait for a new model. In thinking as to why, the improved performance was probably a bigger draw than the retina display, as it is something I will be using for at least another 18 months – a long time in an ever advancing tech marketplace where more and more processing power is required to effectively run these devices.

Although there are some who question Apple’s wisdom in maintaining the iPad 2 in the line up, I think overall it is a perfect fit, as there are now two clear entry level iPads (iPad 2, iPad mini) both with matching specs apart from physical size, and two top of the line devices (iPad Air, iPad mini with retina display), again with matching specs in differing sizes. It may also surprise some that the iPad 2 is still the most used iPad, more so than the 3rd and 4th generations combined. A full comparison of the final range can be seen on the Apple Store (Australian store link).

For a much more in depth look at what we have in store come release day for these devices check out a great review by Federico Viticci at Macstories.

Mavericks

Photo 26-10-2013 6 58 44 pm

As I mentioned above, I am starting from square one with OS X as an operating system, let alone providing you with any sort of in depth analysis of the Mavericks upgrade (officially OS X 10.9).

Probably the thing that stood out for me about the upgrade was the immediate release and the free price tag, which is a great thing for all mac users. Whether or not this is because there weren’t many new features to justify a paid upgrade is probably not that relevant, as most who have upgraded would have also done so with a $20 price tag.

So, as I head off to learn more on OS X and Mavericks myself, I highly recommend the following to educate yourself on the new OS:

OS X Mavericks: The Review – Stephen Hackett at 512 Pixels
OS X 10.9 Mavericks: The Ars Technica Review – John Siracusa at Ars Technica
OS X Mavericks: Tips, Tricks, and Details – Federico Viticci at Macstories

In addition to these reviews, a couple of other pieces worth reading include Federico Viticci’s Working with Mavericks After A Year of iPad, which provides an interesting look at both aspects of the announcements, and from Jim Dalrymple at The Loop, in Thoughts on the Apple Event. If you prefer to listen rather than read, The Prompt podcast, featuring two authors from the reviews above, is always an entertaining and informative look at recent events in the world of Apple technology.

In conclusion, what does it all mean? That is for you to decide, as far as your needs and available budget are concerned. For myself, a little forward planning in budgeting for the upgrade, means that by the time I offload my iPad 2 on eBay, the upgrade to the retina iPad mini will be reasonably painless.

Roll on “later in November” – Apple were a little vague about the release date for the mini, though I’m sure it will arrive eventually.

Away we go with iOS 7…almost

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Today sees the release – and no doubt many a download – of iOS 7, the latest update and vastly overhauled version of Apple’s mobile software. There are numerous feature improvements that go beyond the most obvious, which is the ‘modernised’ user interface or ‘look and feel’ of the new system.

Of the many new features, I am most looking forward to Control Center (with many system settings now finally seeing the light of day, no longer requiring numerous taps to access), iTunes Radio, improved Notification Center, automatic app updates, intelligent data refreshing, better camera control, and improved photo management. However I am sure I will find compelling uses for many of the other new features I have read about or will stumble across along the way.

This update also brings a further level of complexity in relation to which Apple devices will support which version of the operating system. A recent silent update on the App Store now sees older versions of the operating system able to download legacy versions of many apps, as this article in 9to5 Mac explains. Further information around device compatibility (and an excellent table on feature support) can be found in an article by Brock Kyle, and another at TUAW.

Incidentally it does not appear both devices I currently use (iPhone 4s and iPad 2) will support all iOS 7 features, for example Air Drop and some of the advanced camera and photo features are only available in later model hardware. It is also worth noting I must wait a little longer for iTunes Radio given it is initially US only.

What should you do before you install the update? I would suggest reading this summary from TUAW, and proceeding from there.

As I finish this brief post (which in Australia is the early hours of September 19), my iPhone 4s is showing an error on attempting to commence the update. This has been entirely expected as Apple’s servers are being repeatedly slammed by the combined weight of a highly anticipated, worldwide software rollout. Should you also be experiencing this (and judging by the comments on numerous internet sites many are), keep trying – it is only a matter of time, and in any event, at 728MB, the entire process won’t be quick.

Patience is a virtue.