Riding the Upgrade Cycle

English: Apple iPad 2 launch.
Apple product launch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Technology moves at a rapid pace these days, and reflection on the various ways we use it is often bypassed in the search for, or acquisition of, the next ‘big’ or ‘shiny new’ thing.

As far as Apple technology is concerned, we are all supposedly waiting on the retina iPad Mini 2; iPad 5, and iPhone 5s (or however Apple specifically choose to name them). Even greater hype surrounds the possibility of an iWatch (again, whether or not this would be the name of such a product or if it even exists).

Why should we reflect on what we have, rather than what we may want to get? Simply because it is well worth considering whether upgrading will, in reality, better serve your needs. In posing this question, you may genuinely believe a newer model will enhance your productivity or be more useful to you, over and above upgrading merely for the sake of it.

There is no doubting the amazing power and capability of the current products on the market, which will become more so with even further technological advancement in the future.

However, it is worth remembering, if you are not using what you currently have to its full potential, a newer tool will not automatically bridge that gap for you.

 

As the Dust Settles – my RSS setup

Leading up to the shutdown of Google Reader on July 1, I gave consideration to a number of options regarding where I would turn for my RSS feed source, and whether this would in turn lead to a change in my reader of choice.

Now almost a week later, I believe I have things pretty well sorted out for my needs. Feedly’s free service has been working well as my feed source, and though their style of reader does the job well, I prefer a slightly different interface when reading my articles. As far as the performance of the free service is concerned, I have had no problems at all. Many ‘power users’ will most likely prefer the advanced features of a paid reader such as Feed Wrangler or Feedbin, however Feedly has done everything as expected for my usage pattern.

So, the readers (my consumption is entirely on iOS – I have no need for a Mac or PC application)…

iPad – Mr Reader

Mr Reader screenshot

At least 90% of my RSS feed consumption is done through my iPad, as I generally have enough time when connected to WiFi either early in the morning or evening to sync and get through my feeds (which generally number around 80–100 articles per day on average). The key features I require? Simply a UI that is appealing to me, and easy sharing, scrolling and an article view I can customise. As I have just listed features of every available reader, the choice then comes down to the overall style of the reader, and Mr Reader fits the bill here nicely.

Mr Reader. 2

iPhone – Reeder

Reeder Screenshots

Reeder had been my iPad reader of choice for some time leading up to this change, however does not at this time have Feedly support (I believe the app has been pulled from the App Store whilst under further development). A recent update to the iPhone app now integrates Feedly support, and on the odd occasion when I do use my phone to catch up on articles, Reeder does the job well, and I find the UI very well designed for use on the iPhone.

Reeder Screenshots

Conclusion

With the many services out there available for both the ‘feed’ and the ‘read’ end of RSS consumption, there is a great opportunity to try a few combinations and find a set up which suits your needs. Whilst the above system may not be for everyone, the interfaces and functionality are spot on for me at the current time. Let me know in the comments below of the system you have settled on, and how well it is working for you.

A reminder – you have until 15 July to export your list of feeds via Google Takeout, and if you haven’t done so already or migrated to another service I would strongly recommend doing so.

Via the App Store:

Inbound Outbound – The power of mobile technology

The past month has seen a frenzy of prediction, adulation, debate and derision, all in the name of technology. From WWDC 2013 and what Apple has in store for us next, to the shut down of Google Reader, and the race to either be, or be a user of, the next big thing in RSS Feeds.

Amidst times like these it is easy to have our eyes fixed on the horizon, and overlook the power of what we have today. Nowhere is the power of today more evident to me than on my daily commute to and from the office. My own philosophy on this has always been “inbound for learning, outbound for burning”.

That is, on my way to work in the morning when I am fresh and (mostly) ready to take on the world, I ensure I undertake some form of education or self-development activity. However on the way home, when my brain is functioning somewhat sub-optimally, if at all, I allow myself to waste or ‘burn’ time by watching my favourite TV series.

“inbound for learning, outbound for burning”

The mobile technology I carry with me (16GB iPhone 4s, 16GB WiFi iPad) makes this all possible. In the morning, standing in line at the bus stop, I can:

  • Check today’s weather on Forecast
  • See what’s happening on Twitter through Tweetbot
  • Check and triage email using Mailbox for iOS
  • Post something interesting or witty on Glassboard for my family to read

Once on the bus and have an hour-long commute in front of me, I typically:

  • Listen to my favourite Podcasts through Downcast
  • Take notes about the podcast in Drafts, sending the notes to my Evernote account
  • Tap the show links and read further, view videos on the topics or download recommended apps to try
  • Search the web in Safari for additional information

Other days may involve reading books or articles in the Kindle app or iBooks, drafting blog posts in Byword, checking my calendar, adding tasks or reviewing projects in Omnifocus, or catching up on RSS feeds in Reeder. The journey is usually completed with a ten minute walk to the office and a few songs played via iTunes Match, making for an enjoyable last few minutes before those dreaded elevator doors close.

Home? Well that is an entirely different story. Again a quick check on Tweetbot and email at the bus stop, but once on the bus, I switch off and relax, catching up on TV shows using AV Player HD.

Upon reflection, the above I now take for granted (all of which were not possible even five years ago), some things so much so they are not even in the lists above (text messages, phone calls anyone?). The power we have to consume information or create content has never been greater, and this has certainly changed the way we go from A to B.

Do you have any typical patterns you follow or apps you use on your daily commute? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Deeper into iOS 7

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Image: Matt Gemmell

After putting in my two cents worth on the day iOS 7 was unveiled at WWDC 2013, I have had the opportunity to read quite a number of articles examining Apple’s overhaul of it’s mobile operating system. Two pieces I felt best captured the essence of the planned transition, over and above the usual nuts and bolts lists, were written by Federico Viticci and Matt Gemmell.

In iOS 7 Thoughts and Questions, Federico provides some very thoughtful and in-depth analysis on both the design and function of iOS 7, indicating how the changes go well beyond a surface only re-design, noting iOS 7 provides a good platform for even further growth and future development of the operating system:

And that is, I believe, why Apple said that iOS 7 isn’t simply change, it’s a new beginning. It’s not an understatement: iOS 7 is not about the icons, labels as buttons, translucency, questionable Lock screen gestures, or a new Spotlight as design choices taken individually – it’s about a single, precise idea: to make iOS simpler and more enjoyable, but at the same time more useful.

and:

But there’s one thing I’m sure of: to paraphrase yesterday’s demo, we should look beyond the icons. iOS 7 will be defined by its overall design language, user features, and developer technologies. In many ways, this is version 1.0 of an OS for the next five years.

While acknowledging iOS 7 is indeed more than just a new look, Matt provides a fantastic side by side comparison of the differences between what we currently use in iOS 6 and what was unveiled a couple of days ago at WWDC. In his usual eloquent way, Matt explains while many of the changes may appear related simply to colour, flatness or borders for example, these are very specific changes that were made to enhance function first, and were achieved through very well thought out changes in form.

iOS 7 is a decluttering of the most exciting, profitable, desirable mobile operating system available. It’s a shift away from artefact, and back to essence. It indicates a clarity of vision, and a continued willingness to pursue simplicity ruthlessly.

Gone are embellishments like gloss and bevelled edges, shadows and borders. Visually dead areas that provoke tension rather than inspiring relaxation. Weight that suffocates, rather than open air to breathe.

On the issue of unfamiliarity, and “alienating” current users (some 600 million at last count):

The thing is, we’ve grown up. We don’t require hand-holding to tell us what to click or tap. Interactivity is a matter of invitation, and physical cues are only one specific type. iOS 7 is an iOS for a more mature consumer, who understands that digital surfaces are interactive, and who doesn’t want anything getting in the way of their content.

Both articles provide insightful and well considered analysis, after the crash and bash of initial opinions that were fired out immediately after the WWDC keynote address two days ago.

iOS 7 : Thoughts and Questions by Federico Viticci
iOS 7 by Matt Gemmell

Byword

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There’s nothing more enjoyable than seeing a major update come through for one of your favourite apps, recently the case with Byword. As stated by the developer, Byword is a simple and efficient text editor for the Mac, iPhone and iPad, allowing you to write, sync documents (Dropbox, iCloud), and now directly publish – one of the main changes in version 2.0. What follows below has a focus on iOS, which is where I exclusively use this app.

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Publish
Via a once only in-app purchase of $5.49 (AUD) which enables the feature on both iPhone and iPad versions, Byword now has an option to publish your words directly to blogging platforms Tumblr, Blogger, Scriptogram, and of course WordPress, which is exactly how this article has been posted. This feature also enables integration directly with the notebooks in your Evernote account. I particularly like this feature as it allows me to easily archive any posts (or drafts that may not have made the cut and will be subsequently reviewed) for later reference. More about this in a future post when I will outline my writing and publishing workflow.

Essentially, posting an article to WordPress is now as simple as opening Byword, drafting the post, adding any required images or links, and choosing publish in settings. You will be asked which linked service you would like to publish to, and for WordPress, be given options for status, tags and categories which you may have set up on your site. The only downside is that the integration does not automatically populate categories or tags, you’ll need to remember what you have set up.

Once done, I can then sit back and marvel at the eloquent prose I have unleashed into the world. Or, as reality would have it, see the dozen or so typographical and grammatical errors I had somehow missed in multiple proof reads, which must then be edited and reposted. Those not requiring post-publish editing have generally been proofread by the dept4 editorial team (wife and children).

Byword Screenshots

Byword Screenshots

Byword Screenshots

Syncing
In what can only be described as a master stroke of irony, this paragraph had been written extolling the virtues of Byword’s syncing abilities, however a few seconds after the following screenshots were taken, choosing to accept the remote (iPhone) copy of this draft resulted in an unexpected shut down of Byword, leaving me with the local copy, containing none of my additions or edits made on this mornings bus commute. Though I cannot completely rule out user error, no incorrect tap should have caused a crash. Hopefully this was just an isolated event occurring on initial use of this feature, and I have subsequently added further text on my iPhone, iPad and iPhone again which have synced perfectly through Dropbox. I have also previously experienced robust syncing through iCloud.

As I have noted above, and is seen in the screenshots below, a new syncing feature is the ability to preview version conflicts, allowing an informed decision about which to keep – a nice addition, as I will often start a post on my iPad, edit further on my iPhone, finalising the article when back on the iPad.

Byword Screenshots

Byword Screenshots

Byword Screenshots

Why Byword?

Quite simply, I enjoy writing in Byword as it provides enough additional features (including an extra row on the keyboard with commonly used Markdown keys, cursor placement, and buttons to insert images and links) to reduce the friction of writing, yet avoids distractions to getting words on the page. Support for writing in Markdown is essential in getting posts up on my site, and I am certainly looking forward to utilising the publish to WordPress feature rather than copying and pasting the HTML to WordPress which was my standard process. Byword is available now in the App Store

Check out a great review (as usual) of this update by Federico Viticci at Macstories, and on a side note, I cannot wait for this.