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My return to Google

My return to Google

In June of last year (2012) I posted about how I was concerned about how Google was becoming “creepy”. At that time, I decided that I didn’t want any one company to have all my data. This would prevent Google (or anyone other company) having a complete picture of me, and also it would mean I wouldn’t be too exposed if any one company was to go away.

I was also concerned that as a user of Google’s services, I was more of a product than a customer. This may be the case for the free versions of those services, but as a paid Google Apps user, I may have over-thought this a little!

To achieve my move away from Google, I moved my email, calendar and address book to iCloud, and I moved my RSS feeds to a self hosted Fever installation. I also started playing around with alternative search engines, including DuckDuckGo and Bing. I thought’d it be interesting to check in with how that process has gone.

Let’s start with search. I found DuckDuckGo and Bing to both be excellent – I was particularly surprised by Bing, which I didn’t think would hold much chop. At this time, Bing is my default search engine on my iPhone, while Google plays that role on my iPad. It’s not possible to make DuckDuckGo the default search engine in iOS, but I do use the app, and have made it the default on my MacBook. All are good, but in general I do tend to find that Google continues to excel in giving accurate, fast and relevant search results. I’d say 70%-plus of my search goes to Google.

As for RSS, I continued to happily use Fever for sometime, but the lack of choices for quality apps, particularly on iPad and OSX continued to grind. Navigating the web interface on iPad was bearable, but clunky. Reeder for iPhone was and is an excellent choice, but interestingly Reeder for iPad and OSX has yet to be updated to include Fever support. In the meantime, other apps were released to support Google Reader, but none have Fever support.

Notably, MrReader became more and more recommended by many power users, and my curiosity grew. In particular, it’s support for URL schemes made it compelling. So around New Years, I made the call to switch back. It was nothing to do with the excellent Fever platform, but with the lack of quality front end app support. I may well switch back if app support for Fever takes off. 1

The most recent switch back has been to move all my email, contacts and calendar back to my paid Google Apps account. There were three things that gradually became show-stoppers for me with respect to Apple’s iCloud:

  1. The lack of ability to host your own domain with iCloud. I don’t want a me.com or icloud.com email address when I have my own domain. I want my contacts and calendar fully integrated with my email, so they all travelled together.
  2. iCloud calendar sharing outside iCloud is difficult, at best. I want to share calendars with colleagues easily. Google App’s systems are generally more open.
  3. Security. I am of the opinion that any online site which I use for storage of personal, sensitive, business-in-confidence or confidential information needs to have more than simple password security. A minimum of 2-factor security is my requirement, especially since the security attack on Evernote.

I know that there are other options for hosting my online world, but with a paid Google Apps account with 2-factor security enabled, I believe this is the best option for me, going forward.

As for my documents, these are for the most part in Dropbox. I have a small number of files in iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud service. These are a small number of iWork and specialised documents for which I really appreciate the fast and seamless syncing. But since most of my writing is in plain text using several different apps for iOS, OSX and the web, these best live in Dropbox. I am not considering using Google Drive for these.

Any choice of services utilised is a fine balancing act, considering a range of factors, including security, open-ness and functionality. At this point in time, Google offers the best options in the email, calendar, contacts and RSS for me. I also consider Google the primary option for most search requirements.


  1. Update on 2013-03-14: Google announced the closure of Google Reader, effective 1 July 2013. I will definitely be moving back to Fever between now and then, probably as soon as either Reeder or Mr Reader supports Fever on iPad. 

Evernote’s password hack, and the security of your stuff in the cloud

Evernote’s password hack, and the security of your stuff in the cloud

Like all Evernote users, today I received an email (and blog post) advising that there has been an attempted security attack to their system, and that they have force-changed all user passwords:

Evernote’s Operations & Security team has discovered and blocked suspicious activity on the Evernote network that appears to have been a coordinated attempt to access secure areas of the Evernote Service.

As a precaution to protect your data, we have decided to implement a password reset.

I am a heavy Evernote user, and put a lot of stuff up there – from basic research to business records. I love that I can easily find my key information so easily. They have solid apps for OSX and iOS (although they have been increasinly buggy lately), and a good browser based system to get at my information from anywhere. I love having my stuff in the cloud so I can get at it whereever I am.

For the past couple of weeks I was teaching a PADI Instructor Development Course in Fiji and on several occasions I was able to quickly get to records that I needed but didn’t have with me through my iPad or MacBook Air. Too easy.

Lately I’ve been wondering about the wisdom of having all my eggs in one basket. I trust the Evernote team, and as a Premium User I have a paid account. But my concerns are two-fold:

  1. If Evernote ever goes away (unlikely, but still a risk), what will happen to my data.
  2. Evernote has to be ever-vigilant for hacking attempts, and they have to win 100% – hackers only have to win once in a blue moon.
  3. As Evernote’s servers are not in Australia, my data may be legally accessed by a foreign government without warrant!

So it was good to see the following paragraph:

In our security investigation, we have found no evidence that any of the content you store in Evernote was accessed, changed or lost. We also have no evidence that any payment information for Evernote Premium or Evernote Business customers was accessed.

The next paragraph, while honest and direct, certainly gave me pause to continue to consider the future of my information storage:

The investigation has shown, however, that the individual(s) responsible were able to gain access to Evernote user information, which includes usernames, email addresses associated with Evernote accounts, and encrypted passwords. Even though this information was accessed, the passwords stored by Evernote are protected by one-way encryption. (In technical terms, they are hashed and salted.)

Just yesterday (before the email went out), I downloaded a copy of DEVONthink, an OSX app that does many of the same things – allowing you to store snippets and documents, easily find them, OCR them, etc. Using DropBox you can sync data between multiple Macs, and there is an iOS app. The latter feels a bit clunky, and looks like you need to sync via Wifi. I hope Dropbox sync is coming soon to that, because my iPad is rapidly becoming my main on-the-go device.

There has been a lot of debate about Evernote vs. DEVONthink, and there are very passionate people on both sides, with some very persuasive reasons for their approach. Evernote’s cloud based storage is both it’s greatest feature and it’s biggest drawback, depending on your perspective. I had planned to use DEVONthink side-by-side with Evernote for a couple of weeks to get a feel for which (if either) is the better approach for me. I still will, but I think I’ll move more sensitive info straight away.

Back to the security issues. I have waiting for a while for Evernote to introduce 2-factor authentication. Google has had this for some time, and Dropbox also introduced 2-factor security in 2012, following similar hacking attempts.

Evernote needs to implement 2-factor security as a matter of urgency.

While I am at it, Apple also needs to implement 2-factor security for their iCloud services as a matter of urgency, particularly if they want Documents in the Cloud to be taken seriously.

Going forward, my personal rule is that 2-factor authentication is a threshhold feature for any cloud based service that I use to store any thing I would consider proprietary or sensitive, let along confidential. I recommend you consider the same approach.

Evernote’s team made some additional excellent suggestions for security:

  • Avoid using simple passwords based on dictionary words

  • Never use the same password on multiple sites or services

  • Never click on ‘reset password’ requests in emails – instead go directly to the service

The first 2 should be an absolute given, but it’s clearly not the case. The third one has tricked most people at least once, making the first two even more important.

Most people I know have a password management strategy that consists of three passwords:

  • a simple “throwaway” password they reuse on most websites
  • a more secure one for some selected sites
  • a most secure one for banking, finance, health, etc

In all three cases, most people re-use the same passwords, perhaps with minor variations.

The hackers know this and have setup ways of “sniffing” passwords. One way is to setup a rogue site, and when users try to sign on, they take the username and password and throw that at other sites, knowing that they will often get a hit. Even if they only get 1% success, they have a starting point. Mat Honan of Wired magazine’s own case teaches us that once a hacker gets “in” at a low level, they can use that information to gradually get full access to your life.

So you need to ensure you don’t re-use passwords, and that those passwords must not be simple. When it comes to hacking and security, most hackers are way better at hacking than users are at securing.

This is where my next rule of web security kicks in – I use 1Password to generate a separate password for each and every site I visit. Of course there are a lot of sites I visited before using 1Password, so once those sites are in 1Password, I can from time-to-time go through and manually change those passwords, starting with the passwords that are least secure.

Whilst on 1Password, I’d recommend that if users want cloud access, they store the 1Password file in a Dropbox account, not iCloud, because of the fact that Dropbox has implemented 2-factor security.

I also have a category of sites that require the highest security, so I have those sorted together into a group in the 1Password app, and I change those passwords twice a year when the clocks change with Daylight Savings (an idea I got from MacSparky).

Clearly this issue has made me re-consider aspects of my own approach to information security, and has reinforced others. I recommend that everyone do the same, and take at least the following actions:

  1. Use only reputable services that provide 2-factor authentication for cloud storage of personal, sensitive or confidential data;
  2. Have a personal password management policy that includes never re-using passwords, and never using dictionary passwords. Use of an app like 1Password, LastPass or similar may help.

The “be alert, not alarmed” approach is the right one. We users need to recognise that information security is a moving target, and that balancing convenience, ubiquity and security is a constantly changing challenge. We need to reevaluate our balance regularly!

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Give Flickr Pro a Try (3 months free trial)

Give Flickr Pro a Try (3 months free trial)

I’ve been a Flickr user for many years, and was a Flickr Pro user for most of them (although I did let my Pro account lapse for a while).
Flickr is a terrific image uploading, hosting, sharing service and community, and was for a long time the prime place for my Photos of the Day (although I tried hosting that on 500px and iCloud for a while). I let my Flickr Pro account lapse because of the seeming lack of focus on Flickr by its parent Yahoo!, and the various issues that ensued from there. I also admit that Yahoo!’s subscription and payment system also made it difficult to actually sign up for the service!

It really looked like Yahoo! had killed Flickr. Thomas Hawk summed up the issues nicely:

For me, most of my frustration was around three key issues.

  1. It felt like Flickr simply refused to innovate.
  2. It felt like the people who managed Flickr and worked for Flickr simply didn’t care about the users or the product.
  3. My data didn’t feel safe and I worried about the community management team irrevocably and permanently deleting accounts without warning to users.

I reinstated my Flickr Pro a few months back, but to be honest I’ve not been too active there yet. But I can see that Flickr, under the direction of Yahoo!’s new CEO Marissa Mayer has been making a number of right steps, not the least of which is the widespread applause surrounding the release of Flickr’s new iPhone App.

The timing of the release of the Flickr iPhone App couldn’t have been better. Not only did it include Instagram inspired features like filters, but it happened right before Instagram (a service I don’t use) changed its terms of service and subsequently rolled back some controversial sections after fierce user backlash.

So Yahoo! has launched a one-two punch at Instagram by offering existing and new users three month free Flickr Pro usage – either as a trial for new users, or as an automatic extension for existing users.

Flickr Pro Holiday Gift

The response to the Flickr Pro 3 month offer has been spectacularly enthusiastic.

I’ll be reinvigorating my Flickr usage, and heartily recommend that everyone try out Flickr Pro by taking advantage of the three month free offer. I’ve switched my Photo of the Day album back to my Flickr Photostream. Now I just have get back to uploading some regular photos.

Backups of iCloud Documents in the Cloud

Backups of iCloud Documents in the Cloud


I had a scary experience over the last couple of days, which I resolved this morning.

I’m working on an important project for a client at the moment, and had a bunch of annotated files saved to iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud feature from the excellent PDF Pen app, which I use on both the iPad and my Macs.

I had manually deleted a few unrelated files, and when I returned to the app on iPad, all my files were missing. So I checked on my MacBook Air and my iMac, and same story. Gone!

At this point, I had lost a bit of faith in the iCloud promise (which I am otherwise liking), and was certain that the problem was either a software issue (Smile Software’s implementation of iCloud), or with iCloud itself. After calming down, I realised that it was probably user error, but that wasn’t getting my documents back.

I was at a bit of loose end, not knowing whether to call Apple Care, or post to a forum or similar, when I saw the blog post by Chris Breen at MacWorld, When Documents in the Cloud aren’t… Chris had been responding to a reader who had “lost” a document he printed as PDF to iCloud:

In the Finder, hold down the Option key, click on the Go menu, and choose the now-visible Library command. Locate and open the Mobile Documents folder. Within you’ll find multiple folders. In your case you want the com~apple~mail folder. Inside you’ll find a Documents folder. Within it is your PDF file.

Now this didn’t address backups, but it did make think that if there is a local copy in the file system, then my Time Machine backups may well have a copy of my missing documents.

The next problem was that the “Library” folder in Finder is hidden, and while the Option-Click approach above works well for finding current documents, I wasn’t sure how to approach this in Time Machine. A quick visit to Dr Google found the CNet article How to access hidden files to restore in Time Machine.

Unfortunately, if you have removed a hidden directory that is within a normally visible directory (as is the case with the entire /etc directory), then the Finder will not allow you to see it by default, so using the “Go to folder” command will not work. Nevertheless you can still restore it using Time Machine by first showing hidden files in the Finder.

To show the hidden files, simply open Terminal, and enter this command [1]:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE;killall Finder

Once you’ve done this, enter Time Machine as usual, browse to the dates you’re looking for, and go to the Library>Mobile Documents folder, and you’ll see a list of folders for iCloud Documents, sorted by app. Find the right folder, and you should see the files in the iCloud for that App on that Date. Select and Restore, and you should be good to go.

Its kind of nice when things work out! Everything I needed was there, I just had to do some digging. Given that its more than possible that other users will make silly errors like mine, I wonder when Apple will make this type of restoration more seamless. Whilst its easy to use the Revert To function to go back to previous versions of a file within a given app, it doesn’t help if you’ve deleted the whole file. In the meantime, I hope this workaround works for others.

Updates

[1]   The excellent TotalFinder application provides many extensions to your OSX Finder, including the ability to easily “Show System Files”, restoring access to the Library and and other hidden files.

Writing on the iPad

Writing on the iPad

During this month, iPads of March, one of the tasks that I have found brilliantly straightforward has been writing on the iPad.

20120319-135640.jpgI do quite a bit of writing: for this blog, and other personal and business websites, document and reports. I am also in the process of writing a book (or 2). Back on the Mac, I typically use the following writing tools:
– Pages (from the Apple iWork suite);
Scrivener;
– Google Docs;
Mars Edit;
iA Writer;
– TextEdit
Squarespace‘s custom CMS; and,
WordPress‘ custom CMS.

Moving to the iPad has been a fun journey. For reports and other documents, these tend to be done end to end in Pages. I am moving away from Google Docs, which is poorly supported on iOS anyway. I am frustrated by the lack of a Mac version of Pages that supports iCloud, but since I can print and distribute documents easily from the iPad, this isn’t as big a hurdle as I thought it might be.

One notable direction for me in recent times has been the adoption of John Gruber’s Markdown approach. This is an approach for writers to be able to focus on writing, and then be able format in an easy manner, then publish to the web or use apps that translate the formating into their own requirements. For web, thats HTML, while for other apps it varies.

Markdown allows a non-distracting environment to focus on writing, then worry about publishing later. Traditional tools like MS Word, and even Pages and Scrivener, kind of lead the writer to procrastinate with formatting, rather than focus on content. To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, there’ll be time enough for formatting, when the writing’s done!

There are a bunch of apps allowing writers to write on iOS in markdown, and then easily copy to their desktop later. For a while I’ve been using iA Writer on both Mac and iOS, and have been loving the simplicity. Its sports a great, non-distracting UI that really lets you focus on the task of writing. It supports iCloud to sync between iPad and Mac versions, and recently it has sported a brand new iPhone version. Seamless writing, everywhere.

So for my book writing, I would work on individual sections in iA Writer, then when done, copy over to Scrivener, which handles Markdown nicely.

For web publishing, this was a little harder, as I wanted to be able to publish from the iPad, but getting code translated from Markdown to HTML wasn’t straightforward, and I am not aware of a blog editor for iPad that accepts Markdown. I don’t think it’ll be long before someone comes out with something to suit.

Last Thursday, the good people at Metaclassy launched a new version of their Byword app for Mac, and also launched Byword for iOS (iPad and iPhone). This nice little app shares a lot of the best features of iA Writer (iCloud, simple UI, etc), and adds a couple of great features, including the ability to print from the iOS app (AirPrint or similar required), and importantly, the ability to export HTML from the file, or simply have the HTML output copied to the clipboard. This can easily be pasted into the Squarespace or WordPress iOS apps (which only supports HTML) for publishing. I can also copy and paste the markdown text from the Mac version of the app straight into Scrivener.

I am using Byword deeply now as my main writing tool on the iPad. To post this blog, I will simply copy and paste the HTML into the WordPress app, add this screen shot image, add category/tag info and publish. For book style writing, I work on the files in Byword, and then copy and paste completed sections into Scrivener back on the Mac.

I am loving Byword – it gives me just the right mix of simplicity and power. Its just about perfect in my work so far.

Its an exciting time in using the iPad as a primary tool. Not only is there a new version on the market, but there are a host of new apps that make mobile productivity even better. For writing, the iPad has truly come of age as a production tool, and is far than a simple consumption device!

The Canning of iWork.com

The Canning of iWork.com

According to MacRumours.com, Apple’s iWork.com services is being canned from 31st July 2012.

I am sure this is hardly a surprise to anyone, given that it has been a little underwhelming. I’m a pretty hardcore Apple / iWork / iCloud user, and I never really got what iWork.com’s use case would be, at least for me. I have used it once or twice, mainly for quick sharing of an iWork document from iPad, but that would be it.

I think iWork.com functionality is still needed for collaboration. Even if its not been heavily used at this time, such functionality has to be part of Apple’s long term plan for iCloud and iWork.

The timing of this is interesting. 31st July is “late (northern hemisphere) Summer 2012”, the timing Apple has specified for the full launch of OSX Mountain Lion. I somehow expect that there will be new functionality baked into OSX Mountain Lion and iCloud that will easily allow document collaboration between users.

As I’ve stated in the last few posts, iWork on OSX desparately needs iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud feature enabled. Until then iCloud is going to be clunky compared to DropBox for desktop users, though it does have the advantage for users that are predominately iOS based. For users that switch back and forth (like me, and most others I reckon), either solution is clunky.

I hope that Documents in the Cloud for OSX will be opened up soon – much sooner than 31st July. It certainly needs to be before MS Office is released on iOS.

But, I look forward to the concept of document collaboration between users being baked into iWork and iCloud, from OSX or iOS.

New iPad Launch and My Predictions

New iPad Launch and My Predictions

So the launch of the iPad 3 iPad H “new” iPad has come and gone, and we have an exciting new iPad on the scene. For a quick review, I should start off with my predictions for the iPad 3 launch, which I posted the night before the event. I’ll add some commentary to each of these on my initial thoughts.

1. iPad 3 with double pixel display, LTE and better cameras.

Almost 100% right, but fairly obvious. Of course, it isn’t an iPad “3”, and it seems only one of the cameras is improved. But it is quite “resolutionary“.

Of course, the LTE (4G) functionality will be brilliant for those who work out of a set environment (like I do regularly), and the personal hotspot feature may actually save money (one less device to carry around, and one less mobile broadband account to pay for). It will be interesting to see if Telstra will allow that feature…

The double pixel display (“retina display”) is going to be great for people who work in content. As I am writing this (on my iPad 2), I am also writing a couple of books, reviewing and preparing reports for consulting project clients, and regularly conducting scuba diving and first aid instructor programs. For all of these things, this is a great device.

There are of course other new features that are great, including the new Bluetooth capabilities.

So will I get one. Yes, but not immediately. I would pre-order one straight away if I didn’t have an iPad 2, but am going to wait and see a little bit to see what Telstra does, and to play with one in store. The new iPad is great, but my iPad 2 is still brilliant, and I am good with that for now.

2. iPhoto or Aperture for iPad

Nailed this one. iPhoto made more sense than Aperture, because it rounds out the iLife suite on iOS.

This is a great app, and I am certainly going to play with it, and probably do a full review later during my iPads of March. The (pleasant) surprise in this for me was the fact that it is an iOS app that works nicely on the iPhone. I particularly like the ability to be able to send images between an iPhone and iPad, via WiFi or Bluetooth.

3. Apple TV with HD Display

Again, nailed it. Again, this was pretty obvious.

I do like the new UI design. Apple is clearly bringing the UX on devices like the Apple TV (and Mac) much closer to the iOS standard found on iPad and iPhone (yes, I know Apple TV is an iOS device, but previously the UX was quite different).

This new UX seems to lay a better foundation for future third party “app-ification” of the Apple TV.

4. iTunes Movies (and possibly Television shows) in HD

Done. Its good to see Apple getting behind 1080p. Of course, the new iPad and new Apple TV made that necessary. And vice versa.

5. iOS 5.1

Done. Again obvious.

Downloaded to 2 iPhones, an iPad and an Apple TV. Working well all round. The changes are most noticeable on the Apple TV, but some nice tweaks on other devices.

I look forward to better battery life.

6. iWork ’12, featuring built in iCloud support

Should’ve been clearer that I was refering to the OSX version of iWork.

This was my “stretch prediction”, and sadly it missed. I have to believe that it must be imminent. If Apple wants to continue to make inroads to corporate and institutional customers, it needs this integration to be seamless.

And it needs to do that before the rumoured MS Office for iPad is released.

Final Thoughts

5 out of 6 predictions isn’t too bad, but I admit that 4 of those (other than the iPhoto one) were pretty obvious.

Apple is clearly setting the scene with the tablet market space, and competitors are struggling to compete. Whilst there are other, competent, tablets out there, I reckon the “new iPad” will maintain number 1 position, by a mile, for the next year, and iPad 2 will be the number 2. The iPad 2 is clearly being targeted to more price sensitive markets, such as education.

Apple also released a slew of new and updated apps yesterday, including all iWork and iLife apps on iOS, and a number of OSX apps, including iLife and iBooks Author. I like the look of the new configurator app that allows centralised control of a fleet of iOS devices. Again, clearly a play for corporate and institutional customers.

My iPad Launch Predictions

My iPad Launch Predictions

We’re less than ten hours away from the big iPad 3 iPad HD launch, and considering I am in my iPads of March, it’s a topic I am thinking lots about. So I thought I would make my predictions about what we might see. Of course, a lot of thesis just repeating what other, more knowledgeable people, have predicted, but what the hell.

So here goes:

  1. iPad 3 with double pixel display, LTE and better cameras
  2. iPhoto or Aperture for iPad
  3. Apple TV with HD display
  4. iTunes Movies (and possibly Television shows) in HD
  5. iOS 5.1
  6. iWork ’12, featuring built in iCloud support

Of these, 1, 3 & 4 are commonly predicted. I think photo management (#2) on the iPad is definitely something we want to “see. And touch“.

As for item 5, I reckon that’s a no-brainer. iOS 5.1 is going to be needed for items 1 & 3, and should e interesting to see if it has any secret new features.

Now item 6 is my stretch prediction. Maybe it’s because it’s something I want need to see. It’s high time that iWork on the Mac supported iCloud, and I don’t think Apple can afford to wait until the release of OSX Mountain Lion in 6 months or so.

So check back in tomorrow and we’ll see how I went.

The iPads of March

The iPads of March

I’ve had an iPad, and an iPad 2 since the day each was launched in Australia. My iPads have been fantastic tools for me around home, and on the road. But they’ve to date been secondary devices, with my MacBook Air or iMac being my primary computing devices.

With the steadily increasing number of apps taking advantage of the more powerful features of iPad, and more recently iCloud, it has been becoming more apparent to me that iPad has a very real potential to be a main device away from base. I can see a not-to-distant future where my computing needs will be served by a powerful machine such as an iMac, along with my iPad and iPhone while away from home.

I want to see how close this “reality” is. So a couple of weeks ago I decided that for a month I would use my iPad exclusively when away from office/home for a month (aside from my iPhone of course), and as the preferred device at home/office.

So, for me March is the month I immerse myself with iPad as my main computing device.

My business and pasttime activities are varied, and I use technology extensively across all of them. I teach scuba and first aid instructor courses, consult to businesses in and out of the recreational dive industry, teach karate, run a small business and am a partner in a business that is developing some apps. I am also president of the Australian Shorinjiryu Karatedo Association. In these roles, I give preparations to various sized groups, write reports, conduct research, edit photos and videos, watch videos and so forth. I am also in the process of writing 2 books.

I plan to blog regularly about my experiences in this, the iPads of March. I will cover successes, challenges and things where iPad falls down as. Primary computing device. Please follow this blog to stay up to date with my experiences.

 

First Contact – Documents in the iCloud and iA Writer

First Contact – Documents in the iCloud and iA Writer

When Steve Jobs announced iCloud in June, the thing that struck me more than anything else is that at last Apple was providing a methodology to allow easy “intra-personal collaboration” – that is an easy method of syncing documents you are working on between your various devices – desktop, notebook, iPad and iPhone. All the other features (calendar, address book, iTunes in the Cloud, etc) are great, but for me the real promise lays in the integration of iWork, and third party apps into iCloud.

ICloud Photos iPhone4s iPad MBP15inch PRINT

When iCloud was launched in October, I was pleased with how simple it was to setup iCloud on all my devices, and how well it works for iWork documents on iOS devices (iPhone, iPad). I guess I wasn’t alone however in my disappointment that the MacOS versions of iWork don’t support iCloud, meaning a clunky download/upload process would need to be put in place everytime I wanted to work on a document on my Macs.

Lets face it, for many professionals productive work generally involves most stuff being done on a desktop or notebook computer, with refinements, edits and updates being done on-the-go. So syncing between two iOS devices is nice, even necessary, but it is certainly not efficient.

I guess its only been a bit over a month, but the iCloud Documents in the Cloud concept is more gimmicky than anything else if there is no real ability to seamlessly work on documents, regardless of which device you’re working on. The magic will start to happen when I can pick up where I left in a document from one device to another.

So I was really pleased when the folks at Information Architects Inc announced yesterday that the iPad and Mac versions of their iA Writer app now support iCloud.

l_focus.jpg

iA Writer has long supported DropBox syncing, and thats a good way of moving documents back and forth. I use DropBox for many things now, but I’ve always had the feeling that iCloud may one day be something even more special.

This post represents my first use of iCloud and iA Writer. I have so far worked on this post across several devices. I started on my iMac, moved to my iPad, and then to my MacBook. I am back on my iMac now. Whilst this sounds geeky, it does represent how I might very well work on posts and articles.

Unlike DropBox where I have to save documents in a special Finder folder than then syncs, in iCloud I can save anywhere on my system, and just tell iA Writer to add the document to iCloud. Shortly thereafter it appears on my other devices. Edits can be done, and things move back and forth quite nicely.

iA Writer is a lovely app. It is a simple text editor with mark-down capabilities. The screen is simple – black text on a plain white background. Using MacOS Lion’s fullscreen mode, there are no distractions – a really useful feature when writing. It has a similar mode on the iPad, taking away the top bar with its many distrations – not the least of which is the time!

Its too early for me to say whether I like iCloud or DropBox better, but I am certainly intrigued by the possibility of iCloud. Once its really working, it will easier for non-technical people to use, as there are no special setup steps. Just save a file and tell the app to put it in iCloud. When you no longer need the document in the cloud, simply tell the app to remove it from iCloud, then you’re done. Simple as that. But I can say that iA Writer is a winner for me, and for now I’ll keep using that with iCloud, and leave DropBox in other apps and for general data.

iPhone 4S, Siri and The Future

iPhone 4S, Siri and The Future

I am now clearly an Apple fan, having shelled out money to pre-order an iPhone 4S as soon as the orders opened up on the Apple Online Store.
In the past, I pre-ordered both the iPad and iPad 2 prior to their respective releases, and received my orders on the shipment date. I had the same expectation this year, and was disappointed on Friday 14 October when the phone failed to materialise. The shipment tracking system (from TNT) showed it as transiting through Hong Kong.

Like a lot of Australians, I felt somewhat let down, particularly when rumours suggested that the Australian iPhone 4S deliveries could be “delayed by one to two weeks” compared to other countries.

I reckon there must’ve been some serious behind the scenes conversations within Apple or probably between Apple and TNT, because I was delighted yesterday (Sunday 16 October) turned up. I was told that the driver was “getting ahead on Monday shipments”, but this doesn’t seem to have been unique with Darren Rowse of ProBlogger also tweeting he’d received his.

Anyway, my initial disappointment is gone, and I am happy to have my brand new iPhone 4S.

Initial setup was easy – I had turned on the iCloud Backup service on my previous iPhone 4, and simply restored from that. Settings came in beautifully, and then apps re-downloaded. After a sync to my Mac, all was good. It was a seamless transition, perhaps eased by having already had my iPhone 4 on iOS5 and iCloud.

Next I started playing with Siri. This “virtual assistant”, labelled as in beta, is already remarkable and will get better as further enhancements are made.

Being outside of the US, Siri can “only use for businesses, maps, and traffic in the United States, and when you’re using U.S. English”. Its ability to recognise my (Australian) accent is wonderful, and I am amazed by the ease with it handles contractions and the like.

Creating, moving, and cancelling meetings and reminders is a snap, and its actually far easier than typing these into iOS, particularly on an iPhone. It reads messages and voicemails to you, and allows you to compose new ones.

There are also some wonderful easter eggs built in. Try saying “Beam Me Up Scotty” and you will get responses like:

  • OK. Stand still
  • Please remove your belt, shoes and jacket, and empty your pockets
  • Sorry Captain, your Tricorder is in Airplane mode
  • Energizing….
  • WiFi or 3G?
  • Please install the latest version of iCloud and try again.

There are a number of other great easter eggs. Trying asking Siri “what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything” and seeing what you get. Do it a few times.

Siri does a great job also of giving you quick information. If you ask for the current temperature in a city, it’ll come back with the current temperature and an hourly forecast for the rest of the day. You can ask it for the time in any (major) city, and you’ll get it.

It also plugs into Wolfram Alpha, and as such becomes a knowledge engine. You can find out wonderful information about people, places, etc.

Siri also allows you to build relationships. Once you tell it who is your spouse, mother, father, child, etc, you can use that relationship instead of a name.

To me, this could really be the start of something amazing. Having a virtual assistant that can manage a lot of the tasks for you, and also retrieve information will be an increasingly incredible opportunity.

Despite the relatively lacklustre media immediately following the iPhone 4S / iOS5 / Siri announcement, I think we are on the tipping point of another great flex point in technology.

Thanks Steve Jobs for bringing us this far. I guess we’re on our own from here…