Tablet Productivity – A World Of Compromise

Tablet ProductivityBack in early November I wrote a post about challenging my tablet productivity assumptions, and set out with the goal of leaving my laptop behind (as much as possible) and doing most, if not all, of my work on my tablet.

As per my previous post, this adventure in mobile productivity meant pairing my Nexus 7 with a nice Sharkk Bluetooth keyboard (which I can’t rave about enough), making sure I had plenty of backup power (not such a great experience) and finding solutions to productivity problems that aren’t even a second thought on my laptop.

In undertaking this challenge I really wanted to reverse my opinions about iPads (and tablets in general) being mostly media consumption devices (or Tonka toys of general computing) and come out swinging in favor of tablets being awesome productivity machines. I’m afraid that after a month of working as exclusively as I could on my tablet(s), there were simply far to many compromises made to quality and efficiency for me to call tablet productivity effective.

Yes, I’m sure there are some cases where people are hyper-effective working on their tablets, but those are niche cases. I’m sorry to inform you but your niche case does not make a strong argument for mainstream productivity.

Before I get into what I was doing and attempting, let me clarify that I DO NOT consider checking Facebook, answering email, instant messaging or anything like that productivity.

As a marketing consultant even I can’t justify hours of Facebook activity as productivity, and if you’re spending hours answering your email then you are clearly doing it wrong.

Anyway, when working for clients and equipped with my laptop, I find myself living in Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Dreamweaver (and the awesome Notepad++), Photoshop, Audition, Premiere, RDP, VNC, various EHR and practice management solutions, and of course a browser.

Finding workable solutions for the Microsoft Office suite was easy enough – I just do everything in Google Apps (which I am fully vested in for my non-client work anyway), but there are issues such as formating of exported documents, and added steps that frankly  make it a pain in the backside to move stuff between Google Apps and clients that are using the Microsoft suite.

Don’t get me wrong, Google Apps is awesome for how I use it, but I’ve yet to encounter a non-Microsoft product that exports/imports perfectly with no formatting errors.

Dreamweaver, Notepad++ and Filezilla proved to be an interesting challenge to replace, but after testing a number of apps I have absolutely fallen in love with DroidEdit Pro. It’s an awesome text and source code editor with syntax highlighting for lots of languages (HTML, CSS, C, C++, C# Python, Ruby and more…) as well as SFTP/FTP/Dropbox  support and much, much more. If you’re a developer and need to get your hands dirty in code while you’re on the go without your laptop, you can’t do much better than this app.

I gave up trying to find workable mobile replacements for Photoshop, Audition and Premiere. Yes, there are a lot of stopgaps and half measures which are “kind of almost” passable, but the compromise in quality and features is not worth the the hassle. It’s much easier to stay with full featured desktop apps that also have the processing power to plough through the work in a decent amount of time.

While finding mobile replacements for desktop applications has been very hit-or-miss, even when I do find a suitable replacement there are always compromises to be made. Those compromises may be in terms of quality, the ability to easily export in formats that my clients can use, or simply because doing the work on the table can involve more steps (such as getting source materials to and from the tablet).

Did I mention that it also takes longer to do almost everything on a mobile device? Even with my nifty Bluetooth keyboard I’m still not as fast as I am with a laptop.

Access to files has also been a major issue. Yes there are lots of solutions out there such as Google Drive, Dropbox, SkyDrive and more. I use all of the cloud storage/sync solutions I’ve mentioned and they’re great when I need to get to an invoice template but downloading a 30MB .PSD or a 1Gig+ .wav audio file for editing? Most of these services are just far too slow and storage space/bandwidth constrains on mobile devices may be a concern.

BitTorrent Sync has proven to be a lifesaver in that regard. Not only does the mobile app allow me to selectively download files from my shares on my home server, but it also allowed me to set up shares on desktop computers at my clients offices so I could have access to files, fonts, graphics and other assets that I use in my work but would normally be on my laptop. That way I can use their machines to do the work and have access to assets that I need without hauling my laptop around.

The solution works and doesn’t take long to set up, but, it’s a compromise that has to be made in order to work on a mobile platform.

I think it’s fair to say, that mobile devices are not yet ready to knock the desktop PC or laptop in terms of productivity.. In doing this challenge, I found myself not just using my Nexus 7, but also having to use my iPad at the same time. Some of my clients provide me with a dedicated workspace and computers so I was able to do a lot do the work there that I couldn’t do on the tablets and not impact my productivity. For my other clients I simply had to bring a laptop to remain as productive as possible.

It’s not all doom and gloom however. While I may not be able to replace my laptop (yet) I have found that I can replace large segments of my workflow and get by enough that I don’t always need to carry a fuller featured device around.

Take audio recording as an example. My Nexus 7, 4 or iPad coupled with the iRig Mic Cast, iRig Recorder or Hi-Q MP3 Recorder creates a nice portable rig for on the fly podcasts with minimal editing abilities. There are a multitude of apps for managing servers, RDP, VNC, time management, invoicing, blogging (this entire post has been hammered out on my Nexus 7 using the WordPress app) and almost anything else you can think of – so you can certainly get by without your laptop, but they are mostly one-trick ponies.

I expect that as mobile productivity apps mature, and someone figures out that for folks like me productivity requires true multitasking, then one day I may be able to shed my laptop for a iPad 17 or Nexus 21 – I just don’t see it happening anytime soon.

Side note: Having not yet gotten my grubby mitts on a Surface or other Win 8.1 tablet, I obviously can’t comment on those from a productivity perspective.

Powerocks Magicstick – Not So Much Power, More Stick (Review)

Powerocks Super MagicstickDisclosure: I was able to keep the review unit mentioned in this post.

TL;DRThere are higher capacity chargers out there for a better price.

The folks at Powerocks were kind enough to send me a Magicstick extended battery (Model: model SM-PR-2AB) for testing at the end of November.

The Magicstick itself is a small rechargeable 2800 mAh lithium ion battery (Input: DC5v / 0.55A, Output: DC5v /1.0A), with 2 USB ports (one micro, one full), comes in 8 colors, costs $49.99 and  that looks so much like a flashlight that it could be mistaken for maglite. It comes complete with all the cables you need for charging USB (micro USB) devices, although you’ll need to use your own cables if you’re charging an iPhone.

It takes between 5 and 6 hours to charge the Magicstick which can be accomplished via a USB charger or AC wall outlet charger (not supplied) or any compatible high current USB port (using the supplied cable). The amount of charge remaining in the Magicstick is indicated by an LED light that activates when you depress a button on the top of the device – Blue light = 70% – 100% full, Green light = 30% – 70% full, Red light = 1% – 30% full.

As you can see from the picture of the box (and the their website), the Magicstick promises up to 2 full charges for smartphones (including iPhones and Android phones), cameras, portable gaming devices, Mp3 players and more. This extended battery is not for charging tablets. While it technically can provide a charge to an iPad at best you’d only get about 10% charge on an iPad Air.

I tested the Magicstick with my Nexus 4 and was unable to get the the phone to ever charge above 85 – 87%. The Nexus 4 has a 2100 mAh capacity battery so it should have been able to receive at least 1 full charge but after testing in various scenarios I was unable to achieve this.

I tried various scenarios, always starting with a 100% charged Magicstick which had been left to charge overnight for 12+ hours) such as charging the Nexus 4 while it was powered on (but not in use), with starting battery level at 7%. I would assume that charging “powered on” is the most common scenario for most users who require an extended battery.

I also tried charging with the Nexus 4 while the device was powered off and fully depleted (the phone had shut itself down from lack of power). In either case I couldn’t get the phone to charge above 85 – 87%.

The iPhone 4S and 5S have 1432 mAh and 1440 mAh batteries respectively, so should achieve a full charge without problem, however there is no way, even on paper that they could achieve two full charges.

I don’t have a feature phone to test the Magicstick on, but I could see it (on paper) living up to its promise of “up to 2 full charges” on such a device. But for modern smartphones the Magicstick simply won’t cut it as a decent extended battery.

Powerocks do make extended batteries with larger capacities, such as the Magic Cube 9000 and 12000 but these are quite expensive at $89.99 (9000 mAh) and $109.99 (12000 mAh). A quick search of Amazon has extended batteries such as the Anker Astro E4 13000mA and the New Trent iCarrier 12000mAh getting great user reviews with higher capacities and lower costs than the Magic Cube.

At the end of the day I simply can’t recommend the Magicstick, even at the $40 – $50 price range.  I wanted to like it, I really did, but other manufactures make higher capacity, visually and technically similar devices such as the Anker Astro Mini 3000mAh Ultra-Compact Portable Charger which comes in at a full $10 cheaper.

Playing With My Magicstick

Get your filthy mind out of the gutter. It’s not that kind of a Magicstick.

Today I’m testing the Powerocks Magicstick, which was kindly sent to me by the folks at Powerocks for review (consider that disclosure).

Considering that I’m currently re-evaluating my opinions of tablets as productivity machines, this portable charger could prove to be a handy companion power source as I attempt to go “mobile first”.

The Magicstick itself is essentially a small rechargeable 2800mAh lithium ion battery, with 2 USB ports (one micro, one full), that looks so much like a flashlight that one of the girls at Pinnacle Brain & Spine Center actually asked if it was a maglite.

I’ve taken a few pictures of it next to the Nexus 7 so that you can get an idea for the size, and I’ll post more about it in a few days once I’ve had a chance to charge/discharge it a few times as my mobile devices need charging.

Powerocks Super MagicstickPowerocks Super Magicstick

Challenging Tablet Productivity Assumptions

I guess it’s fair to say that with the exception of full-fledged Windows devices, I’ve always held that tablets were little more than media consumption devices upon which one would be mad to attempt a full days work.

While I still hold that is true with regards to processor intensive work such as video editing, I’ve found that mobility offered  by my Nexus 7 has become almost indispensable in my day-to-day work. With that in mind, I’ve set myself the challenge of (excepting graphic design work and recording Nothing Serious) of working as exclusively as possible from my Nexus 7 paired with a Sharkk Bluetooth keyboard.

As you can see from the pictures, working with the ultra-thin (just 4mm) Sharkk keyboard, and the 7 inch screen of the Nexus, should be an interesting challenge for someone with like me. And by “someone like me”, I mean someone who suffers from “sausage fingers” (or dick fingers as Sara likes to call them) and an overwhelming desire to keep adding more and more monitors to every computer he can lay those sausage fingers upon.

I guess over the next few day I’ll find out just how “mad” it is to attempt to work like this.

Wish me luck!

BTW: This post was the first thing to be completed using this setup  :D

Nexus 7 and Sharkk Tablet

Nexus 7 and Sharkk keyboard

Nexus 7 and Sharkk Tablet

Nexus 7 and Sharkk Tablet

Jetpack Google+ Integration Not Speaking My Language

<rant>I’m not changing my name. I’m not doing it, so don’t even start. I’m also not spelling it differently just so that web service providers can have an easier time of it and not have invest the effort to make their code work.

You may have noticed that my name is Paul O’Flaherty. It’s not Paul OFlaherty. Can you see the difference?.  Unfortunately most web sites and services can’t (read won’t) bother supporting the apostrophe in my name. This isn’t a technical constraint, it’s simply shortsighted coding. It’s not as if people haven’t been complaining about this on the web for years. </rant>

Now, let me be clear, I’m not accusing the guys at Automattic doing the Jetpack Google+ integration of being lazy or shortsighted (those guys really are awesome), but I am a bit miffed that the apostrophe in my name is enough to screw up the Google Plus integration.

As you can see from the image below, when I connect my Google+ profile to the Publicize module in Jetpack my name suddenly gains an a backslash which shouldn’t exist. Not only does that backslash occur in the Google+ area that is added below the share buttons, but it also changes how my name appears in the meta area at the top of the post.

Google Plus JetPack Connect

I know this is a minor problem to most folks, and way down on the priorities list, but for me it’s a deal breaker when it comes to this useful feature.

Is Facebook Testing A New Like Button Design?

New Blue Facebook Like ButtonIt looks like Facebook may be testing a new design for their “Like” buttons and boxes found almost ubiquitously on websites.

I first noticed the new button design, which looks a lot more like the social buttons offered by Twitter, Google Plus an others, while visiting Nothing Serious using Firefox. I still get the same design in other browsers and in Firefox on my other machines.

The new design features the Facebook logo to one side, followed by the word like, all in a blue container with the likes above. As I said earlier this brings Facebook’s button design on par with those of other providers.

As you can see from the image below, the design is also being tested on other Facebook widgets such as the “like box”.

Facebook Like Button Comparison

Now That The World Wide Web Is Truly Global…

World Wibe Web Truly Global

Now that the World Wide Web is truly global lets start treating it as such. I’ve said it for years, and will continue to do so – It’s time to stop treating the web as a U.S. , and U.S. centric, entity. Everyone needs to be dealing on a global level and realize that the internet and policies that may affect it, extend far beyond our own national borders.

Also, it is well worth noting that as North America (Sorry Steven, I know they lumped Canada in with the U.S.) is almost completely saturated in terms of broadband penetration, the U.S. portion of the pie is going to decline drastically over the coming years and decades.

Via Mashable. Chart by Statista.

Is Facebook Testing A New Header Menu?

Facebook Testing Header Menu

Click for larger version

This is the second time in the past month that I’ve logged in to desktop version of Facebook and to find the header looking like this. A large white “F”, just like so many social sharing icons, replaces the traditional logo and the search area is much expanded. Also, the friends, chat and notification icons have been moved to the right hand side.

I’ve check in both Firefox and Chrome (Chrome in the screenshot) and get the same thing, while Sara continues to get the “traditional” header with the Facebook logo on the right, followed by the icons and then the smaller search box.

Facebook Home is in the Wrong House

Facebook HomeI couldn’t agree more with Pete Pachal’s analysis on Mashable that launching, and initially limiting Facebook Home to the U.S. market is the wrong move. Facebook should have launched “Home” in a market with a need for lower cost devices without such heavy broadband penetration.

For those who’ve been living under a rock for the past 48 hours, Facebook Home is Facebook’s new homescreen replacement for Android.

In the U.S., however, Facebook Home will have an uphill battle, and not just because smartphone penetration is so much higher. It’s also because, among connected people, Facebook isn’t the only network that matters to us. Yes, as Mark Zuckerberg showed, it’s probably the app we fire up most often. But we also like to see what’s going on on Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Quora and a host of other services.

In short, digital influencers in the U.S. — the very demographic Facebook Home needs to win over if it’s going to be successful — don’t want to curtail in any way the connections they value by spending more time in Facebook.

Would I let Facebook become even more of a constant distraction in my life, at the expense of the other social services I use and value? Would I abandon the social services where many of my friends have already migrated to? Would I want Facebook to be the first thing I see every time I pick up my phone? Hell no!

Pete also hit it on the head with the notion that a low end Facebook phone is simply not what the teenage market wants either.

The one way a U.S. launch for Facebook Home makes sense is the kid factor: The First offers parents a relatively cheap option for getting their kids a smartphone, one that’s caters to their lifestyle of constant connection.

But if that’s the thinking, it’s a few years behind. I was on the radio earlier this week to talk about messaging apps, and a 15-year-old girl appeared on the show to reveal how she communicates with her friends. Facebook didn’t factor in at all — she and her classmates only used the network when their study group made it necessary.

Gabrielle will be pushing 15 very soon, has an iPhone and laptop and doesn’t even want a Facebook account even though she’s been offered one a number of times. She has a blog, YouTube account and all the other bells and whistles, but as he friends don’t Facebook, neither does she. This initially surprised me but it makes sense – Facebook is where your parents hang out. Why would kids want to hang out there?

I was also struck by similar surprise when my little sister, Siobhán, was visiting from Ireland last October. She’s had a Facebook account since before she should have, but it’s very rarely used these days as it’s not where her friends congregate or choose to communicate online.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that Facebook has a bad history of not playing well with other application, and what this could mean if you allow them take over your smartphone experience.

Will you use Facebook Home?

Image via Facebook.