Category Archives: Life & Technology

OneNote for the iPad

I’ve always been a fan of OneNote from Microsoft.  It is an incredibly useful tool.  Seeing that my iPad is an incredibly useful tool as well, what better app to have featured here on App Wednesday that OneNote for the iPad.

OneNote for the iPad lets you create a series of Notebooks, collections of information.  You can integrate all kinds of content into these notebooks, making them versatile for many different types of daily usage.  Within each notebook, you can create various sections to organize whatever content you are assembling.  It has some decent formatting tools so you can make notes look good while working on the iPad.  I also like the ability to email notes from the app on the iPad to another user.  The email recipient receives an embedded version of the formatted note.  It’s not a picture, which is good, because it means that the recipient can edit the content when they receive it (and they don’t need OneNote).

The app is free, and with that you can have up to 500 notes.  If you want to go beyond that, you can purchase the upgrade for $14.99

If your organization is progressive and using Office365 then you can further find advantage to using OneNote for iPad.  The cloud version of OneNote in Office365 gives you easy, secure access from anywhere.  If your organization doesn’t use Office365, you can still take advantage of a cloud-based version of OneNote through Microsoft Windows Live.

Let’s hope that Microsoft continues to bring iPad versions of Office to the iOS platform.  It would be a win for them and for consumers.  Here’s hoping the current batch of rumours is true! In the meantime, grab OneNote and experience this great application for yourself.

App Wednesday: Bloomberg TV+

One of the real strengths of the iPad is the ability to use it as a media device, to consume all kinds of various content, whether it be reading newspapers, reading books, surfing the web or watching videos.  I’ve got a number of excellent apps that provide me with video content but wanted to briefly highlight one of them this App Wednesday because of just how robust it is.

I’m talking about the Bloomberg TV+ app – after having installed it a short while ago, I find that I am often opening it each day when I want to get some good business content.  The content itself is excellent, but content alone doesn’t make a good app.  The app itself has an excellent user interface to allow for a natural ease of use.  It’s packed with various video feeds and dynamically updates itself.  It gives you a mix of On Demand content but also the ability to watch live content.  The other awesome thing is the ability to have video sent via AirPlay to my Apple TV when I’m using the app at home.  Add to that the ability to create your own Playlists and you have a tremendous app delivering top notch content.  Truly a great user experience.

I encourage you to check it out for yourself.  Once you’ve had a chance to use it, please feel free to let me know what you thought of it via the comments.  Getting end-user feedback is always a pleasure and highly valuable to me.

Happy App Wednesday!

App Wednesday: News360

For those of you who know me (or read my blog often or follow my Twitter feed!) you’ll know that I am a news and info junkie.  This week’s featured app is one I’ve really enjoyed using.  It is similar in concept to Zite (another great app) but has some subtle differences that I really enjoy.

The app is News360 and it is really an excellent news aggregator app that learns what you like to read and continues to refine the stories it brings forward.  That is a lot like Zite.  What I particularly like about News360 is that you can link it to a variety of social media sites you might use like Google+, Twitter, Facebook.  You can even link it to your Evernote account!  Then News360 goes out and scans those sources and learns about the types of things that interest you.  Post a link on your Facebook wall about the new iPhone 4s and News360 will learn to bring you more articles about that topic.  Tweet something about the latest high speed internet stick for Rogers and presto, News360 will again begin to personalize your experience.

I like this type of application because it curates content for me but makes it simple to refine the criteria that goes into creating my personalized experience.  It is basically invisible to me and requires very little effort beyond the initial setup.  Add to that a wonderful looking user interface with some innovative ways to present stories (the 360 degree view is nice to have scroll by while you are working on something else and simply have your iPad resting on your desk) and you have a winner of an app!  Did I tell you it’s free.

It’s free!

So go grab it and start enjoying another personalized content experience on your iOS device.

A Week of Using Siri

I wanted to put down a few thoughts on Siri now that I’ve used for over a week.  By now you’ve no doubt heard about this voice recognition functionality that Apple has built into the iPhone 4S.  Let me start off by saying that Siri is no gimmick.  It’s not awkward voice commands that you need to memorize to try to do simply things like call a contact.  The other mobile phone vendors, like Microsoft and Google, have dismissed Siri as being unnecessary, but let me assure you, after seeing it, I’m sure that both those two companies are feverishly working to try to create their own version of Siri to replace their simplistic voice command systems on their respective platforms.

I wanted to high light two aspects of Siri that I used repeatedly all last week that drove home the value of this new interface.  The first is for setting reminders and calendar appointments.  Looking back at my reminders from last week I set ended up setting 37 reminders that were a mix of work and personal items.  Using Siri it is dead easy.

  • “Remind me next Thursday that it’s parent teacher interviews at 7pm”
  • “Remind me to pick up a new power cord when I’m near the Eaton’s Centre”
  • “Remind me to mail thank you cards when I arrive home.”
  • “Book a meeting for tomorrow morning at 9am to work on presentation.”
  • “Remind me to email my presentation when I arrive at work.”
  • “Remind me to pick up toast bread and juice when I leave work.”
  • “Remind me everyday at 9pm to sign my daughter’s agenda book.”
  • “Remind me to call [client name] when I arrive at the office”
  • “Book a lunch meeting for this Friday with [name of person] for noon.”

The above is just a sampling of some of the reminders I set for myself.  As if by magic, these reminders were set flawlessly.  Correct dates and times.  Some set up as repeating items automatically.  Some set to trigger only depending on my location.  It is as simple to set as it is to tell someone to remind you.  It’s transformative.  Calendar appointments that take 3-5 steps normally are done in a single sentence.  Again, transformative.

The second is the ability to send text messages via voice.  At first I thought that this would be very useful in the car.  It is of course, as it means I don’t have to type while driving, which is unsafe and a legal no-no.  What has surprised me however is that it is also useful when you are simply running around doing things.

For example, I was walking to a lunch meeting last week and my friend texted me “Have a table” and I simply spoke while crossing the street and said “Tell [person's name] I am on my way”.  Siri then simply sent a text back to that person that said “I am on my way”.  It was flawless.  I didn’t have to slow down, glance down, finger type and send the text.  I simply spoke as though on the phone.  That scenario played itself out repeatedly last week with voice commands like:

  • “Tell [person's name] Heading to meeting room A now.”
  • “Tell my wife I am heading to the car now”
  • “Tell my daughter I’m almost at the school.”
  • “Tell [person's name] Running late. See you in five.”

It is these types of things, naturally spoken, that make Siri incredibly valuable.  As people begin to experience this value, they will start to use Siri for other natural language commands and searches.  It is the natural language search that has companies like Google and Microsoft terrified, and rightfully so.

App Wednesday: Skype on Your Mobile Device

This week’s App Wednesday features a favorite of mine for great video calling and VoiP calling while on the go.  I’m talking about Skype, a tool that millions of people have used for years on their computers.  I have it installed on my iPhone and my iPad and it is indispensable for me.  I often FaceTime, but Skype has the benefit for me that so many people already use it on their computers.  With FaceTime, I can only video call people with an iOS device or if they have FaceTime on their Mac.  With Skype, I can call PC users, Mac users, Android users and iOS users.  Its market penetration is a real strength.  Of course, market penetration alone wouldn’t make this a great app.  It has to work.  On my iPhone and especially on my iPad it works outstandingly.  The recently launched iPad version has a great user interface, making it easy to use.  Call quality is very good for both voice and video.

You can grab Skype for your iOS device here for the iPad and here for iPhone.

You can also grab the Android version here, thought I haven’t personally tested that version yet.

iPhone 4S

So….I suspect that many people will be disappointed that the iPhone 5 didn’t launch.  What that really means is beyond me.  If they’d taken today’s new phone and called it a 5 rather than 4S would that make people happy?  What’s important is to look inside the phone.  The 4S is a big jump up from the 4.  Does it warrant existing iPhone 4 users to upgrade?  Maybe, but not necessarily.  Of course iPhone 3GS users who skipped the iPhone 4 now have something amazing to upgrade to.  Blackberry users who have been waiting also have a great option now.  Many of them have held off because they didn’t want to get an iPhone 4 only to have a new model come out.  Well the new model is out and it’s a perfect time.  The iPhone 4S with the new iOS 5 continues to lead in terms of what you can do with your smartphone.  No other phone can touch it.  The apps that are iOS’s strength will now get even more robust and begin to leverage the many new features available.  Of course eventually the iPhone 5 will come out (again…whatever that means) and people will start talking about some fabled iPhone 6 I’m sure.  If you use that logic though, you’ll never buy a device.  Compared to the other mobile vendors, who cycle through their products multiple times in one year, the iPhone has a reliable annual upgrade path and older phones aren’t left behind.

To see what’s new under the hood with the iPhone 4S, watch the video below.  I think the assistant functionality in Siri, which has been purchased and integrated into the OS, is outstanding.  I can’t wait to try that out for myself.

Reflections on the Kindle Fire

It’s nice to be back into the swing of things after being off all last week.  Took me a day, but after spending some time going through emails and my “to do” list, I am finally turning my attention to my blog posts for this week.  I thought an appropriate spot to start a dialogue was about Amazon and their announcement last week of their entry into the tablet market with the Kindle Fire.  It was met with a lot of excitement and there seems to be a healthy amount of pre-orderes already occurring.

So what are my thoughts?  You may find it surprising (since I’m an Apple fan) that I think that Amazon has got it totally right.  They did what no other tablet manufacture has done.  They focused on the ecosystem rather than the device.  Isn’t that what I’ve been saying all along? :-)  It’s all about having a strategic core access point.  That is what Amazon has done, not with the device, but with their Amazon Store and the various cloud-based services.  That is their SCAP and they are clearly going to leverage that.  The Kindle Fire itself is a rather uninspiring device – there have been other much stronger candidates.  For example, the Playbook is a better piece of hardware, but they lack the ecosystem.  Sure you get a nice piece of hardware from RIM, but nothing you can do with it.  The flow of content and apps is fundamentally broken.  This is what Amazon was striving to overcome and it looks like the may have succeeded.  I’m sure that the Kindle Fire will be flying off the virtual shelves and that’s a good thing.  I’m all for continued evolution in the tablet space – it benefits us all.  The million dollar question, however, is….will this be the iPad killer?

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App Wednesday: Share Your Where Using Glympse

Today’s app is a favourite on my iPhone and it is called Glympse.  So what does it do?  From the Glympse website they describe the service/app as follows:

Glympse™ is a groundbreaking new way to share your location with anyone for a specified period of time using patent-pending GlympseWatch™ timer.

At it’s simplest, Glympse allows me to trigger and email to someone (or a group of people) and that email provides them with a hyperlink to view my Glympse.  Clicking on the link takes them to a map where they see my movement in real time.  What I really like is that you can set the Glympse to expire.  For example, let’s say I’m on my way back to the office from a client meeting, I can trigger a Glympse to a co-worker and they can see me driving back downtown, my progress being shown on a ma in realtime.  If I set the Glympse for 30 minutes, after the 30 minutes, my co-worker can’t see where I am anymore.  This is perfect, as it lets me inform people but also protects my privacy.

To get a full sense of how Glympse works, check out the video below.  It’s purely coincidental that the character in the video is named Mike ;-)

Social TV – Will It Catch On?

With Facebook unveiling changes to their user interface and functionality, much has been written about where Facebook is going.  I think a lot of their changes are reactions to Google+, but there are some new things that I think are a natural evolution of the social platform.  One of these items is social TV.  I read a good article in today’s Globe that talked about changes that Netflix has made to its business model.  One part of the article jumped out at me.

Mr. Hastings was in San Francisco on Thursday for Facebook’s f8 conference, where he went on stage with the social networking site’s founder Mark Zuckerberg to announce new co-operation between the two companies.

By connecting their Facebook and Netflix accounts, users will be able to see what their friends are watching, and also watch Netflix content inside through Facebook.

My first reaction was “that’s interesting!” but a few moments later, as I thought about how this would work, the whole thing gave me pause.  Do people really want their TV viewing habits being broadcast across their social networks? I’m a heavy user of social media, but there are certain things I’ve never linked to my social networks.  For example, I’m a video gamer.  It’s something that from time to time I will spend a little time doing in the late evening as opposed to watching  a movie.  Many games have the ability to link to your Twitter feed and then the game tweets your achievements.  I’ve stayed away from that – do I really want to broadcast latest high scores or how many hours I might have played a certain game?  Not really.  I think the same will be true for social TV.  People might want to tweet that they are enjoying game 7 in a Stanley Cup final, but I doubt people are going to want to link their hours of watching reality TV to their Facebook networks.  I could be wrong on this, but something tells me that this won’t be as killer a feature as Facebook and Netflix are hoping it will be.

Outstanding Uses of Evernote

Evernote has been a service I’ve loved and used for years.  I spoke about it briefly in a previous week’s podcast and as promised, I am expanding upon that brief discussion here.  I wanted to try and convey to those of you who haven’t used Evernote before, just how powerful a tool it is.

The first question I get from people is, “what does Evernote do?”  I always say “it’s a great way to capture unstructured thoughts.” but that doesn’t do it justice at all.  I recently read another article about Evernote where the author did a good job of capturing the “what can I do with Evernote” question.  The simple answer is anything!  For example:

A priest uses Evernote to compose his weekly sermon while one man uses it to keep track of his weekly sins. A veteran suffering from traumatic brain injury uses it daily to literally remember everything and is showing other veterans with similar disabilities how to do the same. A musician uses Evernote to compose songs, tracking snippets of melodies with audio recordings and jotting down lyrics and sketches as they tap him on the shoulder. A hairdresser uses Evernote to catalog before and after shots of her clients. During the hair cut, she lets them browse through the portfolio of looks on her iPad. A tempura chef in Japan uses Evernote to store all his recipes and images of his best dishes. A wife uses it to store up all the things she wants to tell her husband before he comes home from work. A piano teacher uses audio notes to record her students, and then shares these recordings in shared notebooks with the students’ parents.

Students keep track of their notes, teachers plan lessons, shoppers create shopping lists, travelers create trip plans and photo journals and journalists write stories.

You can see that whatever it is you do, whatever your info-capturing-note-taking needs might be, Evernote can help you with the task at hand.  Of course, for me, the value of the Evernote service is not the ability to easily take notes.  There are lots of other repositories I could use if I just wanted to capture notes.  For me, the value is in the ubiquitous nature of that note-captured-information – whenever I want it, wherever I want it.

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