iPhone Apps (2)

Since my previous post I have added a few more apps and settled on an arrangement for my home screen.

Alongside Tweetbot, Instapaper, Reeder, Kindle and Notesy which I added almost immediately, I have now added the following apps:

Evernote – I have been using Evernote to manage and organise my M.Ed studies. It is an invaluable tool. I use the desktop app almost every day and have been making regular use of the Android version. On first look, as I have found with other cross platform apps, both the iPhone’s UI and UX are vastly superior. What’s more the quality of the display on the 4S is crystal clear.

Instacast – Like Tweetbot, this is an app I have wanted to use for some time. It has been well reviewed, with the consensus being that there is no better app for the job. As an avid listener to podcasts, I am very pleased with my experience so far. What this app offers over the built in music app is the ability to stream shows, download on the fly and access show notes within the app itself. This makes for a far richer listening experience.

Agenda – The built in iPhone calendar has a very poor UI. Agenda, is clean and minimal, utilising sound principals of typographic design.

Pop – I’m a huge believer in ubiquitous capture and even with Notesy installed, sometimes all you need is a piece of paper. That is exactly what Pop offers: a piece of paper on to which you can write stuff down and return to later. The only other options are: select, select all, copy all and paste. This adds what I would call ‘useful friction’ in that when I decide to act on the information I have captured in Pop I will have to make an effort to move each piece around. This means I will be forced to decide if what I noted down is really valuable or not.

Taking photographs with a mobile phone is an activity I have never really been interested in. I think this is due to the poor quality of cameras I have encountered in previous phones. With the iPhone 4S’ 8MP camera, I am planning to take this as an opportunity to capture images on a more regular basis. I looked to my PLN on Twitter to help me get started and they didn’t disappoint. I chose to begin with the following two apps:

Camera+ – I decided to get this app as it offered some interesting improvements on the built in camera app: Improved zoom capabilities and a stabiliser (perfect for a novice photographer)

Snapseed – Nearly everyone who replied to my initial tweet recommended this app, and I have already had loads of fun playing with it. It offers a wide range of features, from basic editing features such as cropping and rotating to more stylistic effects such as manipulating depth of field.

iPhone Home Screen 12.04.12

In terms of arranging the apps, my choices are based on frequency and tactility. Apps towards the bottom of the home screen are the ones that I use most often. As such I want them positioned where I can access them quickly when holding the phone in one hand. Beyond that the apps are loosely grouped: Photography, Sound & Video, Reading, Notes/Writing, Interruptions.

Why this Apple fanboy loves his Android phone

Android Phone

Some of you will know that I am quite the Apple fanboy. I currently own a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro (my second one) and an iPod touch. Having blogged twice about the apps I have installed on the iPod (during the early days of this blog), I felt it was time to confess to the fact that the iPod has been relegated to the status of ‘portable entertainment centre’. It now gets charged and used on long journeys mainly having been replaced by a HTC Wildfire – my ‘productivity centre’. Even with my deep love of all things Apple, I am not missing the iOS user interface one bit. The Android UI is just as pleasing and the phone was half the price of the iPhone 4.

Mobile phones and I

While I am a self-confessed technophile I resisted owning a mobile phone for a long time. I love technology but I felt that having a mobile phone would be too big a distraction and would put me in a situation where I am too contactable. I did not want to feel guilty if I was called and chose to ignore it. I knew that I would because I view my time as being extremely precious. However, I found myself frustrated using the iPod touch due to the lack of 3G connectivity. I didn’t want to text or make calls but it was highly frustrating to have to rely on finding a wifi signal when I was out and about. The Wildfire was my compromise then, not invoking a terrible cost to my pocket, I set up a PAYG account with Orange and away I went.

I have kept myself sane by putting in place a number of rules as to how I use the phone. All notifications are switched off so that I am not distracted. If I am doing something really important, I turn the phone off completely. I do not give out my number; only a small number of people have it. And finally, I only reply to text messages if it is really necessary. The people who do text me know this about me so I don’t feel any guilt if I forget to reply.

What I have gained by owning the phone is immense. It is my personal productivity machine; fully integrated into my day to day life. To illustrate this I am going to talk through the 10 most used apps on the phone:

The five apps I can’t live without

Twitter for Android – The main reason I bought the phone was to engage with my Twitter PLN at any given time. I tried a few apps including TweetDeck and for a while Twidroyd but have happily settled on the official app. In my opinion as good as any third party and it’s OS and iOS equivalents. I can keep up with the various streams, tweet, retweet (new and traditional methods), DM, search, even manage my lists which you can’t do with Twitter for Mac.

Everpaper – As there is no native Instapaper client for Android, I experimented with a few third party apps. Everpaper is by far the closest in matching the experience of the web and iOS apps. It is feature rich while managing to maintain that all so important minimal UI. I save a lot of reading material to Instapaper – blog articles, essays, reports… the list goes on. If I am not reading a book I will catch up with my Instapaper during my journey to work. I will also read it while queuing at Costa Coffee or any other time where I am forced to be idle and do not have access to my laptop.

Kindle – I have been totally converted to the value of being able to sync the book I am reading across multiple devices. I mean, it makes so much sense right? So I now have the Kindle app on my MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Android phone. I don’t think it will be too long before I buy a Kindle as well. I use the Android app almost every weekday morning during my journey into work. So far I have read the entirety of the following books on it:

Focus by Leo Babauta
Poke the Box by Seth Godin
Keeping it Straight by Patrick Rhone
Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson

I am about to start reading Learning Futures: Education, Technology and Social Change by Keri Facer.

Calendar – This is one of the few built in apps that I use. Synced with Google calendar; all appointments, meetings and urgent stuff are added with ease. It is the only app where, when necessary, I have the notification reminders turned on for urgent deadlines, meetings and appointments. Things that it would be absolutely detrimental for me to forget. However, I do not add my ToDo list to my calendar. My ToDo list is a text file which I keep in nvALT; synced with Simplenote. As a highly organised and motivated person, there is rarely anything in my ToDo list that I would forget to do any way.

Gmail – Again synced with my Google account I rely on this app to check my personal email at lunch time. I designate times for a number of specific tasks and this is the case with email. I check my work email first thing when I arrive at work and again at the end of the day. I check my personal email first thing in the morning and at lunch time. I try to avoid looking at email in the evening unless I know there is something urgent I need to reply to and did not manage to do so during the day.

The five apps which are useful at very specific times (but not essential)

Internet Browser – I use the pre-installed web browser. I use it mainly on an ad-hoc basis, for example, if someone shares a link in Twitter, it kicks me out to the web to view the image etc. Other than that I rarely use it.

Google Reader – As previously mentioned I allot specific times to a number of tasks. Task number one every morning is to catch up with the RSS feeds I subscribe to. I read the short ones and save the longer articles to Instapaper. I only use the Android app if that didn’t happen for some reason and on the rare occasions I am not reading a book and my Instapaper is empty – i may save this activity for the journey into work.

Evernote – As eluded to earlier, I am using Evernote to maintain my organisation as I work towards an Masters in Education. The mobile app has been used for two specific tasks. Taking photos of long extracts from books where I have not been able to access and electronic version and to take photos of slides at meetings/conferences. With the auto-sync it is a fabulous tool. See Doug’s post here about how he has used it.

mNote – As with Instapaper there is no native Simplenote app for Android. mNote is my app of choice. I occasionally need to update something and so will do it here. My use of this app has decreased since I bought my MacBook Air. Due to the Air being so light, I am tending to now take it to meetings – using nvALT to make notes instead.

Dropbox – This one needs little explanation. I want access to my documents at all times. My most common use is to read PDF files which I can’t access from Instapaper or the Kindle app.

The one app that I could live without but I’m glad I don’t have to

Swiftkey Keyboard – The built-in keyboard to the Android OS was not very good and this was one of the first features that I changed. It is the only app I have installed where I have handed over money but it was definitely worth it. Swiftkey has (IMO) the most accurate and useful predictive text I have experienced between using the iOS keyboard on my iPod touch, an LG touchscreen phone, and the built in Android keyboard. Part of the reason it works is that the keyboard’s UI is so clear and not over-sensitive that it is rare to make mistakes when typing. This combined with excellent ‘learning’ algorithms, Swiftkey predicts correctly most of the time.

iPod touch with 3G?

I have been asked by a few close friends who have had to endure me waxing lyrical about the phone whether I would buy an iPod touch, should it be released with 3G. After all, I make little to no use of the traditional phone features. To be honest, I don’t think so. I have become accustomed to the Android OS and until Apple includes something in iOS that is so revolutionary, it makes the Android OS obsolete, I will be sticking with what works for me. Besides, I’m a firm believer in the ‘one thing well’ philosophy. My Android phone does productivity really well. My iPod touch does entertainment really well. I’m happy with that.

Writing: From idea to published post

For the second time in less than a month I find myself inspired to write a blog post after sharing a screen shot via Twitter. Last time, it focused on how I was using Evernote to organise my notes for my MA. This time is slightly less direct in that the item I’m going to write about had nothing to do with why I tweeted out the screen shot.

T4M and NV

The screen shots purpose was to document the fact that I was giving Twitter for Mac a try and was enjoying the small amount of screen real estate that it consumed; meaning I could have other apps open and visible at the same time. In this case Notational Velocity. Not giving a great deal of thought to this at the time I grabbed the shot not realising that the image also offers an insight into my writing process. What is revealed in the image is the earliest written draft of a blog post. I call this the earliest “written” draft as the first draft is the version in my head. Rarely the version that ends up on my blog though.

Ideas for blog posts come to me at all times of the day, from many different directions, but more often than not – after a day of work. At that time I’m not usually at my most productive so save writing posts for the morning or weekend. What I do though is write down the idea, usually as a series of points. This some times translates directly into the paragraphs that will make the post and other times the final post has no resemblance to the initial idea that was written down.

Most of the posts on this blog have gone through either 3 or 4 drafts. After making my notes (draft 1) I will leave the idea to simmer a little. I then return and flesh it out (draft 2). This is all done in Notational Velocity. At this stage I may have collated some links but certainly have not thought about visuals if I choose to use them at all. I have simply focussed on the writing – the most important part IMO.

If I am happy with this draft I will copy and paste it into WordPress, add all of the links and any images/media that is to be included; check the code; add categories and tags; and voila a post (draft 3) ready to be published. From time to time however I will get this far, read back over the post and decide that something is not quite right. If that is the case I will leave the post as a draft for 24 hours and return to it with fresh eyes. Nine times out ten I will realise what was niggling me, correct it and then hit publish (draft 4).

There are times that I’d like to be one of those prolific bloggers who posts daily, pushing out first draft after first draft but I just can’t do it. Partly because I’m a perfectionist and partly because many of the things that I choose to write about need a little gestation time. That said, I have found using Posterous for a more personal / non #edtech blog has given me a bit more freedom to post with a little less need for polish, but then that blog is not as widely read as this one.

Writing is a very personal process – it deserves focus, time and more than a little TLC. F,or anyone who is thinking about starting a blog the most important things you must do early on are: 1. Find a writing methodology that works for you and: 2. Find the right writing tools that will help you focus on the writing, whether that be pen and paper, direct into your blogs editor or on a dedicated writing app. Making your blog/posts colourful; embedding media; adding buttons and feeds are not as important as the writing. All of the bells and whistles can be built up over time but for people to return to your blog regularly the writing must be good.

Why I believe an 11″ MacBook Air is the ideal laptop for me

I briefly posted on my Posterous blog that I hope to make the new 11″ MacBook Air my next laptop. After considering what I want out of my next laptop here is why I believe that the MacBook Air will be the ideal machine for me. Due to the quality of a number of web based apps and a handful of open source, light weight, desktop apps the 128GB (with 4GB RAM) 11″ MacBook Air offers more than enough power, speed and space for me. I thought I would share what I plan to use the laptop for and the apps that I would install. It offers some insight to the way I maintain my productivity, write and keep up with my day-to-day life. Here goes:

  • Surfing the web – Google Chrome (and here’s why)
  • Email – Gmail / Sparrow
  • Calendar – Google Calendar
  • RSS – Google Reader
  • Twitter – Twitter for Mac
  • Managing my iTunes library – Have added less than 300MB this year in comparison to 30GB over the previous four. 128GB is more than enough space for me to maintain my iTunes library.
  • Blogging – Notational Velocity (I run a forked version which can be found here at elastic threads)/ WordPress
  • Making Notes and Lists – Notational Velocity / Evernote
  • Writing papers for my MA – Notational Velocity / Evernote / WordPress
  • Presentations – Google docs / Preview

The footprint of the free and open source apps that I will be installing (Google Chrome, Sparrow, Twitter for Mac, Notational Velocity and Evernote) is very minimal – less than 300MB. This small footprint combined with the fact that the laptop is light weight (1.06kg), small and yet durable with a full size keyboard makes it the perfect laptop for a minimalist like myself. In addition to this, it is simply a beautifully designed machine. Now, I’ve just got to save up the cash.

Image: Dan Taylor

Sharing What You Do Online – FTW!

A little under two years ago I had been teaching for six years but had not considered keeping a blog and I wasn’t on Twitter. Both of these outlets have had a significant impact on my teaching and the learning that takes place in my classroom. This morning I was reminded of just how valuable sharing what you do online is.

Catching up with tweets during New Years Day, I decided, very much on a whim, to have a go at a #365 project. A 365 project is where you take a photo a day for 365 days. I already had a Posterous blog set up that I had been using for posting photos and thoughts that didn’t really fit on this blog. Therefore, I had to do little more than start adding the photos. Having had a significantly hectic day yesterday, I got home, ate dinner and then, while working on my MA realised that I had not posted a photo for the day. In fact, I had not taken any photos at all during the day and there was nothing on my phone or laptop that I felt like posting. Instead, I decided that I would simply post a screen grab of what I was working on at that moment.

Evernote and MA

As you can see I am using Evernote to organise my MA. I have folders set up for each module and within those folders I have note books where I have recorded meetings, research proposals, notes on readings etc. I shared this on a whim, more out of ensuring that I kept up with the #365 project than anything else. I didn’t expect anyone to really look closely at the image. But in this I was wrong. If you zoom in on the image you will see that I was working on my ‘Action Research Proposal’ for my ‘Assessment for Learning‘ module. I have decided to put a ‘No Hands Up’ policy in place with two of my classes. This morning, checking my email, I saw that I had a comment from Christine Roberts (@Christiner733). She shared with me how she deals with the idea of ‘no hands up’ in her classroom and also shared her feelings on how her students respond.

365 Comment

What had been for me more a formality of keeping up with my #365 project; an innocuous post which had no intended outcomes, led to the sharing of good practice and ideas. Once again proving that sharing online is valuable.

For those of you who are not into your acronyms – FTW stands for ‘For The Win’ and I believe this to be true of sharing what you do online. Take the time to reflect on the teaching and learning that takes place in your classroom. There is no better way to do this than to write about it – IMO! Blogging is so simple, particularly with platforms such as Tumblr and Posterous that require almost no set up or web expertise to get started. And join Twitter, there are a plethora of talented and genuinely nice people out there who are willing to share ideas and help you grow as an educator.

In these tough financial times, the sharing of ideas and resources online may just well be the best way forward…