8 Big Productivity Tools for Small Businesses

Lately, I’ve been meeting tons of great owners of small businesses with fantastic ideas, boundless enthusiasm and passion for their work. What struck me was how poorly equipped they were, technologically speaking.

From working with computers that only booted when they felt like it, printers that had to be coaxed into cooperating and accounting still done on paper or using software they didn’t understand, they all expressed frustration (some in colourful words!) at the challenges of running their business.

It inspired me to put together a list of some of the tools that are closest to my heart to run a small business without losing your mind.

The right setup

Anyone who’s ever popped by this blog will know I’m a Mac geek, so a few of the tools are Mac-biased, but the majority will apply whatever your platform of choice.

Abstracting from the software and tools, first there’s the right desk and working setup. Get a computer that’s fast enough for you to work efficiently. No, you don’t need a 24GB RAM Mac Pro if you mostly do email, browsing and word processing, but you need a reliable machine. If you’re a laptop user, do yourself a favour and take good care of your battery so that it gives you plenty of life when you’re unplugged.

Work from home? Set yourself up with a self-respecting desk, chair and screen. Sitting on the bed or sofa is going to hurt in the long term, trust me. I won’t lecture you about posture and ergonomics but, right now, sit straight please.

Software & web apps

FreeAgent Accounting Software

I’m starting with this one as it was SUCH a revelation for me. I used to launch a virtual machine into Windows XP, use QuickBooks and want to jump off a bridge every time I had to do any accounting. It was downright painful and I had NO idea what I was doing (thankfully my accountant was ultra-helpful, patiently talking me through it).

A few freelancers suggested FreeAgent, and when I finally gave it a go, I was bowled over. Not only is it born and bred in the UK (and therefore ready to cope with the weirdnesses HMRC throws our way, even flat rate VAT!), the team is totally on the ball and provides amazing support. As it’s a web-based service, you can get your team to enter their time slips daily, your accountant can log in and you can use it anywhere.

The overview screen means you’ll know exactly where you stand in terms of incoming and outgoing money. Words can’t describe how much this has saved my sanity and put me in control of my own business.

For what it can do for you, it’s worth every penny, but they make it even better by offering an affiliate scheme. As a bonus, if you’re interested in trying out FreeAgent, use this link and we’ll both get 10% discount!

Campaign Monitor

Quite the opposite of newcomer (to me) FreeAgent, Campaign Monitor and I have been in a long-term relationship, and it’s a relationship that’s getting better with age.

Campaign Monitor is an email marketing platform which allows you to send newsletters to your ever-so-precious list of customers. Templates make your life easy from one send to the next and reports are beautiful and automatically generated (great to send to clients or bosses!).

The only problem with it is that the recent Worldview feature, which allows you to see in real-time when your emails are opened, makes me look like a complete lunatic as I say “Hi Stig! Oh hello Paul!” to my screen as I see friends opening our newsletters. This aside, Campaign Monitor is a pleasure to use and pretty affordable for small businesses.

Evernote

There’s a reason Evernote uses an elephant as its logo; it truly has the memory of an elephant.

Evernote is a web-based service that allows you to save text, pictures or files and synchronise across multiple locations. For example, I have the app on my Mac, iPhone and iPad, so I can look up information I’ve saved from anywhere. I can make a little note or take a picture when I’m on the go, knowing I’ll be able to get to it later from any device.

With the premium version ($5/m or $45/y), images are scanned for text so I use it to take pictures of business cards and then dump the originals. Later, rather than flick through a dangerously large pile of business cards, I can type the name of the person or company I’m looking for and find their details right away.

Sitting on the train, I’ll make some notes on my iPad after a client meeting, then later edit them on the desktop. I also use it for hobbies, saving all my digital sewing patterns, project ideas and pictures in Evernote for future reference.

1Password

How often can you get your password right on the first go? And how many times a week do you have to use the “forgot your password” function on a website? (If you don’t, you probably use the same password everywhere, in which case shame on you!)

1Password is another external brain (do we sense a theme here?) which allows you to save all your passwords in one place and only remember one master password. You can then hit a key combo to auto-fill your login details on a site. Folders and tags make it easy to categorise the zillions of logins clients or suppliers expect you to remember.

It’s available for Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad and Android AND you can synchronise across them all! (yay!) Plus, they’re based in Canada. (double yay!)

Skitch

Need to send a quick annotated sketch to show what you’re trying to describe? Skitch to the rescue!

Skitch is a brilliantly speedy way to share screenshots and information. Use fewer words and more arrows and pictures to tell a story. Upload your screenshots to Skitch.com or Flickr to share easily and check your history when you need to return to an old screenshot later on. Resizing is as simple as dragging the bottom right corner so anyone can do it and there’s no need for heavy software like Photoshop.

This one is for Mac users only. 🙂

TextExpander

You might have noticed that I’m all about effortless efficiency. What can I say? The more efficient you can be, the sooner you can pour yourself a G&T! (hey, that rhymed…)

TextExpander allows you to save bits of text you use frequently and paste them by typing a few characters. For example, I can give the same links or replies in an email, in a tweet then in a forum without having to re-write it from scratch or find the link in my browser history every time.

As an aside, yes, my own app Alfred also offers Snippets as a way to save frequently used bits of text and I do use both, but TextExpander is a single-purpose app, while Alfred does a multitude of rather awesome things.

Alfred

What? You didn’t seriously think I’d talk about useful tools without including the one we’ve lovingly crafted over the past 18 months? 🙂

In its simplest form, Alfred is a productivity app for Mac that helps you launch apps, websites, do calculations, check your spelling and more without having to ever take your fingers off the keyboard. Start paying attention to how many times you need to use the mouse to get to apps and files, and you’ll quickly see that it isn’t so efficient. Click here, scroll down, oh where’s that app… With Alfred, pop up your window with a hotkey and type the name of the app you want. Tadah, launched!

With the Powerpack, which is the paid add-on we launched nearly a year ago, you can control your iTunes collection, set up global shortcuts to launch apps and scripts with a hotkey, use clipboard history and much, much more. In fact, Andrew is working on the next release, which will include extensions; these will be so flexible, I can’t wait to see what users will create to fit their own workflow.

The free version is available either from our website or the Mac App Store, and the Powerpack from our website. Soon, however, you’ll be able to upgrade to the Powerpack in the Mac App Store too if you become an OS X 10.7 (Lion) user.

Dropbox

Another useful tool for those who juggle multiple computers or devices is Dropbox. Using a background app, Dropbox synchronises the folders you choose so that they’re available from any device or from their website when you’re in a pinch and need to access files from elsewhere. Many Mac apps use Dropbox as the vehicle to synchronise settings across multiple computers and setup is usually completely effortless!

A word of advice, however, is to only share non-critical and non-confidential files on services like Dropbox. A few days ago, a bug in Dropbox allowed access to any account using any password for a window of a few hours. Scary thought, but then these are services to help make you more efficient, not a secret lock and key vault, so don’t store your deepest secrets there.

In summary…

Small business folks work SO hard to succeed that any tools or tips that can make us more efficient can make the difference between slaving until 10pm and being able to shut the door at a reasonable time and enjoy an evening in the garden.

Summer holidays are coming and it’s often a time where business is slower for some industries. Why not take advantage of that time to improve processes and make yourself more comfortable in your work environment?

If you’ve got more tips to share, please do leave a comment as I’d love to expand this list over time!

Amazing launch party cake

Alfred App: 0.7 launch cake

It would be an understatement to say we’ve got great friends – they’re downright awesome! For our end-of-summer BBQ, which was also a bit of a deadline/launch party for the Alfred Powerpack, Lee made us an Alfred bowler hat shaped cake!

What better way to celebrate having been recluse shut-ins for months, working away, than by having a great day with friends? Even the rain stayed away for most of the day.

More photos coming soon, I’m sure, but I had to share this one!

[Photo credit: Michael Dales on Ember]

Three Reasons Why the Mac Community Makes Me Happy

As some of you know, in recent months, Andrew and I have been working on Alfred, our very own Mac productivity app. It’s been exciting, sometimes tough, but definitely enlightening. And finally, the fruit of our labour, the Powerpack, is nearly ready to be released.

We’ve met and talked to tons of Mac users, developers and bloggers. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to give a talk on social networking for business at the Apple Store in Cambridge, meeting more recent Mac converts.

While I’ve been a Mac user since the late 80’s (thanks grandpa for the hand-me-downs!), it’s only in the past few years that there has been enough of a community for it to really become exciting – which brought me to make these observations.

The enthusiasm of Mac geeks is boundless

This energy could have something to do with Apple’s approach – superlative “everything changes” descriptions – or with the feeling of being a trailblazer by always being on the hunt for a shiny thing more beautiful, more efficient and more undiscovered than the last shiny thing.

Sometimes, I admit, Mac users (myself included) love our gadgetry and possibly annoy those who don’t feel so strongly about their computer setup. But then, if that’s our personality, it’ll be either Macs, cars, stamp collecting or some other obsessive compulsive passion.

From the more practical angle, we spend an obscene number of hours a week at the computer so why not make it an environment that’s a pleasure to use?

So we just celebrate it! We post pictures of our desks on Lifehacker’s workspace Flickr pool, we publish our favourite apps on iusethis and show off our gadgets to anyone who’ll listen. (Or is it just me?)

A great willingness to contribute and participate

As our Mac productivity app Alfred is growing, I can’t begin to count how many offers to beta test, help out and write about it we’ve received. Sure, some are self-serving and coming from bloggers who are mainly looking for an exclusive sneak peek into the app, but all have some sense of altruism, where the ultimate objective is to make the Mac community better.

We have asked for feedback on Twitter, with questions like “Which colour scheme do you use?” to “Who’s still on Leopard and why?” Simple yet important questions, to which we sometimes received in excess of 100 responses within a few minutes from posting. It’s difficult to express how useful this instant feedback has been.

Aside from the practical or technical responses we received, the general chatter about the app and positive comments on blogs and on Twitter have been the fuel to our long evenings and weekends of work. Looking back at the Alfred favourites page is all the motivation we need to keep going sometimes.

The openness of Mac developers

I’m sure most people have worked this out but I’m not a developer, so it’s news to me. Through exchanging with Mac developers who use Alfred, meeting nice folks at CambMacDev and other events, it’s become clear that most Mac developers are willing to lend a hand, share some useful tips or offer feedback.

Even as the non-developer that I am, I’m enjoying the exchanges, gaining some great business insight that will help me shape the future of Alfred. We’re lucky not to be dealing with the Russian roulette that is the iPhone App Store, but there’s still a lot to learn about the Mac ecosystem.

Overall, it’s just a great fun ride to date, and it’s only the beginning! Who knows where the next few years will take us…

[Image credit: Itty Bitty Mac Earrings by PixelParty on Etsy]

The Unavoidable Apple iPad Review

In a “sun set to rise tomorrow morning” announcement, I can now confirm that, as a convert to the Church of Steve, I bought an iPad on the day of launch.

While it may seem like a given to you, wise readers, I had somehow convinced myself in the two days before launch that I did not need a shiny iPad and would wait a few months to buy one. Of course, by 10:30am on the day of launch, after watching the stream of excited tweets from those who had bought one, I grabbed my car keys and heading into town to pick up a 3G iPad.

In order to put it through its paces, I decided to leave my laptop at home a few weeks ago while we were on holiday for a week. The iPad would be the closest thing to a computer I’d have access to. (Well, Andrew did have his MacBook, should all hell break loose and access to our webservers was needed for some reason, but the aim was to steer clear of it.)

First observations

Battery life

As soon as I opened the box and sync’ed the iPad with iTunes for the first, I simply couldn’t put it down. After a day and a half of non-stop use, the battery still had plenty of juice. Since then, the battery seems to have gotten even better with a few full cycles.

Keyboard

I expected the worst of the keyboard, and it’s nearly as bad as I thought. I can type at a fair pace on it, almost as fast as I do on a normal keyboard. It’s miles better than my first eee PC, which had a ridiculously awkward keyboard. The hiccup is that I have to look at my fingers. As a result, I’ll be getting an external Bluetooth keyboard of some sort soon.

eBook reading

I left for the holiday with a half-read paperback of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I knew I’d finish reading it within mere days, but I was too late to grab a copy of the two following titles (The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) before going away so I picked up a copy for the Amazon Kindle, a bit wary of reading on screen.

It turned out to be a great read while indoors or outside in the evening. Even with polarised sunglasses out in the sun, it was just about usable – though only in landscape mode as the screen “disappeared” when in portrait mode, as is often the case with polarised lenses. I wouldn’t have been keen to take it to sandy beaches or too close to the pool (but then I don’t do beaches anyway!) whereas I wouldn’t have been too fussed to see a paperback get wet or covered in sunscreen.

The Kindle reader is, to date, my favourite of the available eBook readers. It has a huge selection of popular, current titles and all paid books I’ve downloaded to date have been well formatted. Much of the Project Gutenberg books are also available, but generally not very well laid out.

It probably won’t replace paperback novels on holiday, but certainly will be the end of carrying books – whether business or leisure reading – on long train journeys.

iPhone apps

I didn’t have very high expectations for upscaled iPhone apps, but most look good enough that they’re usable. They’re obviously no match for the iPad-specific apps that take advantage of the larger real estate, but until these become more common, many of the games and useful apps work fine in 2x mode. Some of the games would benefit from simply rotating to be the “right” way around for an iPad used in its protective case, and are progressively being updated.

3G functionality

I can’t really comment on using 3G as the Apple Store didn’t have the Three SIMs when I came in store, but I can already tell that it’ll be very useful. There certainly isn’t ubiquitous wifi around here, so 3G will make the iPad useful when travelling around the UK.

Favourite iPad apps

[Note: None of the links are directly to iTunes, since iTunes link are a bit annoying. Most links are to the developer site or app announcement.]

  • Evernote is incredibly swish in iPad version and as useful as ever
  • The Amazon Kindle app makes for easy reading
  • NewsRack is an excellent local RSS reader, sync’ed with my Google Reader account
  • Weather Pro HD looks fabulous and provides an overdose of weather data my husband really loves
  • Things, a to-do list app, looks great if you need a slick but simple app that can sync with your Mac and iPhone’s lists, though I admit that I haven’t bought this one
  • GoodReader and DropBox work brilliantly hand-in-hand – find the file you put in your DropBox, then view it in GoodReader

Much to my disappointment, I’ve yet to find a Twitter client I’m satisfied with. Tweetdeck is hopeless and crashes regularly, Twitterific makes poor use of space and the other options also haven’t won my heart.

I also hope a grocery delivery company like Tesco creates a good iPad app for food ordering – however, as they can barely get the web-based ordering to look good, I’m not getting my hopes up just yet.

Favourite iPad games

Well, what? You didn’t think I’d gone all grown up on you, did you? Of course, I’ve always loved iPhone games, from the simplest to the quirkiest, so some of my first downloads were game apps.

Some of the early HD games I picked up include:

There are also a few good contenders for 2x gaming (using the double size button to play iPhone games on a larger scale), including Fare City and Fruit Ninja. If either of these come out with a gameplay variation for iPhone, I have no doubt they’ll be great fun.

Where I view it being useful

In the past few years, I’ve often lugged my very heavy MacBook Pro in its (lovely but also heavy) brown leather and pink satin Lin & Leo bag to London for the day. Getting home at night, I’d feel completely lopsided with a sore back. Yet, my laptop would have had very little use in the meetings – so little in fact that I wondered whether to take it at all.

With the iPad, equipped with the super-useful DropBox app, I can have access to all the key files I need that day – just in case. With the SIM giving me Internet access anywhere, I can stay on top of things in a way that’s more comfortable than by pecking at the iPhone keyboard. By leaving my phone alone, it also means that I don’t burn down the (less impressive) iPhone battery and can still call home on the return journey to ask my husband to put a bottle of wine in the fridge.

Beyond navel-gazing at my own needs, I can see the iPad being a game changer for people who like to browse the web while watching TV – which seems to be most of my generation. It’s a cracking screen for browsing and effortless to use as there’s no learning curve for software.

I’d be curious to hear about the favourite apps and most interesting use you’ve been making of the iPad. What drove you crazy Mac people to get one too? If you don’t have one, do you think it’s all hot air or are you green with envy?

In the meantime, I’ll look forward to iOS4 for the iPad, to see how much multitasking and the new fine touches we’re seeing on the iPhone will add to the user experience.

My new pal Alfred: Mac quicklaunch application

The past few days have been just a bit of a mad ride, following the launch of our Mac quicklaunch application, called Alfred, which garnered +2500 users in its first 48 hours.

We created the Alfred App to fill our own need: A quicklaunch tool that can search your local computer as well as the web, that is fast, looks good and, most importantly, doesn’t chew through memory like a hungry hyena.

After some intense development weeks, we launched it on Sunday night, while watching the Canada-USA Olympics hockey final (wooh!). With the intention of sharing it with a few friends for a “quiet beta”, we mentioned it on Twitter and went off to bed.

Little did we know, on Monday and Tuesday, the stats were on fiiiire with over a thousand downloads per day, great feedback via Twitter and a bucketload of feature requests by email.

Users have described us as a perfect Quicksilver replacement which, as a long-time user of Quicksilver, is a true honour. It was with much sadness that I read at the end of 2007 that developer Nicholas Jitkoff would no longer be evolving Quicksilver (considering I recommended it to every new Mac user I met) so when Andrew suggested that we develop our own flavour of quick launcher, I was over the moon! Designer Ollie Kav created the fab look of the site, working closely with us.

If you fancy trying it out, you can go to Alfredapp.com to download the beta version – the main reason we need your email address is that we haven’t yet built in an auto-updater so this will allow us to let you know when the next version is available.

We’ll launch an Alfred blog in the near future to keep a roadmap of features and let users know how things are progressing, but for now, you can keep us company on Twitter!

Quick Tip To Avoid Losing Your iPhone

img_0031This is by no means a groundbreaking tip in my eyes, but having shown it to a few people, they suggested I should immortalise it by posting it for others to benefit from.

If you regularly travel or attend events, you probably pull your phone out of your pocket every few minutes. You also most likely rely heavily on it as your main means of communication, so losing it becomes a real pain.

What I did during SXSWi was create a note containing my contact details if my phone was found. As it was a total geekfest, my Twitter username and email address was enough, but if you’re staying at a hotel, you could ask them to leave it at your hotel’s reception desk, etc. As long as it fits within that single screen.

Set a PIN code on your phone to avoid anyone having a jolly by making international calls when they find it and hope that, if you do lose it, a Good Guy/Gal finds it who hands it back to you.

Quick handy tip, do it next time you go away!

[Update: Some readers pointed out they didn’t know how to get from creating a note to making it visible as wallpaper so here are some further details.

  1. After you’ve created the note, take a screenshot by pressing the top & front buttons at the same time. The screen will “flash” and the image will be saved in your Camera Roll.
  2. Go to your Photos app & to Camera Roll, and select the photo you want.
  3. Press the button with the arrow on the far left and select “Use as Wallpaper”
  4. Go to Settings and set your PIN code so that your phone now requires a PIN code.

When you’ll next wake your phone up from standby, you’ll see the wallpaper telling someone who finds your phone how to get a hold of you, while protecting your personal data by keeping it locked with a PIN.]

Five Years of Blogging: Celebrating with some giveaways

In April, That Canadian Girl celebrated 5 years of bloggy goodness and, yet again, I nearly missed its birthday. Oops!

In reality I’ve been blogging for nearly 10 years – a friend kindly hosted my first diary-style site back in 1999 or 2000. The Wayback Machine can see a site on thatcanadiangirl.co.uk from 2002, which is when the previous iteration of this blog was born.

This makes me feel really old. In Internet terms, that’s an eternity. I mean… ten years ago, Geocities was still popular, Google was moving into its first office, the Melissa worm was working its magic on mail servers across the world, and everyone was still starry-eyed about the Information Superhighway.

Oooff… sorry about that flashback, it was like being the old drunk guy from the Fast Show for a minute.

As my memory is absolutely hopeless, I usually consider my blog’s current archive – which goes back to April 2004 – to be the beginning of Time As We Know It.

Now for the giveaways: To celebrate this milestone birthday, I’m giving away goodies to my readership which match the topics I’ve written about over the years; geeky, funky, practical, food-related and artsy goodies.

To take part, all you need to do is leave a comment and tell me which ones interest you: On Sunday, 10th May, Jack & Rose will pick out winners for each of the prizes!

geeky

A ticket to FUEL conference FOWA Tour, an excellent Carsonified event about online marketing and social media, held in London on June 23rd. Ryan kindly offered me a ticket for one of my readers, so entrepreneurs, marketers, this one is for you.

Anyone can win this ticket, as long as you’re able to make your way to London for the event.

[Update: As there have been some changes to the Carsonified calendar and FUEL has been cancelled, you will win a ticket to the FOWA Tour in a city of your choice: Cambridge, Leeds, Bristol or Edinburgh.]

funky

I love unusual art and beautifully decorate home offices. Stuart from Spin Collective is giving away three sets (up to a value of £30 each) of the superb wall stickers. They’re jaw-droppingly cool and I’m having to resist very hard the urge to keep them all for myself!

Spin Collective will ship anywhere, so everyone is welcome to take part. If you win, you’ll get to choose from the website and they’ll be shipped to you directly.

practical

To satisfy the productivity nerd in me, I had to include a tool I’ve been using for a couple of years that changed the way I use my phone. James from SpinVox is giving away two SpinVox voicemail-to-text accounts.

SV is available in the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany & Spain, so if you live in any of those countries and uhh have a mobile phone, go for it!

foodie

I’m a total foodie, so I thought it was only fair to include something food-related to the list. Of course, I’m not going to ship you a bowl of my awesome homemade chilli as it’d get messy and Royal Mail would give me funny looks (…yet again)

Niall Harbison from Look & Taste (previously ifoods.tv, and yes he’s the guy who braved Dragons’ Den) is offering a few things:

First, if you’re an iPhone user, there are 10 licenses for Twecipe (£2.39) and another 10 for Look & Taste’s own video recipes app.

Secondly, Niall has agreed to create a pro video of a recipe of my readers’ choosing. Want to immortalise your nan’s best pudding or that wild recipe you made up the other day? You’ll get a mention, and Niall will let his viewers know where the recipe comes from.

The apps are (obviously) for iPhone & iPod Touch owners, and the recipe video is open to everyone.

artsy

I love beautiful things, making cards & handmade gifts. I’m pretty much rubbish at it and my projects look like something out of a preschool classroom, but I still love it.

Blurb.com have offered a £35 voucher for a Blurb book, so it’s a chance to create your own full-colour, beautifully professional-looking bound book. Whether it’s to remember your kids’ summer holiday or a special event, it’ll be unique!

Blurb ships to lots of countries, have a look at the list if in doubt. Promise you’ll show me your finished product 🙂

So what are you waiting for? All these awesome goodies are just one comment away!

GTD Nerdery: How I Use The Hit List

It may be Easter weekend here in the UK, but for me, Friday is Just Another Work Day™. The best feeling however, is the one that accompanies ticking stuff off my immense task list, which is made easier by everyone else being on holiday.

I’ve mentioned a few of my Getting Things Done tools in the past, like the “Everyday…” list of rules to respect when working from home, which include setting three most important tasks, creating blocks of time without distraction and taking a lunch break at a reasonable time. Ok, I’ve not exactly excelled at following them but they’re good reminders nonetheless.

I’ve flirted with just about every web app or task-list software out there, having bought more than I like to admit. Lately, I’d been using Things by Cultured Code but didn’t feel 100% happy with it. In the latest round of Macheist, I acquired The Hit List which Josh Clark described as “a grown up version of Things.”

Totally fell in love with The Hit List for its ease of use, nested lists and simple tagging. Mainly the nested lists though, as that was sorely missing from Things. Plus it’s even prettier.

To show how I use it, I’ve taken a few screenshots…

“Today” view

The most practical view of it when glancing at it to see what task is going to jump at my throat if I don’t do it immediately.

The Hit List - Today view

Single-list view

When working on a specific client’s projects for a day, I’ll focus on their list, keeping everyone else out of view.

The Hit List - Single list view

“Waiting For” view

I have a notoriously bad memory, so when I email someone who assign a task to a teammate who I’ll need to chase up later, I create a list item with the tag @wf (Waiting For). It then becomes easy to quickly scan the smart folder of answers I’m waiting for.

The Hit List - Waiting For list view

You can find all three on Flickr here.

It’s a painlessly easy to use piece of software, makes for a great braindumping ground for projects. It even makes a satisfying little noise when I tick a task as completed.

I continue to use Basecamp for shared projects, but nothing on the web yet has the convenience and ease of desktop software drag & drop, offline use & speed, so until that point, solo project lists will continue to live in The Hit List.

Five tips to maintain your aluminium MacBook Pro

Getting a new Mac is a great experience; Apple have worked for many years to make the unboxing experience memorable and special. People talk about it, document it in photos or in video. But what happens when you’ve had it for a few weeks, months or years? It gets scratched, damaged or dirty. That “yummy new shiny machine” feeling disappears.

So why bother caring for your aluminium MacBook Pro? If you want to sell it after a year or two to upgrade to a newer model, having a clean and scratch-free laptop allows you to sell it for a bit more (money you can then put towards your new model!) Meanwhile, if you choose to keep it, you can show up to a meeting with a beautiful and fresh-looking computer.

These top tips to keep your Mac from showing age are guaranteed to work an awful lot better than anti-ageing creams!

1. Protect the case

macbookpro_with_stickersWhichever way you do it, protecting your metal case from scuffs and damage is a great way to keep it from looking rough in the future.

I originally covered mine in stickers to differentiate it from all the other MacBook Pros in the office, using stickers I was given from Digg, Lolcode, Soma FM, Laughing Squid and many more.

Do the same to show some personality or, if you want to be more graceful, you can use one of the many amazing skins now available online:

Alternatively, at least be sensible enough to use a laptop sleeve like the Black LaRobe sleeve to keep it protected when you’re carrying it around.

2. Fix your mistakes

Put tons of stickers on your aluminium MacBook Pro case and changed your mind about them?

In my case, I had to hand the laptop back at work. Everyone sniggered it would look like hell after I destickered it. But fear not, you can very easily remove stickers from the aluminium laptop case with a small dose of WD-40 and a bit of patience.

First, peel off the vinyl stickers that come off in a single piece; they’re the ones that feel rubbery and shiny. Then peel off what you can of the top layer of the paper stickers. These will leave a white paper layer or at least some sticky glue on the laptop. That’s when you get the WD-40 out; close the laptop lid first, spray WD-40 lightly on a white kitchen roll. Rub it in gently onto the paper or sticker glue area and let it “soak” slightly. Once the WD-40 works its magic, it should be very easy to rub off the sticker glue off. Buff the laptop cover gently with a soft cloth when you’re done to bring it back to its original shine!

[If you’re worried that you might do damage, start with a small area of the laptop on the underside of it to check that it won’t stain or discolour it. This tip worked wonders for me, but comes with no guarantee. If you’ve done weird stuff to your laptop beforehand, don’t hold me responsible!]

3. Take care of your screen

Aside from the obvious care tips like not stabbing your screen with pens and dirty fingers, the best way to keep your screen, glossy or matte, in good condition is to give it a light clean every so often.

As much as possible, I try to use the cloth that came with my latest pair of glasses and warm breath, but to remove oily marks, the best product (and afaik only one endorsed by Apple) is the iKlear screen cleaning spray.

Follow the instructions and be gentle. You need to stare at that screen for days on end, so best take care of it!

4. Don’t squeeze me too tight

I’ve recently noticed a rising number of people who treat their laptops like they’re made out of steel armour plating. It’s still a fairly fragile construction, even the fancy latest unibody machines, so throwing it into a backpack or piling books on top of it can quite easily damage the screen!

5. Get AppleCare

This one is a question of personal preference, but ever since I’ve started buying Macs for myself, I’ve insisted on having AppleCare – Apple’s own protection plan, which covers you for much of the likely problems

It doesn’t replace being careful (eg. dropping your laptop or spilling beer into it won’t get it replaced) but will cover you for most hardware issues. As far as I’m concerned, if your computer ever leaves your desk, it’s worth having insurance on it.

Just be smart!

If you want to have a throw-into-a-bag-and-go laptop, get an ASUS Eee PC or similar netbook, Hackintosh it if you must. Or use the tips above to keep your aluminium MacBook Pro in the best condition possible to resell later!

iPhone 2.0: Does it really matter?

So it’s happened. Saint Jobs announced the Second Coming of his child, the Holy iPhone.

The 3G iPhone has arrived

Like Ben, I sat in front of my MacBook watching MacRumors, TUAW and Cali Lewis liveblog and report on the Keynote. Unlike Brian, I wasn’t mad (or privileged) enough to attend the Keynote at the Moscone Center, in SF.

Keynotes are a bit like circus acts. The event is rehearsed to the second, we all watch and wait with bated breath for the grandiose final scene, wondering whether anyone’s going to fall flat on their face along the way. While the keynote was light on substance, the short of it is the new iPhone hardware includes 3G, GPS, and there are a number of software changes – MobileMe particularly appeals to me.

However, the biggest change isn’t in the physical device. It’s all in the perception. Last time around, Apple was looking for early adopters, geeks and IWOOTs* to test-run their product in a giant, live usability testing session. Now that they’ve been able to watch us use the device, it’s time to reach out to the normobs with lower upfront costs. While the tariffs are still in the upper end of the scale, unlimited data makes it completely worthwhile.

As an existing user, I’m grateful that under O2’s reign I’m not given the “brand new customers only” treatment. I can upgrade without getting stung for breaking my contract. All first generation owners shedding their skin in prep for the Second Coming means there’ll be a number of orphaned first-generation iPhones floating around. Mine, for example, will most likely find a new home with my father-in-law, Roy. I’m curious to see what the trickle-down impact of giving second hand iPhones to unlikely buyers like Roy will have on the profile of future buyers.

I think Apple will continue to own marginal marketshare, because the iPhone remains too expensive, too complex and too closed for most, but it’s about to take a significant leap ahead. Are you jumping with me? Or kicking back and shaking your head at the fangirl* that I am? 😉

[* Def. IWOOT: “I want one of those”, otherwise known as saddos like me who can’t resist the latest gadget, even at exorbitant prices.]
[* A fangirl who began supporting Apple back in 1986 when it definitely wasn’t cool to own a Mac!]

[Cross-posted to the Taptu blog]

Oh hello there!

I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

Say hi in the comments or on Twitter! :)

Archives