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!

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.

Browsing the Mobile Web: Anyone Out There?

Earlier this week, I published a post on the Taptu blog looking at the challenges of creating and selling mobile applications outside of the iPhone bubble, in particular at how developer Jan Ole Suhr released a Twitter client for S60, causing a stir around the pricing.

You know me, I love nothing more than a good ol’ rumble around the web, so when I came across some more tasty stats that didn’t agree with each other, I had to bite. Bango and AdMob both released recent figures for their top 20 handsets and there’s a Grand Canyon of difference in the top 3.

mobile_stats

Granted there is a fairly straightforward explanation for this variation; AdMob, as an ad network, has been one of the chosen ad providers for many iPhone app developers, who choose to monetise their apps through advertising.

No Monopoly, Apple

What is enlightening however, is that the iPhone and iPod Touch don’t feature at all in Bango’s top 20. As a more representative sample of the mobile web than AdMob’s figures, it’s fascinating to see that a phone as basic as the Nokia 3110 Classic tops the chart. This is 2009. Weren’t we supposed to have hover cars, food in pill form and travel to the moon by now!? Yet a phone with less features than my microwave tops the chart with over 12% of the traffic to cross Bango’s service.

[Tangent alert] Before anyone crucifies me, I believe older phones have some wonderful benefits. My favourite phone of all times is probably still the Nokia 6100, which was small enough for me to mistake it for some futuristic pill form food and had about a century of battery life. (Ok, only slightly exaggerating) I’m a big fan of the iPhone, not so much of second-rate touch devices like Nokia’s 5800, but I try to be fair and give each and every new phone a chance first. [Tangent over]

Part of the appeal of the mobile web as opposed to apps is that, generally speaking, it’s much more accessible from a wide range of devices, without device, geographic or network limitations. But speaking to a number of smaller mobile website owners, it seems everyone’s missing a trick.

Stats Geeks Wanted

On desktop, most of us have caught on to Google Analytics and use it regularly to keep an eye on the ups and downs of our website. On mobile? Tumbleweed in most cases! Sure, Google Analytics and others aren’t suitable for mobile, but there are options. In fact, Bango’s mobile analytics service is not only simple to use, but has an admin area that rivals desktop packages.

Weirdly, these analytics could just as well be used on a desktop site. What, do you really think you don’t have a single mobile visitor to your desktop site? iPhone and other higher end phones will cope with Javascript (necessary to make a mark on Google Analytics, for example), but the majority of the devices listed on both AdMob and Bango’s top 20 won’t even register on your stats.

Personally, as a marketing gal and stats geek, I can’t imagine why a marketing manager wouldn’t want to improve reported numbers just by adding a new set of analytics. It ain’t cheating, it’s just usefully flagging up users you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

Fly Me To the Moon

So while there are heinously bad phones out there *cough* motorolaimlookingatyou *cough* and site developers who forget that not everyone’s interested in a big Flash animation welcoming you to the site, we just can’t deny that it’s slowly becoming more or less enjoyable to browse the web on a phone, so it’s worth supporting that through good mobile design and smart tracking of what users coming from phones rather than 24″ screens get up to.

As far as I’m concerned, you’ll only find me browsing on an iPhone, since I’m not yet quiiite satisfied with touchscreen alternatives out there. Of course, I’m a willing guinea pig… at least while I wait for my brain implant, jetpack and weekend ticket to the moon.

[Disclaimer: Taptu and Bango are both clients with whom I work on community development. As for Apple and AdMob, I’m merely watching them evolve with great interest.]

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]

Blog Topic Challenge: "Favourite tools for getting things done"

Jane Dallaway suggested that I write about apps that help me get things done. As a Mac user, I love to try out new applications written by smaller developers, so I thought I’d share the list of everything I use regularly, so go have a look at my profile on IUseThis.

I’ll go in more details on best GTD tools in the near future, for tonight, I’m just checking in and sharing this with you!

MacHeist Bundle

While we’re on the topic, I thought I’d flag up a GREAT deal on MacHeist. Ten apps for $49 is simply fantastic, especially since 25% goes directly to charity. If you’re a Mac user, I highly recommend having a look at this offer before it runs out!

Big discounts on Mac software

This is just a quick little heads-up for my fellow Mac users, Give Good Food to Your Mac is giving some big discounts, varying from 30% if you buy 3 apps to 70% if you buy ten.

None of the apps were particularly interesting to me, since I’m already pretty well equipped, but you’ll find the fabulous PixelMator, the popular Money and the useful CCSEdit apps, so it’s probably worth having a poke at the site if you’re new to Mac and need to equip yourself for cheap.

Wondering what to get me for Christmas? How about Powerbook earrings?

Powerbook Power button earringsThese are just awesome! I would absolutely love to have power button earrings.

Posh frock, nice shoes, and geek earrings. Fun, a bit odd and unusual. How good would that be?

925works also does other stuff, like bracelets and necklaces, made out of coins, spoons, and other types of metal.

Otherwise, I’d happily settle for this Tetris scarf or these HTML earrings, which are unfortunately out of stock. :S

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