Businesses – Embrace the Mobile

While on vacation recently, I tried to do business with two different companies from my iPhone. I was trying to add services that I wanted, and that would have translated into a little more revenue for them. Alas, it was not to be. For both products, I was able to successfully navigate all of their sign-up forms until I reached the very last “submit” button.

 

The. Very. Last. One.

 

As in  . . . the one that equals “buy”.

 

It just didn’t work. I tapped and tapped, but the phone couldn’t submit the content.

 

For one company this won’t be a big deal. I’ll have an opportunity to use their service again later. For the other company though, this represents a tiny little loss in profit. I needed their service while I was on vacation. Now that I’m home, I don’t need it anymore, and I haven’t been back to their website. All because the website didn’t support a mobile browser.

 

Now I understand that when you’re coming from a mobile browser, you shouldn’t necessarily expect the full website experience, and I didn’t. But if the website lets me make it most of the way through a purchase, I expect it to let me complete the purchase. Oh well. Maybe they just didn’t want my business since I was coming from a mobile platform. Funny thing though . . . the company has two mobile apps that I wanted to use after I subscribed to their service. Go figure.

Evernote and Cloud Data Failure

As a general rule, I don’t like my data in the cloud. Let me go ahead and get that out there so my prejudices are fully disclosed. I use it because I must, but I don’t like it. The primary reason I don’t like it is a practical one: data in the cloud means that you have to be able to connect to the cloud, and far too often, I can’t. Living and traveling in a largely rural area, network coverage is far from ubiquitous. And no network coverage sometimes translates into no data. Setting aside security concerns and the additional hook into my devices that each application seems to want, connectivity is my main concern.

Until recently, that is. Several months ago, a friend recommended Evernote. There are a lot of things I like about Evernote. I like the clipping feature, and I like the IDEA of being able to access my notes from many locations. Unfortunately, I recently lost a lot of data to Evernote. As in POOF – gone forever.

I was recently on vacation, and I started making some travel notes with Evernote. As luck would have it, my vacation area didn’t have great coverage, and Evernote had a lot of trouble every time it tried to sync with the Evernote server.  Initially the result was relatively benign but nevertheless annoying: sections of content would be duplicated several times throughout the document. I had to scroll up and down, find the old stuff, find the new stuff, delete the duplicate stuff, and save it again. Annoying, but doable.

Until the very last day. Over the course of my vacation I spent several hours making notes so that I could remember specific details about the trip. And then the last day everything disappeared. Well . . . almost everything. I still have a blank document with a title, but that’s all. Everything else – all of my CONTENT – is gone. It happened after one of those periods when my local application was trying to phone home. Apparently something went awry, it couldn’t connect properly to the Evernote server, and Evernote inexplicably thought that I wanted to delete all of my content. Grrrrr. Double-grrrrr even.

These were just vacation notes, true. It wasn’t critical work/medical/financial information. But the principle is the same. I relied on the cloud. The cloud ate my data. The cloud failed. The scary thing is that more and more companies are pushing data for mobile devices into the cloud. While the idea is a good one, the execution is everything. If you’re going to eat my data, I really can’t trust your service. Moreover, I can’t in good conscience recommend it to others.

Google Goggles

If you haven’t heard about Google Goggles yet, it’s worth checking out. We all do text searches, and some folks are doing voice search as well. But how about a visual search? I don’t mean searching for an image – I mean using an image as the search object. Goggles is currently available for Android phones. I’m curious to see whether Google will roll out a version for the iPhone, WebOS, or other platforms. Goggles’ potential is easy to see (no pun intended). Time will tell whether there is a demand for this type of search. The things that work are interesting enough. However, I think the things that Google says it can’t do (yet) are even more interesting!

My Missing Software

Sometimes you find a piece of software that works well for you on a number of levels. First – and most importantly – it does what you need it to do, and it does it well. Hopefully, it also matches the way you like to work. And occasionally you find a piece of software that just does something no other program does.

Right now I’m really missing my ListPro. I’ve used ListPro for years. Most recently it was on a Windows computer in conjunction with a Palm Treo. ListPro handles nested lists very well, and it’s very customizable so I can make my lists into just what I need them to be. The Treo version combined with the desktop application gave me a good combination that did just what I wanted, and I haven’t yet found its equal.

Oh, I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried – not because I WANT to move to another app. Ilium just doesn’t have an iPhone app on the market. When I considered the move from the Treo to an iPhone, ListPro was a must-have app. Unfortunately, although I saw the press release that Ilium Software was releasing an iPhone version of ListPro, I missed the later retraction that said the app wasn’t going to be ready on time. Yep. Completely missed it. I saw it AFTER I bought the iPhone and tried to find ListPro in the app store.

In a typical workday, I pull up ListPro (desktop) at least 4 or 5 times a day, and I used to pull it up even more frequently on the Treo. A recent development update from the company rekindled my hopes, so when I saw a tweet about an early shopper discount on ListPro I knew that the time had come and the app was nigh ready for release. Alas, it was not to be. And being so blatantly reminded that I can’t use ListPro on my iPhone reignited my search for a comparable app. I’ve tried several – some free, some paid – and I just can’t find it.

There are all kinds of list apps out there, but they’re too rigid. They want to be a grocery list, or a to-do list, or a checklist of one kind or another. They don’t offer the flexibility to work the way _I_ want to work. And then let’s talk about a desktop companion. For the most part, those other apps just don’t have it. There are a couple that try to get around it through e-mailings to/from the app, and there is one that offers an option to add data through a Google Docs template. But that’s just not what I’m looking for.

You wouldn’t think that a person could be so particular about a list-making app, but ListPro is just that good – at least for what I need it to do. And so I wait, not with bated breath, but with a kind of quiet, longsuffering patience. I have the desktop app, but no mobile counterpart. I’m not happy about it, but at the moment I simply don’t have any other choice. Unless . . . perhaps . . . Hey, Ilium, how ‘bout it? Maybe a little something underneath a guy’s tree?

Surveys about Libraries and E-books

I am conducting two anonymous surveys to gather information from libraries and library users regarding the use of e-books, e-book readers, and e-book software on portable devices such as smartphones. The information gathered will be used to consider ways in which libraries acquire and support e-books and how library users interact with the library in using e-books. The results of the survey will be presented during the International Conference on the Book at the University of Edinburgh later this year.

I am trying to gather data from as many library employees and users of e-books/e-readers as possible, so please consider completing one of the surveys listed below. If you are a library employee AND a reader of e-books, please consider filling out both surveys.

Survey for users of e-books, e-book hardware, and e-book software:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=EHFSuOFp_2fXK_2f_2bjYZ3SI9ZA_3d_3d

Survey for library employees:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=RNCPWl326UK7Y8oPB2af0A_3d_3d

This study has been reviewed by The University of Mississippi’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB has determined that this study fulfills the human research subject protections obligations required by state and federal law and University policies. If you have any questions, concerns, or reports regarding your rights as a participant of research, please contact the IRB at (662) 915-7482.

Palm Pre Advertisement on My iPhone

A lot of the “free” apps available for the iPhone are ad-supported, so as you tap away on the device you are confronted by a host of ads with various levels of intrusiveness (depending upon how nice the developer is). I recently downloaded an app called Dots Free. The ads in this one are small text bars that display at the bottom of the screen. Not very intrusive at all really, so it was just kind of happenstance that I noticed one of the ads invited me to check out the new Palm Pre. Right there . . . embedded in my iPhone app . . . a Palm Pre ad. Too funny. Now of course Apple isn’t running this ad, but given the animosity between the two companies, I found this decidedly amusing.

palm_pre_ad

Sometimes you need a little chuckle. And I still think the Pre is a pretty cool device. 😉

A “new” type of privacy problem?

We hear about a lot of different types of computer-related security issues these days – hacking attempts, virus infections, phishing scams and the like. At the recent American Library Association annual conference, I noticed a couple of behaviors that reminded me that not all security breaches are high-tech escapades.

On a couple of different occasions during the conference, I was typing notes into my laptop during a session when the person next to me leaned over, stared at my screen for a few seconds to see what I was typing, and then went back to his/her own notes. I was a little shocked, but probably not as offended as I should have been. I realize that these people were probably just trying to catch a few words that they might have missed during the presentation. I didn’t have any sensitive data on the screen so it shouldn’t have been a big deal . . . but it still feels wrong. Maybe it’s because I was taught that it’s impolite to come up behind someone and read over their shoulder without being invited to do so. Or perhaps it’s because a complete stranger very pointedly read my screen. Whatever.

My next example falls along those lines as well. Think about all of those nice, glossy iPhone screens we’ve all gotten so used to seeing. One thing about them – they’re big – at least compared to a regular cell phone screen, and their size makes them pretty easy to see. A couple of times during the conference I noticed people leaning forward in their seats and staring fixedly at an iPhone in the row in front of them. Now maybe they were just trying to figure out what that cool app was so that they could download it later. Or maybe they just had to know what that person was tweeting or texting. But again, it just feels like a no-no.

It kind of reminds me of those social engineering horror stories in which someone was duped into typing in a password while another person just stood behind them and watched their keystrokes. The big difference though is that there is no duping here. In some cases perhaps people are just being rude while others are being careless. In a lot of meetings it just doesn’t really matter because everyone is busy trying to get the same notes, and their isn’t a security issue at all. But increasingly I see people absolutely buried in their laptops and cell phones, logging into e-mail, Twitter accounts, and all manner of other services without being aware of their surroundings. Let’s just hope none of them are sysadmins with the keys to the kingdom, eh?

Oh, the Irony: eBooks, the iPhone, and mE

<begin rant> Okay there was no reason for writing it as "mE" except that I’m fed up with companies that use funky capitalization to try to make themselves and their products stand out. </end rant>

I’m currently at ALA for the annual conference, and I realized something shocking today. I brought a book with me. A paper book.

Does that sound counter-intuitive – being shocked at the idea of someone taking a book to a library conference of all places? Well it shouldn’t, but for me it is. I’ve owned PDAs and/or smartphones for around 10 years, and one of my very first and very favorite applications was iSilo, a book reader. I’ve upgraded each time iSilo had an upgrade, and it was easily my most heavily-used application. Since I had this great book reader I really liked, when I traveled I just took several eBooks along on my handheld. Less to pack, a variety of books, easy, convenient. I liked it so much and it worked so well for me that I stopped taking books along. Sometimes I would buy a buy while traveling, but I had basically reached the point where I didn’t take them with me anymore.

Enter the iPhone. For various reasons, I just couldn’t stay with the Palm OS any longer. After switching to the iPhone, iSilo was one of the first apps I downloaded. (Incidentally, I was right in the middle of a book when I made the switch.) Unfortunately, I really dislike the iPhone implementation of iSilo’s autoscroll feature. I used it all the time on the Palm. Loved it. iPhone implementation? Not so much. The iPhone’s limited battery life and iSilo’s autoscroll problem have conspired to make me really go easy on actually using the phone. Yeah, that’s right. I’m afraid to use my iPhone too much, because I’m afraid the battery will run down leaving me unable to receive a call or send a text at the end of the day.

So . . . as I was heading out the door for ALA I picked up a paper book I bought in the airport on the way home from my last trip. Totally weird. I bought a new device that I thought would help me enjoy eBooks even more. But the limitations of the device and the program have actually pushed me back to paper. Who would have guessed?

My Love-Hate Relationship with the iPhone

 

So it’s my third week into the iPhone saga, and I’m still wrangling with mixed feelings about it.

 

First the good.

 

The interface is nice.

 

There are a lot of apps. Everyone knows this. Cool apps, useful apps, fun apps, dumb apps. There are a lot of all of them. I’ve installed a number of free and paid apps, and they’re fun to play and experiment with. Take Shazam for example. I really appreciate the fact that people would make such a ridiculously useful application available FOR FREE. SplashID is a particularly good paid app. My old standby, iSilo, is here, but I don’t find the implementation to be quite as useful as it was on the Palm Treo.

 

Now let’s talk bad. I’ve talked about a lot of these before. I was kind of dreading some of these before making the jump to iPhone, so I knew they were there. They weren’t all surprises. I’m going to spend a little time writing about specific things I have encountered as a user.

 

I have to start with battery life. Have. To. I use my phone a lot, and I use it even more at conferences. During times when I can’t get a WiFi connection, I can still check e-mail on my phone. And I do. Regularly. I check my voice mail. I read books. I look up things on the web. I use text messaging a lot. The iPhone’s battery life leave a lot to be desired.

 

I’m currently three days into my first conference with the iPhone, and I find that I’m seriously modifying my behavior to work around the limitations of the device. I’m trying not to make as many calls. I’m definitely looking up far fewer things online. E-mail use is about the same as on my old device, but text messaging is down quite a bit. Seems that such a cool device would compel you to use it MORE, NOT LESS, but the reality is that I have to use it less than my old phone just to make it through the day. On my old phone, if the battery ran low, I just . . . you know . . . swapped it out with another one.

 

How ’bout that GPS? While I’ve been working my way through Chicago for this conference, I’ve turned the GPS on a few times, to check for restaurants, distance to conference hotels, etc. If you’re going to have a GPS, it needs to be least be, oh . . . how ’bout . . . accurate? In my experience, the GPS on the iPhone 3GS is anything but accurate. As I was riding to a conference hotel on the shuttle today, I check my location to see how close I was. My location on the map jumped by several blocks not once, not twice, but repeatedly throughout the trip. Oh, and that GPS really eats the battery.

 

Now let’s talk about syncing the device. I knew it was going to be bad. I didn’t know it was going to be THIS bad. I have a very basic need: I need to be able to sync calendar and contact data across the phone and multiple computers. I did a lot of advance reading, and it sounded like MobileMe was the way to go. I fought with MobileMe for days. I repeatedly wound up with duplicate contacts. As I moved through my circle of computers, by the time I made my way back to the starting point, I was repeatedly cleaning up duplicates. I tried merge, delete, replace . . . nothing seemed to do the trick. MobileMe failing me, I next turned to Google. I tried the calendar sync with some success. I tried the contacts sync and eventually wound up with 4 total contacts for each entry I had started with. Too much cleanup, so I’m back to just calendar sync. Beyond the duplicate data, these sync attempts also randomly deleted data. Sometimes part of a company name would be missing from the contacts list. Sometimes characters were be missing from calendar entries. This experience fails on so many levels that my frustration level has been through the roof. Staying up all night to achieve the most basic of functions isn’t really much fun.

 

Even the data that I can move between computers is at best clunky. I can (somewhat) sync calendars, contacts, and notes by connecting a cable and clicking a button. SplashID data sync requires a convoluted process whereby I have to set up an ad-hoc connection from the host PC and connect to that. iSilo? I have to turn on an internal FTP server to push data across since the hard drive in my iPhone doesn’t really want to act like a hard drive.

 

It’s frustrating that such an elegant and useful device has these shortcomings. I like the iPhone, but I don’t really feel that I’ve made a major leap forward. I feel that it has been primarily a trade-off of one set of shortcomings for another.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of iPhone things.”

Yes, at long last, I’m finally going to bite. I put in my order for an iPhone 3GS, so I should have a new gadget sometime in the next couple of weeks. I’ve arrived at this decision with somewhat mixed emotions. I’ve written before about some of my concerns concerning the iPhone. Apple has addressed some of these, but I still have some concerns:

1) No user-replaceable battery
2) No native sync with Microsoft Outlook Notes
3) No direct sync with multiple computers without paying for Apple’s MobileMe service
4) No currently available version of ListPro for iPhone (one of my most heavily-used applications)

Each of these is a very real and very serious concern for me, but it’s time for a change. For the past couple of years, I’ve been using a Palm Treo 680. I’ve owned a few Palm devices over the years, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of functionality with them. In the rapidly changing network-oriented world though, the 680 is showing its age. The web browser has limitations. The device itself is subject to increasing crashes and random reboots. I’ve started experiencing some data loss. And finally, there just aren’t a lot of cool new applications hitting the Palm OS market.

I’ve watched the news of the new Palm Pre and WebOS very carefully, and it looks promising. However, the device is currently only available on Sprint, and there are no Sprint retailers in my area. There are rumors that AT&T and Verizon will carry it next year, but nothing has been confirmed. I’ve played with a couple of iPhones, and there are a lot of nice features to the device, so I finally decided to give it a try.

However, the number of workarounds I’ll have to employ to achieve my current level of Treo functionality is a little daunting, so I’m starting to compile a sort of checklist to work through once the thing finally arrives.

1) First there is the infamous MobileMe. Why should I have to pay $99 per year just to be able to sync my data with my various computers? Answer: I SHOULDN’T. I’ve been able to do this with every single Palm I’ve ever owned. Every one. all of my data. I frequently find myself in areas where there is no network connection for my computer, so an over-the-air sync just isn’t an option. Besides that, I still don’t want my data to live in the cloud. Apparently though, that’s the Apple way, so I’ll have to sign up for a MobileMe account.

2) Then there is the Chapura sync. For some inexplicable reason, Apple has decided that the iPhone’s notes application shouldn’t sync with Microsoft Outlook’s note, so I’m stuck with another yearly subscription: $9.

3) ListPro. I’ll admit to being pretty stumped with this one. ListPro is a great product, and I’ve used it on my Treo and desktop computer for years. Unfortunately, Ilium Software still hasn’t managed to bring an iPhone version to market even though one is perpetually in the works. I’ve seen a couple of alternatives, but they don’t seem to be as full-featured. I would really hate to think that I have to go back to carrying two devices just so I can have the full PDA functionality that I need.

4) Documents To Go. I use Documents to Go occasionally – not extensively – but often enough that I don’t want to give it up. Strangely enough, the iPhone version just showed up in the App Store a couple of days ago. Strange. Stranger still that you can only edit Word documents. Excel editing will be introduced in some future version. And unfortunately, reviews for the first version are pretty bad.

5) iSilo. iSilo is pretty far down on my list, but it’s actually one of my most-used applications on the Treo. At least that’s ready to go, right? But it’s not without its headaches as well. If you need to transfer several files to the iPhone all at once, you’ll have to activate the program’s internal server! Twelve pages of instructions on how to do this! And this ain’t iSilo’s fault. Come on Apple, can’t you make things just a little easier?

6) SplashId is another heavily-used app in my arsenal. I’m very attached to the Palm version and the associated desktop application. From the documentation I’ve seen online, this looks like it will be the easiest to get up and running, but time will tell.

Switching to a new device always takes some time, and there are always some bumps in the road. Even thought I’m ready to enjoy some new technology, I’m not not looking forward to dealing with quite so many bumps.