OmniFocus: about turn!

Only a few weeks ago, I wrote about how much I was enjoying my return to OmniFocus. Yet today, I find myself back using ToDoist.

If I’m honest, the OmniFocus experiment only lasted a couple of weeks.

What’s wrong with OmniFocus? Nothing. It’s a superb app. But after using it intensively for work and personal projects, I realised that all its amazing functionality was slowing me down. I was spending too much time setting up custom perspectives and trying to figure out how to set it up ‘just so’.

It’s complexity was – for me – its downfall.

I took an evening to get slip back into ToDoist and (cliche alert!) it was like stepping into a favourite – and comfortable – pair of shoes. While ToDost doesn’t have all the whizz-bang of OmniFocus, it makes life easier for me.

And isn’t that the point of these apps?

I’ve realised that I need a quick and simple task management app, not an app that can launch a thousand ships. I’ve also realised that I really like sharing projects, something that isn’t possible with OmniFocus and is just a couple of clicks away with ToDoist.

In fact, last week I upgraded to ToDoist for Business, so that I can use it with colleagues on a project-by-project basis. Great for delegation!

Another difference that I really noticed was that OmniFocus uses tags very differently. I’d built up the habit of assigning multiple tags to tasks in ToDoist (e.g. ‘phone’, ‘5mins’ and so on) which allowed the task to appear in various perspectives. OmniFocus forces you to chose a single tag and I realised this was causing me to slow down and spend time considering which was the most appropriate tag.

Really counterintuitive for a ‘productivity’ app.

In ToDoist, I use tags (or ‘labels’) with abandon, so I can understand the perceived difficulty of a task, what tools I’ll need, where I’ll need to be and who else is involved. I work in various locations and with a lot of different people, so this is very important to me.

Flicking through the labels column allows me to see what I can do where I am or who I’m with. This gives me incredible flexibility and is the very opposite of a static ‘to do’ list on paper, where tasks appear based on the order in which you thought to write them down.

So, while OmniFocus thoroughly deserves all the accolades it’s received over the years, it’s just not for me. ToDoist helps me get more done and it’s only by trying another app that I’ve realised it. A slightly inefficient and time-consuming exercise, but worth it in the end, I think.

All of which for me means that there is no one, perfect task management app. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. And when considering which one to use in 2016, maybe try a few different ones and see how they work for you. On top of all the apps’ functionality, there’s one very important metric: do you want to use it? If you don’t, it’s going to sit unused on your computer/smartphone and you’ll fall back on your memory.

Which is never a good idea.

Back in the OmniFocus club

It’s been a while now, but I’ve finally moved on from ToDoist and gone back to using OmniFocus. Well, I say ‘gone back’, but the app has evolved so much since I last used it, it’s almost unrecognisable.

My move from ToDoist isn’t a slight against that app – I still stand by everything I’ve said about it in the past. It’s easy to use, speedy, multi-platform and superb value. But in the last couple of months, I realised I was spending too much time working around its various limitations and it was beginning to grate.

So I had a peep at the various alternatives and eventually made my way back to checking out OmniFocus. I’ve previously described it as the nuclear option of task management apps, purely because it can do so much. Yep, you could just use it to store a list of things you want to buy at Waitrose, or a list of films you want to see… but this is a little like using a Ferrari to drive to the end of your driveway and back.

It’s really not just about managing tasks, but can handle tasks, projects, entire areas of your life. All via an easy to use interface. It’s only available for iOS and Mac OS and is far from cheap. You need to buy it separately for Mac OS and iOS. But I’m glad I invested in it – even in the last two weeks, it’s been worth every penny.

Since I last used OmniFocus, it’s developed into an app that much more flexible, has an interface you actually want to interact with and even appears on my Apple Watch. Yes, you can speak into your Apple Watch and dictate tasks, which then appear in the in-box of OmniFocus on all your other iOS and Mac OS devices through the magic of background sync.

In no particular order, the things I love about OmniFocus now are:

  • The weekly review, which guides you on a walk-through of all your various projects, keeping you up to date and ensuring nothing falls between the cracks.
  • Being able to multi-task with OmniFocus on my iPad Air 2 – I can keep it open on one side of the screen, while looking at something else (e.g. Evernote) on the other side.
  • Being able to create custom perspectives, so that only what I want to see is on-screen at any one time. Right now, I have 59 projects in OmniFocus, so it’s important I can focus on what’s most important at any given time.
  • Getting notifications from OmniFocus on my wrist, courtesy of my Apple Watch, and being able to see what needs doing via the notifications screen on my iPad and iPhone. It means my projects and tasks are always just a click or a swipe away.
  • Emailing content direct to OmniFocus, which turns each email into an action in my inbox. This saves a lot of typing and ensures I get to inbox zero every day.

It definitely takes some getting used to, but there are so many online resources with great articles and videos to lead the way. I had to adjust how I do things after being so reliant on ToDoist, but it only took me a couple of days of solid OmniFocus use to get back into the swing of things.

This probably shouldn’t be your first task management app. That’s likely to just scare you away! But if you’ve felt the limitations of the other apps out there, I’d seriously recommend giving OmniFocus a try. And you can even try it for free for 14 days, courtesy of Omnigroup.

They have a great selection of short videos – check this out for a start.

Still doing with ToDoist

This post, from over a year ago, has turned out to be one of the most popular on my blog. In it, I describe how in my move from iOS to Android, I was looking for a replacement for OmniFocus. After evaluating some options on the Google Play store, I opted for ToDoist.

Well, a year and a bit later and I’m still using ToDoist. I’ve since moved away from Android (which was strictly a temporary arrangement!) yet still use ToDoist despite being once again able to rely on OmniFocus.

Why?

Simplicity. ToDoist is my favourite productivity app (closely followed by Evernote) as it allows me to make life as simple or a complex as I want. Hierarchical ordering of projects, colour coding of prioritisation, sharing of projects. It’s all in there.

And after a year of solid use, I can say quite confidently “I’m hooked”.

It’s on my iPhone, my iPads, my Macbook and my iMac. Basically, every screen I look at during the working day has access to this app. it’s that useful. When I set up my new Macbook the other day, it was the very first app I installed! Anything I want or need to do gets added to Todoist within seconds. Either by typing in a reminder to myself or simply forwarding an email to a unique email address.

Using ToDoist, I can stop “remembering to remember” and just focus on what’s in front of me now. I can manage my workload, get reminded of what needs doing when and maintain a sense of control when it’s really important.

ToDoist is the first app I open in the morning (yes, even before I look at email) and the last thing I look at night. Seriously.

In a world of seemingly unending choice when it comes to managing your tasks, ToDoist wins it for me. If you’ve not tried it out and feel the need to start keep track of your life, then give it a go. It has both free and premium versions.

And I’m in no way affiliated with them – just a big fan 🙂

And as of a couple of hours ago, it’s also available on the Apple Watch:

Doing with Todoist

As I mentioned before  one of my biggest worries about leaving iOS behind was the absence of an Android version of OmniFocus. Having used the app for years, I really came to rely on it for all aspects of my life. Complex, multi-month work projects, shopping lists and everything in between.

One month in to life in the world of Android – rocking a Samsung Note 3 and a Nexus 7 – and I can honestly say I shouldn’t have given the jump a second thought. I don’t miss OmniFocus a bit and have found an excellent replacement in the form of ToDoist.

Another GTD bore?

Before talking about the app in more detail, maybe it would be useful to expand on my obsession with ‘to-do’ apps.

I’m not a naturally organised or conscientious person. Really. Left to my own devices, my life would collapse around me in the pile of unpaid bills, gone off food and lost jobs, while I’d bumble along hoping things would work themselves out and an upcoming week would magically contain two extra days for me to ‘catch up’…

Reading ‘Getting Things Done’ a few years ago was quite an eye-opener. In the true sense of the word, it was life-changing, in that I changed a lot about my life – including organising myself better, to take off some of the pressure.

I’m not evangelic about the GTD methodology as I know it doesn’t work for everyone or their personal circumstances. But I still try to stick to some of its principles. Including getting ’stuff’ out of my head and into a trusted system. There’s little point in using my brainpower (what little there is) remembering to remember things and wondering what I’ve forgotten.

This is where OmniFocus was fantastic. An app present on all the platforms, it was where I could jot down things I needed to do just to get them off my mind. This represents the very tip of its functionality – you can organise your actions into projects, assigning deadlines, locations, contexts and so on.

You can, essentially make it as complex as is helpful for you.

On the tube, I’d have a thought about something I’d need to do later that day. A quick note in OmniFocus on my iPhone and it was off my mind. Which is a lot easier than spending the remainder of the day with a little voice whispering inside your head, trying to remind me of that semi-important to-do.

Basically, I wove OmniFocus into both my work and personal areas of life and used it to good effect with several other apps, including the Mac Mail app and Evernote.

The thought of daily life without OmniFocus was the kind of thing to leave me in a cold sweat. That’s why I didn’t upgrade the app on my iPhone when OmniFocus 2 was made available – based on the fear that a bug would somehow wipe my OmniFocus database clear and leave me with an horrific blank slate.

Interestingly, when I started to use ToDoist, I was left with that same bank slate, as I couldn’t think of an easy way to import all my OmniFocus data. This wasn’t in any way horrific, it was actually a great relief.

I didn’t type in all my OmniFocus actions and projects – instead, I reviewed them and only added anything to ToDoist that was absolutely important and likely to ever happen.

This reduced the number of projects on my list by half. I’d obviously been over-egging the OmniFocus pudding.

A little bit about my set-up

Firstly, I set up my projects in ToDoist based on four spheres of my life: family, personal, wellbeing, work and professional. (Obviously, these make sense to me and may not work for everyone).

“Family” includes things like birthdays, family events and so on. “Personal” includes shopping, personal finance, travel, household stuff and my social life. “Wellbeing” includes anything health-related or fitness-focused.

“Work” contains the projects I’m paid to complete (simples), while “Professional” is more about CPD, training and various psychology conferences I attend and professional societies I’m a member of.

ToDoist enables you to colour-code projects, which excited me more than it really should. Honestly, when you’ve got lots on, a quick glance at the small coloured dots associated with these areas of life can be very helpful in cutting through the ‘noise’.

Under each of these role-level projects, I set up multiple sub-projects. And some more under them. But conscious of my OmniFocus set-up,  I really tried to avoid over-complicating things and to just keep it nice and simple.

ToDoist allows you to do two more very GTD-centric things with your actions: assign them a priority and ‘tag’ them with a context. There are four built-in levels of priority (again, each colour-coded) and I’ve set up a series of contexts that I’ve grown comfortable using, like: @Home, @Office, @Online, @Errands and so on. Again, in the move to this new system, I drastically reduced the number I had been using in OmniFocus.

All of this means that you can search your projects and actions looking at things in terms of their place in your life (role-based projects), relative importance or urgency or the context in which they need to be completed. This really is GTD made flesh.

The ToDoist advantage

In the month I’ve been using this system (it’s more than an app, really), I’ve noted the following things I really like about it.

  • The interface is clear, uncluttered and easy to navigate. Regardless of which device I’m using or wether I’m accessing it online, the interface is consistent and very very easy to use. The contrast with OmniFocus here is striking. ToDoist has far fewer icons, buttons and obvious bells and whistles. Much, much easier on the eye.
  • Colour-coding is surprisingly helpful and something I’ve come to rely on. I never attempted this with OmiFocus (and I’m not sure it’s even possible?)
  • You can set up private email addresses to mail yourself actions, which helps with attaining the legendary “Inbox Zero”, but you can do this on a project-specific level. This means as emails come in, you can amply forward them to one of your ToDoist email addresses and they get turned into actions with a given project. Needless to say, my “Inbox” email address was added to my contacts app within seconds.
  • The fact that you can access it via the web is fantastic. OmniFocus meant reliance on one of my iDevices to access my data. ToDoist means I can get to my projects via any web browser on any computer. Much more flexible and a very useful ‘Plan B’ if I was somehow separated from my phone or tablet.

One thing I definitely miss from OmniFocus is the built in “Review” feature, where it guides you through each live project to allow you to update it and keep on top of things. According to GTD lore, this should be conducted (in-depth) on a weekly basis, to allow you to scan your environment and add more actions to your “trusted system”.

There isn’t an automatic way of doing this and no handy “Reviewed” button in ToDoist. But I’ve carried on regardless just doing it manually. It works, it’s just not as satisfying as the OmniFocus method.

The personal perspective

I hope nobody thinks this represents some kind of attack on OmniFocus. It’s an excellent tool and one that saved my bacon more times than I can remember. But in my move to Android, I’ve noticed that I was over-complicating its set-up, something OmniFocus’s flexibility makes all too easy.

The fault was mine, not the app’s.

I think if you’re going to use a GTD-type app to organise yourself, you have to enjoy using it. I definitely enjoyed using OmniFocus and would still recommend it to people in the iOS universe who had a solid grasp of GTD principles.

But to be frank, I enjoy using ToDoist more because it’s snappy, pleasing to the eye and (at least in comparison to OmniFocus) quite minimalist.

The acid test? In a month of using this new system, I’ve yet to drop any important balls. It’s doing what it was designed to do: freeing up my headspace for more important things.

If you’d like to learn more about the app and what it can do, check out ToDoist.com and their videos on YouTube, like this one:

So I switched to Android

Brace yourself. I somehow underestimated the impact the following news would have on people who know me well. I was virtually interrogated by work colleagues who couldn’t believe that I…have finally switched from iOS to Android.

Take a deep breath. Have a seat.

I know I’ve had more time to adjust to this technological earthquake than you. You may need a moment before we continue.

But…why?!

Let’s take a step back and consider my reasons for the move – then I’ll tell you a little bit about my experience over the last few weeks. Life sans iPhone if you will.

I’ve previously expressed my frustration at the lack of a larger screen iPhone. Several times, in fact. I was disappointed at the lack of significant upgrade between iPhone 5 and 5s. (Still bought one, though. The day it was released. Typical Apple fanboy that I am/was).

Since their launch, I’ve been pretty much lusting after some form of “Phablet”  Those strange combinations of mobile phone technology in a form factor closely resembling a tablet. What can I say? I like a big screen. And one thing that I love more than a big screen is using a stylus on a screen.

Something approaching heresy in the world of iOS.

So since about October of last year, I’ve been seriously looking at the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. At its launch, I was blown away by the screen when I got to play with it in various mobile phone stores. I loved the speed with which it ticked along, the smooth interface and the handwriting recognition.

I monopolised the demo models in my local mobile phone stores, simultaneously raising the hopes of the staff that I’d buy one, while annoying the hell out of other prospective buys queuing behind me.

It was almost a return to the PDAs of old – devices I still miss to this day. And based on Note 3 sales  I know I’m not alone in this regard.

The stumbling block? My ties to the Apple ecosystem. iTunes, various Apple apps and media… none of these play nice with Android (or so I thought). I was tied to Omnifocus for my task management and project planning. My music and movies were in iTunes format (and I have a lot of both).

Some important questions…

Rather than making a rash move, I set about doing some research. I needed answers to some important questions before making a switch from iOS to Android, namely:

  • What about my favourite iOS apps? Are there decent Android equivalents or alternatives?
  • What about my music? Would I be able to transfer my favourite tracks from iTunes to an Android phone?
  • What should I do about iCloud and my reliance on it for email, contacts, calendars etc etc?
  • With my life contained in Omnifocus, could I find another app that did what it did and not leave me bereft of structure and reminders?

Happily, I got great answers to all of the above.

As for apps, I quickly realised that my favourite and most-used apps were pretty much non-Apple and had great Android versions. Such as: Dropbox, Evernote, Spotify, Instagram and so on. True to form, I made a list and ensured I was satisfied I could find an alternative and that reviews were positive. Remember, I didn’t have my own Android phone to test any of this on.

As for music, I use a combination of Spotify and Google Play Music  It seamlessly uploaded my entire iTunes library available for online play or download to my new phone. Much easier than I originally thought.

The move from iCloud was more of a challenge, but nothing too difficult. I exported my iCloud calendars and imported them into Google Calendar. I started to use my two Gmail addresses and am slowly teaching others that these addresses are the best place to get in touch with me.

Honestly, I’m still tidying up Contacts – this seems to be something that Google haven’t paid a lot of attention to and was quite a manual task – in contrast to calendars and music.

I’d consider this more “work in progress” than something that was sorted on day one.

Yes, but what about Omnifocus?

For the last few years, I’ve been one of this productivity bores who has fetishised Omnifocus. All my work and personal projects, actions, reminders and such were contained in this iOS/Mac app. Seamless synching between my various devices, it kept me on top of my responsibilities and working towards the fabled “mind like water” status.

So…I downloaded and tested a plethora of alternatives. I’ll save all of that for another post, but suffice to say I arrived at a decision and am now using ToDoist on all my devices. It doesn’t do everything that Omnifocus does, but I’ve quickly realised I didn’t need all that functionality. It was actually serving as a bit of a distraction.

And what about the phone?

Well, I got my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in the Duty Free store in Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Probably the worst place to buy a new phone – just before boarding an 8.5 hour flight to the US!! But in the run up to departures, I used my iPhone 5s’s connection to download all my favourite apps onto it and get (very basically) up and running.

I was still ever so slightly worried. I’d done the research I could without actually taking the phone home for a weekend of work/play. So I left the shop significantly poorer but excited. I spent much of the flight playing with the phone and learning more about how Android is different to iOS. But also quite similar.

Putting the two phones next to each other on the table in front of me during the flight was quite the eye-opener! The Note 3 is significantly bigger. It’s pocketable, but only just. But the screen real estate is so worth the extra bulk.

I used both phones while in the US. I had pre-purchased a US SIM card for use during the holidays, which worked in the Note. The iPhone was used to take photos and then back them up to Dropbox and Google+ (you can’t be too careful) while we were within free wifi range or back at the hotel.

I clung to the iPhone while in New Orleans as it was familiar and I didn’t want to faff around with a new phone while trying to photograph something interesting (and potentially fast-moving). But by the time we were in Miami (great holiday, thanks) I was 100% using the Note. It just took a couple of days to fully adjust.

In the couple of weeks I’ve used the phone, I’d make the following observations, with more to follow in future posts:

  • The stylus and handwriting recognition are stellar and better than I could have hoped. I use the stylus to write texts, emails, notes in Evernote and pretty much everything else. The Note manages to interpret my scrawl 90% of the time and helpfully offers suggestions when I’m rushed or trying to write on a moving tube train.
  • The battery is much better than my iPhone. Plus, the Note has the advantage of having a removable battery. First on my shopping list of accessories was a spare battery. I now have a desk stand for the phone which simultaneously charges the spare battery. No more frantically searching for free electrical sockets while in Starbucks.
  • I’m getting used to putting such a large device up to my face to make/receive calls. I’ll be honest – I was a little self-conscious at first. But as I used headphones and a built in mike for most calls anyway, there’s not too much to adjust to.
  • The camera takes great photos. Yes, the iPhone 5 is justly lauded for the quality of its pics. But I’m very, very happy with the output from my new phone. And since most are shared on social media, not the National Gallery, arguments over mega-pixels can be a little redundant.

Mobile phones (and operating systems) are such a personal thing. If you like your iPhone or Windows Phone, then good for you. I moved because my iPhone wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I still used my Macbook Air and have no plans to move to Windows! I can see the advantages of both iOS and Android and I definitely haven’t become an Android fanboy overnight.

But on almost a daily basis, I encounter something that Android does which makes me smile. It’s just so flexible.

So…

I hope you’ve recovered from the above bombshell of news. Some of my colleagues are still perplexed and even reconsidering their planned purchases of iOS devices now that I’ve made the switch.

Especially as I’ve also bought a Nexus 7 and am selling my iPad mini. But more on that another time.

A maintenance day

Today was going to be about getting out, doing lots and enjoying all the pleasures my local cinema could offer. Squeezing as much enjoyment out of the end of the weekend as possible.

But it panned out as quite a different sort of day.

A combination of atrocious weather, along with some timely equally atrocious reviews of the film I planned to see, meant that I stayed indoors and pottered about.

Most productively.

It was what I like to think of as a “maintenance day”, full of small but useful errands to keep life ticking over. Some laundry, tidying up, cooking, holiday planning…that sort of thing. One of the most useful of these was a revisiting of my OmniFocus settings.

Rock. And. Roll.

Anyway, my forage around in the depths of OmniFocus was prompted by a read of the ever-excellent Simplicity Bliss blog, by Sven Fechner. Sven has an incredibly helpful set of OmniFocus resources and how-to’s, which got me thinking about how I use the app to better effect.

The outcome?

Several actions were (appropriately) turned into projects, while several projects were put on “hold” and others abandoned completely. More than anything else, an attempt to simplify things so that OmniFocus is less complex, less daunting and less of a unending catacomb of folders and sub-tasks. And much more aligned with what I want to get done.

There’s no point in using any kind of productivity software if it becomes so unwieldy you dread even looking at it. Just like having the most complete to-do list is no use if you don’t look at it occasionally.

Today’s review of my projects prompted reflection on priorities, a look at the year ahead and agreeing of some all-important dates: namely, holidays! Which in turn resulted in new projects in OmniFocus and new notebooks in Evernote to research the locations.

Without sounding too obsessive about it, I’d recommend scheduling a maintenance day like this every month or so. A review of the calendar, a checking of commitments and plans. A good clear out of tidying up of all those unfinished tasks and errands.

David Allen recommends a “weekly review”, which I agree is essential if you want to keep on top of things. But a deeper, more periodic review of how things are going in general is also incredibly useful. A macro version of the micro weekly review if you like.

For me, this left me with a clearer mind and feeling a lot more in control of things. You don’t need OmniFocus for this, but it does help.

I’m conscious of sounding evangelical about OmniFocus when I discuss productivity and organisation – with friends and clients. I’m living proof that a combination of a good system and useful and usable software can make all the difference in our efforts at getting things done. Or “life”, as most people describe it.

OmniFocus can, at first glance, seem daunting and impossibly complex. It needn’t be, really. If you’re at all interested in using the app, I’d first have a read of the relevant resources on Simplicity Bliss and take it from there.

On technology and challenge

I’ve had my new MacBook Air for just a couple of days now, but I can already confirm it’s the best Apple computer I’ve ever owned. It’s small, light, incredibly fast and has a screen and display that is a joy to look at.

I’m reflecting on the brief time when I considered getting a Chromebook to replace my 3-year old MacBook Air. Then, it seemed like a smart and economical option. I could get a Chromebook for about £200 – as opposed to the £1400 I’ve spent on this MacBook Air – and do pretty much everything I can do with this laptop.

Or so I thought.

Accentuating the Positive…

Actually, what I was doing was looking at the availability of Chrome versions of my favourite apps, or workarounds to achieve the same result. In my eagerness to try something new, I was dropping my standards for what “great” looks like and was blinded by the prospect of learning something and demonstrating my own flexibility and ingenuity to myself.

And others.

I focused on the availability of apps like Spotify and Twitter and read and re-read and positive reviews of various Chromebooks models, while glossing over the critiques writers had levelled at them.

I avoided focusing on how I was going to access my content on DropBox simply and quickly…convinced myself that the absence of iCloud integration wouldn’t be a problem…virtually ignored that there would be no way of syncing with the app that keeps me on top of life in general: OmniFocus.

I’ve been thinking about why I got into this way of thinking. I can put it down to two factors.

Thinking it Through

Firstly, and this is not news to me, I’m attracted to the new and the different. I’ve spent far too many hours thinking about ditching my iPhone 5S and iPad Mini for a Nexus 5 and Nexus 7  Not because I think they’re better, but because I think it would be interesting to see if I could replicate my mobile computing experience with a completely different operating system and app ecosystem.

Secondly, I somehow developed the mindset that technology should be about coping with inevitable change I thrust upon myself. Rather than finding technology and systems that work for me, I got into thinking that change to these personal systems is inevitable and I should be able to cope with this, no matter how crazy the decisions.

Such as replacing a super-powered (albeit old) MacBook Air with a Chromebook lacking significant local storage, dependant on internet connection to be functional and missing several of my most important applications.

Yes, I’ve spent far more money on the MacBook Air. But I’ve got far more computing power and ease of use to show for it. I’ve also avoided the pointless and potentially disruptive move to a new (and unproved) operating system, which would likely leave me making compromise after compromise.

My laptop is a working machine. I use it for work as well as entertainment. It needs to be useful and helpful with or without an internet connection. It needs to allow me to access my colleagues’ files via Dropbox automatically, make presentations to large audiences, use an Exchange server, keep my project files and actions in sync with my iPhone and iPad… I could go on.

The point here is not to bash Chromebooks.

Not at all.

If money were no object, I’d buy one in a flash, just to satisfy my curiosity regarding my ability to “survive” with a stripped down computing environment. I think they’re innovative and a great option for people with different computing needs to my own. But it would definitely be a “play” or “experimentation” machine, which would stay at home. If a friend had one, I’d like to play with it for a few hours.

“Play” being the operative word.

As my recent MacBook Air set-up illustrated, my key data is in the cloud. It shouldn’t really matter what platform I access it through. But a Chromebook isn’t yet a comparable system.

Lessons Learnt?

The point I’m making is that I wasn’t making a fair or accurate comparison. I was attracted to seeing if I could “make do” and potentially show others just how smart I was. Thinking it through, I can imagine all kinds of scenarios where trying to work effectively with a Chromebook would cause me no end of additional work and potential stress.

I’m delighted with the laptop I now have and very relieved I didn’t waste time or money on fitting a Chromebook into my work life.

What’s the point of bringing that on myself when there’s absolutely no need?

Pretty much painless

Breaking news from Geektown: I’ve just set up my new MacBook Air from scratch in about 20 mins.

That doesn’t sound impressive, but bear in mind I didn’t transfer any data over from my old MacBook Air or a backup on an external drive. This was achieved through a combination of the magic of iCloud and using various excellent cloud-based apps.

iCloud took care of setting up my calendars, email accounts and a load of various settings and passwords. All of this was done by simply typing in my login and password when the computer started up.

I then installed Evernote, where I have a note reminding me of the various apps I install on each Mac. After rebuilding several of my computers of the last couple of years, I got bored with trying to remember what to install and made a list for future reference.

That’s pretty much a great reason for installing Evernote in the first place! (Can you tell I’m an Evernote fan?)

OmniFocus pulled in all my projects and tasks automatically and Spotify synced my playlists in about 5 seconds.

Finally, it was Dropbox, which is presently downloading all of my work and personal files in the background as I write this.

I have to say, it was nearly painless. There was a bit of fiddling around with linking DayOne to Dropbox, but I think that might have been a result of Dropbox syncing about a gazillion files at the same time.

As it’s a new model MacBook Air, iWork has come pre-installed. I haven’t used these in a few years so it will be interesting to see how they square up to MS Office. Unfortunately, I need to use Office for work – otherwise I wouldn’t have it anywhere near my laptop.

The new Macbook Air is super fast – I maxed out the RAM to 8GB when ordering – and you can really feel the difference.

Yes…setting up a laptop while watching “8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown” is pretty much my ideal Friday night these days.

Oh how the mighty have fallen…

Incidentally, the nice chaps over at Asian Efficiency have put together an invaluable guide to reformatting your beloved Mac. Well worth a read!

48 hours with iOS 7

20130921-081549.jpgLike most geeks in the UK, I was frustrated by the inability of Apple’s servers to keep up with my downloading needs when iOS 7 was finally made available to us. Frantic attempts to get my hands on it failed miserably until time differences meant that most of the USA was tucked up in bed again.

As things panned out, I didn’t actually manage to download and start using iOS 7 on my devices until Thursday – so I’ve only had about 48 hours of usage to reflect on.

iOS 7 is definitely an improvement over iOS 6 in a number of ways. But there are a few changes that – for me at least – annoy at best and, at worst, make my devices more difficult to use.

I’ve been using iOS 7 on both my iPhone 5 and iPad Mini. The experience has been quite different on these devices, so I’ll also highlight where the device seems to have an impact on the iOS 7 experience.

But it’s the weekend, and I’m in a good mood – so let’s start with the positives.

Welcome Improvements

  • The clarity of the interface is the most obvious positive change. Jony Ive’s removal of pointless shadows and skeumorphism in the previous versions is like a breath of fresh air. No more leather or felt in these apps. They’re clean, minimalist and (mostly) easy to navigate.
  • Mail in particular is easier to use and seems to be speedy. Clear icons and an increased use of text to indicate functionality make Mail the kind of app you can use quickly and accurately.
  • The Photos app is gorgeous, as is the Weather app. Both really showcase this minimal design, in different ways. The fact that Weather now indicates the forecast with both symbols and a photo in the background make it useful at a glance or in more depth.  The auto-organisation of the Photos app is great, making it easier to navigate and use some of the less obvious functionality like photo streams.
  • Control Centre is a real time saver. Rather than digging around in the depths of the Settings menu every time you want to turn wifi on or off, this provides very handy access to most frequently used device settings: wifi, bluetooth, flight mode, screen brightness and so on. Just swipe from the bottom of the screen and all of these toggles are at your finger tips. Yes, this should save iOS 7 users time and frustration.
  • Multi-tasking is now much more useful and intuitive. Swipe away apps you want to close. No more fiddling around to tap the very edge of a jerking icon when you want to absolutely shut an app down.
  • I’m not a big Siri user, but the few instances I’ve tested it on iOS 7 have been positive. It seems responsive and the voice is easy to understand. I’m still unsure if I’ll use Siri more though.
  • I know it’s not down to Apple, but some third-part apps are really shining on iOS 7 – I’d highlight Evernote, which now looks amazing, and the app for my FitBit – another great example of applying clarity and functionality in design. The bar has definitely been raised in terms of design.

Pointless Annoyances

  • Despite its benefits, you can’t personalise Control Centre and the remaining settings appear to be quite difficult to locate – somewhere in the depths of what appears to be an even more complex settings menu.
  • Safari is less than intuitive and I can still can’t figure out how to paste a URL into the window. It’s disappointing that something so crucial to the functioning of a smartphone. I’d actually flag this as my number one gripe. Obviously, I’ll have to spend some time figuring out the changes to Safari in depth, but I’d argue that it shouldn’t be necessary when the rest of the iOS is so clear.
  • Not all of Apple’s apps have received the iOS makeover and now they stand out like a sore thumb – like Podcasts, which when opened, is like a bit of a shock to the senses. I’m unsure why this didn’t receive some love and can only hope it’s going to get some once OS X Mavericks is launched.
  • I’m hoping this is a transitional thing, but I’m still finding it difficult to locate less frequently used apps. There’s a lot of colour of the hoe screen now and for whatever reason, I’ve found it difficult to identify key apps (Music for example) through the visual noise. I think the wallpaper you choose makes all the difference and sticking to one of Apple’s stock images is recommended.
  • iOS 7 seems a lot slower on the iPad Mini. It hangs for a second or two every so often and the parallax view of the desktop is not as effective as it jumps around. It’s disappointing that such a relatively new device can’t keep up, but I guess that’s how Apple make their money.
  • Very specifically, Calendar on the iPad sticks, skips and shudders whenever it’s first opened. It seems particularly buggy and something that I hope a quick update will sort out. On my iPad, I live out of a combination of Calendar and Omnifocus, so this is definitely a problem – for me, at least.
  • The interface is also a lot harder to read on the Mini. The thin fonts can sometimes look a little pixelated. It looks like iOS 7 really needs a retina interface, so here’s hoping one is on the way for the iPad Mini.

In summary

On reflection, the above seems like I’m quite negative about iOS 7. I really really like it, but the above negatives are disappointing. Here’s hoping that imminent updates will smooth things over.

So what should you do? If you have a recent Apple iOS device and are still ambivalent about  downloading and installing iOS 7, I’d say: go for it. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

I’ve heard – though haven’t directly experienced – that older phone (e.g. iPhone 4) struggle to keep up. If you have one of these, I’d think twice before installing, as it appears nearly impossible to go back to iOS 6.

The bottom line: a big improvement over iOS 6 and hopefully the start of even more design innovation and user-centric apps from Apple.