Since you have changed the face of computing, I have decided to change the face of my computer.
A few days ago I started keeping a “fitness” diary. This involves the entry of everything that goes into my body bar repeating medications. I recommend it for no other reason than it stops you reaching for that fourth Krispy Kreme because of the effort of updating your diary.
I’m keeping a Notebook in Evernote for this purpose, which also has proven useful in collating other information about improving my health in general. There’s only one problem with this approach, Evernote is slow. In fact, it’s unusably slow on an iPhone.
The iPhone, like most smartphones, is designed for reflexive, repetitive twitch use. So I pull it out of my pocket, fire up an app, do something and put the phone away. There is usually no time for waiting around. Evernote spends so much time synchronising that it’s pretty much a non-starter unless you’re sitting on a bus and have time to kill.
So I thought about using Day One, my favourite journalling app (which I use across iPad, iPhone and a couple of Macs of course) but the sync on that is flakey at best. I’ll make some updates at night on the Mac and the next day I’ll pull out the iPhone and iPad and despite syncing, they’re showing me two different versions of the file. Force-quitting and relaunching doesn’t help.
A less important issue on Day One is that Markdown formatting is supported on the iOS versions, but strangely, not on the Mac version, where I would find it most useful, but this is an issue that doesn’t have a bearing on my diary-entry problem.
Looks like I’ll have to stick with trusty old Simplenote, synced to Notational Velocity on the Mac. I recently paid for the Premium version of Simplenote and find it almost unbearably elegant. The only sync issues I’ve ever had with Simplenote stem from my desire to integrate my iA Writer documents with my Simplenote folders. Although the Premium version of Simplenote allows for Dropbox syncing, their site offers stern warnings against integration with other applications.
Once I’ve finished entering a day’s worth of data, I create a new note in Evernote and copy and paste. Not the neatest workflow, but a lot faster than using Evernote on the iPhone directly. The downside? Neither Evernote nor Simplenote display Markdown formatting, but I can live with that. The whole point of Markdown after all is that it doesn’t need to be displayed formatted.
In my ideal cloud, one folder on a server somewhere would hold my documents, which would be seamlessly mirrored to my connected devices, of which the Mac would be just one. Not long to wait for iCloud.
I use the expensive, but essential Omnifocus on my iPhone, iPad and various Macs, with the database synchornised using Dropbox. It’s fantastic in every way, except one. During the evening, I have OmniFocus triggering a notification with corresponding alert sound on all my gathered devices. It’s like World War 3 breaking out. I have all my devices with me, practically all the time.
I don’t think there is a simple way around this. Geolocation doesn’t have the resolution (and besides, won’t work on the iPad and Mac all the time anyway). I suppose the easiest way is to have it only on my phone, but during the evenings, I like to use the Mac and leave the phone a metre or so away.
Another option would be to have a flag in the Dropbox sync file that tells me which devices are currently checking in and if I’m stationery (check the iPhone GPS) for more than say, 5 minutes, and the Mac is on and OmnFfocus running, it would display a Growl notification on the Mac only. If the Mac were not on, and the iPhone GPS were showing me as stationary for 5 or more minutes, it would notify me on the iPad only. If the iPhone GPS indicated movement of more than say 20 metres a minute, only the iPhone would notify me.
It would perhaps be an over-clever solution that would trip up over some really trivial test cases, when the real answer is to have a better notification system at OS level. Even that isn’t going to be a panacea.
And no, I haven’t done my pull ups, despite being reminded three times, by three different devices.
I use both Acorn 2 and Pixelmator. Now the latter is a truly beautiful piece of software. I don’t know if there’s a better looking piece of Mac software out there and I want to use it more than I do, but when I need to get something done, and fast, I fire up Acorn. It doesn’t look like much, but don’t you know? Minimalism is in.
So it was with interest that I saw the Chairman mention that Acorn 3 is out for $30 on the Mac App Store, at a temporarily reduced price of $30. I headed on over to the Flying Meat site and noticed that an upgrade from version 2 is actually only $20. Sadly, the Mac App Store doesn’t offer upgrades from existing versions. I wrote to Flying Meat and got a response from Gus Mueller in no time. It never ceases to impress me just how responsive the Apple Development community is. Look how large it’s become and yet it still retains that small community feel. One only has to look at the insane demand for the WWDC to see that. Apple has the good sense not to increase the size of the conference.
Back to Flying Meat’s response, Gus wrote:
It isn’t possible to buy the upgrade via the MAS, sorry. Apple doesn’t allow us to do variable pricing. We’ve reduced the price by $20 from the normal price however, to help folks out moving over.
I’d already said that $10 won’t kill me, but hey, $10 is $10. So the bottom line is that the upgrade is well worth $30 and the new features look great. I’ll be buying it, just as soon as payday arrives. I’m also very happy to support such an excellent developer with such a great attitude towards its customers.
Today it dawned on me that technology and I are hopelessly intertwined. I’ve given up on working out where I end and technology starts. So here’s a run-down on how often the iPhone and I are indistinguishable in a single day. Odds are, more of you know me through my iPhone than in real life, though using the term “real life” is also becoming meaningless by the day. Take a book for example. It’s a series of interconnected ideas transmitted from one brain to another essentially. The paper book and its production, distribution and so forth were material interjections into that essentially ethereal process. So “real life” is a human being affecting, or being affected by another.
Having checked the time for Fajr (the Muslim dawn prayer) the night before using iPray, I set my alarm for a reasonable time between dawn and sunrise. My day begins with the built-in Clock app waking me up. I tend to vary the alarm sounds to keep me on my toes. Hitting snooze is fatal, so I get up and pray.
When I wake after having gone to sleep after Fajr, my eyes have not yet reached the stage where they can focus properly, but I’m checking my mail on the built-in Mail app. With multiple accounts, the combined in-box makes this straightforward. If I’m on blog moderation duty (which is rare nowadays), I’ll approve any comments in moderation using the WordPress app.
I might have some texts that need responding to, or WhatsApp IMs that need answering and I’ll attend to those in due course.
I weigh myself and use WeightBot to record the data. I flick the mute switch to “off” just to hear the wonderful noises this app makes.
A quick look at the calendar will give me clues about what I might need for the day ahead.
Throughout the day I’ll use the Twitter app (much easier than Twitter on the Mac and less confusing than the iPad version). I’ll also check my RSS feeds on Reeder and the news on the still-free Guardian app. I doubt I’ll pay for the subscription version. I don’t like the news much anyway.
I use the camera and the video function from time to time. Tonight at the hotel in Madrid, I took a picture of the tiny condiment bottles. They’re so cute. I’ll use the built-in Camera app, or more and more often now, Camera+, which gets my vote for having the most beautiful icon on my home screen. I also use Hipstamatic and 8mm if the mood catches me, but I can get by most days without them.
OmniFocus pretty much runs my life for me. It’s the closest I’ll get to having a PA and it keeps me honest on iPhone, iPad and Mac. When I’m short on time (which is most of the time), I’ll use the iPhone version, otherwise I will relax with the iPad version, which also gets more use in the office. Not today though.
Note taking duty is handled by Simplenote, probably the most useful note-taking app ever created. It’s so simple, that most of the time it beats a notebook and pen, and that’s saying something given my love for the feel of a decent pen on Moleskine paper. Oh, it works with TextExpander too, which makes it super fast. If I’m in need of the meaning of a word, I have AED to hand.
I use Trickle for passive tweet watching, YouTube when people send me stuff to watch and Amazon UK if I want to check the price of a book I see in a shop. Naughtily, I think bookshops exist now to browse stuff you will buy off Amazon at some point anyway. And even that’s becoming a memory as I tend to buy books from the Kindle Store more and more.
If I need to tune my ukulele, I’ll use the fabulous Guitar Toolkit. I’m about to become friendly with Everyday Looper and I’ve been enjoying the Moog Filtatron, just for making silly noises, immensely. Instant Quatermass. Beautiful. On the bus, I listen to lectures and music on the iPod app. And if it’s a Friday and I’m waiting for the prayer to start at the mosque, I’ll read iQuran Pro. I just wish it had some more modern English translations, but it’s still very beautiful.
I will of course send and receive plenty of SMSs and make the odd phone call. FaceTime also gets a look-in, but sadly, given its insistence on WiFi and my unwillingness to pay exorbitant data roaming charges, it doesn’t get used on the iPhone where and when I need it the most, which is when I’m travelling on business. That’s when I fire the laptop up, connect that to the hotel WiFi and hope for the best. At the hotel I’m at now in Madrid, the connection rate is so poor, that I’ve had to fall back to Skype.
Life without the Kindle reader and Instapaper is unimaginable. Most of my medium-form reading gets done that way. Long form duty falls to the iPad, which seems to have been invented for Instapaper.
And how would I connect to so many log-in-demanding websites without 1Password? Anyone keeping the same password across multiple log-ins is just asking for it.
On the odd occasion I’m driving, I will use the CoPilot App for GPS, but more often in London, I will use Tube Deluxe for network news and Travel Deluxe to plan routes. I use the Streetcar app to book the odd car for short trips and the Bixou app to find me a Boris Bike. Today however, I used the BA app. Having checked in on the bus yesterday, I used it today with my downloaded travel ticket to sail through Heathrow’s Terminal 3. It was like magic. When I’m walking, I’ll use the Maps app and the direction finder, because my sense of direction is so poor that if you spun me around in my bedroom a couple of times I’d get lost.
I regularly use Skype to call my mum and FishText to SMS my friends and my mum abroad. My calculator is the quite brilliant Soulver and my currency conversion comes courtesy of Convertbot. If I ever need to check anything on my Mac at home, there’s iTeleport, but more and more, I can just use Dropbox to keep me in sync wherever I am.
In my hotel room, I will use iPray again to locate the Qibla, or the direction of Mecca so that I can say my prayers. And I will wind down with a book, some Instapaper, or a Jeff Minter game. For the longest time it was Fruit Ninja, but now it’s Forget.Me.Not and Atari Greatest Hits. Naturally, I downloaded the full collection. It’s produced by Jeff Vavasour, with whom I made the wonderful Atari Arcade Hits volumes 1 and 2 in my Hasbro days.
My question: How on earth did we manage before? And do you get why I call these things Human Amplification Devices now? They don’t just amplify me, they amplify others to me. We get to share humanity at a higher energy level than ever before and I absolutely, totally love it.
I’ve been thinking about how genuinely useful computing devices are to us, now that they have become so utterly pervasive and so unremarkably ubiquitous. There is the inevitable lack of focus that tends to arise as a result of so much stimulation of so many varieties. There is the connection to our mammalian impulses that seemingly compel us to consume what we can, while we can, and with so many apps-as-sweeties, that amounts to rather a lot.
These then, are some of the negatives, and there are many more.
I am still hugely excited about computing, I’d say that computing is more exciting now than it has ever been. So what is the purpose of computing in the era of the smartphone and iPad? I’d call computing, and specifically connected computers human amplification devices. HADs let us be more than we ever were, more often, with greater reach and with zero delay.
You are more than you ever could have been at any time in the past. Your potential reach is greater, more powerful, more wide and more deep than at any point in history. The delay between you wanting to manifest something routine in your life, like your weekly shopping, or the sending of a thought, a picture, a movie, to every person you “know” has disappeared. The volume of information that we can and do share is now truly colossal and whilst connected computers have made this possible, connected smartphones have caused an order of magnitude increase in shared information volume and removed the inherent delay that used to be predicated on the availability of an originally scarce resource, the digital node, or a static, connected computer.
If I want more than a thousand people to know about how my neighbours are affecting me, I can ensure they know the second I feel upset. My network knows when I do. If I want the community police team to know, I can email them without worrying that it’s the weekend. Today, I had police appear in my home to reassure my family of the real help they were willing to offer because a few short hours earlier, I had asked the very same officer now in my house for help. My ability to effect real change in my life has been massively amplified and the frequency shortened thanks to ubiquitous Human Amplification Devices. The corresponding increase in energy utilised is truly enormous. There is no telling where this power will get us, because like any power, it can be used for good, or for evil.
I prefer to focus on the positive. So far, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. On the bus today, I checked into my BA flight and now have my boarding pass, on my phone. When I need the answer to a question, where before an answer was not always available no matter what the investment in energy, now I can employ a number of resources instantaneously and the chances are high that I will already be better informed within moments. I will be able to notify thousands of people around the world about this post having published it from my bed, having written it on an iPad that is always connected to just about everyone I have ever come into contact with. If I need to sort out a car booking crisis whilst helping a driver navigate an alternative route and also keep a rendezvous party informed and available, I can and I do make that happen thanks to my array of HADs. That makes a real difference in the lives of people. Long may it continue.