Tag Archives: apple

My Top Personal Productivity Technologies of 2010

As we welcome Baby New Year 2011 we are deluged with lists of the bests and worsts of 2010 and the trends to look forward to for 2011.  I didn’t want to be completely left out of the fun.

One trend we saw gain traction in 2010 was the consumerization of IT.  Tools that are available to individuals make creativity and productivity possible that cannot or has not yet been duplicated by our corporate IT departments.  I felt the benefits  of this trend in 2010.  So I’ve decided to do a list of my top personal productivity technology of 2010.


I’m beginning this survey with hardware because there was a new entry into the world of hardware that makes new, unimagined kinds of productivity possible: the iPad.

Apple iPad: My status as an Apple fanboy remains intact.  I was able to resist buying an iPad for all of about two days.  I found myself in the Apple Store and was unable to resist.  The functionality completely blew me away.  An iPad is so much more than a big iPhone or touch computer.

For starters, the iPad has liberated me from my laptop in situations where a digital device would be useful but a laptop would be unwieldy.  I am a lean, mean tweeting machine now at conferences.  I can actually get work done on a plane with no worry that the guy in the seat in front of me is going to snap my laptop in two!  I watch many more video podcasts, TV shows and movies.  The iPad has replaced both physical books (everywhere possible) and my Amazon Kindle.  As you read my other 2010 tech picks you’ll see that the iPad played a central role in my 2010 productivity improvements.

Fujitsu ScanSnap Pro: 2010 was the year of the home office upgrade project.  Starting from mid-year I took on a project that lasted until last week to upgrade my home office.  While this is the sort of project that I never really finish, I was very successful in one area: eliminating excess paper.

I had file cabinets bursting with old records and files.  I was able to scan these files quickly and eliminate a significant amount of clutter with the easy-to-use Fujistu ScanSnap Pro.  The hardware handles stacks of pages in short order.  The software was phenomenal.  After I eliminated the backlog of old files I can now scan new documents like bills, records and receipts as they come in.  I save up these files to do a clean-up once every week or so, and it takes literally minutes.

GeekDesk:  A few years ago I was experiencing some pain in my lower back.  For several weeks I worked at a standing workspace that I kludged together in the kitchen.  I felt like I had more energy and more concentration when I worked standing up.  I did like to take a load off a few times during the day for some relaxed reading, too.

GeekDesk is a large desk that I can raise and lower through the magic of hydraulics.  I generally lower the desk once a day for longer conference calls or webinars.  The desk itself is very attractive with room for my two laptops, monitor, speakers, iPad, iPhone, podcast microphone, lamps, etc.


Another trend we saw garner a huge amount of attention in 2010 was “the cloud.” The software packages I found most valuable in 2010 either incorporate cloud elements or take advantage of the cloud in some way.

MindNode: Mind mapping has quickly become the way that I create my best work, project plans and outlines.  It’s also the most enjoyable approach to planning or mapping a complex project.  Much of what I created in 2010, including this and most other entries on this blog began as a mind map.

I really like the MindNode software because there is a version for my Macintosh, iPad and iPhone.  I can also export a mind maps in several formats, including an image of the mind map or an OPML file.  The latter is useful and beneficial because I can import OMPL files into OmniOutliner or OmniFocus on my Macintosh.  From OmniOutliner I can transform the mind map into an outline and finally into the finished written product or presentation.  In OmniFocus I can turn the outline into a full project plan, because OmniFocus is the software I use to track my projects and action items.  The integration is nearly seamless, and the mind map can move in my personal workflow from brainstorm to plan to action.

Notational Velocity and SimpleNote: For several years I’ve been using the simple TextEdit application to take notes on my Mac.  This year I installed a simple note-taking program on my Mac called Notational Velocity.  With it I can quickly create a new note.  It’s really easy to quickly search my notes library to find the notes from the specific meeting or on a topic.

Notational Velocity synchronizes my notes library with SimpleNote, a combination of a cloud service and iPhone/iPad app.  Thanks to synchronization I can access, edit or add notes on any of my devices.

1Password: For a long time I engaged in the bad security practice of using the same password for multiple sites, and often weak passwords at that.  Recently the password breach at Gawker Media put the fear of God in me about my password security.  I knew that I needed to do something, but I was very annoyed by the proliferation of sites and software that required log in credentials.

1Password was the answer that I’ve been waiting for all my life!   I had been hearing about 1Password on various podcasts for a long time.  With the Gawker breach I finally caved.  Not only does 1Password manage your log-in credentials, it can generate very strong passwords so that you can have insanely difficult, unique passwords for all of your accounts.  All of these are saved in an encrypted file that itself is password protected– you have to remember that one on your own, and you should make it a strong one.  1Password syncs among my Mac, iPad and iPhone, so the tough passwords are always with me.  There is a plug-in for all of the major web browsers (including my beloved Chrome) so that I can easily provide log-in credentials when I go to a web site.  This software is so great because it has both increased my level of security and made my life easier all at once.  Take that, TSA!

Cloud Service

DropBox: Having access to important files across all of my machines has always been a major challenge, particularly work files between my personal laptop and my work laptop.  DropBox helped save me a lot of time swapping files on key drives, and also helped me avoid version control problems.  DropBox also is a functional back-end for synchronizing files across devices for other software (such as 1Password).  DropBox is what Apple’s MobileMe iDisk should be.  It just works amazing well and plays so nicely with the other toys.


In addition to paranoia about passwords, I’ve taken some life lessons from friends who have lost valuable data due to hard drive failures and laptop theft to create a good back-up strategy.  I roughly follow the model of having multiple back-ups in multiple places, including off-site:

Carbonite: This is a very easy-to-use service to back-up my laptop to the cloud.  Carbonite is constantly adding my new and updated files to an encrypted cloud back-up.  Carbonite addresses the need for an off-site back-up that will save your data in the event of a major disaster at your home that destroys your hard drive.

Carbonite does not back-up any material on external hard drives but has the benefit of being so extremely easy to use.  Carbone recently rolled out an app for the iPhone and iPad that you can use to access your files that are stored in your back-up.

ChronoSync and my Drobo: ChronoSync is a software application that I used to create scheduled back-ups of specific folders on my laptop.  Deep in the cold, dark night it backs up my documents, iTunes media and iPhoto files to my Drobo each and every night.

The Drobo is an external hard drive enclosure that holds multiple hard drives in a RAID-like array for on-board data duplication.  You can add storage capacity with new or larger hard drives.  While the Drobo is more expensive than a traditional RAID it is easier to set up and maintain.

SuperDuper: I use this application to copy my entire laptop hard drive to an external hard drive.  This is a complete, bootable duplication.  I run this a couple of times a month and stash the hard drive in a secure place.  If ever something happens to my laptop I can boot a Macintosh directly from this back-up and pick up right where I left off.

iPad Software

Worthy of special mention are the many apps that I have found indispensable on my iPad.  Some of these are translations of software for the Macintosh that I’ve already mentioned: MindNode, 1Password and SimpleNote.  Others are worth a bit more background:

OmniFocus: I love the software that the Omni Group creates, and OmniFocus is my favorite.  I’m an adherent to David Allen’s Getting Things Done
framework for personal productivity, and OmniFocus is a project and task tracker created from the ground-up with GTD in mind.

OmniFocus on the iPad is a thing of beauty and a joy to use.  It’s strange but true that the form factor actually makes it easier to plan out my projects and tasks.  The software synchronizes with OmniFocus on my Mac and my iPhone.  I’ve already mentioned how I can bring my mind maps from mind node into OmniFocus for the Mac.  This application ecosystem has enabled me to create a terrific workflow.

Reeder:  This is a great RSS reader application that synchronizes with my Google Reader account.  I can quickly look through all of the new items from my RSS feeds, share items of interest or send articles I want to read in-depth the Instapaper.

Instapaper: This is a great combination of a service and application that lets me take web pages I want to read in detail and read them offline.  The app pulls out the text for a clean, easy to read view of news articles, blog posts and the like.  I can download articles to my iPad and read them even when I do not have an Internet connection.  I save up articles of deep interest and set aside some time to read them when I can give them the appropriate level of attention.  I save up some long-form articles for when I’m going to be on a plane.

Looking Forward to 2011 and Some Remaining Honorable Mentions from 2009

2010 was a great year for technology enabling personal productivity, mostly because of some of the tools that the cloud and iPad make possible.  Some older tools from 2009 remain favorites, e.g. Google Apps, Google Voice and my Verizon Wireless MiFi.

There are technology tools that I’m aware of and want to add to my toolbox for even greater productivity in 2011:

Diigo: Social bookmarking that takes where Delicious started and builds from there.

TextExpander: I’ve owned the application on my Mac and iOS devices but have yet to make the best use of it.  TextExpander lets you create shortcuts for text snippets to save you from typing them again and again.

Hazel: File management automation for the Macintosh.  Specifically Hazel would help me streamline some of my paperless office workflows.

OmniPlan: Also from the Omni Group, this is what Microsoft Project should be.  I’ve used it a bit in the past and always found it useful.  In 2011 I expect I’ll need to add this to my traditional workflows for more complex projects that require coordination with large groups of people and stakeholders.  I also have several repeatable project workflows that I want to “standardize.”

GoToMeeting: I have to say that Citrix designs some great projects.  I like the simplicity and functionality of GoToMeeting compared to some of the other packages out there.  I’m looking forward to using GoToMeeting for some personal projects that require virtual collaboration.

Verizon Wireless iPhone: I don’t know that it’s coming, and would definitely NOT be blogging about it if I did know.  We all expect it, though.  I for one can’t wait for the best device on the best mobile network in the US.  Insert standard Verizon employee disclaimer here.

What was your favorite tech tool of 2010 and what were you able to do with it?  What tools are you adding to your toolbox for 2011?

Cross Post: Strategic Secrecy and Excellence

I am going to be a lazy blogger today and cross-post a forum discussion topic that I posted in the Competitive Intelligence community on Ning that explores the concept of Apple’s strategic secrecy.  My hypothesis is that Apple and other companies earn the privilege to be strategically secret (note: not completely opaque) by delivering customer value and excellent products or services.  Some executives may begin to look at Apple’s secrecy and conclude post hoc ergo proctor hoc that strategic secrecy alone will bring them success.  On the contrary, I argue, secrecy without excellence is a sign of either corporate egotism or incompetence.

Feel free to comment here or head over to the Ning discussion to share your thoughts.

I always look forward to Ken Sawka and company’s “Looking Out” newsletter in my e-mail in-box. The articles are usually very challenging and expand my own understanding of the relevance of curren business and political happenings to competitive intelligence. In this morning’s newsletter Ken poses a question about one of my favorite companies, Apple. Speaking of Apple’s track record for secrecy when the cultural trend is pulling in the direction of openness and transparency: Is Apple’s obsession with secrecy good business?

This article resonates with me because very recently I finished reading the Jeff Jarvis book What Would Google Do. This book touches on themes of openness and transparency and lays out a set of rules for how to be Googley and succeed in our modern business environment that favors “ecosystems” and “platforms” over stand-alone companies. A great video summary of the book is at readitfor.me.

In WWGD Jarvis puts Apple forward as the unGoogle and asks how it is Apple can break all of the rules of being a modern technology company and still be as successful as they are. It is clear that Apple are playing a clever game of chess about when to be transparent and when to be completely opaque. A few examples of Apple’s openness: adoption of the USB port for peripheral connectivity, support for the MP3 file format on the iPod (Sony chose to support only proprietary music formats and effectively ceded the portable music market they had owned for nearly two decades) and what I consider to be deliberate “mistakes” in updating the code of Apple web pages to pique interest in pending product releases.

Jarvis makes the case that Apple get away with this because their products and services are truly excellent. Early this week Jarvis posted an entry to his blog that named The Economist as the Apple of the news media industry. The Economist is able to break almost all of the rules of modern news business (charging for on-line content, no writer bylines) and is much better positioned than most other news media properties to innovate into the new age that is clearly upon us. Apple and The Economist can be rule breakers because, Jarvis posits, the products they deliver are so clearly excellent and in-line with what customers really want.

Part of the key to effective strategic secrecy and overall success in the marketplace is excellence in the eyes of your customers. While this seems self-evident, how many companies and governments have we seen that don’t deliver quality products or services yet remain opaque? How do we regard their secrecy? I tend to regard it as a sign of poor processes and a clear misunderstanding or disregard for the needs of their customers or constituents, indications of either laziness or self-interest.

Many executives, I am afraid, will take the wrong lesson away from Apple’s strategic secrecy and put the cart before the horse. “Now we’re going to be cagey about our widgets and then the cash will just come rolling in!” The freedom to be opaque must be earned.

As always, I am interested in the thoughts of the community here assembled. How do you perceive strategic secrecy and excellence as competitive differentiators? What criteria do you believe (if any) are required before a company gets to break the rules in its industry? What are other companies that are delivering excellence or applying strategic secrecy? Can you have the latter without the former?

Cavuto and Fox News Say iPhone Sales Doubleplusungood

In the interest of a Cavuto-bashing hat trick, I had to comment on this little tidbit about Fox News altering the transcript of commentary that was aired on the network in which Neil Cavuto attempted to take Apple to task for disappointing iPhone sales.  In the process of his commentary, Cavuto made several mis-statements.  the Fox News web site says of the corrected transcript “This is the correct copy that was read on air.”  The corrected transcript is not what I have heard was actually said on the air, and it STILL contains incorrect information.

From Daring Fireball:

Where he was previously quoted as saying:

Lo and behold, we’re told 146,000 iPhones were activated in the day
and a half between the phone’s launch and the most recent quarter’s end.

He is now quoted as saying:

Lo and behold, we’re told 270,000 iPhones were sold
in the day and a half between the phone’s launch and the most recent
quarter’s end – trouble is only about 146,000 were actually activated.

The transcript still claims Apple had projected “half a million”
opening weekend sales (they didn’t), and still uses the adjective

I will admit upfront that I did not see the initial commentary made by Mr. Cavuto.  I also have not been able to find a video of the commentary on-line.  I’m taking Daring Fireball and the commentators of MacBreak Weekly at their word, and I have little reason not to do so.  Cavuto initially ignored the fact that Apple actually sold 270,000 iPhones in the first few days of sales.  Considering the issues many early adopters had activating their phones in those first days, this is not an unusual disparity between number of phones sold and the number activated.  Also, no doubt many people bought multiple phones as gifts, to sell on eBay, etc.  It’s important to keep in mind that there were only 30 hours of the second quarter in which the iPhone was actually available for sale.

The transcript still includes a claim that Apple had projected the sale of 500,000 iPhones in the first weekend of sales.  This is utterly and totally false.  Neither Apple nor AT&T, to the very best of my knowledge, projected any sales volumes before the phone was launched.  The closest data to a unit sales projection I had seen for the iPhone in the weeks leading up to the launch was that each AT&T-owned retail outlet would have a total of 20 iPhones available for sale, and that no numbers were available on iPhones available at each Apple store.  I can speak from my own experience of almost buying an iPhone at an AT&T store that the location at Potomac Yard in Alexandria, VA had way more than 20 iPhones for sale.  If anything Apple and AT&T seemed to be setting expectations of iPhone shortages in the early days of the launch.  So, wrong again, Mr. Cavuto.

UMG May Seek iPod Kickback from Apple

I can’t say that I’m surprised to have come accross this Reuters article indicating that Universal Music Group are indeed openly considering demanding a kickback from Apple for iPod sales.

Universal Music Group Chief Executive Doug Morris said on Tuesday he may try to fashion an iPod royalty fee with Apple Computer Inc. in the next round of negotiations in early 2007.

“It would be a nice idea. We have a negotiation coming up not too far. I don’t see why we wouldn’t do that… but maybe not in the same way,” he told the Reuters Media Summit, when asked if Universal would negotiate a royalty fee for the iPod that would be similar to Microsoft’s Zune.

It seems that one part of Microsoft’s strategic game play with the Zune is coming to fruition. It is going to be very interesting to see how Apple will respond.

If my hypothesis about Microsoft’s deliberate “mistakes” in their Zune strategy have the desired effect on Apple we will see significant growth in consumer awareness and concern about DRM (particularly among non-tech geeks) and increased pressure from record companies for variable pricing of songs in the iTunes store.

Technorati Tags: Zune, Competitive Intelligence.

Apple and Motorola Really Phoned It In

For once I’m going to stop writing about eBay and Skype to resurrect an old chestnut: the iTunes phone.

So, Apple and Motorola released this thing a few weeks agothe ROKR. Considering how I was on each rumor of this phone’s development for some time one might be surprised that I didn’t jump all over the actual launch of the phone. Well, I was so underwhelmed when the phone was finally launched that I really didn’t feel like there was much to say. Commentators from Engadget, This Week in Tech and everywhere else rightly trounced the phone.

The phone itself just doesnt have the sexy form factor one would expect from an Apple product. OK, so it’s technically a Moto product, but even Motorola can be expected to offer some sexy products after the RAZR. Maybe what I was expecting from a form perspective was a RAZR-ish phone that could interface with iTunes. What we got was far from that, so my money will stay in my wallet for now.

One couldnt help contrast the ROKR with the iPod Nano, which was launched on the same day. That is a nice little item, there.

The good news is that the iTunes functionality is likely to be an element of future Motorola phones. Maybe the next generation of the RAZR (the black one!!) will have iTunes capability.

I do, however, like the song in the Cingular commercial for the phone. The song is “Jukebox” by Bent Fabric. Nice little ditty.

Apple as an MVNO?

Here is a great piece of Forbes about Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), including some discussions about the possibility for Apple to become an MVNO themselves to bolster their iPod market dominance by offering music on mobiles. Overall this is a pretty good piece anticipating the positioning other potential MVNOs could pursue, such as a Wal-Mart MVNO targeting frugal and credit-challenged customers with cheap prepaid offerings.

Theres one little bit in here that still just bugs me about the objections wireless carriers seem to be having to Apple (and others) plans for music on mobiles. This comment is based on the fact that an Apple music phone is likely to support synchronization between a users music collection on a PC to the phone using a USB, Firewire or Bluetooth connection. Of this possibility a quoted analyst had this to say:

But Apple might have a problem getting the devices into consumers’ hands. Carriers will probably be loath to sell and support it, since they want to sell their own music downloads–not have customers upload tunes from home. “The carriers don’t like it,” says analyst Rob Enderle, head of The Enderle Group. “They want Apple to change the design so the phone has to sync through their networks, not with a PC.”

This insistence on the part of carriers that the music should come over their networks, and no doubt at high cost, is very annoying. Wireless carriers need to get over their bad selves. Its all fine and good to offer music over their networks as functionality to customers when customers are on the go but want audio content right away. The carriers’ wide area networks can provide some value add in the form of immediate gratification. However, theres no reason to cripple customers’ hardware like this and charge them a fortune for something they would be able to do relatively easy and with no additional expense or utility when they’re at their PCs. If Im at my PC, using a wide area network provides me no additional value over just using a cable or Bluetooth, so why would I be willing to pay a premium to have that content on my phone?

As a customer, I can tell you for certain I wouldnt buy this in a phone if downloading over the providers network were the only way to get audio content onto the phone. Id probably just stick with my trusty dedicated audio device (my iPod) which doesnt charge me a premium just to move my music on to it from my computer.

After a Long Week, What the Hell with Apple and Intel?

It’s been a very long week for me this past week, complete with not one but two late night concerts. It was Erasure at the 9:30 Club on Monday. The show was a big wave of nostalgia for those of us who grew up with the synth pop sound of Vince Clark and the vocals of Andy Bell. Tuesday night was my Chinese class, in which we had a quiz (I did alright) and then a farewell dinner for my friend Michael who was headed back to his job with USAID in Indonesia. Wednesday was a client support day followed by The Killers at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Since then and including today Ive been mired in preparing for a presentation I have next week and preparing for my Chinese final. All this prep work will be joined by a big development project due to a client next week. Fun, fun, fun!!

One big piece of news I wanted to touch base on from this past week is, of course, the news that Apple will transition to Intel CPUs. I, honestly, did not buy the rumors when I first read them. I was certain that what we would hear would be Apples use of Intel chips in a certain subset of products, but not that they would replace the CPUs for the whole line. Ill be honest that I was blown away.

To this day I still cannot tell whether or not this is a good thing for Apple or Macintosh loyalists such as myself. Clearly the OS will make the transition with flying colors, which is obviously a good thing. Walt Mossberg says as much in his column from this past week. The big questions seem to be whether or not speed improvements and developers will follow?

For my own part, I know that Im not going to buy a new machine until the transition has been made for the model I want to buy. I am looking for a new PowerBook in about a years time, which should probably coincide with the introduction of an Intel chip into that line of Macs. One good thing Im hopping to see is that Intel will enable faster PowerBooks. One thing Intel seems to have done a very good job in the past few years is with the power consumption, heat dissipation and speed of their chips designed specifically for laptops. Considering weve seen sales of laptops outpace desktops, I think the move to Intel might be overall a good one for Apple because it will enable them to offer faster laptops. The continued delay in introducing a G5 laptop has been a real frustration.

A good number of the people in the tech press are saying that this transition is no reason to hold off on buying a new Mac. Theyre probably right, but for the obsessed types like me this is plenty reason.

One very cool issue was brought up on the Make magazine podcast This was the idea that Intel-based Macs would enable people (with perhaps some tweaking) to install Windows on their Macs to create dual-boot machines. As much as I dislike Windows, there are a number of work applications that do not have Macintosh versions (or dont have versions I want to pay for out of my own pocket). This has some potential. I would throw Linux on there, too, and just be able to boot any operating system I want. It would be a tough marketing message for Apple to make, but they could potentially market their machines as being the universal computer.

I need to caveat this last point by reminding everyone that I actually did not believe the Intel rumor when it first came out. So maybe I’m just oblivious. I dont buy for a minute Robert Cringelys theory that Apple and Intel will merge in an effort to bring down Microsoft. That particularly column gave me a serious flashback to a Macworld article from the early 1990s insisting that Sony and Apple would merge.