Some notes on notes

As far as taking notes go, I am not sure what the best setup might be for me. Although I consider the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to be the best digital option I have used so far, I was still not getting rid of paper based notes. This is a pain more often than not, since it takes a long time to digitise the notes in an efficient way. This might not be necessary in any case or for all notes, but still more often than one might think.

notes

Since I ditched my iPad Pro for a Macbook Pro anyway, I am back to the issue of finding a solution that works for me. Even sticking with paper based notes won’t do the trick because whenever I start to use a notebook, I stop using it at some point due to the technology gap.


There are many options

Since I am deeply committed to the Apple ecosystem (not just emotionally), the Lenovo Love Book is nothing I even want to try. Also, I am not convinced by options such as the Moleskine Smart Writing Set (although I would be willing to try it at a much lower price point), Evernote Notebooks (in collaboration with Moleskine), Livescribe Smart Pen, IRISNotes 3 Smart Pen or even the beautiful but not so feature-rich Augmented Paper by Montblanc (which apparently is utilising Wacom technology).

If only this would work, but it doesn’t. Although the pen seems to work quite well, the Montblanc companion iOS app lacks features to use the product in an efficient way and there is no convenient way to transfer the notes to a desktop machine. There are many other digital note taking options to choose from of course, all of which are not meant for me.


reMarkable

The only thing I really like so far is the reMarkable tablet. It is a sunlight readable, monochrome electronic ink tablet with a canvas display at 226 DPI and a promised latency below 60ms and most importantly paper-like surface friction. It claims to be the solution to all of my problems:

“The paper tablet for people who prefer paper. Here to replace your notebooks, sketchbooks and printouts. Paper-like reading, writing and sketching with digital powers.” Source: reMarkable.com


Compared to an iPad the features are very limited of course. But still it seems to fit my needs in terms of reading and taking notes. Unfortunately, it will be quite pricy with $719 and a limited time offer of $479 until the product’s introduction in fall 2017. Without trying it out for myself I am not willing to take the risk of ordering it right away. 

The team bypassed kickstarter and just offered pre-orders on the product’s website to finance its development, which is why I have doubts whether the reMarkable tablet can actually deliver what it promises. The preliminary reviews are quite good, so I will definitely give it try once it hits local stores.

This might lead to an update on taking notes. We will see.

Update on working with an iPad Pro

Back in November 2016 I wrote about my decision to work with an 9,7″ iPad Pro exclusively. I stopped using any other computer, sold all my Mac equipment and only kept the accompanying Apple Watch and iPhone. I opted for a Logitech CREATE keyboard and the Apple Pencil and hoped that this step might change my entire tech outfit.

iPad Pro and Apple Watch

I kept using this setup for about 9 months and was quite satisfied with the iPad Pro’s performance even under advanced workloads. Over the last months I traveled quite a lot and considered the iPad Pro a tolerable load despite the bulky keyboard enclosure. It truly was a glimpse at the post-pc era and almost felt like I could finally make it happen.

-> tl;dr


Back to the Macbook Pro

Still I decided to sell the iPad Pro and go back to working with a regular Mac. I did a 2 week test run with Apple’s 12″ Macbook (before the hardware update announced during WWDC 2017) and although I really like the form factor and rosé gold option, the performance was rather disappointing. So in the end, I ended up were my journey began, with a 13″ Macbook Pro. So why you ask?

Among the main reasons are things like app switching, sandboxed data silos, drag and drop and more importantly limited functionality in pro apps. During WWDC 2017 Apple announced new features for iOS 11 on the iPad, such as the Files app (potentially solving some of the pain surrounding sandboxing), the new dock and drag and drop implementation. I think these are overdue features and I highly appreciate the effort towards a more pro operating system. Still I think there is a lot to be done in order to make the iPad a true desktop replacement (… unfortunately I might add).


Workflows on the iPad Pro

For one I would have expected that Apple’s acquisition of Workflow would enrich the possibilities for advanced work on the device. But so far, no improvements are in sight… and this is a compromise to begin with. The Workflow app allows the automatisation of long click-through processes, which is all good but the problem is that automation is required for rather simple stuff in order to make up for lost time in comparison to working on a desktop machine.

The more app switching and file manipulation is involved, the longer everything takes. This is not due to the iPad Pro’s computing power (which is amazing), the user input in iOS just takes forever compared to MacOS. This is no issue while surfing the web or writing a blog post but even creating keynote presentations with loads of images and videos from the web takes much longer than it should.

Simplest image editing involves various apps and might even entail several up- and downloads to cloud storage solutions such as iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive. Not considering data plan implications, this takes forever and more often network issues disrupt the process wether you are using the workflow app or doing it manually.

ACERE 2017 slides


Pro Apps on the iPad Pro

And than there are pro apps… or rather lack thereof. Although the iPad Pro is advertised as a desktop replacement device and surely delivers in terms of computing power, memory and battery life, most developers of 3rd party pro apps are falling short of delivering desktop class functionality to their apps. Also many web based solutions are not working properly in either Chrome or Safari on iOS, making advanced edits difficult (e.g. Google Spreadsheets, Dexter or even WordPress).

The apps I used (or had to use) range from Keynote, Microsoft Office and iMovie to Adobe Creative Cloud Apps, AutoCAD and Omnigroup apps to name a few. All of these lack features they provide on a desktop machine and all of them take much longer for many similar tasks even if their UI is highly optimised for touch interaction and Apple Pencil input.

In addition I had to do some coding over the past few months and got tired of the limited options in iOS apps. Even for little css/js edits I prefer Coda for MacOS over the Coda iOS App, not to speak of my recent efforts with Swift/Xcode for which there are no viable options available for iOS at all.


What will I miss?

The one thing that is definitely faster and more efficient on the iPad Pro is reading and marking up PDFs. Although regular web surfing and watching videos is very comfortable on the iPad while sitting on the sofa or lying in bed, I can live without it. Reading however ist much more comfortable on the iPad and is the most important feature I am about to miss.

ACERE 2017 schedule

I read a lot of documents, ranging from scientific journals and magazine articles to project reports and strategy documents among other things. I really enjoyed Papers for iPad (the best scientific reading and reference managing app I know – with still ample room for improvements I might add) and often used Dropbox in conjunction with Adobe Acrobat or GoodNotes 4. Papers is available for the MacOS as well, so everything is synced but I am still missing the comforts of reading on an iPad.


tl;dr

I am confident to be better off with the Macbook Pro as long as the pro apps do not offer more pro features on iOS. But still I am not sure wether the pain with the Macbook Pro while reading will be so intense over the next few months, that I might have a look at iPads once more down the road.

Apple acquired Workflow – The powerful workflow automation tool for iOS

When I was talking about my iPad Pro desktop replacement experiment, I mentioned Workflow, a powerful automation tool I use for tasks of many kinds on the iPad and iPhone. It lets you connect various features of many iOS apps in an easy to use interface that often reminds me of Apple Automator on the Mac, an application that Apple is slowly fading out in my opinion… or at least that is what I thought.

Workflow iOS app
Workflow iOS app

As it turned out, Apple just bought Workflow in March 2017, giving me new hope for more professional capabilities on iOS devices. Right now, the app provides the easiest way to generate workarounds for the various restrictions of many system and third party apps on iOS. For many things that are simple to do on a desktop machine, tasks need to be distributed between several iOS apps and chained together. Doing this manually takes forever, with Workflow it only takes longer than on a desktop machine.

With the acquisition I am hoping for a deeper integration into iOS that would allow for easier usage of workflows within and between apps. Also, I would consider it a good idea to broaden the number of preconfigured workflows to specifically target typical desktop tasks. If Apple is really serious about the iPad as desktop replacement, there is still much left to be done.

So I am looking forward to whatever will happen next.

4G Pocket Wifi with prepaid data plan in Australia

While staying in Melbourne in February 2017, I chose to buy a mobile hotspot to stay online with the various devices I had with me. As in 2016, I chose Vodafone as the service provider, since they seem to offer the best network, coverage, value for money and data options.

I bought a 4G pocket wifi R216H mobile hotspot with a 30 day 8GB prepaid option for AUD 59 (about USD 45 or EUR 43).  Any additional recharge would be AUD 30 for 8GB of 4G data.

pocket wifi
pocket wifi

In the U.S. I just recently used a AT&T GoPhone prepaid plan, offering 4GB with unlimited national calls and SMS for USD 45 . In Germany, Vodafone’s corresponding 5GB prepaid plan would be around EUR 35 depending on the service provider. So in terms of mobile broadband, Australia is a good place to be.

During my time in Australia the pocket wifi mobile hotspot never failed me. I used it with up to 4 devices (2 iPhones, 1 iPad Pro and an Apple Watch) both in Melbourne and on the Great Ocean Road. The advertised 10 hour battery life is easily matched and with mobile battery packs this can easily be extended to have a full day of mobile internet access with just one SIM card and one prepaid package.

So for anyone traveling in Australia, I can definitely recommend both Vodafone as a decent service provider as well as the pocket wifi devices they offer in combination with their prepaid data plans.

Working with an iPad Pro

Well, it has been a few months now and so far I did not regret my decision. I opted for an iPad Pro 9,2″ with an Apple Pencil and a backlit Logitech CREATE Smart Keyboard to explore a post PC setup for professional work once more. The setup is complemented by my iPhone 6S and Apple Watch. I plan to try it for at least 6 months and then decide whether to buy a Macbook/Macbook Pro or stick with it. So far, I think this might in fact change my entire tech outfit.

-> tl;dr

iPad Pro and Apple Watch
iPad Pro and Apple Watch

Memories from the first iPad

Back in 2010, when the original iPad was introduced, I was thrilled by the possibilities advertised and switched from my MacBook Pro to an iPad and tried to get everything done on tablet exclusively. Back then, I was working at Scholz & Friends as was involved in project management and corporate change management. I just implemented Google Apps for Work at the entire agency network and mainly used web based tools such as Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, Things, some Adobe Products etc.

The main issues back then were performance related (lag when switching apps, unusable clipboard functionality, no multitasking, etc.) and problems while integrating with agency toolchains and workflows with the Adobe Creative Suite, PowerPoint and Apple Keynote. Although the iPad had proven to be a very portable device and great for presenting, it quickly failed the test of being able to substitute a full fledged Mac as a professional working tool. Still I tried it for almost 6 months, so I am pretty confident about what I liked and missed.

iPad Keynote Remote
iPad Keynote Remote

iPhone 6 Plus vs. iPad Mini

Over the years I bought several other iPads, mainly for media consumption (watching videos, browsing the web, reading blogs and books) and playing games. For some time I used an iPad to work with Garageband or to control Apple Logic audio with virtual DAW controller apps or the Logic Remote app. I used the iPad Mini for quite some time as well, since it was very portable and a good compromise between an iPhone and a MacBook Pro (my all time setup for many years).

When the iPhone 6 Plus came out, I wanted to try it out, so I could get rid of the iPad Mini. Since I mostly used it for reading, it seemed like the larger iPhone might be a good way to reduce the number of devices. I was so wrong. The iPhone 6 Plus was the worst iPhone experience I had so far. I wrote up some notes on that some time ago and couldn’t wait for the iPhone 6S, which for some reason still is my current iPhone. Although far bigger than on older iPhone models, the iPhone 6S screen size doesn’t suit me personally for reading longer texts, so I am kind of back to reading serious texts on my Mac. (I might still try out the iPhone 7S for the dual camera setup, which I think is pretty neat).

Reading on iPhone 6 Plus
Reading on iPhone 6 Plus

The iPad Pro

When the large iPad Pro was announced in 2015, I was amazed by its performance benchmarks and the perspective the device holds for creative professionals. Still, when I took a looked at the device and held in my hands, I was sure it wasn’t right for me. It’s too big, too heavy and doubtful as a game changer to the way I used computers before.

In March 2016 though, Apple introduced the iPad Pro 9,2″, a smaller version of its bigger brother. Without going too much into technical details, it is basically the same iPad in a smaller iPad Air like size. The small iPad Pro comes with some additional features, such as the astonishing truetone display technology and the downside of just 2GB of RAM instead of 4GB in the larger iPad Pro. So what’s the difference for me you ask? Basically, it changes everything.

I must admit, I am not sure if I would love an iPad Pro in even smaller iPad Mini like size even more. Still, I think this is not only the best iPad (and tablet for that matter) that you can buy today, it opens another angle to a post PC professional working environment for me. Among many others, Walt Mossberg to think so too and wrote up the best “iPad as a Laptop replacement” review in my opinion.

What do I do with it?

Nowadays, I read a lot in a professional capacity, ranging from scientific journals and magazine articles to endless project reports, technical requirement lists and strategy documents among many other things. Also, I am more on the move than ever before, traveling a lot, communicating mostly via mail, instant messages/chat (far less #slack as one would imagine) and collaborating on documents with cloud based tools such as G Suite (formerly Google for Work) and more recently iCloud (Keynote and Pages mostly). Since most of my daily tools are highly optimized for mobile usage, I am confident not to miss out on anything over using a desktop machine.

The real benefit comes with reading documents (mainly PDFs). For years I have been trapped again behind my desktop screen, reading and marking PDFs, scrolling through comments etc. all while sitting at a desk or in a somewhat uncomfortable pose with the laptop on my lap. With the Apple Pencil and the high performance iPad Pro, for the very first time it feels like I am actually faster on the iPad than on a regular Mac and in fact faster than on paper.

Apps I use

For this I mainly use apps such as Papers (the best scientific reading and reference managing app I know) and sometimes Dropbox in conjunction with Adobe Acrobat or GoodNotes 4. For reading blogs I still use Feedly and social updates are managed through buffer. The only other news app I use is The New York Times (NYT), for which I actually have a subscription, the only newspaper subscription I ever had in my life.

Other apps I use for taking notes or writing are Scannable in conjunction with Evernote (although I secretly want a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner to finally get rid of all the remaining paper in my house), Apple Notes, iA Writer and Coda. I also use Paper 53 (highly optimized for Apple Pencil in my opinion), Adobe Photoshop Express, Adobe Sketch and Adobe Comp (Layouts, Wireframes, Mockups) to some extend.

I especially like Workflow, an app that allows you to choose from or create automation workflows to optimise seemingly long click-thru processes on the iPad. It feels like Automator for Mac, an application than Apple seems to be fading out slowly.

Of course there are more apps I use on the iPad, but they are the usual suspects for communication, media consumption, travel, shopping etc.

tl;dr

Although there is still ample room for improvements for efficient ways to do complicated things on the iPad, there is far more than can be done than I would have expected a few years ago. I will let you know, how it goes from here.

 

Mentor at Lean Artist – The World’s First Seed Accelerator for Artists

During A/D/A Hamburg I joined new media artist Jeremy Bailey as a mentor for his 3 day Lean Artist seed accelerator workshop. It basically was a boot camp based on design thinking and lean startup principles to create culturally disruptive startups.

lean artist accelerator - Slides

On the first day I joined the selected group of 10 international artists with a cynical review of the worldwide startup economy to promote a more creative approach to generating relevant startup ideas. Jeremy kicked the event off with an accelerated design thinking workshop to generate needs and insights for problem statements. Over the course of 3 days the cohort created startup ideas and iterated product prototypes and pitched their artistic business ideas for additional funding on the last day.

The event also got some media attention on vice.com, so if you are interested in Jeremy’s intention behind the lean artist program, check it out.

Apple as a Service – What A Monthly Tech Outfit Subscription Model Could Look Like

Apple - get an all access pass

Source: Apple Music Membership – Apple.com

Apple has indeed changed very much over the years. I don’t want to talk about what happened in the 80ies or 90ies or how Steve Jobs saved the company. I also don’t want to talk about the iPod or the even bigger iPhone and iPad era. Neither do I want to point out how Apple might be changing since Steve Jobs passed away. That has been said and discussed abundantly. Recently I started thinking more and more about Apple’s rapidly growing software and services business with its subscription models.

“Once upon a time, Apple was a hardware company that also maintained a software and media ecosystem since it helped drive purchases of Macs, iPods and more. But over the years, the software and services side of the business has become increasingly important, and CEO Tim Cook even went so far as to state out right that Apple is “not a hardware company.” Not once, but twice.”

Source: Tim Cook Talks Up Apple Software And Service: ” We Are Not A Hardware Company” – techcrunch


 

Subscription Models

Quite obviously, I couldn’t agree more. iTunes, Apps, movie rentals and recent subscription services such as Apple Music are making up for a substantial share of Apple’s revenue. Most interesting are developments with the subscription models, I think. These services provide a steady and projectable revenue stream and might be very appealing in contrast to regular sales, which are more volatile even for Apple.

That’s probably why Apple is experimenting more with subscription based models for a variety of their products. There is iCloud storage, which is becoming more and more affordable, and Apple Music with family options but thats far from it. Apple also introduced a subscription model for the iPhone, the iPhone Upgrade Program, basically allowing customers to get a new iPhone each year for a premium starting at $ 32.41 per month for the smallest iPhone version. Apple is offering up to 0%  financing and leasing models for creative professionals and businesses as well, which could be considered as kind of subscription like as well.

iPhone Upgrade Program

Source: iPhone Upgrade Program – Apple.com


 

Apple Outfit on a Monthly Subscription

Apple could be offering subscription like models for every product they have, converting much of their regular sales revenues into projectable continues revenues. And since we are talking about Apple, they would not be not aiming for a $ 9.99 $ per month target, not even $ 99.99 if you think about it.

Take into consideration my current Apple outfit, which is far from high end compared im my opinion. I use a high end Macbook Pro 13″ Retina, a iPhone 6S 64 GB, an iPad Mini 4 64 GB, an Apple TV 64 GB, an Apple Watch, another moderately pimped Mac Mini, a Thunderbolt Display and some amount of adapters and software in addition to an Apple Music and iCloud storage subscription. Even if I consider yearly updates for the iPhone and updates for the Macbook Pro and everything else every 3 years (which I consider to be very conservative), it amounts to quite some money.

Based on current Apple product pricing (November 2015) in the US, this would amount to $ 9,137.16 over a 3 year period, not considering potential returns from reselling used products. But in fact, this might not be possible in a subscription model if things turn out the way they do with the iPhone Upgrade Program, where you are required to return the iPhone to Apple when receiving the newer version, as far as I understand it.

  • Macbook Pro 13 Retina 3.1 GHz, 16 GB memory, 1 TB flash storage = $ 2,699
  • iPhone 6S 64 GB = $ 649
  • iPhone 6S 64GB Upgrade Program = $ 36.58/month x 36 = $ 1,316.88 (basically 2 additional iPhones)
  • iPad Mini 4 64GB Wifi + Cellular = $ 629
  • Apple TV 64 GB =  $ 199
  • Apple Watch Sport 42mm = $ 399
  • Mac Mini 3.0 GHz, 16 GB memory, 1 TB fusion drive = $ 1,399
  • Thunderbolt Display = $ 999
  • Adapters & Software = $ 200
  • Apple Music Family = $ 14.99/month x 36 = $ 539.64
  • iCloud storage plan 200 GB = $ 2.99 /month x 36 = $ 107.64

This insanely sum would come down to $ 253.81 per month. This is without tax and without any interest for a service offering like this. I would suppose if Apple adds Apple Care and other support coverages, it would be even more. On the other hand, there might be discounts and various other factors, which could reduce sum considerably. Anyway, a conceivable Apple as a Service subscription service might come down to something of a medium 3 digit amount of $$$ per month easily, even with just a moderate Apple outfit. Just consider a creative professional using an upscale iMac or Mac Pro outfit with some additional peripherals.

Taking Apple’s huge profit margin into consideration (up from 1.23% in 2003 to 21.60 % in 2015), Apple might in fact be able to offer services like this for a select group of customers and could provide products in advance, collecting its revenue over the installment of the service.

In any case, it was kind of shocking to sum up the amount of money I spend on Apple products each year. Compared to any other subscriptions I have, this is definitely the most expensive one. But still, I wouldn’t want to miss out on any part of it.

Apple Reports Record Earnings and iPhone Sales: $18B Profit on $74.6B in Revenue for Q1 2015

Apple Reports Record Earnings and iPhone Sales: $18B Profit on $74.6B in Revenue for Q1 2015

Why my iPhone 6 Plus won’t replace my iPad Mini after all

Personally, I was absolutely certain I would buy the iPhone 6 when I went to the Apple Store a few months back. For sure, I didn’t want a bulky mini tablet for a phone… so iPhone 6 Plus was out of the question.

iphone-6-plus

Source: iPhone 6 And iPhone 6 Plus vs iPhone 5S And iPhone 5: Should You Upgrade?, forbes.com, September 18 2014

When I first tried the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, they both seemed huge in comparison to my outdated iPhone 5S. None of the two I could operate with one hand, reachability feature or not.

For comparison, I tried different apps on both sizes, played with the horizontal mode on the iPhone 6 Plus (a nice gimmick, I might add) and thought about things like battery life and so forth. I couldn’t try Apple Pay, since it wasn’t available yet and probably won’t be for some time in Germany. Although I was pretty impressed by the fact that the iPhone 6 Plus has a full HD resolution display with 1920 by 1080 pixels at 401 dpi, the deciding factor for me was: reading.

I never enjoyed reading any long text whatsoever on any iPhone before. I know many people do, I don’t. No longer – with the iPhone 6 Plus, I could actually read books, I like that. So now, here I am, with my iPhone 6 Plus.

iphone-6-plus-reading

My iPad Mini has been pretty lonely ever since. I used it for reading books and playing games, that’s basically it. I did use it for work and really liked the whole management by iPad stuff, but somehow that changed over the past 2 years. I am not quite sure, whether it is that the Google Apps for Work applications suck or that a 13″ Macbook Pro with retina display can do everything a Macbook Air never could.

Anyway, I decided I won’t be needing any iPad Mini anymore. This definitely justified the investment in the iPhone 6 Plus.

For the reading part, this has been great. The iPad Mini is heavy, the iPhone 6 Plus is not. I like to read in bed, so this is awesome. I have read quite some books on my new best friend, rest assured.

But, there is one more thing that always sucked on an iPhone and didn’t suck that much on an iPad and now I miss it: using a browser.

This goes for any website our there: I really can’t stand shitty mobile UI any more! I want to use the desktop site (with often shitty UI as well) with all its limitation unless there really is a superior mobile interface available. For absolutely most sites, there isn’t. Yes I know, on some sites you can switch to the desktop site, but you can’t enforce this as a default behaviour on Safari or Chrome. This is a real pain and I can hardly stand it when I am on the go and there is no real alternative because of the limited number of devices on me… but wait, there could be: the iPad Mini.

So in the end, I might end up using the iPad Mini again after all, sitting on the couch, enjoying a superior browsing experience.

The reason why I didn’t think of this, standing in the Apple Store, trying the iPhone 6 Plus? I was on the go and mentally accustomed to a shitty internet experience, that’s why.

Eve HomeKit Accessories

In September 2014 Elgato introduced Eve Smart Home Sensors supporting Apple’s HomeKit. I am not quite sure what to do with them really, but I am convinced I need stuff like this…

I can’t wait for a connected home. I would even consider renovating on a large scale to make it happen. For more information on the Elgato Eve sensors visit https://www.elgato.com/en/eve

eve-homekit-accessories-1

Source: eve – know your home, October 9 2014 

eve-homekit-accessories-2

Source: eve – know your home, October 9 2014