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Filtering by Tag: iOS

Elgato Smart Key

About eighteen months ago I saw an ad for Tile, a Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy enabled tag that allows you to keep track of anything you attach the Tile to, with your smartphone. I was very tempted to try one but felt that it was let down by having a non-replaceable battery. It had a claimed battery life of twelve months but it felt like it was intended to maintain continued sales through replacement purchase of further units. I know just under $20 is hardly a fortune, but I decided it wasn’t for me.

Since then I’ve seen a number of similar products hitting the market and, quite liking the concept, I’ve followed developments with interest.

In mid December 2013 I received a newsletter from Elgato. In it was featured their ‘Smart Key’. A Bluetooth LE enabled key fob with a replaceable CR2032 battery, that connects with dedicated app on a smartphone. I downloaded the app for iOS and played around with it in demo mode. I read a variety of mixed reviews. To be honest, most of the negative reports were from people who hadn't grasped the fact that it is not a GPS tracker, but a proximity device, limited by the active range of Bluetooth. Indeed all of the competing products are - whatever the marketing blurb may have you think.

Tile even promotes the fact that your lost item can be traced by using the ‘Tile community’ which I would imagine is a bit hit and miss, as it relies on other Tile users coming within range of your lost Tile, and reporting the approximate location to you.

I ordered the Elgato Smart Key and was initially impressed with it. The build quality is good, and it appears to be very durable. As it spends most of its time rattling around in a pocket, attached to a bunch of keys, it needs to be. The setup process is simple and the iOS app intuitive. It has the facility to be set up in a variety of modes, depending on your needs.

It soon became evident that the device is only as good as Bluetooth LE allows it to be. Connectivity isn't always great, resulting in the device unnecessarily moaning that it is lost, even when sometimes it is within inches of the phone it is paired with.

I found myself simply turning it off, rather than put up with the annoying chirping at random intervals. 

It has the facility to mark a location as safe, so you don't get notifications at home, for instance. Even this is far from reliable.

When I bought the Smart Key, I had an iPhone 4S; I've since upgraded to an iPhone 6 and activated the Smart Key again, only to find exactly the same issues with reliability and inconsistent connectivity.

I really want to like the Smart Key, but something like this really needs to work flawlessly, and it doesn't.

And so, it has hung from my key ring for almost twelve months, silent.

I've not tried any of the competing devices, though I do use other categories of Bluetooth LE connected devices, and find them to be mostly stable and reliable.

The Elgato Smart Key has a RRP of £39.95, and can be found for about £35. As is so often the case, particularly with technology products, the exchange rate between US $ and UK £ is 1:1.

I feel that it is over priced and can only assume that a significant part of the price is contributing towards the development of the smartphone app. Possibly manufacturing runs have been quite small, further adding to the inflated unit price.

The device and app are well designed -  it's just a shame that reliable connectivity lets it down.

Getting things done (GTD). A matter of discipline.

I wrote the bulk of this almost twelve months ago. Some of it is a little outdated, but most is still relevant and valid. I didn’t and don’t want to merely make it a list of application recommendations, although inevitably there will be some.

 I'd love to be organised. Actually, I suppose I am quite good at keeping on top of most of my commitments and tasks, but inevitably, some tend to slip, or get put off, or simply forgotten.

With this in mind, and never being much of a list maker, I've been looking to technology to help me.

The trouble is, identifying exactly what I want to do and how it will fit in with my life pattern.

As far as the hardware goes I've no problem. I always have my smartphone (iPhone) with me, I have an iPad 2 which is almost always accessible and a desktop Mac at home. Whatever I use in the form of software must be able to work on all of my devices and synchronise automatically as I enter, modify or remove data.

It must be relatively simple to use, as there are many occasions where I need to quickly enter information on my iPhone whilst on the move or talking with a customer.

The last thing I want is to have to trawl through layers and layers of entry screens, only to find a simple touch in the wrong place deletes all that I have entered.

 I started when I bought my first iPhone in 2007. Before that I had used traditional notebooks, calendars and diaries. For many years I had a Filofax, which, when they became popular in the mid 1980's were the height of sophistication and had huge pose factor. I remember using my Filofax in public places and getting the same admiring looks that the iPad got a couple of years ago. (Now, they are so commonplace, hardly anyone notices).

On the first generation iPhone, I used the Calendar app. Of course there were no third party applications available at that time. It worked reasonably well, but data entry was, and still is a little fiddly and slow on the small screen. I found that when I was with a customer, discussing a new project, it was far easier to take notes with a pen and paper, then transfer schedules and timings to my iPhone calendar later.

With the introduction of third party apps through the App Store a wide selection of organisational applications quickly became available. Until this time I had never considered adding photographs and sketches to notes. This was now possible, but not particularly practical, because the first generation of iPhone only had second generation GSM with rather patchy and unreliable Edge connectivity, so any file uploads were painfully slow.

The introduction of the iPhone 3G improved matters significantly, though because I was in the middle of an 18 month contract on my first generation iPhone, I didn't upgrade until the introduction of the iPhone 3GS. This was a phone capable of using the increasingly wide range of organisational apps.

Evernote stood out straight away, but it still didn't meet all of my needs. It was great for quick notes and snapping pictures to attach to the notes. The basic, free (ad supported) account was, and still is enough for me, primarily because it only forms a part of my organisational suite of applications. I've found that there's still no one perfect solution to my needs.

I'm fascinated and somewhat bewildered by people who profess to be GTD experts or gurus. Surely all they are doing is guiding people towards making better, more effective lists. It's easy to make a list, the hard part is the discipline required to work with the list; to keep up to date with entry and action. That's where I fail too often. It's deeply satisfying to create an organised, categorised list of things that need doing; to set targets and reminders. The point where I fall down, is making sure that the tasks are put into action in the order of priority set out in the list. I find myself picking out the easy ones and neglecting the ones that take time and effort. Soon, there is a mountain to be climbed, instead of a gentle uphill walk. 

I find that I've still not settled on the ideal single application, but tend to use a variety of solutions to meet my varied needs. It works for me. Sort of.

I said earlier, that whatever I used had to synchronise with all of my devices, yet I find that the app I am using the most, Thinkbook, from Emiliano Molina at Bitolithic doesn't. It’s an iPad only app. It became popular when it was first launched, with its quirky interface, and I took the time to learn and appreciate it. Sadly there has been minimal development since. The most notable change being a new icon.

 More recently I’ve been experimenting with Awesome Note HD, from BRID on the iPad which has plenty of useful features; there’s even an iPhone equivalent, but development seems to have slowed and syncing data is positively archaic in it’s implementation.

 I am also enjoying using Clear from Realmac Software. It is an excellent note application with a lovely gesture based interface. Although there’s no real depth to it’s functionality it benefits from having both iOS and Mac desktop clients and syncing over iCloud. It is great for taking and organising short notes and priority lists.

 For the future I have been looking at 2Do from Guided Ways Technologies. This has been getting some very good reviews, it is cross platform and syncs over iCloud or Dropbox. It is more expensive than many, but that may not be an issue if it does what I want it to do.

 Last but not least is OmniFocus from The Omni Group. I hear nothing but good reports about OmniFocus, Admittedly some of these have been from bloggers and podcasters with perhaps, a promotional relationship with the company, but there’s no doubt that this is the high end of organisational, task management applications. I’m absolutely sure that it is worth the price Omni charge for it, but that, coupled with the fact that it is probably overkill for my fairly simple needs has meant that I have not tried it, and probably won’t.

My organisational needs are currently fulfilled by a combination of the following applications.

Calendar

Evernote

Clear

Reminders

Notes

ThinkBook

Awesome Note HD

On the Mac, I use BusyCal and Fantastical instead of the Apple Calendar.

I also use Siri to create notes and reminders on my iPhone.

 As I’ve repeated throughout this article, you will find the tools to do what you want to do, even if they are a selection of apps that don’t all work in perfect harmony with each other and on different platforms. The hardest part is developing and maintaining the personal discipline required to run an efficient and functional GTD system.


The true cost of Mac OSX 10.7 Lion.

On July 20th 2011, Apple will launch Lion, the latest and probably most significant update to their desktop computer operating system Mac OSX.

Mac OSX 10.7 will introduce a whole host of new technologies and conventions that will be radically different to those in the previous iterations of their Unix underpinned OS.

The gradual convergence of their desktop/laptop and mobile operating systems is going to take a huge step towards being totally integrated. The launch of iCloud, which will replace their current MobileMe service, but add so much more, will be the glue that bonds the various platforms together. A service for storing and synchronizing our data seamlessly between all of our Apple devices.

There’s plenty of information and opinion about the details of these changes available online and I’m not going to go into detail about individual features and specifications. I want to look into the true cost of the upgrade for the average user of Apple computers and mobile devices.

As with all progress, some things have to fall by the wayside to allow for new developments to be implemented. Mac OSX Lion will only work on Intel processor equipped Macs; this means that the earlier generation of PowerPC Macs will not be able to run the new OS. Actually, some of the earlier Intel processors are not supported for installs of Lion.

As the transition between PowerPC and Intel processors in Macs took place, there was a need for Apple to ensure that software written to run on the PowerPC Macs continued to function. This is achieved with Rosetta, a dynamic translation function built into the Mac operating system. It effectively converts applications on the fly, compiled for PowerPC to run on Intel with surprisingly little degradation in performance.

With the launch of Lion, Rosetta is no longer a part of the OS.

Lion will be ground breaking and incredible value for money. At only £20.99 ($29.99 in the US) it’s surely a must have upgrade. But what is the true cost to the average user?

If I download and install Lion from the Mac App Store when it launches, many of the applications I use regularly will not work. Some may say that I shouldn’t still be using legacy software, some of which is almost ten years old, but these apps and utilities have worked perfectly well under OS 10.6 Snow Leopard and are the core applications used in running my business.

I’ve already started to move away from Microsoft Office and invested in iWork, which in itself isn’t a huge cost, although the time spent getting myself up to speed with the doing what I want to do in Pages and Numbers particularly, has a cost which has to be absorbed.

I also use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and even, dare I say it, GoLive. I own the original Adobe Creative Suite and have never found it necessary to upgrade. mostly I use Illustrator and Photoshop, but there is no simple upgrade path for just those two apps, because Adobe insist that the Creative Suite is a whole package and can only be upgraded as such. But the original CS, as a package has no official upgrade path either, so I have to buy the whole suite again at a cost of around £1,000, paying for Acrobat, Bridge and Device Central, which I know I will not use. The other option; buying just Illustrator and Photoshop will cost an eye watering £1,276. Even accounting for the probability of finding better deals online, it’s still a significant price to pay.

I also have an old GCC laser printer, an absolute workhorse which is still working, with its original toner cartridge. I print all of my business documents on it. GCC stopped development of drivers for it some years ago and even though there was a period when Apple dropped Appletalk with the introduction of Snow Leopard and I thought it would be rendered useless, I was, however, able to set it up as an IP printer. Hopefully it will still work under Lion, but I’m not sure whether or not the specific driver will function. I do have to consider the possibility that it may be time to buy a more current laser printer. (£150 - £200).

It also seems likely that the Apple Magic Trackpad (£59) will be essential for use with a desktop Mac using Lion. The touch and gesture interface on the iOS devices has completely changed the way we interact with our mobile devices. Lion will make this a far more fundamental part of the way we control our computers and a necessity to have some form of touch input device in addition to the now rather dated mouse. I do have a Magic Mouse which is probably perfectly adequate for touch control, but I hate it as a mouse, its just far too flat and slippery for my fairly large hands. I use a Logitech Performance MX mouse and, except for a few minor issues, I love it.

So, fantastic as Mac OSX Lion is going to be; and I really want to upgrade and experience the latest and greatest that Cupertino has to offer, I really have to weigh up whether I can justify the true cost of the upgrade.

I’m absolutely sure I’m not alone.

I suspect that I will do it anyway.

iPad 2. The UK Launch.

 

It seems only right that, after having owned an iPad 2 for just over a week (since it's UK launch, on Friday 25th March 2011), I should post a short piece to my site from it.

Wednesday and Thursday of the launch week were very warm for mid March in North West England. Temperatures were in the high teens, Celsius. So, I set off to Liverpool on the train, probably a little under dressed for the cold afternoon of standing in line at the Apple Store in Liverpool One that was to follow. Although it was a sunny afternoon, I hadn't considered the cold wind blowing off the River Mersey and funnelling through the streets close to the docks.

I arrived in good time and joined the line at about 12:15pm. I estimated that I was about 50th. in line. As it turned out, I was 38th. Considering the fact that a few people had already been waiting for almost twenty four hours, I didn't think it was too bad.

Staff from the Apple Store spent the whole afternoon amongst the queuing fans, handing out complimentary water, tea and coffee. The warm drinks were certainly very welcome, though as a person on my own, I was a little concerned about taking in too much liquid with at least a five hour wait ahead of me. The line behind me grew pretty quickly and at the time the store reopened for the official 5pm launch, there were probably about 400 people there. A small team of staff also worked their way through the queue from the front, identifying which model of iPad everyone required and handing out reservation tickets.

 


At about 3pm the store closed for business and the staff began erecting a large black curtain across the front of the store, just inside the doors. Outside, there were photographers, journalists and film crews recording the event and interviewing willing fans, happy to share their passion for all things Apple. One of the photographers from the store tried to initiate a Mexican wave, but failed rather miserably as everyone was too concerned with just keeping warm.

Following a 10 second countdown, at exactly 5pm, the large curtain dropped to the floor and the doors opened to a loud cheer.

Each customer was assigned a personal shopper, who lead them through the store, helping with the selection of any accessories, before arriving at an area on the first floor of the store, where the iPads were being issued. They were then taken downstairs again, where payments were taken.

The whole process took less than ten minutes. Considering the volume of customers, the store didn't feel crowded and I certainly didn't feel rushed to purchase and get out.

 

This was my first experience of a product launch at an Apple Store. The atmosphere, anticipation and sense of community were more than compensation for the cold conditions.

When the next iPhone is launched, I will be upgrading.

Will I be getting it on launch day from an Apple Store? Almost certainly.

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