Holiday Tech Gadgets: How To Choose A Mobile Device Platform

It’s an exciting time in mobile technology as three major vendors vie for our holiday shopping dollars. In this month’s The Northwest Herald I’m discussing the season’s hottest gadgets. From the article:

Mobile technology is hot this holiday season, and you’ll find gadgets to fit every interest and budget. I visited AT&T and Verizon to get the latest news. (read more)

Smart phones and tablets are this year’s top sellers, which begs the question: What’s the difference between the Big Three mobile platforms, iOS, Android, and Windows?

Apple iOS
Runs on: iPhone, iPad, iPod
You may not know iOS by name, but if you’re familiar with an iPhone screen, you know what it looks like. iOS is Apple’s proprietary system for its iDevices. iOS is known for its ease of use and its seamless compatibility across all your iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

Google Android
Runs on: Tablets and smart phones
When it comes to Android, Google makes the software and other manufacturers like Samsung make the hardware. Android is a powerful and flexible platform but may be too complex for the beginner. There’s also a rampant malware problem on Android because of lax standards in Google’s Marketplace plus a rash of lookalike app stores.

Windows Phone / Windows 8 / Windows RT
Runs on: Tablets and smart phones
If you don’t know what to call Windows on mobile devices, you’re not alone. Windows Phone is simple enough; it’s Windows on a phone. Windows RT is Windows 8 on ARM-based tablets, notably Microsoft’s own Surface. However, WinRT is not as flexible as the full Windows 8 on a PC.

How do you know which mobile platform is right for you? It depends on what you’re currently using. If you have a Windows Phone and love it, then it makes sense to stay with Windows for your mobile devices. If you adore your Samsung Galaxy, you’re an Android fan. All platforms offer similar features as far as email, web, and social media. As far as ease of use, I would say iOS is the easiest, followed closely by Windows 8 with Android last because of its complexity

What about other mobile platforms like Blackberry or Symbian? At this point, Blackberry manufacturer RIM is having so many problems they can barely compete – they released Blackberry 10, but the universe barely blinked. Symbian is still around but has been largely supplanted by Windows Phone.

What tech gadgets are you considering for the holidays? Find anything fun and exciting? Share in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.



Five Things That Annoy Me About The iPad

For the most part I like my iPad, but there are a couple of things about it that drive me nuts. We always hear about how great the iPad is. I want to share with you some of the things I can’t stand about it.

Saving files
Who’s the genius who came up with this? To save a file from an iPad you have to “share and print” it to iTunes, then sync the iPad to your computer… then MANUALLY copy it onto your hard drive? I’m having a flashback to my old TRS-80 days, saving data onto cassette tapes – a process that was a lot more straightforward.

Most people aren’t even going to find this setting. In iTunes, go to your iPad, then Apps. There’s a section at the bottom that lists the apps that can handle files (not all can). Select the app, select the file, save it to your hard drive. Yeah, like that was intuitive.

I’m a full-time writer. I write on my iPad – a lot. Saving files is a pain. This process means I have multiple versions of various documents lying around, and have to rely on modify date to tell which one is most recent.

And no, Apple, I do NOT want to use your spiffy new iCloud service to make this easier (see below). I just want to sync a basic text file from the device in my hand to the computer less than two inches away. How hard is that?

I don’t need two cameras. I don’t even need one camera. But if there’s going to be a camera I want a physical way to turn it off, like a lens cap or a mechanical shutter. There are viruses that can turn on your camera without your knowledge and I want some control over that beyond antivirus.

At the moment, the cameras on my iPad are secured via the highly technical method of taping Post-It Notes over them.

This is the future of periodicals? I am not impressed. I wanted one device upon which to read all my stuff: books, newspapers, magazines, the Internet. Works great for the first and last, but my periodicals are scattered all over the place. Some have their own apps, others come in via Zinio or Newsstand. And that’s just the standard periodicals, never mind the comic books. It’s a jumble.

As a side note: I wish all magazines would give print subscribers the option of logging into digital content. If I’m paying for a magazine to be physically delivered, I should be able to get that same magazine digitally delivered.

Look, Apple, I don’t want to sync my entire life to a device, okay? I like the fact that I can choose to do so, but I don’t like being nagged every five seconds to change that choice. (Ping, I’m looking at you too.)

And I know I’ll probably be forced to use iCloud eventually if I want to take advantage of new features. Apple will make the choice for me because it’s easier for them, in much the same way I had to embrace Google Reader to use a halfway decent RSS app.

Antivirus for mobile devices reminds me of the old DOS command-line scanners. This is partly because of the stupidity of the file-saving process. Antivirus for iPad only scans files in certain places, like your iTunes save files or an FTP account. It’s not necessarily going to warn you if some sneaky new Trojan is burrowing into your iPad in real time. And, like any antivirus, it’s not going to prevent someone from tricking you into clicking on something you shouldn’t.

Being an iPad owner isn’t all fun and games. What annoys you about Apple’s ubiquitous tablet?


Mobile Social Media – New Seminar April 17, 2012

Join me for an exciting new seminar, Mobile Social Media, on April 17, 2012! In this open-format session we’ll talk about how you can use mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to access social media platforms.

This is going to be fun! Some of today’s mobile technology is really sweet, and pairing it with social media makes work seem like play. Come on over and I’ll teach you how to market yourself or your business online.

Mobile Social Media
Sponsored by the Cary Grove Chamber of Commerce
April 17, 2012 12:00pm-1:00pm
Fox River Grove Village Hall, Fox River Grove, Illinois

Make the most of social media through the use of mobile technology. Learn how smartphones, iPads, and other devices can simplify your online marketing. We’ll talk about how to save time, streamline information, and run your marketing campaign on the go.

Box lunch included. Registration required. For more information or to register, please contact the Cary Grove Chamber of Commerce at (847) 639-2800.

How To Ditch Your Computer For An iPad

Word on the street is that traditional computing is dead and the tablet is king. While you still need a computer for heavy-duty tasks, much of your everyday work can be done on an iPad.

First, some pre-planning. What do you use your computer for, and of those things, what do you want to do on the iPad? For most people the answer usually includes, at minimum, email, surfing the Web, and word processing.

You may also be interested in using social media like Facebook and Twitter from your iPad. If so, I’ve got a brand-new seminar coming in April called Social Media Marketing On The Go! that might interest you.

As an example, let’s say you want to use your iPad to access email, LinkedIn, and Facebook. You also want word processing plus a way to display business presentations on a projector and screen.

Email’s a snap thanks to the iPad’s built-in Mail app. However, accessing your mail and moving your mail are two very different things. The first is easy. The second is difficult to impossible depending on how you read your mail now.

This could be a whole discussion in and of itself, but here are the basics. There are two ways to read mail. Either you read it in your Web browser (called Web mail) or you have an email program like Outlook (called an email client). With Web mail your mail lives on a server, while email programs pull your mail to your local computer. So, your mail might live on the Internet or on your computer depending on how you read it.

If you’re using Web mail you’re all set. If you’re currently pulling your mail into a program on your computer, however, you will not have access to your archived mail. If you want to keep using your email program but also check mail from the iPad you need to tell the iPad to save all your mail on the server. When you check mail from the computer everything, including the mail you already saw on the iPad, will be delivered. (This may sound familiar, because it’s exactly how Outlook works if you have more than one computer.)

It’s really easy to mess up email and have some of it going one place and the rest going another. That’s why you need to plan your email strategy. If you’re not sure, or just want a quick email account to use on the iPad, you might want to sign up for a spare Gmail or Yahoo! account to keep things separate.

Social Media
LinkedIn and Facebook have apps for the iPad, but there are tons of other options too. The nice thing about using an iPad for social media is the convenience. Have a quick update? You can just type it and send in a matter of seconds. You can also use social media dashboards to consolidate your efforts.

I’ll be talking about this more in April in conjunction with my new seminar, Social Media Marketing On The Go!

Word Processing
This is a little trickier, because the iPad doesn’t save files the way you’re used to. If all you want to do is move documents between the iPad and your computer, the easiest way is to do so via iTunes. But the process is a little counterintuitive in the same way Mountain Dew is a little caffienated.

(An aside to Apple: Seriously? You develop an incredibly easy-to-use interface (iOS) but you can’t figure out a better way to manipulate files than clunky import/export? *facepalm*)

Here’s how the process works, using Apple’s Pages word processor as the example.

  1. You create a file on the iPad, or open a file you’ve created previously.
  2. You work on the file.
  3. You export the file to iTunes in whatever format you want (usually Pages’ native format or Word, since PDFs aren’t editable). This is the important step and the one that’s not intuitive.
  4. You go into iTunes on your computer, select the iPad, then Apps, then the app that you created the file in, and click Save As to save it on your computer.

Conversely, to get a file from your computer onto the iPad:

  1. In iTunes, go to the iPad, then Apps, then the app the file is in.
  2. Add the file, then sync the iPad.
  3. In the Pages app on the iPad, go to Documents, then hit the + to add a document. Tell it to get the document from iTunes and the one you want should be there. Again, this is the tricky step.

Not only is this process clunky, but you’ll get warnings that the file on the iPad is newer than the one in iTunes, or vice versa. And it only works with supported apps like Pages.

The most difficult part here is not the presentation software, but hooking the iPad to a projector. You have to have the right adapter. Apple carries all sorts, the one you probably want for a standard PC projector is the VGA one but it will depend on the projector.

For your presentation app you probably want Apple’s Keynote. It’s like the Ferrari in the parking lot that makes all the Volvos look pathetic. At $20 it’s pricey but so sweet you may never want to look at PowerPoint again.

At this point you should have a nicely configured iPad that does most of what you want. As you use it, you’ll discover there are other things you just can’t live without. Fortunately, as they say, there are apps for that. If you subscribe to Tech Tips by email you’ll receive my bonus product reviews including some of the iPad apps I recommend.

Have you ditched your computer for an iPad? Share your experiences in the comments!

Mobility And Social Media: 2012 Tech Trends Signal Major Changes For Businesses

If you’re not familiar with iPads and Facebook, 2012 may be the year you join the crowd. In my Tech Trends column in this month’s McHenry County Business Journal (digital edition here) I talk about how this may be the year everything changes:

Mobility, social media, and cloud computing are taking the world by storm. Consumer IT is affecting everyone from enterprise-level organizations to small businesses, and back to the consumers themselves. It’s a rapid and sometimes vicious cycle in which failure to follow the trend could cost companies much-needed momentum.

Here are five ways you can stay on top of these emerging trends.

1. Make a mission statement
Everyone should have a mission statement for online marketing, businesses and individuals alike. What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want people to buy products, sign up for your email newsletter, visit your blog? Explain how you are uniquely qualified to help. If you’re marketing yourself rather than a business, your mission is to demonstrate to employers how you are uniquely qualified.

2. Contribute value
You get out of social media what you put into it. Follow people with valuable content and contribute valuable content of your own. Note that the converse is also true: you can and should stop following people if they do not provide you with information you find useful.

3. Seek balance
If you’re not posting often enough, people will lose interest. If you post too often they’ll be overwhelmed. Find the right frequency for you based on your mission and target audience. This is where mobility and social media go hand in hand. If you think of a good LinkedIn status, use your smartphone and post it. It takes far less time to actually do it than to write “Update LinkedIn Status” on a to-do list.

4. Delve in
Don’t be afraid to experiment! Sign up for Facebook, add some apps to your iPad, and most of all read, read, read about these emerging technologies.

5. Subscribe to Tech Tips by email, RSS, and Twitter
And here’s a good place to start. Follow Tech Tips and get your feet wet with someone who isn’t going to laugh if you make mistakes. Email subscribers receive bonus tips and product reviews. Be sure to follow me @trionaguidry on Twitter for breaking tech news and other geek goodies. If you’re not on Twitter you can visit my blog where you’ll find my Twitter feed in the right sidebar. Don’t know how to RSS? Check out my info on RSS here.

How are you planning to use mobility and social media in the new year? Comment and share your thoughts!


How Much Of Your Data Is In The Cloud?

When we talk about “the cloud,” we simply mean the Internet. It’s a new name for something we’ve been doing for a long time: using the Internet to store and exchange data. Cloud computing, however, takes this concept to a new level. Pair that with the prevalence of Internet threats and you really have to start taking a look at where your data is going.

Increased use of mobile devices only makes matters worse. Vendors are embracing the cloud as a simple way to synchronize between devices of differing manufacturers and models. What is easier for them is not necessarily better for you. I’ll use Apple’s iCloud as an example, although the problem is industry-wide.

Until now, the way to sync a mobile device to a computer was to connect the two with a cord – in the old days it was a serial cable, now it’s traditionally USB. Connect the cable, run your software, and you’re synced. But there are drawbacks to this method, especially when you have to sync more than one device, and it’s not always an intuitive process.

Enter iCloud, which promises to let you sync all your iDevices with ease. Apple’s web site proudly states, in classic Steve Jobs style:

“iCloud stores your music, photos, documents, and more and wirelessly pushes them to all your devices. Automatic, effortless, and seamless — it just works.”

Yes, but what does that mean, exactly?

Where once your data went through a simple cable from your mobile device to your computer, now it traverses miles of network and resides in one or more data centers. Syncing one contact between two devices sitting less than an inch from each other now involves millions of dollars in IT infrastructure. Creepy, when you think about it, and not very environmentally friendly either.

Consumers seem willing to make the trade-off, if mobile and cloud revenues are any indication. To be honest, I don’t think most people think about it. This complacency can easily lead to increased security risks. Imagine the stuff on your phone: contacts, calendars, all sorts of information you’d never trust to a complete stranger. But that’s exactly what you’re doing when you using cloud services to sync. New services like iCloud let you sync even more information. Pretty soon everything you do on an electronic device will be on the Internet.

Or has that already happened? I described my recent experience evaluating iPad RSS apps and my realization that the only decent products, not to mention all the award-winners, required the use of Google Reader. This means that you have to put all your feeds – the blogs and web sites you subscribe to – on the Internet. Never mind the free speech issues and Big Brother implications that the government could watch and/or censor what you’re reading, what if I don’t want to put my feeds in the cloud? They only need to reside in two places: my computer and my iPad.

But the apps with the features I wanted required Reader, so I held my nose and accepted the inevitable. That is becoming the only option if you want the functionality these products promise. A few – a very few – vendors include options that allow you the same functionality without using the cloud, but the process often feels like a kludge. They don’t want you to do it that way. They want you where it’s easy (and cheap) for them to deal with you and your data.

I’m in IT, so I’ve got computer security on the brain. The average person doesn’t and that concerns me. For most people technology is a black box that they hope, as Jobs said, “just works.” The cloud makes that easier, but at what cost? I think it’s important that we think about the implications of technology before diving headlong into its use.


Lamenting The Loss Of Trial Software

I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the days when installing software meant stuffing disk after disk into a floppy drive. Today’s fast Internet installs make the old days look positively antiquated. I’m delighted with the convenience of being able to install a new game utility at a moment’s notice. And one thing I find that I miss about the old days is the ability to try software before I buy it.

Case in point: I recently evaluated RSS readers for iPad. Leaving aside my annoyance that almost all of them require Google Reader (what if I don’t want to put my feeds in the cloud?), it wasn’t possible to test the apps without buying them. I ended up buying a couple of apps that couldn’t do what I wanted, which is great for the developers (and Apple) but not so good for a budget-conscious citizen.

I don’t expect something for nothing. Developers put valuable time and skill into creating these programs and they should be compensated. But I don’t want to buy software I can’t use, either. Even if its only $0.99 (and most of these apps were in the $5-10 range), the cost adds up. Some developers offer “lite” versions which is great. I’d like to see more of that.

While I’m on the subject, developers need to create decent Web sites that describes their apps’ features in full detail. Check out the site for Reeder, which is an excellent RSS app, not that you’d know it from the site. There’s a whole lot of design without much substance. For pity’s sake, could we have a feature list, a support page, maybe even some frequently asked questions? There’s some information here, but not enough and it’s hard to find. You need to tell people at a glance what they’re getting for their $0.99 or $5 or $10, or whatever.

In other words, today’s developers could stand to grab some nostalgia from the old days, when software came in a box that told you everything you needed to know.

Growing Up With Steve Jobs

Well, I didn’t exactly grow up with him, but I did see him every day — his picture on the computer magazines on my shelf, and his company logo on the very first computer I ever owned. He was a geeky kid among the rest of us geeky kids. He loved computers and he wanted everyone else to love computers, too.

Which may seem odd to today’s Internet generation, but back in the 1980s it wasn’t cool to be a nerd. Steve helped change that not only by being enthusiastic about computers, but by making them easy for everyone to use. That may seem obvious now but at the time it was revolutionary.

Of the original Apple pair, Steve Wozniak was more of a nerd’s nerd. He loved the technology for its own sake. Steve Jobs saw the business potential. That man could sell you dirty dishwater and make you think it was champagne. I guess we should all be glad he wasn’t a used-car salesman. But he wasn’t one to sell you junk. An Apple computer, to use their marketing phrase, “just works”. And that made us love him all the more.

I doubt I’d be where I am today without Steve Jobs. Not only did he have an enormous influence on my career as an IT professional, but he also demonstrated the joys (and pitfalls) of entrepreneurship. When it came time for me to consider starting my own business, I was inspired by his example. He believed that work and play don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and that the best job in the world is the one you love.

I’m not worried about what’s going to happen to Apple without Steve Jobs. His spirit infuses the company he created, and his philosophy will continue to drive the business. Of course there will be changes, but Steve himself was never one to sit still. He would be the first to tell us all to keep innovating.

Steve Jobs taught me that you can keep your nerdiness while still being a savvy businessperson. But I think his most important lesson was that you can live your dreams and inspire others to do the same.


Choosing An E-Book Reader

There’s a dizzying array of e-readers available, but ultimately it boils down to three frontrunners: Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and the Apple iPad. They’re all good choices depending on what you’re looking for.

But first you should know the difference between a tablet and an e-reader. Tablets like the iPad offer more than just e-books because they have apps which expand their functionality. But these features come at a price: tablets are usually more expensive than e-readers like the Kindle or the Nook.

Reading books electronically is simple. You buy your books online and download them to your device. You flip pages by swiping your fingers, and you can create multiple bookmarks or make notes. You can buy just about any book in digital format. In fact, e-books are often less expensive than their paper counterparts. You can even get many free e-books online or via your local library, and you can switch your magazine and newspaper subscriptions to digital for additional cost savings.

In general, I recommend an iPad if you want maximum features, and a Kindle or a Nook if you are on a budget and primarily interested in pure reading. While other tablets exist, the iPad is by far the most popular. Not only can you read books but, thanks to the App Store, you can perform all manner of light computing tasks (and, yes, play games). Apple’s iBooks is positioned to become to books what iTunes is to music. If you want the best in newspaper and magazine subscriptions, go with the iPad.

Amazon is the existing e-book giant. Their Kindle technology is well-regarded. They specialize in making e-reading an easy experience, and the quality of their electronic ink is second to none. Barnes and Noble’s Nook also gets high praise for the quality of its electronic ink. There’s the standard Nook and the Nook Color, which is a bit like a stripped down iPad. There are some apps available for it, whereas the basic Nook is only an e-reader. The Nook Color also supports video. However, reading newspapers and magazines on e-readers can be a disappointing experience compared to the richness of the iPad versions.

Does buying one device over the other tie you to that type of device forever? You’ll be buying your books through the service of whomever you choose, so bear that in mind. There are apps that allow you to read your Nook or Kindle books on your iPad, iPhone, or computer, which expands your options. And books in the standard ePub format can be read almost anywhere, as can PDFs.

I decided to go with a Nook Color for now, with a plan to buy an iPad 3 (or iPad 2 Plus or whatever they’re going to call it) when it becomes available. All in all, I’m enjoying the e-reader experience. I can carry around 3,200 pages worth of George R. R. Martin in my purse and not strain my shoulder. An unexpected benefit is that I no longer have to worry about having enough bookshelves… but I do have to watch my wallet, because the ability to buy books with the swipe of a finger is far too tempting.


Interview: Apple Unveils iCloud (And What That Means For You)

The Northwest Herald interviewed me for an article about the announcements from Apple’s annual developer’s conference, specificially the introduction of iCloud. This Internet-based service is intended to become the nexus of all your data and entertainment. As I remarked in the interview:

I think one of the things that caught me is that iCloud will be on by default. I wonder if people will know where their information is, and if they care… The landscape is going to alter more toward continued mobility and communication from mobile devices. We’ve really blurred the line at this point between entertainment and communication and news and TV and music. It’s all mixed together.

Which made me wonder: Where is all my data now? My first thought was, “On my server and its backup devices.” But then I got to thinking about the music and TV shows I’ve purchased, the blogs I’ve written, the remarks I’ve made on LinkedIn and Facebook… not to mention all the personal information about me and every other consumer that is lurking in various corporate databases worldwide…

Okay, not so simple an answer.

Cloud computing isn’t the future, it’s now. Does iCloud change things? Not really, although it does make them easier for the average person to use, which may be more important. Apple has a proven track record of providing wildly popular ways for consumers to use technology. As the Northwest Herald article points out, Microsoft is adding similar features to its popular Xbox game platform. I’ve talked before about my concerns about cloud computing for consumers, which boil down security and accessibility. Our ability to use this technology is progressing faster than our understanding of its risks, but as long as you go into it with that knowledge, feel free to explore. I’m already thinking about ways these new technologies might be helpful to me, and I’m sure you are too.

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