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Jun 2011

Five ways to tell you’re Apple-addicted.

Posted in Technology | 2 Comments »

It would appear that the Apple iPhone 5 is well on-course for a September release date, and it looks very shiny indeed. I own a Macbook Pro, and I absolutely love the thing, but I stop short at iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches simply because I know that they’re a lot more restrictive and overpriced than Apple would have me believe. I’m sure the latter is also the case for my computer, but it’s also got one of the best keyboards in the world and an incredible OSX, so I find those two features help somewhat, although OSX could be out the window soon if Jobs and co. have their way.

So are you Apple-addicted? I thought I’d offer five ways in which you can tell. Feel free to use this list to identify addicts when you’re out and about – believe me, some of them are that easy to spot.

1) You will pay literally any price. Some iProducts are priced at a level that renders them inaccessible to most. People will sign phone contracts with gigantic monthly charges just to own an iPhone 4. The Macbook, I feel, is a justifiably expensive machine, but a smartphone that can’t multitask worth a damn or a tablet computer that can’t even run Flash? No, I don’t think so.

2) You will upgrade every time you can. There are people out there who own every generation of iPhone. I don’t mean the 3GS and the 4, I mean the three that came before those models, too. My Macbook is now one generation behind, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to replace it before the Olympics, if not later. If it works and it runs the latest OS, keep it.

3) Everything Steve Jobs says sounds like honey flowing down your ear canal. Jobs is a lovely bloke, and I feel no ill-will towards him whatsoever. But sometimes he’s a little arrogant, and those that can’t stop talking about how great his presentations are are blind to the self-important commentary he provides every time a comparison-bearing slide mentions Microsoft. He’s a brilliant technological innovator, but it’s not just him there are many others working with him. People forget this about Gates, too, who isn’t even the CEO any more. Must irk Steve Balmer to no end.

4) You continue to use your barely-paid-for iPhone with a cracked screen. Look – just get it repaired! If you can’t afford an iPhone, that’s not your fault – that’s theirs. They overprice the iPhone to the degree where it’s hard to buy one on launch day, let alone repair it a week later once you drop it and crack the not-actually-shatter-proof glass screen. There’s a desperate quality to these people, attempting to play Angry Birds or write important business emails through the haze of spider-web fissures and shame.

5) You’re feeling uncomfortable right now. I’m a fan of Apple products, and I’m open about it – a lot of people tend to back-track fairly rapidly when confronted about their unabashed love for everything with a metallic casing and an Apple logo somewhere on it. Chill out. I’ll argue the benefits of Mac OSX and my Macbook Pro till the cows come home, because any writer knows that the keyboards they supply are the best on the market, and that combined with an efficient OSX and good hardware means I don’t have to justify the purchase.

Hopefully that should help, but in the meantime, enjoy The Oatmeal’s fantastic Apple comic; I feel it really captures the whole experience of being an Apple addict.

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Dec 2010

Can small businesses get smart to open source?

Posted in Business tactics, Technology | 0 Comments

If you’ve got a smartphone, chances are you’re either running iOS or Android, though a year ago you’d be forgiven for not even knowing what Android was, let alone the fact that it’s rapidly catching up with Apple’s iPhone and iPad operating system. Open source, easily adaptable and with a community of coders and designers forming around it as quickly as Linux but with the mass-market appeal of the ever-popular touch-screen smartphone, Android’s where it’s at, technologically speaking.

However, if you’re a business that deals in software development, or you’re a small business seeking to reach a wider audience, Android may appear to be a bit of a blessing. Its open source format and the lack of Apple’s stringent App release guidelines means that applications can be road-tested by the public a lot faster. Apple’s App Store is a competitive market – only alive a few years and already accelerating towards half a million Apps, releasing sub-standard code for even a few pence can spell disaster for an App’s long-term appeal.

But why would you even want to make a successful App? Well, for the simple reason that more and more people are using their smartphones for tasks that the laptop is no longer needed for. Even the netbook now sits second in the portable-but-capable stakes, especially if your phone can order you a DVD, book you a cab home, and sort the take-away on a Friday night, all on the way into work. Oh, and that train? It’s delayed, but don’t worry, your App’s told you the alternatives anyway.

The reason I mention the sheer variety of Apps is because it’s an open market, and with Android, the market widens to include those who many not be able to afford Apple’s start-up costs. They’re not bank-breaking, but even the odd fifty quid here and there is going to make a difference to a business with three employees and an office that’s smaller than the building’s lift shaft. Android’s software development kit (SDK) is advanced, malleable, and most importantly – free.

Entire companies have formed around submissions to the App Store and Android Marketplace, sometimes focusing on one platform, more often attempting to focus on both. Major companies will drop in with versions of their popular software – Adobe sell a Reader app for less than a fiver that will grant you access to PDFs, and it’s up to you if you’d prefer theirs or the multitude of cheaper and even free alternatives. But fear not, the market isn’t dominated by major names.

Small, niche technological wizardry is also available, and small businesses who offer this sort of thing – Shazam (the “what song is this? Aha!” people), Dropbox (cloud file storage) and other small applications that can help you network between different versions of a service you’re already using for a specific purpose, are benefiting in a big way. If you can cover a spot in the market in this day and age, you might find that going open-source will lead to success. You can field-test the app on almost any Android phone, people don’t need a £400 handset to try it, nor will the Apple store have the privilege of rejecting it for the myriad reasons they tend to throw at small developers.

My personal favourite paid Android application? Inventory Droid. Scan barcodes, take photos, and essentially create an entire inventory for a small shop. Now, combine that with, say, the Motorola Flipout, a cheap Android handset, a free Google SDK and some spare time, and not only do you have your own app for use with your own business, but you can sell ten thousand copies and pay your entire year’s salary. Not a bad deal for a quick download. Can’t code? Hire someone – if your idea’s good enough, it’ll pay for itself, but remember that Android is constantly evolving, and you’ll never need to pay another penny to keep up with the SDK.

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Aug 2010

The ten silliest iPhone Apps around

Posted in Blogging | 0 Comments

With the recent launch of the iphone 4, there has been a new wave of talk about the phones and what they can do. More often than not it comes down to apps. Apps, apps, apps. What with the highly irritating advert that smugly says ‘There’s an app for that’ and your friend who proudly tells you they found their way to the pub using an app, there is no escaping them.
To be honest most of the apps I see, I wonder why do you even need it. After a little research it turns out that there are plenty of ridiculous apps out there. Here is my top ten silly apps:
1. Fatbooth
This is actually one of my personal favourites as it brings hours of entertainment, take your picture and watch as you become instantly supersized. Essentially however it is just laughing at fat people and not very PC.
2. Drunkdialer
For when you have had one too many to drink and you think it might be a good time to call your ex, but it’s never a good time though is it really? Especially when you are drunk. This puts an end to that silly drunk calling. If you can actually type the number it allows you to call, but the numbers keep moving and you have to press ‘call’ before the button moves again. A good idea or just a bit mad?
3. The Wooo Button
The Wooo button does one thing and one thing only – it screams woooo when you press it. I’m not sure when this would ever be needed, other than to annoy people.
4. GottaGo
The app that sends you fake calls and MMS to get you out of those tricky situations. All you have to do is set a timer and it will call or text you, so you can make your excuses and go. Brilliant.
5. Poop The World
As the website says: Finally, a useful application for the iPhone! Track your bowel movements in real-time, keep an eye on things, share with friends, and make it fun! Isn’t this what you have always wanted?
6. SimStapler
This is what the app store says about it: The first true office equipment simulator, SimStapler© brings all of the thrill and excitement of a “real” stapler right to the palm of your hand.
What? I didn’t know people had staple fetishes.
7. Beer Opener
Experience the joy of opening a cold refreshing beer bottle without the inconvenience of actually consuming beer!
Since when has it been an inconvenience drinking beer? Who exactly this is aimed at, I don’t know.
8. Calm Candle
An app of a picture of a candle. That’s it. Anyone who finds a candle relaxing in the first place, probably isn’t the type of person who would buy an iphone app. Silly.
9. iNap@work
The iNap@work makes random common office sounds, so if you are lucky enough to work in a cubicle you can put this on while you have a power nap and everyone around you still thinks you are working! Genius.
10. iKissMe
This is a little bit wrong- a pair of lips for you to kiss.  No one is that desperate, are they?
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Jul 2010

Queue here for the iPhone flaw

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

It baffles me watching people everywhere carrying the iPhone 4. It’s broken, flawed, and yet people are still, after hearing about it on the news, from their friends and even in-store (fix your iPhone! Just £29!), walking out of the Apple Store with them. They don’t work, guys. Yes, it’s an apple product. Yes, it’s better in some ways than the previous one. Hey, wait! Where are you going?!

I’m serious. If you “hate” Macs, although you use the iPhone which you’re  thinking of upgrading, the same principle applies to your operating system. Windows releases new versions of its OS every few years, millions buy it and forget that it won’t work properly until the next one is out. XP is still the best possible operating system, and yet people are flocking to Windows 7 in the same way they ran to Vista.

Personally, I prefer the look of the most recent two Microsoft OS releases, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to pay through the nose for them. Same with the iPhone. Even if you’re using an iPhone original right now, why change it? Many people tend to stick several updates behind the latest model gadget or software update simply because years of testing and patches ensure that it works. Why not do this with Apple’s new phone?

If you have bought one, and you’re left handed, you’re left (pun not intended) with one choice – mod the casing. Nail polish, rubber bumpers (funny how Trading Standards hasn’t picked up on Apple selling an expensive fix to a fatal flaw in their hardware), or becoming ambidextrous – all are viable options.

But what about the consequences? An office full of people who’ve upgraded to the iPhone and put it on expenses, are now left with a bill in the thousands, and a phone that might cut out at any time during an important call. There are many bugs with smartphones that are tolerable. Signal failure and sensitive casing are at the margins of what is endurable.

If anything, it encourages us to take a second look at the way we view upgrading a company’s oft-used technology. Making sure there are no well-known bugs or major hardware flaws in new equipment can mean the difference between a digital storage solution that holds your client files reliably for ten years, and one that loses them the morning after installation.

Any office technician will tell you that they’re more inclined to stay behind the times with certain bits of hardware and software to dodge the risk. But we’re not all tech experts, and some people’s knowledge of what may or may not be good for the digital health of their business may only extend to which phone is the most current, the most expensive and, importantly to many, the most fashionable.

Technology, especially the kind that finds its way onto our person when we’re out, has become something of a fashion statement. People don’t just want the iPhone 4 because it’s improved and (minus that major flaw) a great bit of kit, but also because it’s a very cool thing to have. People get them out to show them off just as often as they do to actually use them.

I’ve just come into possession of a shiny new Macbook Pro, and I’ve got to say, I couldn’t be happier. Moving from an Acer laptop which constantly broke, slowed down, and lost its wifi security details to something that boots up and shuts down in less than 20 seconds combined is a blessing. Am I aware it could cook eggs when running over 70% of its CPU? Yes. But it’s still reliable and won’t lose its wi-fi connection if I touch one side of it, which, ironically, my Acer laptop actually did do.

Did I upgrade because it was cool? Yes. Did I upgrade because it was better for what I did for a living? Of course. But would I have bought it had someone told me it lost signal if I touched one area of the chassis? Not in a million years.

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Jul 2010

Applied knowledge

Posted in Business tactics, Social Media, Usability, Web 2.0 | 0 Comments

If you’re working in social media, or realistically anything that involves logging onto something once a day, chances are you’ve probably got a smartphone. I’m going to go ahead and push that even further, and wager that if you do, it’s either a BlackBerry or an iPhone. If it’s an iPhone, and unless you’re one of the many shedding tears over the recent issues with the fourth iteration, you’re likely happy to spend a little bit of cash on a huge variety of useful applications, or “Apps”. If you are one of those people, and you’d love to find out how useful a businessperson with their Apps geared for productivity can perform above their peers, then read on. If you’re not busy sending hate-mail to Steve Jobs, that is.

Apps: tasks made convenient

If you’re on the run and you’re needing to work on the accounts for last year as April’s creeping up on you a little too quickly – then don’t worry. Grab your iPhone, launch the App Store, find Spreadsheet, pay just under six dollars, and you’re able to edit a spreadsheet on your phone. I’m not joking, and it’s even visually appealing. Personally, I’m on a hiatus from Apple products, but I have to admit that the appeal of being able to do mundane tasks on the commute and the more enjoyable ones in the office sounds fantastic, and why not up your productivity?

If that’s not enough, why not Documents To Go? That’s your PowerPoint, Word, Excel, PDF, iWork (c’mon, it’s still an Apple phone), Google Docs… the list goes on, quite literally. Netbooks are all good and well, but if you’re a city-dweller, you know as well as I do that bar Starbucks, taking a computer out in public is a risky proposition, at best. However, an iPhone is literally the size of a phone, and unless you’re an optimistic-but-misguided person trying to pocket an iPad, it’s perfect for the job.

The main advantage is functionality, and of course, portability. Being able to ensure your presentation runs the way you want it to, or correcting a typo or two moments before taking to the stage is a vital business advantage, and you’ll find your productivity soaring. If you’ve got the phone, take advantage of it – not doing so is like having a car but never putting it in reverse – you can keep going forward, sure, but when everyone else is squeezing into the smaller spots you’re going to be aiming for the bus lane and praying for the warden to look the other way.

But there are other smaller benefits – simply having a smartphone as a manager or a CEO is crucial in today’s digitised economy. Missing that vital email or PDF contract just before you’re in a phones-off meeting can be disastrous, and making sure you’re hooked into the biggest communications network on the planet is all too logical. It’s a pity one of the best phones on the market is rather pricey, but if you’re after something that lets you edit, record, document, process and approve almost as smoothly as on your office computer, then invest.

Anyone else out there?

Of course, one of the biggest draws of smartphones, and the iPhone in particular, has to be the ability to social network. Twitter and Facebook have become a huge part of almost everyone’s everyday lives, and with a massive 400 active Facebook accounts and the mind-bending Twitter statistics from one of my recent posts, you’re looking at a lot of time invested in other people’s comings and goings. So, with that in mind, and the business tactics we’ve discussed on this blog quite often about getting more customers through good social networking on behalf of a company, how do we engineer the smart use of Apps in order to facilitate this?

The answer? Ensure people know you’re thinking on the move. A CEO who’s in a meeting but still finds time to Tweet about his breakfast is a bad thing. A CEO who Tweets about the important and public aspects of said meeting is an honest, open, respected CEO. If you’re sitting high on the employee hierarchy and you’re feeling a little left behind by the office’s dedicated social media buff, then take it into your own hands. Of course, it’s worth making sure you know what and what not to say, as not everyone will appreciate a mix of your charity work and a TwitPic gallery of your new boat, but otherwise, why not ensure everyone knows you’re not someone with more money than time?

There are, of course, other benefits – subscribe to the Twitter accounts of your competitors, even with a subtle account. Being able to monitor them on the go, especially if they make an announcement five minutes before your annual press conference, is a key business strategy. All too often, announcements go unheard by competitors until they see it on the showroom floor later that day and, hand clasped firmly to forehead, stagger towards the hungry press-hounds to redeem themselves. Even tweeting in response to a competitor’s announcement moments after they make it can have a huge impact – you’re aware, and you’re critical but appreciative of your rival’s business presence.

We live in a world where Stephen Fry’s more interested in tweeting on his iPhone than anything else, and when one of the UK’s leading minds is into Twitter, it’s worth taking note. But being able to do so, as Fry has done, in the middle of a television broadcast, and watch the presenter laugh at Fry’s tweet from across the set is something quite exceptional to watch. Now, imagine that Fry is your competitor, and the rest of the room represents the show’s host, and you’re the only one with no iPhone App for Twitter. Sound isolating? It is, and if you’re going to rocket to the top, you’re either going to need a lot of chemistry and astrophysics, or you’re going to need a phone heralded by a man called Steve that has turned public transport into a phone-rotating, music-heavy, endlessly tapping festival of productivity.

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