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iPad mini: An Experiment (and Initial Reactions)

Yesterday morning, I drove to the Apple Store and purchased an iPad mini. For the next two weeks, I’ll be conducting an experiment.


I’ve been using my iPad (2 succeeded by 3) a lot. Mostly for writing, emailing and other things that don’t require a full-blown computer. And it’s been great - I love my iPad.

When the iPad mini was announced, I was a bit intrigued. The size and weight sounded nice, but the price and lack of a retina display were pretty major turn-offs. I had a perfectly good iPad 3 (that was rev’d about 6 freaking weeks after I bought it, but I’m not bitter, I swear) that did everything I needed.

But I started to notice something: virtually all of my online pals who had bought the mini on launch day would not shut up about it. Common refrains included:

  • “Man, this exactly what the iPad was meant to be. It’s perfect.”
  • “I’ve used this mini for a week and I just sold my iPad (2|3|4).”
  • “I thought the non-retina display would be a deal-breaker, but I totally don’t care/notice any more.”

These are people for whom I have a great deal of respect and whose opinions I generally share. After hearing what I estimate to be a couple dozen people expressing opinions like those listed above, I knew I had to at least try it.

The Experiment

I’ve written about the iPad before and how it fits into how I work. To summarize:

  • 50% writing (emails, blog posts, etc.)
  • 20% task management stuff (almost exclusively in OmniFocus)
  • 20% reading (iBooks, Kindle and Comixology)
  • 10% miscellany (games, web browsing, general screwing around)

I knew the mini would be perfectly suited to the latter two use cases, but the first two-obviously-account for the majority of my iPad use. I needed to be sure that the mini would do at least as well in each role as the iPad 3 did.

As of today, I have two weeks to evaluate this before one of two things happens:

  • I return the iPad mini and Smart Cover
  • I sell my iPad 3

Financially, this will basically be a wash. While I did pay a good bit more for my iPad 3 than for the mini, the going rate for a pristine iPad 3 on eBay is comparable to a similarly-equipped mini (according to my non-exhaustive research, that is).

The experiment will be, of course, to see how the mini performs in place of my beloved iPad 3.

(Both my iPad 3 and iPad mini are 32gb with Verizon LTE, if you’re curious - and they’re both black)


When it came time to compose text on my iPad 3, I would almost invariably attach it to my well-loved Logitech Ultrathin keyboard case. For some reason, I really loved only having to carry a single thing. This doesn’t seem to be an option with the mini since, near as I can tell, there aren’t any really great case+keyboard options yet available for it.

For the time being, I suspect I’ll be relegated to unearthing and toting around the InCase Origami, replete with Apple Bluetooth keyboard, in addition to the mini itself (the configuration being employed to compose this post, I might add). I realize that carrying two pieces of equipment instead of one is hardly worth whining about, but it’s important to me.

Part of what has made the iPad such an indispensable part of how I work is the speed with which I can deploy it and begin typing/working. I don’t know that the mini will afford me such a luxury.

Despite the near-universal claims of my comrades, I do wonder how long it will take me to acclimate to the non-retina display (or if I will at all).

First Impressions

  1. Having written most of this post using the mini (which is propped up in the afore mentioned InCase Origami), I have to say that it is nice so far. The screen isn’t so small that I have trouble reading the text that I’m writing and the whole contraption doesn’t look altogether ridiculous.
  2. The size and weight really are pretty spectacular.
  3. The non-retina display looks remarkably worse than the retina display on my iPad 3.
  4. The Smart Cover (red, if you’re wondering) is a bit of a turd; it doesn’t sit flush against the screen when closed-a problem I expect will go away after a few days of use-and the iPad seems unstable when propped up on the collapsed Smart Cover.
  5. The device itself is beautiful; Apple’s hallmark fit and finish are present and accounted for and it’s every bit as nice to hold and admire as any other Apple product I’ve owned or used.

I’m afraid that’s about all I have to say at this point. Heck, my applications aren’t even finished installing yet. My son has insisted we reserve judgement until he’s had a chance to play Angry Birds Star Wars, which sounds smart to me.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

When I mentioned on Twitter that I had purchased a mini for evaluation purposes, I was inundated with messages from friends and followers who were unshakably confident I would end up keeping the mini.

If I do end up keeping the mini, I’ll almost certainly sell my Kindle 4 (if it’s worth anything).

If anybody has any specific questions about this, ping me on Twitter.

Launch Center Pro: An Adoption Strategy For Those Having Trouble Adopting It

Launch Center Pro: An Adoption Strategy For Those Having Trouble Adopting It

Launch Center Pro launched amid a good deal of buzz, I think. Lots of tech sites were talking about it shortly before its release and, as an efficiency wonk, I couldn't help but get a little excited.

I bought it the day it was released. I opened it up, played with it for awhile, got the basics down. I even moved it into the Dock area of my iPhone to help encourage adoption.

But, from that day until today, it sat there. I'd open it once in awhile, but only to ponder it and imagine what I could do with it and, more importantly, whether it would speed up the performance of common tasks on my device. Then I'd close it.

Why Launch Center Pro is Difficult to Adopt

Ignoring the dozens of apps I have installed, my daily iPhone usage is comprised mostly of a small number of things:

  • Reading email
  • Listening to audio (music, podcasts and audio books)
  • Reading and posting to Twitter
  • Adding (and occasionally checking off) tasks in OmniFocus
  • Reading from and saving information to Evernote
  • Text messaging and the occasional phone call
  • Reading stuff using Instapaper and the Kindle app
  • Checking my site stats and the day's ebook sales (Clicky is my analytics tool of choice)

Sure, there are other odds and ends, but that's at least 80% of what my iPhone does for me.

Given the regularity with which I perform these actions, it's no surprise that the specific finger movements required to do each one are burned almost indelibly in my muscle memory. In other words, if I decide to check my email, my thumb is already descending on the icon before it's fully drawn on the screen after unlocking the device. Totally not joking.

This is why an app like Launch Center Pro is difficult to adopt. I have to fundamentally change how I use my iPhone. But, between the stories I've heard from people who are loving the app and my own desire to speed things up, I've decided to give it a solid try.

The Launch Center Pro Acid Test

What follows is, as best I can figure, the ideal way to really put Launch Center Pro front and center in the hopes of shoehorning it into my iPhone workflow. I'm not sure how this will shake out, but I think it's worth a try.

Here's my current home screen, modified to all but demand that I use Launch Center Pro (it's in the dock next to the Camera app):


Pretty barren.

After carefully looking at each app I use that Launch Center Pro supports (it's not all of them, if you're wondering), I took each of those apps and moved them to secondary screens. The only exception is the Calendar app, which I really only launch when an appointment alarm sounds. Everything else is an app I use somewhat regularly that Launch Center Pro doesn't currently work with. And the Camera app stays in the Dock because I don't want to go hunting for it when my kids are doing something cute or I see a three-legged coyote or whatever.

Launch Center Pro's raison d'être is quickly performing actions, not just launching apps. Some example actions would be calling or emailing a specific person, jumping to a specific part of an app, etc. My next step then was to add shortcuts for all of the now-absent home screen apps as well as any common actions. Below is the result (or, at least, the first iteration of the result).


A Tour of My Launch Center Pro Configuration

When I fire up Launch Center Pro, this is what appears:

From this screen, I can perform most of my “regular” iPhone actions. The bottom right corner is left empty (for now) because that's typically where my right thumb is hovering, so I won't have to worry about it obscuring anything (more on this in a second). Oh, and Dropbox is there because I frequently launch it to kick off the automatic photo upload thingie it does.

The bottom half of the screen contains “action groups”. If I press and hold “Audio”, for example, the screen turns to this:


I consume lots of audio on my iPhone, so having quick access to these apps is important to me.

“Communicate” reveals these choices:

I communicate with my wife electronically very regularly, so she gets her own “call” and “text” actions. Along with actions for texting a couple of other folks, the last two actions are shortcuts to the New Message view in the Messages app and a list of contacts from which I can choose somebody to call.

Now, then. “Social”:

Aside from the “New Tweet” option, which opens Tweetbot and plants me in the tweet composition view, the rest of these simply launch the apps. (And, yes, I'm now using Facebook again, but in a very specific and limited capacity).



Unsurprisingly, these are the apps I use to read things. iBooks is really only there because it fit and was easy; I almost never read things in iBooks on my iPhone.

Lastly, “Capture”:

Capturing new ideas, etc. is the name of the game on this screen. OmniFocus for tasks and projects, Drafts for textual stuff (like blog post ideas or Twitter jokes that are still incubating).

Yeah, all of that is pretty straightforward. All of my regular iPhone use cases are spoken for. Now let's talk about the specific reasons why I did it this way.

Guiding Principles

The “Obscured by Thumb” Issue

As we dig into this, it's important to point out that the action groups (“Social”, etc.) defined in Launch Center Pro are only accessible if you press and hold their icons. In other words, if I want to launch Tweetbot, I need to press my thumb on “Social”, drag it onto Tweetbot and release. If I lift my thumb off of the screen while it's still on “Social”, then I'm back at the main screen.

If you look at the groups I've defined above, you'll probably notice that, when activated using my right thumb, the area that's obscured by my thumb/hand is empty. This is quite intentional. I've placed all of the actions within a group such that they'll all be visible when I'm holding down that group's icon.

The Dollop of Friction

My configuration is, albeit somewhat crudely, optimized for doing stuff instead of farting around. Managing email, adding tasks to OmniFocus, jotting something down in Drafts and opening Evernote: these are all at the top level. Twitter, Instapaper and the rest are buried because I want to be faced with the prospect of doing something and actively decide not to in favor of something else.

I'm hoping this little bit of friction will train my brain to be less lazy. I'll admit it's a theory whose effectiveness will be proven or disproven over time, but at least I started off on the right foot or something.

Stinking Badges

This is probably my favorite benefit of all. When an app is displayed in Launch Center Pro, I'm incapable of seeing any unread badges. Normally, I'm a fan of these badges because I'm a bit of a glutton for inputs (which isn't good, frankly), but I'm hoping this new way of doing things will break me of that little fetish. Again, time will tell. But when I launch Launch Center Pro, my eyes aren't immediately drawn to a little red bubble telling me to tap there.

Parting Thoughts

If you're reading this and you're already a Launch Center Pro badass, then my setup will probably look fairly primitive. I haven't ventured into the world of custom URLs, default field values, scheduled actions or any of the other voodoo this app can do. Said badasses will probably argue that these advanced features are where Launch Center Pro really shines. Stipulated.

This is me crawling before I attempt to walk. I know me and I know that if I spend oodles of time making super specialized actions, then I'd call that fiddling. If this setup sticks and I stay with it, then we can talk about how the app can make my breakfast and such. But not before.


How to Buy an Appliance like an Efficiency Nerd

As I’m sure you know by now, I’m a big proponent of using technology to make life better, faster and easier.

This is especially true when buying, say, a massive chest freezer to hold the 350+ pounds of beef that will be showing up at our door any day. No joke. I digress.

When my buddy and I returned from the Big Box Appliance Retailer yesterday after buying the freezer, I found myself with a small stack of stuff: the manual, warranty information, purchase receipt, extra parts, etc.

I hate stuff like this lying around and I’m always looking for nerdy ways to reduce the amount of crap floating around my life. Here’s what I did with this particular pile:

  1. Googled for the make and model of freezer, plus the word “manual”. Found a PDF of the manual for my new freezer, saved it to Evernote and enthusiastically threw away the paper copy.
  2. Scanned the receipt into Evernote (after tearing off the 14 inches of it pitching me to take a survey or whatever). Made sure the receipt was uploaded successfully, then enthusiastically threw away the paper copy.
  3. Scanned the warranty information into Evernote. Enthusiastically threw away the paper copy.
  4. Collected all of the spare parts I didn’t immediately need, and put them in a plastic bag. Labeled plastic bag with a permanent marker, took a snapshot of it. Put the plastic bag into a box of miscellaneous junk I keep in my office, then created a new Evernote note with a) the photo of the plastic bag and b) the words “this bag is in the crap box in the bookshelf and it looks like this”.
  5. When I talked to the distracted kid who sold me the freezer, he said the extra warranty I was buying came with a free annual inspection of my appliance. He also said that most people do these six months after their purchase date and continue every year on/around that date. Added a task in OmniFocus to schedule my inspection starting 6 months from now and repeat every year for three years.

Oh, and all of the Evernote stuff was tagged with “Garage Freezer” and the OmniFocus task contained a link to Evernote note containing all of the information on who I need to call when I’m ready to move that forward.

So there you go. Gone are the days of keeping track of big stacks of old manuals, paperwork and other such malarky. Between Evernote and OmniFocus, I’m sitting frickin’ paperless and pretty over here.

(Also, if you’re looking to get more into the Paperless lifestyle, my good buddy David wrote an ebook that you should definitely check out.)

Does Your Dock Reflect Your Priorities?

The Dock. That little area on your iPhone or iPad that contains a handful of apps which are available on every screen. It says something about what you’re about and what you want to achieve.

So existential, I know. Hear me out.

For me, the Dock represents a balance between two things:

  1. What I do most
  2. What I want to do more

I send and receive a good deal of email. So Mail is in my Dock on both my iPhone and my iPad. Because mail, for all its faults, is an important and useful tool for me.

But the Dock is something of a sacred space. It’s not just where I put things that I frequently need, but also where I put things I want to regularly see and be prompted to use.

When I unlock my device, it’s no accident that all {4,6} Dock items are within very easy reach. Nor is it coincidence that my eyes reflexively dart down to that part of the screen. I’ve behaved this way for as long as I’ve had these little gizmos and this behavior, along with an intentional approach to populating the Dock, help reinforce my priorities.

  • Byword is in my Dock because I want to write more than I do.
  • OmniFocus is in my Dock because I have things to do that need some doing.
  • Evernote is in my Dock because I need easy access to the information it houses.
  • Instapaper is in my Dock because I want to read interesting things curated by either myself or somebody smarter than me.

Now, by contrast…

  • TweetBot isn’t in my Dock because, fab as Twitter is, it’s a timesuck.
  • Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride are far and away my favorite iOS games, but are nowhere near my dock because then I’d just play all the time.

My Dock reflects my priorities. Does yours?

How OmniFocus Can Make You a Better Person

OmniFocus makes me a better person because it reminds me to do things, even if they need to be done at a date and time considerably later than when I realize they need to be done.

Some examples:

  • Last July, a friend of mine told me that there was a possibility that some of her artwork would be featured on a popular television show. Thing was, the episode would air sometime in the first part of 2012 (6-8 months later, in other words). I added a task in OmniFocus to hit her up about it starting on January 2 and, sure enough, I saw it and I asked her about it.

  • My son told me in August of 2011 that he really wanted a slot car track for his 7th birthday (in July of 2012). I just checked OmniFocus and there’s a task that will become active on June 1, giving me plenty of time to shop around (and find out if he’s even still interested in the idea).

  • By and large, our family abstains from eating out during Lent. I’m a pretty social guy and regularly meet friends for dinner or drinks, so I have a handful of tasks that describe the people with whom I have tentative plans to meet. They’ll all become active the Monday after Easter.

  • Our trash gets picked up every Monday morning. So, every Sunday afternoon, OmniFocus reminds me to roll the trash cans down the driveway to the curb so they’re ready for emptying the following morning. This is a simple one, sure, but I can tell you that my wife is pretty damn happy that this gets done with consistency and regularity that it does.

“Ok, smart guy, I kinda see your point, but aren’t you being a little extravagant in saying that this app makes you a better person?”

I don’t think so, honestly.

It helps me be thoughtful. Or, perhaps more accurately, it helps me act on thoughtful gestures, regardless of when the occur to me. The things listed above would have very little hope of happening if I just tried really hard to remember them when they were supposed to happen. Could I do the same thing with a regular calendar? Not really; if the thing I want to remember has multiple tasks associated with it that need to be performed in a certain order, then the calendar simply won’t work (or it will be incredibly clunky).

I appreciate that people use simpler tools for managing tasks and such. For me, though, the only way the process can truly work is when I can put absolutely everything inside it and know that I’ll see it when I need to — even if it’s something as benign as a garbage cans or as important as delighting my boy on his birthday.

Nerd’s Eye View: Clear from Realmac Software

I like lists. Hell, I love lists. Between my obvious love affair with Evernote and the degree to which I trust OmniFocus, it’s quite apparent that productivity software is something I care about and which routinely captures my fancy.

So. Clear.

What do I think about Clear?

While in San Francisco last month for Macworld, I got a chance to briefly demo Clear (courtesy of the handsome Nik Fletcher of Realmac software). I have to say, my initial impressions were quite good. The app is clearly well thought-out and make exceptional use of iOS’s gesture-based interaction paradigm and, frankly, it’s gorgeously simple.

“But”, I thought to myself, “this isn’t going to supplant OmniFocus.” After all, the two apps are worlds apart and Clear, for everything it is, isn’t a GTD-style list-maker. It wasn’t meant to be one.

There are days when I just need a list; errands to run, chores to finish around the house, things to buy at the hardware store. I could drop these things into OmniFocus, sure, but the data is inherently transient and doesn’t really need a place in my Fortress of Productivity. This is typically where my trusty Pilot G2 Mini and Field Notes notebook would come into play. For one-off lists, analog tools are my go-to.

Clear is going to get a shot at that particular title.

The ease with which I can quickly compose a list of things is on par with any other app out there. It’s certainly faster than OmniFocus.

And I think that, because Clear deals exclusively in short, text-only chunks of information, the Realmac folks were able to optimize the living pudding out of the interface such that the user, once properly acclimated, could fly through it. There’s no background sync operation to wait for, no extraneous options to distract the user from the one thing Clear does. That’s the secret sauce here, if you ask me: pure speed.

My iPhone is just as ubiquitous as my pen and notebooks and—believe me—unless I’m sleeping, all three of these tools are in my pocket, almost without exception. Temporarily retiring the Field Notes notebook in favor of evaluating Clear isn’t going to be a huge leap for me. I can’t really give an opinion as to how I think it will pan out, but the Realmac guys make such great stuff that I can’t help but give it a go, nor can I help being optimistic.

So, that’s the deal—for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be putting Clear through it’s paces as my “incidental” list manager. If nothing else, it will be a marked improvement over my abysmal handwriting.

I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

OmniFocus Forecast and Start Dates

David Sparks:

A surprising number of attendees at my Macworld talk about OmniFocus were not aware that you could show start date items in the iPad version’s Forecast View.

He isn’t joking. Myself and a number of my fellow OmniFocus nerds who were in attendance had no idea this setting existed. Incredibly useful if you spend any time in OmniFocus for iPad’s Forecast view.

Click here for more info.

Macworld 2012 — Thoughts, Reflections, Reactions

After spending three full days experiencing the joys of my first time at Macworld, I thought I’d share some impressions and reactions.

The Expo Floor

As Hackett so eloquently put it, I expected the show floor to be and endless series of little kiosks “hawking iPhone cases I have no interest in.”

Turns out, that wasn’t too far off. But, my friends and I did come across a couple diamonds in the booth-babe-laden rough:

  • Olloclip is a very cool iPhone camera lens doohickey that slips over the built-in camera giving you wide-angle, macro and fisheye lenses. It didn’t take long to sell me on this thing and it shows in my Instagram feed.

  • StudioNeat is a little outfit that makes the Cosmonaut stylus for touch screens as well as the Glyf line of products for the iPhone. I’ve had a Glyf for awhile and love it, so I upgraded to the Glyf+ kit (which includes some extra things) and grabbed the Cosmonaut for when the kids and I feel like drawing on the iPad.

Tech Talks, Sessions or Whatever They’re Actually Called

Truth be told, the official goings-on of the conference itself weren’t the primary reason for my coming here. My friend and fellow OmniFocus nerd David Sparks had a couple of presentations on the schedule and I definitely planned on seeing those (which I did), but that was about the extent of my plans as far as official Macworld stuff. I did end up seeing a handful of other talks, but not many more than I had planned.

My favorite talk was definitely the 40 Tips in 40 Minutes with David, Brett Terpstra and Merlin Mann. In many ways, it felt like I was watching some kind of strange nerdy game show where the contestants had to quickly and substantially improve the productivity of the entire audience before being fed to the sharks. It was funny and informative and went a long way toward cementing all three guys—all of whom were previously personal heroes of mine—into my personal productivity hall of fame.

The other talks were fun, for the most part:

  • Mac Power Users live recording with Rob Corddry — An interesting conversation with a (relatively) non-techie celebrity about how he uses Apple gear to get his stuff done. Not a whole lot of new info for me, but it was definitely entertaining.

  • Jason Snell, Andy Ihnatko and John Gruber on the future of Apple — Gruber and Ihnatko are two of my favorite writers on the web, so there wasn’t much chance of this talk being a dud.

  • David Sparks showing off OmniFocus — Nothing like watching the master at work. Even as a veteran OmniFocus user, I came away with a couple of new tricks I didn’t know before hearing David’s talk.

  • A bunch of Mac pundits talking about the apps they love and what’s wrong with them — This sounded like it would be much cooler than it was; didn’t care for it.

So, yeah, the talks were fun and everything, but the real reason I came to San Francisco (and the reason I’ll be back) is the hands I was finally able to shake.

The Nerds

As you can probably imagine, I met a metric buttload of people during the conference. Long-time Internet buddies as well as new friends make up the following list. Namedropping!

Being able to finally shake hands and have drinks with some of my favorite Mac nerds was definitely the highlight of trip. Even though I’ve been chatting with the likes of Ben Brooks, Shawn Blanc, Stephen “Patrice” Hackett for a dog’s age, it was a pleasure to spend so much time with them during the trip. Really a quality group of guys.

Our regular crew also included a few other blokes who I didn’t know as well at the start of the trip, but ended up having many meals and drinks with: specifically Thomas Brand (Dr. Egg himself!), Matthew Panzarino (starlet of TheNextWeb) and the inimitable Pat Dryburgh. Cut from the finest cloth, these guys. I was also extremely fortunate to finally share a drink and some great conversation with James Marwood, long-time Twitter pal and a real gentleman.

Of course, I didn’t live in a cave before coming here, so I was bound to encounter a couple of familiar faces: David Sparks was absolutely cutting it up everywhere I looked. Mike Vardy—old friend, man about Internet and one of the funniest Canadians alive—was a great addition to any party lucky enough to include him.

Finally, the fly-by’s; the folks I met briefly (and may or may not have known beforehand), but who definitely made my time here a damn site better. And, since this is a blog, here’s a list!

(I’m absolutely sure I forgot more than one person — you’ll have to forgive me)

Like I said, the people are what make things like this great; thanks to everybody who was nice to me and put up with my stuttering, mumbling ass.

The Food

I won’t go too far into this, but the food was fantastic and I’ve basically spent the last 4 days declaring thermonuclear war on my own liver. I did eat fish eggs, though. Also, if you ever find yourself in San Francisco, don’t miss Blue Bottle (for coffee, light breakfast) and be sure to order a pint of Anchor Steam on draft.

Anyway, moving on.

The Tech

As previously discussed, I only brought my iPad 2 (equipped with my trusty ZAGGfolio), iPhone 4S and Kindle with me. I’ve done a fair bit of writing, note-taking and communicating these past few days and I never once felt like I needed a real computer. I know it’s not any kind of laptop replacement, but I’m discovering more and more just how damn good the iPad is for a great many things.

Next Time

As I said on the Twitter, I had a hell of a good time here at Macworld. I have no idea how much longer the show will be around—many long-time attendees seem to think it’s got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel—but I’ll definitely be making my way up here next January.

Until next time :)

OmniFocus Perspectives Galore

Internet pal and fellow OmniFocus nerd Sven Fechner produces some of the finest OmniFocus nerdery on the web. This is a series of posts dealing with the black art of Perspectives in OmniFocus.

If you’re an OmniFocus user get ready to take the afternoon off and have your hair curled for you.

Click here for more info.

OmniFocus Statistics

I saw that Internet pals David Sparks and Sven Fechner had run this sweet little app by Rob Trew that generates a poopload of stats about their OmniFocus databases, so I had to get in on the party. Here’s mine: