Loving The Lack of File/Folders

Do you like your directory?
Seeing files in a hierarchy tree?

I do not like them Sam-I-Am
I do not like file/folder land.

(…apologies to Dr. Seuss.)

This will seem a bit contradictory after my last post, but one of the complete joys about working on my iPad is the lack of a file/folder structure to navigate. This is one of those discoveries that I would not have predicted at the beginning of this experiment.

I love just going into any application and just working on what I need to work on. The headaches (and time suck) of organizing folders, finding where things are, is gone, simply because the iPad doesn’t have any user-facing file/folder structure. Any files are stored within the application. I don’t have to worry about where that last Word doc is, because when I open Pages or QuickOffice (more on that later), there it is.

It kind of make sense, right?

Do you search Finder or Explorer for a file, or do you open Microsoft Word, go to “File>; Open Recent”? I bet the latter. The iPad, ever the bastion of simplicity, takes that to the next level. It is training us (me) to learn to love the lack of file/folders. In fact, dealing with folders and files when I use my computer has begun to really frustrate me.

The idea of files and folders is just that: an idea. The desktop metaphor is just that: a metaphor. Ideas and metaphors can change. And this experiment with the iPad is making me think that perhaps the time is ripe for a change. We’re living in an app-centric world now, after all. Why not link files only to the apps that they belong to?

The only problem is that, with any change, there is usually an uncomfortable period where the old status quo competes with the potentially new status quo. Which is why sometimes the lack of a file/folder structure is annoying. (Though apps can help mitigate this. Thanks Adamo, for your suggestion!) I have a feeling though, as Windows 8 and OS X Mountain Lion take more features from mobile to the desktop, the less we are going to have to deal with these annoyances.

There’s a good chance my future kids will back look at files and folders the same way I look back at DOS. “Jeez, how did they DEAL with that?”

File folder land:

20120410-092258.jpg

Uploading headaches on the iPad. Any fixes?

The biggest problem, or challenge, with using my iPad extensively is such a simple thing that I didn’t even think about it when I began this experiment: uploading.

The very idea of uploading something is built in to our (my) understanding of a computer that interacts with the web. We download and we upload. Yet, herein lies a limitation of abandoning the aforementioned desktop metaphor. When you don’t have a desktop (metaphorically), you don’t have somewhere to upload from. There is no integration from one app to another (which is what makes the iPad and iPhone so secure), so there is no way that App 1 can access any files from App 2.

This is tough, but usually there is fix, as you are able to upload within apps. Some apps even make this seamless (like DropBox, QuickOffice and Box). But the real challenge comes when I am writing an email in Mail and want to send an attachment. I simply can’t do it within the current email I’m writing. I have to leave mail, go to the app where my file is stored, and send a new email from within that app.

The closest thing I have seen to a solution is that DropBox lets me mail a link to the file in question, which I can just copy to the email I am writing. It’s a limitation for sure.

Anyone else run into this problem? Ideas?

Learning to love the cloud

As I continue to dive into this iPad experiment, I realized the single biggest obstacle to using my iPad for more was that I did not have access to any files beyond my email and Photos. This, obviously, was hugely preventative of doing anything but modest creation on my iPad. And, I imagine it’s probably true for a lot of people. We are so used to this whole file/folder structure that’s on our computers, that we don’t know what to do when we don’t have that.

Now, I must admit that not having a file/folder structure is a blessing in a way. It’s a holdover from the “desktop metaphor” and not having that metaphor on my iPad that helps me stay focused.

But, more focus is useless unless I can access the things I need to focus on. Since I doubt Apple will ever introduce file management on the iPad itself (it seems to fly in the face of Apple’s simplicity model), I had to find an app for that. And, in fact, I found a few really good ones for creating that file/folder structure on my iPad itself. (The best being FileApp Pro, which I would highly recommend for managing any files you want to save locally on your iPad). But then I realized, with that, I lose one of the most compelling aspects of today’s tech world: seamless syncing.

If I read email on my iPad, it’s marked as read on my iPhone, and when I next log into gmail. But if I had a file on my iPad that I edited, and then I needed to access it on my computer, I would need to sync it through iTunes file sharing (or email it to myself). I don’t want to do that every time I edit a file. I want it to be seamless – like reading email. And there is one truly seamless way that exists… I moved to the cloud.

Enter two wonderful free cloud services (that both have apps) where my files now reside: Box and DropBox. Because of space limits for the free accounts, I decided to use both; Box is for my personal files and DropBox is for business files.

So, it took a few days of periodically syncing files while at my computer, but I finally have all of my business and important personal files on DropBox and Box — and therefore on my iPad. It feels really liberating knowing that, wherever I am, I can actually access that important file — or any important file.

That’s one step closer to never using a laptop again… (I jest. Or do I?)

[Once again, typed entirely on my iPad. Although this time, I heavily used the new iPad’s dictation feature. Great for creating a rough draft.]

20120324-174845.jpg

Typing on the iPad

First things first with this new iPad adventure: typing. I consider myself a good typist on a regular keyboard, hitting somewhere around 70wpm on a regular basis. But typing on the iPad intimidated me, a lot. And, if it intimidated me, I can only imagine that it intimidates a number of others as well.

If I’m going to take my use of the iPad to the next level, I have to be confident of my typing on it. It’s the main way I communicate at work and with many friends. Before I started this adventure, I clocked in at roughly 20wpm in my iPad (-50wpm from my normal typing ability). Not good enough at all, and totally preventative of using my iPad to the fullest extent possible.

There are three options, as I see it. First, I could get a Zagg Portfolio, and basically make my iPad into a laptop. When at work, I could use my external Bluetooth keyboard on my iPad. Or, finally, I could learn to rock the touch screen typing.

If you had asked me three weeks ago, I would have promoted Zagg. Or the external keyboard. But then I read a series of tweets, which reported on how teenagers are clocking in at 80-100 wpm on their iPad. What?! I know there are plenty of typists who type that fast on a normal keyboard. But on an iPad? I honestly didn’t even consider that this was possible.

More than anything else, this made me actually stop and say, wait, maybe touch screen typing quickly and efficiently is possible. With this possibility in mind, I went back to basics: I downloaded a phenomenal app that teaches touch screen typing, TapTyping. It reminds me of Mavis Beacon…. But for the iPad. And it works. Again, I started out clocking in around 20wpm. Again, this is ridiculously slower than I’m used to typing. But I did the ff jj dd kk fj dk lessons. And my muscles started to flex their memory.

I practiced. And practiced. And practiced. I took practice beyond the TapTyping app. I downloaded an instant messaging app (IM+) and started conversing on gchat. Let’s be honest, wanting to quickly reply to friends who are chatting with you is one of the best motivators to efficiently type.

Armed with the TapTyping lessons, I am now twice as fast – hitting around 40 wpm. Just the other day, I peaked at 62 wpm. More than anything it’s learning to trust my fingers to hit the right part of the screen/keyboard. There are also some cool “secrets” that are helpful to type even faster.

Note that this part of my experiment has occurred over the past few weeks, so these posts aren’t not in sync with life. In other words, it didn’t take two days; it takes practice. But it’s totally doable. With every accomplishment in typing on my iPad, I feel a bit more confident about typing on my iPad, and a bit less intimidated.

Let’s be honest — touch screens are likely here to stay. And the next generation will be (is already?) totally adept at using touch screens to type. No reason to fall behind the future today!

[This post typed entirely on my iPad.]

20120322-100701.jpg

A new experiment: iPad as my primary computer

Here we go, another adventure! I am going to use my iPad as my primary computer. Or I am going to try and figure out it can’t be done. After reading this article, and knowing two people that are considering the idea, I think it’s high time to find out how doable this is.

What I do know is doable: using my iPad for 80% of my personal computer needs. I already use it as my prinary device at home for browsing the Internet, light email, light document creation, light movie creation, consumption of anything and everything online.

The real challenge comes at my job. Working at a startup, in sales, I type a lot of emails, I use a lot of Office programs (where comparability is required) and I multitask like whoa. I edit files, send attachments, and research online. I type, type, type. For my personal life, I still use my computer for photo management stuff. For creating more detailed movies.

Now, I think I’d be kidding myself (and you) if I said I thought I could optimally perform all functions of my job on my iPad. But maybe I can do 85%… or 95%… or, who knows, 100%. I truly don’t know, because I haven’t given myself permission to try it out. Now I have. I’ll post brief and detailed updates as I encounter challenges and overcome them (or do not).

In the immortal words of Mario, here we go!

20120320-125823.jpg

The beauty of not rushing

There will be another.

Another train.

Another phone.

Another computer.

Or iPod. Or Game. Or Thing.

But…

There won’t always be another.

Another day like today.

Another time to connect with that person.

Another chance.

Or Opportunity. Or Challenge. Or Moment.

Sometimes it takes not being in a rush to remember the difference.

I hope you all enjoyed Thanksgiving.

I tried Google’s Chromebook, and nahhh

I’m on a Virgin America flight from Boston to San Francisco right now.  Google has a promotion where they are lending people Chromebooks to try on the 6+ hour flight.  (If you’re really curious, you can read more about this brilliant marketing.) The hook is that you get free in-flight wi-fi if you use the Chromebook.  So I figured I’d save $15, and try it out.

So here’s the thing.  A Chromebook is a laptop, but just with Google Chrome installed.  Well, that’s what it feels like.  It’s actually called Chrome OS.  But all that’s there is the web browser.  You turn on the computer, and you are greeted with the Chrome Browser interface.  But try to close it, and you find you can’t.

That’s actually the point:  You log in, and BOOM, you’re online, no need to launch a web browser.  Alright, great, that’s actually pretty cool.  But that’s also the problem: the whole operating system of the computer is the web browser.  Yes, the operating system (like Windows 7 or Mac OS X) is a web browser.  You can’t install local files.  No iTunes.  No Microsoft Office.  Yes, you can download files like pictures to a small 16GB hard drive.  I also found that, inexplicably, pictures were downloaded at a really crappy resolution, even though I downloaded them full size (such as the ones in this post).

There is also an web-based app store but it doesn’t seem very impressive (though I may be biased).  Plus, I can access this same app store on my MacBook Air or any other computer’s Chrome web browser.  So it’s not exactly a closed ecosystem that would drive sales, like Apple’s.

I’m all for simplicity, but it seems a bit of a waste of the decent (if plastic-feeling) Samsung laptop, which this is installed on.  I could maybe see the idea of an “internet only device” being more interesting as a tablet.  But man, I think that this a super-niche market (right now) that wants to rely on a computer which puts everything in the cloud.  When the GoGo In-Flight Internet drops, I’m limited to doing….. pretty much nothing.  No internet means the computer essentially becomes a very large paperweight.  Google says they are “working on” adding more offline features, but then,doesn’t the Chromebook become just another laptop?

Oh, and did I mention that Chromebooks run for $300-$500?  Yeah, no thanks Google.  Psychologically, I don’t think many people can justify dropping that kind of money for web access.  Yes, we’re moving towards the cloud as a society, but we’re not quite there yet.  For now, I’ll stick to being able to have my computers support local files.