PEBKAC: More Than Just the Mac

This column originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of About This Particular Macintosh.

Recently, a friend and I were chatting about how Apple’s non-Mac products have changed the way we work with our Macs. He remarked how he thought he may be “using the Mac for far too much of it”, under-utilizing the iPhone and iPad. This got me thinking about how these devices have changed how much time I spend in front of my Mac.

Twitter

These days, I spend very little time on Twitter while sitting at my Mac. Nearly all of my Twitter interaction is done on my iPhone through Paul Haddad and Mark Jardine’s excellent Tweetbot. (There is an iPad version as well.) I also keep the venerable Twitterrific on hand. These days, the only time I hit the Twitter web site is to possibly check out a new follower’s profile and Twitter stream.

E-mail

This is an area of usage where things likely work out 50-50. I do a lot of e-mail reading and processing on my iPhone. If there are web links to read later, or a message in need of a lengthy reply, I’ll leave those in my inbox to take care of later when I’m at my Mac. (And how nice would it be to have some sort of Instapaper or Read It Later functionality built into Apple Mail?) E-mail usage on my iPad is very similar to that on the iPhone, if I’m not using an external keyboard, though given the iPad’s larger screen, I certainly get more of the click-on-this-link messages out of the way.

Web surfing

I would say I do as little web surfing on the iPhone as possible, but that’s not entirely accurate. Several apps have built-in web services, and Tweetbot now includes Readability, which has made checking out links from the Twitter stream much more enjoyable. I still do the majority of my web surfing on my Macs, but the iOS devices have definitely cut in to that.

RSS

An area that remains Mac-centric for me is reading RSS feeds. I am a long-time user of NetNewsWire on the Mac, but haven’t made the transition to feed-reading on my iOS devices. This is mainly due to NetNewsWire using Google Reader for syncing, as do many other RSS apps which transcend both iOS and OS X. I’ve always been leery of Google, and see them less trustworthy as time goes on. So I’m holding out for a non-Google Reader solution, and carrying on with 100% of my feed reading through NetNewsWire on a Mac. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the first developer to offer a Mac-iPhone-iPad RSS reader that syncs without Google Reader earns my money. Any takers?

Books

I’ve read a few books on my Mac over the past few years, in text or PDF form, but until the iOS devices (and Kindles) came along, most of my book reading was still done in the dead-tree editions. The past two years have seen my personal ebook reading skyrocket. I knew I had reached a personal milestone when I bought Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel in Kindle format. Before, that had always been a hardcover purchase. Between Kindle apps on the iPhone and iPad, as well as iBooks, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook app, I always have a book at my disposal, if nothing else because my iPhone is always with me.

Music

This one hasn’t really changed since the iPod was first introduced. When I’m at my iMac, I listen to music through iTunes on the Mac. If I’m not in my study, I have the iPhone docked to a stereo, or I’m carrying it around with headphones. Call this one a tie.

Movies, TV Shows

The iPad came in very handy for this during our trip to Africa for getting caught up on the first season of Hawaii Five-0. The cable service in our hotel room was nonexistent, so this was a boon for those evenings when we just needed to veg out. Our boys make good use of the PBS Kids app on the iPads, both around the house and while traveling. While I still may watch the odd item on my iMac, most of the time I’d rather stream it to our Apple TV and watch it on the 47-inch HDTV in the living room. Advantage: iOS devices.

Writing

This endeavor still finds me in front of a Mac. Maybe the 27-inch iMac entrenched in the study, maybe the 11-inch MacBook Air that can, and has, gone anywhere. But still a Mac. I have done some writing on the iPad, but thus far that seems to have been a one-time event, outside of e-mail. And I can’t say I’ve done very much writing at all on my iPhone, other than the odd note. Very much still a Mac-centric activity for me.

All in all, the iOS devices have me spending less time in front of a Mac’s screen, and this is not at all a bad thing. My iMac still acts as my digital hub, and despite iCloud’s promises, I don’t see that changing any time soon. Still, I’m thankful for my iPhone’s omnipresence, giving me music and books any time, anywhere I want, and the versatility the iPad offers for some things over even the MacBook Air.

How has having an iPhone or iPad changed the way you work with your Mac?

PEBKAC: Lions, and Airs, and iPads, oh my!

This column originally appeared in the July issue of About This Particular Macintosh.

In what may be a sign of an impending midlife crisis, I find myself, more and more, beginning sentences with the phrase, “When I was your age…” or some variation thereof. Maybe it’s because I’m the father of two young boys. Maybe it’s the past five years spent around high schoolers and college guys and gals through Bible studies I’ve led for a local church. Maybe it’s just that I’m forty and I’ve seen enough in my life now to see large distinctions.

In seventh grade, we spent about half a semester learning BASIC on the venerable TRS-80 computer. Then we switched to Turbo Pascal on Apple ][s. (See what I did there with the ASCII symbols in place of capitalized Is for the Roman numerals? That’s called “old school”.) When we finished our assignments, we could play Lemonade Stand or Oregon Trail. I died many a death of dysentery.

And if we weren’t playing games, we were taking what we’d learned and started working on our own text-based games.

The first computer to make its way into the household I grew up in was an Apple ][e, purchased used from one of my high school teachers. He’d bought a new computer from the same fruit company called a “Mac”. I still have a sharp memory of seeing the little all-in-one Mac running on the teacher’s desk at his home when we went to pick up the ][e.

That ][e was responsible for every essay paper my last year of high school and four years of college. Another vivid memory I have is printing out a paper on Salvadoran death squads for Dr. Mokeba’s poli sci class. (Dr. Mokeba was from Cameroon and immensely proud of their 1990 World Cup bid.)

I moved to a DOS-based machine, then Windows 3.1, then Windows 95, before coming back to the Apple fold in 1994 with the purchase of a Performa 6115CD. And I’ve never looked back.

What’s the point of this stroll down memory lane? So you have context for “When I was your age, we didn’t have touchscreen smartphones, iPads, or solid-state hard drives. We computed by swapping out floppy disks, and I mean floppy disks, not those hard, little three-and-half-inch jobs. And you could screw all your data by bending one of those big floppies between some textbooks in your backpack.”

In other words: the only constants in life are death and change. And if you keep your hand in the technology game, you know change happens quickly.

Arguably, the biggest news out of the tech sector last month [June 2011 –R] was what was revealed to developers at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5 look to be the best versions yet of those respective operating systems. Apple’s iPad is the tablet computing market right now. No other company is even close, mainly because no other company gets it. (HP seems like they have taken a cue from Apple’s playbook; the new WebOS-based TouchPad is likely the best bet from any manufacturer to take on the iPad’s dominance. This is because HP, like Apple, is controlling both the hardware and software experience.)

It’s not just other companies that don’t get it. One thing that hasn’t changed since I got into the tech game is that Wall Street know-it-alls still don’t understand Apple.

“They’re making the same mistake with the iPod as they did with the Mac.”

“They’re making the same mistake with the iPhone as they did with the Mac.”

“They’re making the same mistake with the iPad as they did with the Mac.”

Look at how there are more Android phones out there than iPhones. Sure, but how many different versions of the Android OS are scattered about through those phones? How many of those Android phone users can update to the latest version of the OS? (Not many.) User experience matters, and the iPhone’s is the best because Apple controls the entire experience, not just part of it.

Look at how there are more Android tablets out there than…oh. Wait. That one’s not holding up so well at the moment, is it? No to mention that a tablet is a vastly different type of device than a smartphone. Apple gets this. Manufacturers relying on Android don’t.

And where are those Android or other OS MP3 players, dominating the iPod? Oh. Right.

Apple hasn’t blown by both Microsoft and Intel in the stock market by being dominated, by responding to the whims of stock analysts, or chasing other companies. Apple sets its own agenda, pursues it, and pursues it as close to the perfection of its vision as is humanly possible. And it reaps the rewards.

I look forward to the continued change our favorite fruit company offers users, and the day when I can say, “When I was your age, we had to use our fingers to control our iPhone. We didn’t have any of these fancy eye- or brain-controls you kids have now…”