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?

minimalmac:

WTHR is a pretty nice simple weather app for iPhone that was inspired by Dieter Rams 10 Principles of Good Design.

I’ve been using WTHR, and have it on my home screen. I keep the Weather Channel app on my iPhone, too, but it’s on another screen, and only used now for more in-depth weather research. If I just want to know how scorching it is outside here in Texas, WTHR tells me, and does so beautifully.

PEBKAC: The Normals’ View of Apple and the iPhone

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

The last Macworld Expo I attended was in January 2009. This also happened to be the last Macworld Expo Apple attended. While in the Bay Area, I and some friends took advantage of the location and made the short trip to Cupertino, and the Apple Company Store. For those who’ve never been, the Company Store differs from your average Apple retail store in that it offers a variety of Apple-branded items such as clothing, hats, and paper and office products, in addition to the hardware and software you’d expect to see. I left with a black fleece pullover with a silver Apple logo on the left breast (on clearance, no less).

By now you’re wondering why this is at all important, and after all, aren’t I simply bragging? The Apple fleece has become my go-to sweatshirt. It’s comfortable and as we fashionistas all know, black goes with everything. So it’s not uncommon during the two or three days of winter we have here in north Texas to see me sporting the Apple fleece. It’s also a mainstay when I take our oldest son to the rink for hockey.

At a recent practice, a pair of fellow hockey dads were standing by the glass a few feet from me, discussing the iPhone, Apple the company, and Steve Jobs. One of them had obviously recently finished Walter Isaacson’s biography on Jobs, given some of the material he was regurgitating. This led to more material on Apple as a company, both under Jobs and without him at the helm, and about the iPhone and iPad. As I watched our sons practice and half-listened to their conversation, I was struck yet again at how differently I view the technology world, and specifically Apple and its products, than normal people.

Please understand when I say “normal” people, it is not a term of derision, like, say, muggle. I worked in IT for a decade and a half, nearly ten of those years exclusively on Macs. You wanted to know why Mac OS 8 wasn’t behaving properly once the Finder appeared on screen after boot? Why, you may well have a rogue extension or control panel installed, let’s take a look. What’s this, Mac OS X is actually based on UNIX and there’s now a command line? Oh, goody, something new to learn so we can better exploit the ease with which things can get done and we can get back to our game of Doom 3. Or Modern Warfare 3. Or whatever game’s the latest and greatest. (Because that last part is what normal people think IT people are really doing when we’re not actually working on a computer.)

As I said, I see these sort of things differently, as do many of my friends, including colleagues on this very publication. Normal people don’t buy black Apple fleece sweatshirts. And if they happen to, normal people usually don’t make a special trip out of their way to do so.

What I have noticed about wearing the fleece in the three years I’ve had it, is that fewer and fewer people will ask if I work for Apple. Or used to, if they know what my current occupation is. The why is easy to answer: today, more than ever, Apple is such an important part of people’s daily lives, it’s not an oddity any more. Apple is no longer the alternative-to-Windows company. Apple is now the iPhone company. And it seems every where I look, someone’s using an iPhone.

And interacting with normal people who use iPhones, I’ve quickly learned they use their iPhone much differently than we more-plugged-in techie types do. For instance, they usually only have one Twitter client, the official one from Twitter–if they have a Twitter client at all! <gasps, shock, horror> They don’t spend a lot of time obsessing over the latest and greatest apps, and most of the time what they have installed beyond Apple’s default apps are recommendations from friends. From my own random, completely unscientific observations of the iPhone-using normal masses, the non-Apple app I see in use the most is Facebook.

I realize that a lot of this sounds like common sense, but it’s hard for us techie types to sometimes understand how differently we see the technology world versus normal folks. Those people who just want stuff to work, just want to get stuff done so they can get on with their lives. For us, the tech stuff is our life. Those who can make the transition back and forth easily are the ones who do very well in the IT consulting arena. And normal folks, it’s always great to have someone like that in your corner.