Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
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Archive for February, 2005

Islands in the stream…

Posted by Michael Brown on February 28, 2005

For some people, “Islands in the stream” are some of the lyrics from a song. For others, it’s the way they go about their lives.

Many people try to “compartmentalize” their lives. Work stuff belongs at work, home stuff belongs at home, and everything has it’s place and time. Unfortunately, life is seldom that clearly defined. There will be times where you have to deal with personal stuff at work, work stuff at home, and other things at places between. We can’t live our lives as islands, or silos in the field. As an individual, we are the sum of the many parts of our lives, like puzzle pieces. You can’t get “the big picture” just by looking at each piece individually. You need to put the pieces together, and look at the whole thing in order to get the picture.

One of the ways to improve your quality of life is to have a trusted system that will help you capture, process, and manage all the “stuff” that comes your way every day. A Palm Powered handheld or smartphone can be an essential part of such a system. What I teach my clients is that to be truly effective, you need ONE system of information. That system can be available in many places, but it is still ONE system. Like a briefcase carries paper information place-to-place, your Palm becomes your conduit for merging all the different aspects of your life into one convenient system. Your Palm’s ability to HotSync at multiple computers allows it to carry that system from place-to-place. In addition to being a device that is capable of entering and retrieving your information, you will also be using it as your “electronic briefcase”; it becomes the tool you can use to keep your work and home systems synchronized. It also allows you to be fully mobile, capturing and using information irregardless of where you are. The technology is just some of the pieces of our life puzzle.

Some of the time and task management techniques I teach are based on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” principles and methodologies, modified based on each client’s needs and for the systems they use. I also encourage people to use techniques from Stephan Covey’s “7 Habits” for higher level planning. Those two methodologies, combined with a Palm Powered handheld or smartphone, allow for a seamless system of “life management”. There’s just no real way to fully separate work from personal life; your tools and lifestyle management techniques really need to allow you to have ONE system, ONE complete view of your life, where you can truly manage it based on the “big picture”, or “the forest”. Your Palm can also allow you to “filter” your information by where you are and what you are capable of doing at that place. That allows you to handle “the trees”, the daily minutiae of things-to-do. The processes are the rest, and most important, pieces of our life puzzle.

The beauty of Palm Powered handhelds and smartphones is the freedom of choice they give you. You can use any Palm-compatible desktop application for life planning, and have that information at your fingertips wherever you go. Some people even use different operating systems in the course of their daily lives, and use their Palm to keep those separate systems “in-sync”. ONE system doesn’t mean having to use only one tool or one way of doing things; it means keeping ONE set of information to manage your daily life, and having copies of that information wherever you spend your time. ONE system really means YOUR system. After all, one size doesn’t fit all. It’s YOUR puzzle; pick the pieces that make the picture work for you.


Posted in GTD, PIM, Time & Task Management | Leave a Comment »

Three weeks with the Treo 600

Posted by Michael Brown on February 22, 2005

This is my third week with the Treo 600, so I thought I’d talk about how I’ve been getting on with it. Just for background, the Treo is my sixth PDA; I started with a Sharp SE-300 back in 1999, then went to a Palm IIIx when I outgrew the Sharp, then to a TRG-Pro. TRG became Handera, and I bought the Handera 330 shortly after it became available in Canada (FYI, TRG/Handera was a licensee and manufacturer of Palm Powered Handhelds). I got my Tungsten T a couple of years ago, and the Treo – as you all know – 3 weeks ago.

All my other handhelds used ‘Graffiti’, Palm’s text input system which works much like handwriting. The Treo has a thumb keyboard, and doesn’t use Graffiti (although I could install software that would allow me to Graffiti on-screen). It’s taking a little getting used to, but I find I’m getting comfortable – and faster – with it. For those of you who haven’t seen a Treo, the keyboard looks like a mini laptop computer’s, minus a few keys. A normal computer or laptop keyboard has 101 keys, whereas the Treo has 35. Numbers and punctuation marks are available on the same keys as the letters by using an ‘option’ key. The Treo’s keyboard also features a differently coloured number pad, laid out like a telephone’s, which makes using the Treo’s phone functions really simple.

I really can’t say enough about this keyboard. It’s designed to be operated one-handed or two-handed, by “righties” or “lefties”. I’m a “rightie” myself, but when I’m reading e-mail over coffee in the morning, I use my left hand. I find it very easy to use no matter which hand I use. The shift and option keys are “latching”; one press affects the next keypress, two presses latches it on like a shift lock key. Applications that use menu shortcuts are two keypresses away, and that makes for faster use; many people have to tap their way through menus, or use the “command stroke” then the menu shortcut to activate a function using a Graffiti-based handheld. That means taking out the stylus and tapping or writing to get the menu function activated (like “command N” for a new entry), or tapping the titlebar, then record, then “new”. On the Treo, it’s as simple as pressing the “menu” button, then “n” to create a new entry. Very fast!

The integrated smartphone functions are stellar. In the “Contacts” screen you merely need to type the first few letters of a person’s first OR last names, or the first initial and a couple of letters of the last name, and you get a list of people. For example, typing “jeff” will get a list of people whose first OR last names start with “jeff”, while typing “mbro” will list my & my wife’s names, since we share the same first initial and last name. If I need to find all contacts in a particular company, I can do that to using the global find. That is the only oversight in the Contacts quickfind feature; in Contacts, if you type in the first few characters of a company name, it will display those companies that DON’T have a first or last name entered. For example, if I type in “bell”, it will list all the Bell World locations I have in my addressbook, but not any of the people I know from Bell. It’s not a big deal since you can use the global find to do that, but it’s an extra step for those people who are “company-centric” in their contact management.

Keeping in touch is also much easier with a converged device like the Treo, and you don’t realize how much easier it is until you own one. I knew what to expect from the Treo since I recommend it and train my clients on it, but you don’t really appreciate what it can do for you until you own one and use it in your daily life. It excels at contact management since it integrates your cell phone with your complete address book. You can select different ring tones for incoming calls based on whether they are known (in your Treo’s contacts) or unknown. This can be more handy than you think; the cellular system only transmits calling number and not name and number, like wired phones, so knowing who’s calling before you answer can be beneficial. You can also assign custom ring tones, and even pictures to favourite contacts. For myself, I’ve set one style of ring for people I know (so I know to look at the name, and customize my greeting), and the other style for unknown callers (so I use my standard business greeting).

The other benefit to the Treo is that, being a Palm OS device, you can add applications to customize your Treo to work the way you want it. In my migration from the Tungsten T to the Treo, I was able to move all my daily use applications over without problems. I then found other apps that made the Treo work more the way I want it too, like automatically silencing the ringer and system sounds after business hours and adjusting the screen brightness and keyboard backlight depending on the time of day. There’s over 20,000 applications available for Palm OS that allow you to have the device fit YOUR work and lifestyle… and you can’t do that with a Blackberry! See you next week!

Posted in Treo | Leave a Comment »

Happy Valentine’s Day

Posted by Michael Brown on February 14, 2005

Greetings, and Happy Valentine’s Day. Today’s blog will be a shorter one today, as I’m taking part of today off to fix a surprise dinner for my wife. Romance is good for a healthy relationship, so make sure you do something special for that special someone. To be quite honest, it’s something a relationship needs throughout the year, but you really need to at this time of year.

Wait a minute… Isn’t this supposed to be a technology blog? It is and yes, there are ways you can use a Palm Powered handheld or smartphone to help you in the romance department. Here’s a few tips on how your PDA can help you and your relationship.

  1. Create an appointment in your calendar to do something special for your special someone. You can set a reminder alarm that will sound hours (or even days) before your event to give you time to get organized.
  2. Keep the names and numbers of flower shops, fine restaurants, and babysitters in your address book. If you have a smartphone like the Treo, then it’s that much easier to make your reservation – just tap to dial!
  3. If you’re surfing the web, reading something, or talking with someone and you run across something good (poem, quotes, ideas and recipes) then write or copy it into your memo pad so it will be with you when you need it. You’ll always be able to find it in a split-second using your Palm’s find feature.
  4. Create a task or tasks in your to-do list to get flowers, chocolates, or something that your significant other loves. Set the due date sufficiently far enough ahead that you have time to do it.
  5. If you haven’t done any of the aforementioned things, then you probably want to copy these tips into the note of a new appointment in your Palm’s calendar. Date it for February 7th, and have it repeat every year with an alarm to remind you. At least you’ll have some of the coolest games on your Palm to amuse you while you’re in the doghouse!

My best wishes to you and yours for a wonderfully romantic evening. See you next week!

Posted in Time & Task Management | Leave a Comment »

Is PalmOS on it’s way Out?

Posted by Michael Brown on February 7, 2005

I got an e-mail from a client a few days ago, which is the inspiration for this blog. The gist of it was that he heard from someone that Palm OS was on it’s way out, and that he should start looking at Windows Mobile PDA’s. He was looking for my opinion on them, which I gave him (a good subject for a future blog).

While the venerable “Palm Pilot” has become synonymous with handheld computing, Palm OS is facing stiff competition on two major fronts: RIM’s Blackberry, and MS Mobile handhelds – specifically those from Dell and HP (formerly made by Compaq).

The first thing Palm OS has to contend with is the (mis)perception that Windows Mobile (aka Pocket PC, aka WinCE) devices will synchronize better with MS Windows PC’s simply because they’re both Microsoft “Windows” brand products. Well, that’s simply not the case. Most Palm handhelds come with conduits that will syncronize your PIM (Personal Information Manager) information with MS Outlook. Most palmOne handhelds also come with bundled software allowing you to work with MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on your handheld. Case in point: all of the PowerPoint training materials delivered by Solutions At Hand were composed on my Palm Tungsten T using DocsToGo, and are delivered using QuickPoint and a presentation device which connects my Palm to my LCD projector.

Another thing is that Microsoft, Dell and HP (makers of the Axim and iPAQ handhelds, respectively) have a greater advertising presence than palmOne, PalmSource, Tapwave, Garmin, and all of the other Palm OS licencee’s combined. And they’ve been using that presence to great effect, pushing the multi-media aspects of their handhelds in such a way that the general public doesn’t believe that Palm Powered devices are capable of the same things. Sony and their Clie line of Palm OS PDA’s made great strides in pushing the bounds of what Palm handhelds are capable of doing, and many saw Sony’s departure from the North American PDA market to be a death blow for Palm OS (subject for a future blog). Multi-media on Palm didn’t die with Sony’s departure. The Tungsten T5, for example, sports MP3 and video playback, and it’s cradle features an audio out for headphones or powered speakers. Almost all current Palm models ship with MP3 player software, and video playback is available with 3rd party software add-ons. Cobalt, the next generation Palm Operating system, will ship with an integrated media player.

Lastly, the recent acquisition of a Chinese company (China MobileSoft) by PalmSource shows just how seriously they want to expand the reach of Palm OS. This particular company specializes in embedding Linux into mobile products like cellular phones. Cell phones and other “embedded” products like MP3 players are big business. Many of the manufacturers of these devices have to either licence an operating system, or roll their own in order to make their devices work. Both of those are expensive choices, either in money paid out for licensing fees, or paid internally on salaries and R&D. With Linux, manufacturers have a robust, modular, customizable OS that doesn’t cost anything in license fees. Where’s this going? Imagine the “Palm Pilot” organizer functions embedded into sub-$100 cell phones, MP3 players, and even wrist watches with mass market sales and appeal. Add to that the ability to add on 3rd party programs to customize your device, and a migration path to more powerful handhelds and smartphones for power users and you have the Palm OS running on millions of devices world-wide. The China MobileSoft acquisition will give manufacturers the ability to put the user-friendly Palm interface onto their Linux powered devices, giving them inroads into many different product markets.

So, when you really look at these changes, you can see that Palm OS is not on its way out. Yes, Sony may have left the North American PDA scene (they’re still making Palm Powered handhelds for the Japanese market), but one thing that Microsoft hasn’t been tooting is that they’ve also had companies exit from making Windows Mobile handhelds – specifically Casio and Toshiba. I’m continuing to base my business on Palm Powered handhelds and smartphones, and I’m not concerned about these changes in the marketplace. Actually, I’m rather excited about these changes, so I feel very confident in saying that Palm OS is here to stay.

Posted in Palm | Leave a Comment »