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 the ‘PIM’ Category

Where o where have my categories gone?

Posted by Michael Brown on October 16, 2008

Palm OS users have long had a perfectly simple list-maker and information repository in the memos application. It’s a great place to keep all sorts of information, and it’s always been quick to find using the global find or categories. The great thing about the built-in Memos app is that it syncs with just about any desktop application, like Palm Desktop or Microsoft Outlook. It’s through syncing with Outlook that many people change devices or even mobile platforms. So, for those people like myself, looking to switch from Palm OS to Windows Mobile, there’s something you really need to know if you depend on your Memos/Outlook Notes…

Windows Mobile Notes don’t support categories! So, the first time you sync your device using ActiveSync or Windows Mobile Device Center, all your nicely categorized notes will get dumped all together into the device’s My Documents\ folder, and on the next sync, it will strip the category information off and drop all your Outlook Notes back into one big, un-categorized mess. So, you might want to turn off the syncing of notes in ActiveSync or WMDC until you look at how you want to handle things. One possible option is PhatNotes for Outlook; others include changing the Outlook note title to include the category as a prefix, or organizing your notes by folders in My Documents, which will be reflected in the title of the Outlook Note after the next sync. I plan on testing out a few different options for getting my Outlook Notes onto my new device and working the way I want them, once I get it; with nearly 900 nicely organized Palm Memos syncing as Outlook notes, I don’t want to have a big mess to clean up when I move!

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here. For those looking for ideas to deal with this now, you might want to check out this blog post over at SmartPhone Magazine.


Posted in GTD, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Windows Mobile | 1 Comment »

Decisions, Decisions… almost Decided!

Posted by Michael Brown on October 11, 2008

Earlier this summer, I wrote about some of the things I, or anyone else who depends on a PDA or smartphone, should consider when thinking about changing. It boils down to one key concept; my data is my Life! It doesn’t matter if you’re digital or analog (i.e. Day Planner binder). In the days before I used a PDA, my binder held all that important data. I had to ensure it didn’t get lost, stolen, or destroyed, and I had to ensure I had a backup of critical data in case of disaster.

In today’s digital lifestyle, it’s much easier for me to backup and access my data from many platforms, but I still rely heavily on my mobile device, since it is my daily companion much like my old binder was many moons ago. So, my criteria for a mobile platform are:

1. Easy and open access to my data. I don’t like “black box” products. It’s my data, and I want to know where it is, and how it’s being stored. And it needs to be stored in such a way that multiple front-ends can access it. A good example on the desktop is Microsoft Office & for documents and spreadsheets, Adobe Acrobat or Foxit Reader for PDF’s, etc. I look at the handheld/smartphone platform the same way.

2. Let ME choose the right tool for the job. Like everyone else, I have my own way of doing things, and my own requirements for how I want my tools to work. That’s one of the beautiful things about the Palm OS platform. It provides all the basics one needs to get started, and yet is easily extensible to meet everyone’s unique needs. When I got my first Palm IIIx, I used the basic calendar/task tools for about a week, then I bought Datebk3. It used the same databases as the built-ins, but gave me the ability to customize how I worked with my data and how it was presented and organized. Similarly, I use other tools like psMemo and MemoLeaf to work with my Memos database. Like my Dad’s always said, “use the right tool for the job”.

3. It’s not the OS that’s important, it’s the applications! Ok, well, that’s not totally true, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The point is, you can only choose the right tool for the job if you have a selection of tools to choose from. If there’s no selection, then you’re stuck working with what you find. The platform(s) you’re considering switching too should have a selection of applications that work for you NOW; after all, you plan on using it now, right? You can’t choose a platform based on what MIGHT come out sometime in the future, unless you plan on making do until the mystical, super-productive *IT* comes out.

Now, to my point about the OS not being as important. The OS is the heart of a handheld or smartphone, but the apps are what give it the “smarts”. There are things that the OS provides that are like the foundation of a house; it gives developers what they need to build on. If those things are left out of the foundation and left up to the developers to build, then they may end up implementing them in different, confusing or incompatible ways. Consumers ultimately pay the price when platforms are too tightly, or too loosely, controlled.

4. Money. You might be able to get a good deal on a new smartphone, but is it really going to be such a good deal weeks or months down the road? The cost of the phone is one thing, but what about other things like chargers, memory cards, cables, headsets, and other peripherals? What about software? Can you leverage any of your existing investments, or will you have to start over and buy new for the new platform? Are you going to be committed to a certain minimum cost of service package in order to get your new device? All things to consider before buying; a productivity device should never be an “impulse buy” based on price or slick advertising.

5. How do I get from A to B? No, I’m not talking about GPS systems, although I do want one on my next device! I’m talking about all my life’s data in my old system, that I need to get into my new system, preferably with the least amount of effort and problems! This is something I can’t stress enough, unless you have a lot of time on your hands to re-enter all your stuff! Other things to consider are:

  • Will I have to implement workarounds for features I used to have that aren’t on the new platform? Think of things like notes, data fields in contacts, task features, alarms, templates, that kind of thing…
  • Is there a corresponding application on the new platform for everything I did on the old one? Let’s say you regularly created office documents on your old platform, but you can only view them on the new one? How will you handle that? What about things like journals, voice recording, capture tools, business-specific applications, etc? Can you get everything over to the new platform, and how will you do it?

6. Get touchy-feely with it! C’mon, get your mind out of the gutter; this is a tech blog! Ask yourself, how does it feel to use? Is this something I can and want to carry with me all day? How does the device work for me, compared to my old one? If you’ve come from a phone-style device, chances are you’ll be ok with something that uses T9 style keyboards, be it physical or touchscreen. If you’ve come from using a large QWERTY-style keyboard, then you may not be as comfortable with a T9 keypad or a small touchscreen. So, if you’re thinking of a drastic change, maybe you should go to a store or borrow a friend’s and play with it for a bit. Sure, there are devices with high-res touchscreens, soft keyboards, and other fancy features, but if you can’t type anything it to it, how productive will you be? Another point to consider is how you use your device; do you create a lot of content, or just consume it? Are you a one finger typist, or are you a two-hander?

7. What am I willing to live without in order to switch to the new platform? Chances are, if you’re looking to change platforms, then you’re tired of dealing with something on your old platform. But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, so you have to ask yourself what changes are you willing to make in order to switch? What compromises will you have to make? What do you need, what do you want, and what are you prepared to live without on the new platform?

This post is about all the things I’ve had to consider given I’ve made the decision to switch off of Palm OS after 9 years of using it, and these are all things other potential “switchers” should consider carefully. I’ve been through a Palm IIIx, a TRG pro, a Handera 330, a Tungsten T, and Treo’s 600 & 650, my current device. I’ve invested hundreds of dollars in Palm software and peripherals over the years, dozens of hours getting it tweaked just right, and I have years worth of data on my Treo, data that I depend on in my daily personal and professional lives. I know Palm OS like the back of my hand, and I’ve been pushing the boundaries of what it can do for years now. But, I’m wanting to replace my hardware, which is getting a little tired, and I’m not willing to give up hardware features any more, just because the aging OS5 can’t support it. These days, most new devices have high-resolution screens, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, high-speed celluar data (EVDO or HSPDA), GPS, more memory and storage, high resolution cameras, and other new hardware features. Similarly, some other OS’s have new user interfaces, more advanced PIM databases, multi-tasking, more Bluetooth profiles, and other OS or built-in software features. Palm OS is no longer a cutting edge productivity OS, it’s rapidly becoming a beginner’s , but productive, smartphone OS.

So, of all that’s out there right now, what would I choose?

I was heavily leaning towards the iPhone for a while before it’s launch and for a few days after, but no more. The iPhone 3G’s 2.x software, while great for a feature phone, mobile internet device and media player, is less productive than Palm OS 2 was. Apple is targeting mass market consumers with the iPhone, and while some previous smartphone owners have bought it, most are finding it less productive than their last device. Combine that with the relative immaturity of the SDK, API’s and the lack of standardized built-in PIM applications and sync conduits, and it’s a no-go for me. Eye candy is nice, but not at the expense of usability or productivity. It may be something in a year or so, but not yet. In fact, many people are using other devices like Palm OS handhelds or other PDA’s in addition to their iPhone to make up for it’s lack of productivity applications.

The next one that typically comes to people’s minds when they think mobile devices is the Blackberry; so, is it the one for me? I don’t think so! The Blackberry is an excellent corporate platform with push e-mail and built-in PIMs rivaling those on the Palm platform. So why won’t I get a Crackberry? Basically, two reasons: the OS and the software. It’s really intended to be a corporate device, which is how RIM’s been marketing it until recently, but adding Media players and cameras doesn’t make it a personal platform. Other than themes, it’s hard to customize how you interact with the device; you have to use the menu system to do anything, you have to use the scroll wheel or function+nav keys to get around (although the trackball does make it a bit better on the Curves). There’s no touchscreen except on the just-released Storm, and it will be a while before a lot of software uses it to it’s full potential. Only the recently released Pocket Informant for Blackberry really leverages the built-in PIM’s information close to it’s potential, but it’s still behind software running on other, more-mature platforms.

Symbian/Nokia? Software is it’s limitation too, but I expect that will change in the next couple of years with their decision to OpenSource the Symbian platform. Nokia makes good phones, and sells lots of them, but most people don’t load anything other than content on them. So, not a productivity platform right now. And with Nokia killing off IntelliSync, it’s not certain where they’re going as far as desktop synchronization, so that’s another negative for me.

Google’s Android? One phone, the G1 made by HTC, has been released running Android. More are due, and none are in Canada at this point, with Canadian releases likely at least a year away. In my opinion, it has the same problems as the iPhone; the SDK is immature, as is the software ecosystem. A year or two from now, it could be a whole new ball game, but that doesn’t help me now.

So, that leaves Windows Mobile, previously known as Windows CE. A ways back, Palm users used to joke about it; it made you wince (WinCE) everytime you used it. Well, it’s grown up somewhat since then. Palm OS still beats it hands down when it comes to ease of use, but Windows Mobile is now the more capable operating system. It’s mature, has a stable and thriving developer community, with lots of enhancements being made to address it’s usability issues “out-of-the-box”. HTC and Sony Ericson are making touch-friendly front-ends to WinMo, making it more consumer and finger-friendly, and less like your parents old WinDoze. With all the WinMo handset makers out there, which ones made my shortlist?

I looked at hardware features, OS revision, bundled software, manufacturer reputation, and most important, how much of an active user community there was. I also looked at what kind of third party software was available for each device, which addressed deficiencies in that device, or added value to features the manufacturer didn’t exploit to their fullest. And most importantly, I looked at what I use my mobile for, how and where I use it, and the ergonomics of how I use it; those are three important factors in choosing the type of mobile device to buy. In my case, I use my mobile both one and two-handed: one-handed as a phone or camera, and for information viewing or retrieval (reading mailing lists, news, web browsing, etc.), and two-handed for information capture, e-mail, and content creation (like this blog post, written in a memo on my 650). So, a device has to work both ways for me to consider it. Based on all that, the Treo Pro was a no-brainer as one choice for me. Does that mean it’s a slam dunk for the Treo Pro? Nope! It made the shortlist, but it’s not a shoe-in. It’s facing heavy competition from HTC’s Touch Pro, the Touch Diamond’s big brother.

I had initially ruled out the Diamond (and the Touch Pro) because of concerns about the usability of the device. The Touch’s screen is physically smaller than the iPhones, and the software keyboard took up 2/3 of the screen when exposed. On the Diamond, it was a deal breaker; I lost too much screen real estate to the method of input. But then I started to really look at the ergonomics of how I interacted with my present 650 while I did my common tasks, and I realized I do use it differently based on one or two handed use. For serious content creation, the Touch Pro has the slide-out QWERTY keyboard, whereas one-handed use usually involves the D-pad navigator and the menu keys, or the phone keypad. There’s the odd exception to the rule like today, where some of this was typed one-handed on the 650’s QWERTY keyboard while standing on the bus, bouncing down Limebank Road. So, given that perspective, I only ruled out the Diamond, and kept the Touch Pro on the short list.

The Touch Pro betters the Treo Pro in most hardware specs: more memory, faster CPU, dedicated graphics chip, better camera and better video frame rates on video recordings, higher resolution VGA touchscreen, and accelerometer, light and magnetic stylus sensors. On the other hand, the Treo Pro has a QWERTY candybar/slab style the same size as the iPhone, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a larger battery, and lots of hardware buttons for common actions and functions. They both run Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, with similar software bundles, with the major differences being in their software User Interfaces. The Touch Pro has TouchFlo 3D, which adds some iPhonesque finger swiping interfaces, while the Treo Pro eschews eye-candy for a more business-like Today screen with added features. Being that both devices are manufactured in HTC’s facilities, their build qualities will be the same; HTC actually provided some design experience on the Treo Pro, and Palm chose to license some HTC software for use on the new Treo.

So, which one will it be? Like the Highlander says, “There can only be one” (in reality, it’s because that’s all I can afford; I do have kids to feed!). Like a reality TV show, you’re going to have to wait for the results post when I reveal which got cut, and which went home with me, and why. Stay tuned!

Originally published at PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Blackberry, Change, iPhone, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Technology, Time & Task Management, Treo | 1 Comment »

Decisions, Decisions…

Posted by Michael Brown on July 9, 2008

Lately, I’ve been thinking about switching cell phone carriers. I’ve been with Bell in Canada for years, but Bell’s never been really quick about getting new devices out to market in a reasonable period of time, and lately they’ve been dropping the ball with regard to smartphones. They no longer have any Palm OS devices for sale, and the only Palm Treo’s they have are the Windows Mobile 5 versions, the 700wx. Now, with today’s announcement that Bell and Telus (two Canadian CDMA carriers with cross-service agreements) will be charging for incoming Text (SMS) Messages, that’s merely another reason to start looking elsewhere. In the past, keeping one’s telephone number was a kind of handcuff tying you to your service provider, but since number portability has come to Canada about a year ago, there’s nothing tying you to your provider other than your contract and the quality of service you receive (both technical, like coverage, and customer service).

Bell and Telus’s announcement could not have been planned any worse. The much-hyped iPhone 3G is coming to Rogers this Friday, and Rogers announced that they will be continuing their existing policy of free incoming text messages, which may inspire some people to switch not only carriers, but phone platforms. But not all is happy in Ted Roger’s neighborhood; Rogers is taking huge flack from **potential** iPhone buyers (remember, the iPhone hasn’t made it up north legally, yet!). Their phone plans for the iPhone are nowhere near what they are like in the US. Realistically, ALL our phone voice and data plans are nothing like the US market’s plans. To understand why, you need to understand the Canadian wireless market.

Up North, we have two CDMA carriers, Bell and Telus, and they have cross-service agreements. Bell is entrenched in the East, and Telus in the West. To gain access to each other’s markets, they’ve made deals to make use of each other’s infrastructure, so there isn’t going to be a huge difference in plan pricing, since ultimately your service could be carried over the other’s network. On the GSM side, we have a similar situation; about a year or so ago, Rogers bought up the only other major GSM provider, Fido, and rolled Fido’s network and clients into it’s own fold. There’s Virgin Mobile and Koodo, but they’re not major players here and they only do feature phones, not smartphones, so I’m basically discounting them for this analysis. So, as far as pricing for wireless service goes, you have two choices: your present carrier or the other one (your classic “us or them” scenario). With no real competition up here, there isn’t any competitive pricing for consumers. So, choice up here really comes down to the phone platform itself. If you want a particular device, you are choosing a particular carrier. If that carrier has an exclusive on a device, then they can pretty much do what they want for pricing and plan details. It’s this kind of lack of choice that has led to the creation of Bill C-555, The Get Connected Fairly Act, which I’ll come back to later.

So, at this point in time, choice really comes down to the phone PLATFORM. Why Platform? Because you’re choosing a combination of hardware features, OS, and the biggie, Applications! People use the phone platform to DO something; talk, message, listen or watch media, surf, take pictures, that kind of thing. Feature phones have done these things with a closed OS and application set. If the phone didn’t do something out of the box, it never would. Smartphones allow you to install other applications to add features that aren’t present in the “out-of-the-box experience”. With iPhone firmware 2.0 and the iPhone 3G, it is transitioning from a closed platform to a more open one, which has people excited about it’s potential as a new smartphone platform. For new smartphone users, the iPhone should be a great experience as a platform, since it’s user friendly and “sexy”. For existing smartphone users, it’s not so clear-cut, so it’s time to make some decisions…

If you’ve been using a PDA or smartphone up to now, chances are you’ve got a lot of data wrapped up in various applications, and you have your productivity geared up for performing certain tasks on you mobile device. So, jumping to a new device just because it’s new and “sexy” may be productivity suicide if you suddenly find yourself without the applications or data you need to be productive. And yet, you’re still locked into a multi-year contract with your provider for your new toy, which you can’t use as well as your old one. So, the important thing to remember is “do your homework!” Research the platform(s) you’re considering changing too. Look at the tasks you presently perform with your mobile, and what data you need in order to be productive or entertained. Where is that data kept? How will you migrate it to the new platform? What other tasks do you use your present mobile for, and do they have equivalents on the new platform? How does it feel to use, and how well can you interact with the user interface? What accessories do you presently use with your mobile, and are they compatible with the new one? If they’re not compatible and you really need them, does an equivalent one exist for the new platform? If it has extra wireless features like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, will it work with your existing accessories or other products (like access points or headsets that can have many different protocols or profiles)?

In my case, I have a large investment in Treo peripherals. So, I would obviously like to reuse them where I can. If I choose a platform that doesn’t support my peripherals, I would want to make sure that it supports standards that would avoid “proprietary connectors” wherever possible, so I don’t have to go through this whole “incompatible peripherals” situation again in the future. I also have a large investment in Palm OS/Treo software, so it would be less expensive and less work for me to choose the Centro from Rogers from a software perspective, but the Centro is over priced on Rogers ($299 vs $99 on AT&T in the US!). The other downside is that it’s the same old Palm OS that’s been around since my Treo 650 came out years ago, running on similar hardware with minor upgrades in features, software, RAM and camera, but major upgrades in stability.

Then there’s Windows Mobile, available through Rogers as the Treo 750. Instant compatibility with all my hardware peripherals, but only moderately cheaper than the Centro, believe it or not, at $274. I would have to invest in software replacements to achieve the same functionality I have now on Palm OS, so there’s added expenses there, but I know that all the applications I presently use have an equivalent on Windows Mobile. I would gain a Multi-tasking OS, more memory, and a better camera, a newer Bluetooth stack with Stereo Headset profile, but no Wi-Fi. I know I could bend it to my will if I have too, much like I’ve tweaked my Treo 650. To figure out how much of my software I would have to replace, I could do some testing on the Windows Mobile software simulators available from the Palm Developer Center. So, more work, a bit more money, but a newer OS that has some advantages over the Palm OS that I’ve known, loved, and sometimes cursed, for so long. Were the Treo 800w to come out this week, it might be a more clear cut winner as a platform choice, but it’s only rumoured to be coming out in the US on Sprint around July 13th. If it were to come out in Canada, I think Telus would be the first to get it, since it’s CDMA and they’re quicker on the ball than Bell when it comes to new devices. There’s even a Palm OS emulator (StyleTap), so I could run some of my Palm OS applications on Windows Mobile to smooth out the transition to the new platform.

And then there’s RIM’s Blackberry. With the devices available right now, it’s not really an option for me. It’s lacking stuff at the OS level (no vCal, no sending via Bluetooth, no DUN via Bluetooth), and it’s really lacking in the PIM applications, as well as for other applications I use right now. There is no Blackberry equivalent to DayNotez, nor is there a touch screen I can draw on when I want to like Notepad or Diddlebug. There are other applications I use regularly and would need to replace, adding to the cost of changing platforms, and in general Blackberry applications are considerably more expensive than Palm OS or Windows Mobile applications. Most of my peripherals wouldn’t work with it, but RIM does use standard connectors and protocols, so that in itself is good for the future. Wi-Fi and Docs To Go are coming on the Blackberry Bold, due out around the last week of July, which is a good thing, but still doesn’t address some of my other application needs. I don’t need push e-mail, the Blackberry’s claim-to-fame, so overall, it’s still a no-go for me.

And finally, there’s the iPhone 3G. It’s hyped, it’s new, it’s sexy, and it’s a complete mystery as to what software will be available for it until after this Friday. Out of the box it still can’t do copy & paste, or Stereo Bluetooth Headsets (A2DP). It also doesn’t do MMS, but that’s something I’ve never even used on my Treo 650, so it doesn’t matter to me. It does have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a stable Unix-based OS, and a pretty UI. I’m fast with a Treo or Blackberry keyboard, but I have no idea how well I’d be able to use the virtual keyboard on-screen (I can try out the keyboard at least on an iPod Touch). The price is Right at $199, but then there’s those ridiculous service plans starting at $60/month + stuff like caller ID and voicemail. There aren’t any software simulators to try out, no demo units in stores (at least until Friday), and I have no idea what software will be available that would replace my present applications, nor is there any idea what the pricing structure will be like. How well will it sync with Outlook, and what exactly will sync? How are other applications to Sync? There is supposed to be a version of the StyleTap Palm OS simulator software coming soon, so that’s a plus for smoothing out a transition. There’s also a lot of iPhone/iPod accessories available, so that’s a plus, as well as the rumored user-replaceable battery. So, basically it’s a holding pattern until after this weekend as far as the iPhone is concerned.

So, I still have some of my own homework to pursue, since I want to see how things shake out with the iPhone launch and how the early adopters fare. I try to avoid being on the bleeding edge when it comes to my personal productivity devices. But the best thing about the iPhone coming to Canada isn’t the iPhone itself. It’s the attention it’s bringing to the whole issue of wireless pricing in Canada. The $6.95 Wireless System Access Fee we all pay on our bills was initially created in the 90’s in order to help promote the development of wireless telephony throughout our country, and not just in major population centers. It’s no longer mandated by the CRTC, but the carriers are still charging it as a pure cash grab. Until now, it was hard to prove just how unfair Canadian wireless plan pricing was, since it was easy for them to say “Different hardware features, different software features, different service features”, etc. But the difference is black and white when you can compare Canadian Apples to American Apples when our currencies are so close in value. So, I would encourage Canadian readers to contact you local MPP about supporting Bill C-555, the “Get Connected Fairly Act”. Sign the online petition at or if you’re incensed about Rogers pricing for the iPhone, sign the petition at or better yet, sign both! The iPhone launch has a lot of media attention right now as does Bell & Telus’s SMS announcement, so it’s a great time for Canadians to rise up with one voice and tell the carriers, and our elected government representatives, “We’re not gonna take it anymore!”

Initially published to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Blackberry, Change, iPhone, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Technology, Time & Task Management, Treo | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Get some colour happening in your calendar

Posted by Michael Brown on April 24, 2008

Colour is an effective means for getting a grasp on a lot of information in one place. When it comes to your calendar, it can really help you get a handle on your schedule and commitments. For those people who synchronize with Microsoft Outlook, there is an easy way to add some colour to your life. This works with Outlook 2003 and 2007, and the built-in Palm Calendar on modern handhelds. It could also be implemented on other Palm calendars like DateBk6.

Calendar Labels

First of all, get your Palm and open the calendar application. In the category picker, choose Edit Categories. At the same time, open Outlook, select the Calendar, and choose the menus Edit => Label => Edit Labels. Choose Colours that match on both Outlook and the Handheld, and edit the Labels text to match the category you’re using on the handheld. In this example below, I’d edit the “Phone Call” label to match up with the colour I’ve chosen on the handheld. Finish choosing colours for all the Palm categories, and edit the corresponding Outlook labels.

Edit Categories

Automatic Formatting

Now, here’s where the magic really happens. In Outlook, choose the menus Edit => Automatic Formatting. Add a new rule, and call it one of your categories. Choose the same-named label in the picker below, and then click the condition button. Click on the More Choices tab, then type in the name of your category in the Categories field. Click OK when you’re done entering your rule. Add rules for each of the categories you wish to colour code. You can also add rules to look for specific text if you tend to use keywords in your appointments.

Now, your desktop and handheld calendars are just as colourful and co-ordinated!

Outlook Coloured CalendarPalm Colour week view

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in GTD, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Time & Task Management, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

My Top 10 list of things to fix for the next-gen Treo/Palm platform.

Posted by Michael Brown on March 21, 2008

I’m no David Letterman, but here’s my Top 10 list of things Palm needs to fix in order to have a successful Next Generation Palm OS platform. Many of them apply to other manufacturers in the smartphone space, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to pay heed; otherwise, they might not be laughing later on. So, heeeeere we go!

10. Consistant API’s between models in a product family. Here’s where Palm has been really blowing it the last few years. Many standard features were implemented in different ways on different Treo models. That just frustrates developers, and makes the end-user experience inconsistent. Imagine being a programmer and having to write code like this:

Function FlashStatusLed
If Treo650 Then
Else If Treo680 Then
Else If Treo755p Then
End Function

Would you want to spend time writing code for each and every model in a product family, or would you rather write code for another platform that didn’t have those issues? That’s not to say that platforms like Windows Mobile and Blackberry don’t have their own problems, but generally, stuff from the same manufacturer/product family works the same way.

9. The Bluetooth A2DP (Stereo music headphone) profile should be built-in). Come on, $50 feature phones have it, so why should Treo owners who’ve already paid big bucks for their smartphone have to fork out extra for 3rd party additions to get the same functionality?

8. A USB connector with USB host capability. We’d like to be able to use our handheld computers/smartphones with printers, flash drives, digital cameras, and USB keyboards. Generic device and printer drivers
should come installed, with the option to download specific ones Over-The-Air or at the next HotSync, based on information the system gets from the USB id’s of the peripherals. USB On-the-Go could be a good way to go; one connector that changes modes depending on what device is hooked up to it.

And pleeeeeease, use industry standard USB mini connectors and not something proprietary! I personally have gone through the Palm III series, the not-so-aptly named “Universal Connector” on my Tungsten T, the Treo 600, and now the “Athena Connector” used on Treo’s and TX’s, and had to change peripherals and cables/chargers FOUR times now. In the future, I’m not buying anything else that doesn’t use USB or Bluetooth for connectivity – PERIOD! (I might make an exception for a Linux Powered Treo that uses the existing Athena Connector, since I already have the stuff).

7. Wi-Fi and better Bluetooth. Windows Mobile and Blackberries have Wi-Fi and so does the iPhone, so Palm needs to have it too if they want to stay competitive. Wi-Fi is everywhere now, and it makes more sense to use it for streaming applications than using the Carrier’s wireless, especially in places (like Canada) where we either don’t have unlimited data plans, or they’re prohibitively expensive. Bluetooth should be upgraded to a more reliable driver stack, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, and should include the profiles people want to use like A2DP, file transfer, BT printing and wireless input like keyboards and even mice! People use their mobile devices in different ways, so they should have the freedom to use it the way they want without having to search for other software to give them the “Out of box” experience they’re expecting. Mobile computing is becoming commonplace, and some people want a familiar “desktop feel” for working with their mobile devices. If it means including generic drivers for keyboards and mice, it’s a small price to pay to include it if it helps generate more sales and a better user experience.

6. Extensible PIM apps with a Real API! Sorry, Palm, but the DataMangler (uh DataManager) patch doesn’t count! People have Instant Messengers, e-mail, and SMS/MMS as means of communicating, as well as regular cell phone and now VOIP calling capabilities on handhelds. They don’t want to have to keep their contacts in a a half dozen different applications. The PIM apps should use an extensible database system to keep all that information in one place. Something like a light-weight SQL database that can be extended. Access has done this right by using sqlite as their PIM database engine in ALP.

The PIMS should allow for linking between the various applications. Many people want to see appointments involving or linking to a certain contact or group of people. Hierarchical tasks are also something that many people want, giving them the ability to do lightweight project management on their handhelds. Custom views are also something people want; it’s their information, let them see it the way it makes sense to them. And most important, stick to the Zen of Palm; fast, intuitive, and easy to use.

5. Better power management and battery life. Granted, my Treo 650 is two years old now, and both my batteries have seen a lot of use, but I HAVE to charge my device daily if I want to get through the day (and always have since I bought it). My wife’s Blackberry Curve goes for several days without needing a charge, and that’s with it receiving e-mail throughout the day and night. I don’t get e-mail via the carrier’s network, just the phone and SMS, and I can’t make
it past 16 hours; some days it’s flat after 10 hours. It’s gotta be better than that if you want to compete with other handheld manufacturers.

Models like the 680 and the Centro have been repeatably criticized for their lack of battery life when compared to other products. With the Linux kernel, power management should be better, especially if they implement “on-demand” CPU management. When the system is idle, like waiting for input or “sleeping” with the screen off, the system can automatically under-clock the processor, and then ramp it back up when it’s needed. For example, I wrote this post using PsMemo into the Memo’s database. Even if I’m typing fast, I’m still not taxing the CPU running at 312 MHz; it would be the exact same user experience as it was on my old IIIx running at 33 MHz. While there is all sorts of software available for the Palm platform that will under/overclock based on what applications are running, this really should be an Operating System function, and not something people have to find on their own and buy. This betters the out-of-box experience, improves performance and battery life, and when properly implemented into the OS leads to increased…

4. Stability! This has been a problem with recent handhelds, especially the 700p. Palm OS Garnet doesn’t have memory protection, so badly written applications can walk all over another app, causing a crash. Combine that with the dbcache and NVFS problems on newer units, and that has some people’s units crashing or resetting several times a day. End users won’t understand why, they’ll just say the thing is crap and move to another platform. The next generation Palm OS (from Palm Inc.) is supposed to be based on Linux, which will solve a lot of these problems. The key to success, though, will be the compatibility layer, which will allow the Garnet applications to run on the Linux kernel. Not much info has come from Palm about their layer, but a fair bit is known about Accesses’ ALP. Both companies and any manufacturers using ALP should be aware that many new sales will be based on the fact that people will want to run their favourite Palm OS applications on the new device, so the compatibility layer needs to be as stable and robust as the underlying Linux OS. Again, end-users won’t care **why** something doesn’t work; if it doesn’t work or isn’t stable and reliable, they’ll just say it’s crap and go somewhere else.

3. Listen to your customers, not just the carriers! Carriers like to “customize” devices before they go on the market. In some cases, they’ve removed functionality in order to reduce their support costs, or to force the end-user to use pricey services.

Well, heeeelllllo! Wake up and smell the coffee! It’s 2008 and Ma Bell isn’t the only player in the game. With number portability becoming the norm, people are no longer tied to a particular carrier in order to keep their number. If a carrier wants to keep customers, then they need to provide value for money. End-users tell you what is of value to them, since they’re the ones that buy the phones and pay for the contracts. Ignore them at your peril (and that goes for the carriers too!)

2. Publicly acknowledge bugs, and Fix Them! Forums, mailing lists, and instant messengers were abuzz with issues from the Treo 700p, and even the 650 back in it’s day. And people are still ticked off about the stability issues of the 700p, and the lack of an update from Palm to fix them. There’s been class action lawsuits because of issues on Palm products, and these have resulted from Palm’s poor handling of bugs and hardware problems (and Palm isn’t alone in the industry in this respect). You’d think they’d learn by now…

If you want customer loyalty, show you’re trustworthy; fess up when you screw up, and fix it to the customer’s satisfaction. Whatever it costs to fix it will save you from losing customers (and gaining lawsuits!), will likely ensure those customers are repeat customers; it may even get you new ones. Generally, a happy customer tells 2 or 3 other people while an unhappy one tells on average 8-10 other people. These days with the Internet and all it’s possible soapboxes, one unhappy customer can tell large part of the world population!

1. Marketing and Advertising! It doesn’t matter if you have a superior product to the competition if nobody knows about it or has enough reasons to buy it! (Hmmm, remember Betamax?) There are whole magazines touting Windows Mobile products, MS Mobile TV commercials, Apple iPhone commercials and fanboy advertising, Blackberry TV and print ads, but where’s Palm? I haven’t seen any advertising for Palm in Canada in recent years; I can’t speak to other markets. Palm needs to get out there and advertise. Word of mouth helps lot too, so fix the other things on this top 10 list, and your happy customers will be your most successful sales force.

In the mean time, start targeting your advertising to your different market segments, and create hardware/software bundles that meet their needs. Don’t do it by staying in house; get out there and get some new blood, take some risks and be creative. Use focus groups of real, everyday people if you have too! Apple and the iPhone have set the new bar for creating a buzz for a product; either beat it, or go home.

YodaWith Palm’s stock price heading downward, and competition heating up, Palm Inc. can’t afford to go at this as they have in the past. To paraphrase Master Yoda, “Do or do not, there is no status quo”.

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Linux, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Treo | 2 Comments »

The Desktop is a dying breed…

Posted by Michael Brown on August 22, 2007

HP TouchSmart PC
At least that’s the gist of what I heard a Best Buy employee telling a shopper. The shopper was looking at this new HP TouchSmart “Family PC” and trying out it’s Smart Centre functions. It has a 19″ touchscreen, a Family Calendar, a message center, integrated TV tuner, webcam and microphone, and wireless keyboard, mouse and stylus. It runs Windows Vista, so it has the Media Centre functionality built-in. The shopper thought it was cool, but asked “Why would they make something like this?”. The Best Buy guy said that laptops are outselling desktops 6 to 1, and that most people are buying laptops as a personal item, no different than a PDA, cell phone or music player. He also said that even though some families have a laptop for each family member, they still wanted a “Family PC” for keeping shared files and media, so HP designed something that could go on a kitchen counter or family room table to fit those requirements plus more.

The funny thing is, I recognized the truth and implications of that right away, because I’m going through a similar situation right now. I’ve built every PC I’ve ever owned from parts I’ve researched and found to meet my needs, so I get everything I need, and nothing extra I don’t. So, when my old desktop needed upgrading, I did the same thing, and just moved my Windows 2000 installation “as-is” to the new machine (it wasn’t quite that simple, but you get the point). And it’s a nice machine: Asus motherboard, 2GB OCZ RAM, AMD X2 2.6GHz processor, SATA II drive. It’s powerful, fast, and… I maybe get to use it a couple of hours a week if I’m lucky! Family life with two young kids does not lend itself to going to the home office and getting some stuff done on the desktop. That can only happen at nap times, or when they finally go to bed (at which point I’m so tired I probably want to go to bed too!). So, most of the time I use my Treo for computing work I need to do (which is what it’s intended for); for when I need more horsepower, I use VNC to my server, and run those applications there. It can get a little tedious after a while though, working with desktop applications running in a resolution of 1024×768 or higher, on a display 320×320 in size!

Sadly, I’ve come to the realization that I need portability and mobility… for in my house! The Treo does everything I need it too while I’m out-and-about, but I’m really tied down at home using the desktop. I could get a laptop, but I don’t find them as portable or as ergonomic as they could be. So, being a long time Palm user, I’m thinking a convertible Tablet PC is the way to go. It has the pen interface I’ve always liked about Palm handhelds, with the power and flexibility of a portable PC. A convertible tablet is one that has a keyboard like a conventional laptop, but turns into a “slate” tablet with a “twist-and-flip” of the display. The only disadvantage to the Tablet PC is price; they’re still considered a “niche” item with some pricey components in them, and you do pay a premium for that. So, I may end up having to settle for a resonably priced laptop and using my Wacom Graphire 4 tablet with it; after all, I’ve got a mortgage to pay and kids to feed, so something has to give somewhere. Decisions, decisions, but I digress…

As far as the “Family PC”; I think it’s a concept that will work well. As more and more of our daily interactions become digital, and the pace of our lifestyles increases, the calendar on the fridge just won’t cut it anymore. We’ve had a home server running in the house since 2003; it’s the central repository for all shared media and files, the mail server, HTPC recording backend, and a VNC terminal server (for access by my Treo, or for long running operations on a desktop application). It’s the hub of our home systems, as it’s accessible from everything from my Treo, to my desktop or my wife’s work laptop, to devices like the HTPC and the MediaMVP we use for viewing various media like TV programs and movies, family pictures and videos. I’m too much of a DIY person to run out and buy something like the TouchSmart (it’ll be more fun to try and replicate the same functionality using Open-Source components and my choice of hardware). But I can honestly say I can see it as the hub in many a household, tying together laptops, UMPC’s, PDA’s and smartphones, keeping the family organized and in touch in the coming digital era. Having something like this allows you to have a common repository for family information, as well as a common message centre. Imagine being able to forward VoIP voice mail (or Video voice mail), voice or video messages from family members, ink notes, or even the grocery list to a family member’s Treo, with just a few taps of your finger. Or how about making dinner arrangements, and having it entered into each family members calendar automatically, available when they next sync. The possibilities are endless; think your group calendars at work, but applied to the home and combined with the power of Internet Calendars.

Apple could easily make something similar to the SmartTouch PC with a Multi-Touch iMac, an umbrella package like SmartCentre, and many of their existing software packages (iCal, Front Row, iPhoto, iTunes, Inkwell, etc). The desktop as we know it is dying in the home; it will become a niche market for power users, system builders, and gamers with the need for speed. Evolution is happening in the home, and the Family PC won’t look like it’s boxy brethren of old; slick new fashionable designs, combined with powerful user interfaces and family organizational tools will make this a pleasure to use, and more interesting than sticky notes and the calendar on the fridge that nobody bothers to read. This new class of “Family PC” is huge; this may be a big step towards the Jetson’s home of the future.

Originally posted to Palm Addicts here.

Posted in Inter-operability, Open Source Software, Palm, PalmAddicts, PC, PIM, Productivity, Time & Task Management, Windows | Leave a Comment »

Keeping in Touch with Contacts

Posted by Michael Brown on August 10, 2007

Contacts is another of the Core applications on Palm OS devices that is under-appreciated by some folks who use it. It’s not merely an address book, it can be a light form of Customer Relations Manager (CRM) application as well, with only a little bit of work from you.

Categories are a great way of grouping contacts into larger batches, like clients, prospects, family, services, etc. Using one of the “user fields” as a keyword or tags field is another way of searching through batches of contacts. Simply use the Palm find feature while inside the contacts application to find people that have a certain keyword or tag associated with them. The same tricks could be used to keep track of services; input the details of your favourite restaurants, and then tag the contact with stuff like the nationality of the food, the atmosphere, or other criteria of interest to you.

You can also use the other user fields for stuff like spouse’s name, children’s names, account numbers or order numbers, or whatever you need. The notes field is a great place for contact history or logging, as it can contain up to 32000 characters; if you need more history than that, you can use an external application like DayNotez, which links to records in the Contacts database. To make it easy to use, and to keep your keywords consistent, think of using an application like ShortCut5 to allow you to enter commonly used terms quickly and painlessly. Consistency is key when tagging information; either use the same abbreviation, or the same phrase, every time to ensure you find everything you’re looking for.

Originally posted to Palm Addicts here.

For some good tips on Tagging, check out this post.

Posted in Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Technology, Treo | Leave a Comment »

Memo to Self: take a memo…

Posted by Michael Brown on July 23, 2007

The Memo Pad, or Memos on newer Palms, is one of the most underappreciated applications on the Palm OS platform. It’s simplicity is it’s power; it’s the one place where you can put a lot of unstructured information, and then define your own structure and methods for organizing it. At last count, I’ve got over 700 memos on my Treo, and climbing daily. I write blog posts in Memos before posting them, capture quotes and other pieces of reference information, record meeting minutes, and make lists of things to do or buy.

I use psMemo as my main “front-end” to the Memos database, since it has some nice features like quick search, time and date stamps, and copy/cloning of memos or memo titles. Memoleaf also has some nice features like the keybank (tags), bulk operations like re-categorizing or marking search results private, and templates. daMemoPad gives you pop-up access to your memos from other applications, allowing you to copy and paste between programs. daMemoPad hasn’t been updated for a while, so you need to be aware that it will only access the first 4k on Memos (and not the full 32k on newer devices). Be aware that if you edit a memo that is larger than 4k using daMemoPad, it will truncate (delete) everything after the 4k point.

All of these programs work with the standard Memos database, keeping all your information in one place, meaning that your conduits will sync all that information to your desktop, where it can be backed up and searched using your desktop’s search tools. Try it, you’d be surprised how handy it can be having so much information at your fingertips, just a global find away!

Originally posted to PalmAddicts, here.

Posted in Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Treo | Leave a Comment »

What’s in the box?

Posted by Michael Brown on August 26, 2005

Most people don’t have an idea of what a Palm Powered handheld is capable of, and that’s unfortunate. The common perception of “the Palm Pilot” is that it’s an electronic organizer, and that’s a perception Palm (as a company) should be trying to fix (Hello Marketing, wake up; it’s the 21st century!). Yes, it’s an organizer, but it’s much more than that. Here are some of the things that it can do “out-of-the-box”:

It can play music. Most handhelds these days come with an MP3 player, either built-in or on the CD that is in the box. After all, you just spent X dollars on your handheld, so it’s nice not to HAVE to buy another gadget to listen to music. That’s especially handy now that it’s back to school, and most parent’s wallets are feeling some pain.

It can view pictures. Everyone’s heard of the “brag book”; the place where favourite pictures are carried. It’s especially handy if ALL your favourite photo’s can fit in your pocket. It makes it all the more convenient to show them to friends and family. I keep some wedding photos, and some pictures of my wife and daughter on my Treo, to show people I run into that I haven’t seen in a while. It’s also nice to look at some friendly faces on “those kind of days”.

It can work with Microsoft Office Documents (and some other compatible formats). Almost all of the currently shipping handhelds (except the Zire 31) come with software that allows you to view and edit MS Office Documents on your handheld. Most of the training materials my company delivers were created on my Palm handheld. That way you can make productive use of your time to work on documents, no matter where you are. You don’t even need a laptop to be able to write Word documents or Excel spreadsheets; you can do it with your handheld wherever you find yourself. Imagine not having to lug a heavy laptop to work or school, or travelling through airports, just to type a few documents.

It can play videos. The software that comes with it varies by model, but they do play videos. The process usually involves converting the video on your desktop PC to something that will fit your handheld’s screen and capabilities. Sure, it won’t have a “big screen” experience, but it’s perfect for catching your favourite sitcom while you’re riding the bus or waiting in line.

It can do E-mail. All current palm handhelds come with VersaMail, which allows you to synchronize e-mail onto the handheld at every HotSync. You can then read, reply or compose mails when – and where – it’s convenient. Those mails will be stored in your handheld’s outbox until the next HotSync, when they’ll be sent. Smartphones like the Treo’s have their own mail client, which makes use of the cellular carrier’s network. That means you can check and respond to email whenever and wherever you are; you don’t have to wait to get back to your PC.

The nice thing about the Treo’s mail is that YOU decide when you get your mail. Blackberries have e-mail “pushed” out to them when it arrives at the server, and it’s not always at times that are convenient to you. With the Treo, you “pull” it to your smartphone when it’s convenient for YOU. Both VersaMail and TreoMail allow you to handle several e-mail accounts, so you can manage work and personal accounts on the same device. I use VersaMail on my Treo, and on my Tungsten T, and I find it to be a good product.

It can do SMS (Short Messaging Service). It may be able to do MMS (Multi-media Messaging Service) also, depending on the software included in your model of handheld or smartphone. MMS also depends on the service being offered by your cellular carrier (and the carrier of the person you wish to message). SMS is like instant messaging, but it can be easier on a handheld, because you have a larger screen. How it works is that it connects to your cell phone using Bluetooth or Infra-red, and allows you to compose, read, and save SMS messages on your handheld instead of on your cell phone.

SMS on the Treo smartphone is especially nice, because it groups messages from the same person into a “chat thread”. Let’s say I message my wife (which we do frequently). When I open the SMS application, it shows me messages grouped by person’s phone number. The app is smart enough to pull my wife’s name from my address book and display the messages as being from her. When I open that chat thread, it shows me our entire history of conversation, with most recent on the bottom. I can set a colour for my messages, and my wife’s messages are shown in a different colour. Our conversation is shown as it occurred, with my comments and hers shown in the correct “historical” order.

Oh yeah, it’s also a great electronic organizer. It has everything we’ve come to expect from a Palm PDA. It has a Date book/Calendar with alarms, repeating events, and all sorts of wonderful features that aren’t available in a paper planner. It has a task/to do list that you can use to help you organize your life. It has an Address/Contacts application which can keep track of all the phone numbers, addresses, and e-mail addresses of all the people you know – and you’ll never have to cross out or re-write them again when they move! It also has a Memo pad application, and an abundance of digital “sticky notes” that can help you keep track of all the information that hits you over the course of a day. All the palm-branded handhelds come with conduits for Microsoft Outlook, as well as palm’s own Palm Desktop (a Personal Information Manager, or PIM) to keep a copy of your valuable information on your desktop or laptop computer.

So, those are the things that a handheld can do, right out-of-the-box. Those are also not the first things people associate with a PDA, since to most people it’s just an electronic organizer. It is that, but much, much more. I tell my clients to think of it as a life management tool. A palm handheld or smartphone is really a handheld computer, and being a computer, it can be customized to suit your needs by installing software that addresses your unique requirements. Next week I’ll be talking about back to school, and how a handheld or smartphone can help the students you know “make the grade” this year.

Posted in Palm, PIM, Productivity, Treo | Leave a Comment »

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 »