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 ‘Technology’ Category

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 & OpenOffice.org 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 http://www.davidmcguinty.com/english/Take_Action/Petition_The_House/Petition_C_555_Frais_d_acces.html or if you’re incensed about Rogers pricing for the iPhone, sign the petition at http://www.ruinediphone.com/ 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 »

Getting Things Done using your Palm to Process

Posted by Michael Brown on April 16, 2008

So, if you accepted the mission in our last episode, you now have a large collection of “stuff” sitting in the unfiled category of one or more applications on your Palm device. Now it’s time to start dealing with it.

Projects list in psMemoOpen each application that you put “stuff” in, go to the unfiled category and open each item there. Ask yourself “Is this actionable or not?”. If it’s not something that requires action, then you need to decide why it’s there. If it’s for future reference, then file it in the memo’s application. You can create some useful categories in the memo application that will help group similar things together, like placing them in the same “file folder”. I usually recommend the following categories as a minimum for use with memos: Reference, Projects, Someday/Maybe, and Lists. Most Palms come with Personal and Business as categories as well, so you can keep them if you prefer to separate things that way. You may want to have Projects – Business and Projects – Home if you have a lot on the go. File your memo where appropriate, and make sure the subject makes sense to you (like a summary). The subject will appear in the memo list view, and a good summary will help you find stuff later.

Let’s say your item may not be actionable now, but it’s something you may want to do in the future. That’s what the Someday/Maybe category is for. Stuff in there is “backburnered”, like a trip you might want to take, or a home improvement project you might want to do. It’s a place to keep stuff that you’ve thought of, but are not ready to do yet.

If it is actionable, then ask yourself this question “Can I do this right now in a couple of minutes?”. If you can, then just do it! Delete your item knowing you’ve just knocked off one thing you had to do.

If you can’t do it for whatever reason, then you have to decide what to do with it. First, let’s create some categories in the Tasks (or ToDo) application that will allow us to “put the wheels to the road” for when it comes time to do things. David Allen recommends using “contexts” or places to organize tasks, and recommends prefixing them with the @ symbol which has a dual meaning and a practical purpose. The dual meaning is “actionable” and “at” (as in location). By prefixing your contexts (in our case categories) with @, they will sort to the top of a list of categories, and stand out from non-actionable items.

I usually recommend the following categories or contexts for handheld use: @Work, @Home, @Errands, @WaitingFor, @Computer, and @Calls or @Phone. Since you have a handheld, and can do some things wherever you are, an @Anywhere may also be applicable if you’re able to work strictly with your mobile.

Now we have some categories, let’s start going through the items in your unfiled “inbox”. Do the things you can do in a couple of minutes: if it takes longer to track it than to do it, you’re better off just doing it! For those things that you can’t do, you have two choices; delegate it or defer it. Think about what needs to be done (and who should do it), and create a task with the appropriate description. Start it with a verb; Call Bill about project X, Buy part for car. If it’s a straight-forward, one time action, place the task into the category “where” you can do it. Call Bill would go in the @Calls category, and Buy part would go into @Errands.

Some of the items may be a part of something more complex or with more steps than a simple one-off task. For example, “buy part for car” will lead into “install part in car”. These are the things that require a bit more planning and organization than simple one-offs, so we’ll go into more detail in the next post in this series, Organizing. Now this brings us back to the audience participation part of the show; yup, more homework!

Decide what needs to be done for each thing that’s in your unfiled category. Start it with a verb, and make it specific to what needs to be done as a single action. If it’s bigger than a single action, file it in the projects category of your Memos application; we’ll look at it next time in the Organizing part of this series. Single items can be turned into tasks, and filed by the context you will be in to actually “do it” later. Calls go into @Phone, Work items go into @Work, etc. Now, let’s look at some easier ways to get stuff into a “doable” form.

AccessorizerSince the Palm OS is not multi-tasking, it can be frustrating switching between applications, and then having to find your place again when you want to switch back. In the past, DA’s or Desk accessories were created to allow you to pop up one application over top of another. A whole slew of little programs were created to allow access to the built-in databases. A gent named Alexander Pruss has made something even better than DA’s themselves. He’s created “the Accessorizer”, allowing you to generate a DA from most programs. This gives you the ability to pop-up one of the other built-ins (for example, Tasks) over top of say Memos, allowing you to copy from one application into another. Then you simply hit the Launcher button (the house icon) to return to the previous application. I’d highly recommend using the Accessorizer to create DA’s for Tasks, Memos, and Calendar. This will allow you to process, and later organize, the material you’ve collected and triaged.

DALauncher pop-upTwo things to be cautious about… One, not all applications will like to be turned into DA’s, so you may experience crashes. Start off with one application at a time, and run with it for a while before adding another. The second thing to be aware of is that you cannot pop up a DA instance of an application over top of the regular version of that application; that is, don’t pop up Memos over top of Memos, or your Palm will crash. Accessorizer can be found at 1src.com here. You’ll need a DA launcher to be able to launch your new DA applications; I use the aptly named DALauncher.

Transcribing a noteIf you use the Notepad, use the title line to transcribe what you scribbled down and then use copy and paste to get it into tasks or memos. Diddlebug has a nice transfer function, which gives you a line that you can transcribe onto and then use plugins or copy/paste to get your stuff where it needs to go. The notepad title trick works equally well for voice recorder applications like mVoice; simply listen to your recording (pausing when needed) and transcribe a shortened version onto the title line.

So, you have your homework, and some tricks that can help make it a little easier. Stay tuned for my next post in this series, Organizing using your Palm. This is Michael Brown, signing off till next time.

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Palm, PalmAddicts, Productivity, Technology, Time & Task Management, Treo | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Interesting times ahead

Posted by Michael Brown on February 14, 2008

There’s an old Chinese proverb (or curse, depending on your point of view); may you live in interesting times. Well, there’s interesting times ahead in the mobile sector, based on the press releases coming out of Barcelona this past week. It’s made for interesting reading while I’ve been getting over the flu.

Access (formerly Palmsource and makers of ALP or Palm OS on Linux) had a tonne of announcements. Every one of those were significant, and really showed how badly Palm has mis-managed things since the Palm/PalmSource split. The first significant announcement was that Access and MontaVista (another big mobile Linux OS vendor) are combining software stacks. That means Palm OS compatibility on many Mobilinux platforms (and not just cell phones). So, you could see “appliances” like GPS units or media players running Palm OS applications in the near future. This gives Access a much wider application and manufacturer base; for example, Motorola uses MontaVista Linux in it’s smartphone products.

Right after that announcement came one about Wind River (another major Linux OS vendor) and Access providing an integrated solution featuring ALP. So, basically it means that the other major Linux handset OS vendor is also now PalmOS-compatible. So, we now have two major suppliers of Linux for handsets and embedded devices, both with established manufacturing client bases, running a PalmOS-compatible environment that any hardware manufacturer can load onto their handsets. Palm Inc., you sweating yet? If not, you will be in a minute.

Access also announced the availability of their ALP software development kit, or SDK, and the launch of their developer website. So, all the software, tools and support to write applications on a next-generation Palm-compatible Linux OS are available to third-party software developers. Palm Inc. still hasn’t finished their next-gen OS, much less have the tools in place for other developers to write value-added software.

For a change of pace, here’s another significant announcement that doesn’t involve Access (directly). Dataviz announced that Documents to Go is coming to MontaVista Linux. So, that means the Office document software for mobiles that has been a mainstay of Palm Handhelds is now available for Linux-based Handsets running Mobilinux. That’ll be a native Linux-based version, one that can take full advantage of the hardware and OS features (rather than running Palm DocsToGo in ALP’s PalmOS emulation environment, which is also a possibility). This means any Mobilinux licensee gets a real, native, Office-compatible office suite AND Palm OS compatibility through ALP. Sweating buckets yet, Palm?

The real Pièce de résistance is that you can have yourself a brand new, next-generation PalmOS-compatible, Linux-powered handset in June if you’re on Orange in Europe; but it won’t be made by Palm. The Samsung i800 is expected to be shipping in June, and will be running Access’s ALP platform. And that’s just Samsung; Panasonic and Motorola also license MontaVista Linux (and thus ALP). We could have a plethora of new, next-generation Palm-OS compatible handsets on the market before year’s end… and before Palm Inc. ships it’s first next-gen smartphone. Hey, Palm! That smartphone better be the best thing to hit mobile computing since the original Treo; you’re not going to get a second chance. These are definitely interesting times right now; a blessing for some, a curse to others, and only time will tell which it will be for Palm Inc.

Posted in Palm, PalmAddicts, Technology, Treo | 4 Comments »

So, how do you know if that remote is working?

Posted by Michael Brown on February 10, 2008

Remote Control on Camera

Pretty much every electronic gadget has a remote control these days. The fancier ones have a status light or backlit keyboard, so you know if the batteries are still working. But what about the remotes that don’t have the fancy features? Here’s where your Treo or camera equipped handheld or mobile comes in…

IR Monitor

Fire up the camera app on your device, and point the remote at the camera. Start pressing buttons on the remote. You should see a bright (or dim) pulsing light depending on the strength of the batteries. You can also use this trick to test individual buttons on remotes that have suffered accidental drops or beverage spills (or toddlers/pets chewing on them).

If you need to get fancier in your reception of IR signals, you can use a Palm application called IR monitor on any IR enabled Palm device. It let’s you observe the actual IR modulation, so you can really see what’s going on with your remotes. And don’t forget, you can always use your handheld or Treo as a remote, using software such as Novii Remote.

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Is there a virtual Palm in your Future?

Posted by Michael Brown on January 2, 2008


First there was virtual pets, now there is virtual Palms. With the recent release of the Garnet Virtual Machine for the Nokia Internet tablets, it now joins StyleTap as another contender for virtualizing your Palm device on different portable hardware. The real benefit of the Palm OS platform has always been the abundance of third-party applications which can personalize your handheld for your lifestyle. Many people get hooked on a particular application, which may not have a counterpart on another platform, and that confines them to staying on the same platform. Virtualization technologies like StyleTap and the Garnet VM allow you to run your favourite applications on a different hardware/OS platform, which means you can choose new hardware which has the features you want, while still being able to run your favourite applications. For those people who tire of dealing with the limitations of the existing Palm OS or hardware, you now have the freedom to choose something more to your liking.

As for the timing of this release, it’s definately a shot across Palm’s bow, and will hurt Palm’s handheld sales to some degree this holiday season. Nokia has recently released it’s N810 Internet Tablet, and the N800’s are still selling strong, priced around $260 CDN, compared to the Palm Tungsten TX priced around $280 CDN. So, for $20 less, you get 2 memory slots, a webcam, stereo speakers and headphones, and a 800×480 screen, along with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and a Linux-based OS. Up till now, the Internet tablet was really only lacking a viable PIM suite; with the release of the Garnet VM, you can now have all your old favourites for free, and HotSync too! It also benefits Access in promoting it’s ALP product to potential clients, and by building in feedback tools to the Garnet VM, they can benefit from the “testing” by a large userbase.

So, Palm, I’ll say it again; it’s time to swallow your pride and look long and hard at licensing ALP, since your home-grown OS won’t be out ’till late 2008, or the next virtual Palm we see may be a virtual Palm Inc., as seen in the Wayback Machine.

Originally posted to Palm Addicts here.

Posted in Linux, Open Source Software, Palm, PalmAddicts, Technology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Recent deal does not bode well for Palm

Posted by Michael Brown on October 5, 2007

Given that Palm recently stated in the Q1 FY08 investor conference call that the next generation Linux-based Palm OS would not be ready until the end of 2008, and that it was being developed in-house, I have grave concerns that Palm will not get it out the gate in time to make it worthwhile. These concerns stem from the recent deal between Emblaze Mobile, Sharp, and ACCESS, where they announce they are developing a device which will “revolutionize mobile communication”. Emblaze claims they’ve been working on the device design for the past five years, and that Sharp will provide the hardware and ACCESS the software. Let’s look at this more closely to see why I’m concerned for Palm.

First of all, Sharp is involved. Sharp is a major manufacturer, one that makes a lot of parts for mobile devices; in fact, many Palm devices use Sharp LCD’s . They’ve also made the Zaurus line of Linux-powered PDA’s, which have quite the following in Linux circles. They’ve been making other PDA’s for years; my first PDA was the Sharp SE-300. They also manufacture Notebook PC’s, mobile digital audio players, projectors, professional video products, and other entertainment devices which are of interest to today’s consumers. So, basically they are a multimedia, computing, and handheld powerhouse, one that makes much of their own hardware, which lowers their parts cost (and thus overhead) greatly. Compared to Palm, which contracts out the building to companies like HTC, they are now at an advantage by being able to sell the devices cheaper, while still making a good profit.

Sharp is also the manufacturer of the Sidekick/Hiptop series of mobile phones, which gives them a lot of experience in the mobile communications space. Now, when you combine that experience with their other product lines, it makes them a very formidable player in the mobile space. What has been holding them back is the limited selection of 3rd party software for the Danger OS running the devices, and the fact that software is written and encrypted for specific versions of the OS on specific carriers. Not all carriers carry their devices, since they compete somewhat feature-wise with the Blackberry, which limits their brand recognition and market penetration of the mobile space.

Now, we all know that ACCESS owns the former PalmSource, and it’s present and future versions of Palm OS (Garnet and ALP). ALP, the Linux-based successor for Palm OS, has been in development for years, and is now available to licencees. The Access Developer network is open to developers, and the software development kits and compatibility test tools are available now. That means the ALP software is available to manufacturers NOW, although we just haven’t seen any devices based on it yet. So, where as Palm is still working on “their version” of Palm OS Linux, Access has ALP ready to roll.

Now, enter Emblaze Mobile, centre stage. They’re the makers of the Emblaze Touch 7, a multimedia feature phone which was targeted at the youth market in the UK and Europe. They’ve got hardware experience and software experience, much like Sharp, but they’re a small, albiet creative, player in the mobile space. Think Handspring when they first came out with the Treo 180.

When you look at them individually, it’s just “business as usual”; different players in the hi-tech space. What should have Palm very worried is this deal, making them a direct threat to the Palm Inc. device lines. Emblaze mobile is kinda like what Handspring was before Palm bought them up, bringing the Palm founders back into the fold. A small, passionate company looking to create a wave in the communications world. Sharp brings manufacturing muscle to the team, as well as their own experiences with the Sidekick/Hiptop and Zaurus lines. Access brings instant Palm OS compatibility to the mix, allowing Palm device owners an easy migration path to the Emblaze/Sharp platform, while bringing thousands of existing Palm OS applications over to their platform. This mashup platform, (part Zaurus, part cell phone, part Palm device, part multimedia platform), should have Palm very worried. All the Palm OS goodness running on a Linux Kernel, with all the hardware people have been asking for, and by the looks of it, earlier than Palm can deliver their OS. Very concerning for Palm indeed…

Now, this is all my analysis and conjecture. No specs have been released, no dates finalized. But given the fact that a) ALP has been finished for a while, b) Emblaze has been working on a hardware design for 5 years, and c) Sharp is involved, it’s really looking like a better Palm device is about to be released, but not by Palm. Of the 6 Palm OS devices I’ve owned, 3 were not designed by Palm (TRG Pro, Handera 330, and Treo 600). Many people loved the Sony Clie’s for the same reason. Those companies were making better Palm OS devices than Palm was. It’s looking like we’re going to have the same situation again in Sharp/Emblaze.

Now, what really concerns me about Palm’s decision to write their own OS instead of licensing ALP like I suggested in postponing the Foleo, is the fragmentation of the developer community. Some of the smaller developers are not certain they’re going to write for the next generation Palm OS, because they’re already tired of fixing Palm’s device-specific “improvements”. If they take the same approach with their OS, and developers are faced with a choice of developing for ALP and it’s licencees or Palm, they may choose to develop for ALP. If Sharp brings this ALP powered device to market, and it’s a better “Palm” than Palm’s product/OS, then developers will choose to go with the greater opportunites for sales. And if Sharp/Emblaze does come out hardware-wise with a “Better PalmPhone” than the Treo, the ALP Palm OS compatibility will ensure they have a best-seller on their hands. Everyone who has been frustrated with the lack of Wi-Fi, OS resets, and NVFS issues will take a good look at a product which has those issues addressed, and yet will still run their existing applications.

Palm, learn from your Cobalt mistakes; you can have a great OS concept, but if no one wants to develop for it, it’s worse than worthless – it’s a moneypit. If you’re busy writing an “ALP clone”, then it better be compatible with existing applications, and it should be compatible with applications written for Linux/ALP with a minimal amount of rewriting or just a re-compile against the different headers & includes. If you make it incompatible, you may find your products going the way of Cobalt; into the trash can. This Emblaze/Sharp/Access announcement means the pressure’s on, Palm; get it right, or don’t bother.

Originally posted to Palm Addicts here.

Posted in Linux, Palm, PalmAddicts, Technology, Treo | 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 »

Treo Battery-saving Tips & Tricks

Posted by Michael Brown on August 10, 2007

Find your Treo battery isn’t getting you through the day? Two things can be responsible for that. The first is poor coverage areas; like any cell phone, if the Treo isn’t getting good coverage, it powers up the radio to full in an attempt to reach the nearest cellular tower. If you’re going to be in an area for a while where you don’t get good coverage, you can turn your Treo’s radio off to save battery juice. A “profiles” type program may help schedule/automate this for you if your work or home location has poor coverage. The second is a logic flaw in the Treo’s Date & Time preferences, exasperated by poor coverage areas. If you have “Enable Local Network Time” checked, every time your Treo comes out of an area that had poor coverage and it connects to a cellular tower, it wakes up and resets the date and time. Now, imagine going in-and-out of coverage over the course of the day… it’ll wake up, reset the time, and then after the default poweroff period, it will turn the screen off; Imagine that happening over and over and over again… The quick fix for me was un-checking the “Enable Local Network Time” in Date & Time preferences and setting my location, date, time and time zone manually. Just by doing that, I gained an hour and a half of battery life every day. I use NVBackup, which has the option of setting the time against an Internet time server after the nightly backup, so that’s how I keep my time in sync.

Originally posted to Palm Addicts here.

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

Palm OS, freedom of choice is the cornerstone

Posted by Michael Brown on August 9, 2007

The Palm OS platform has long been about the freedom of choice. If you don’t like the built-in applications, you can either replace them totally, or you can use another application that works with the existing databases. If you don’t want to use Palm Desktop, you can use Outlook, or Lotus Notes, or Act, or any of dozens of other Personal Information Management applications. If you don’t like the Palm conduits, you can use PocketMirror or Intellisync or any one of several other sync conduits.

Don’t use Windows as your desktop OS? No problem! You can Sync to Macs, Linux PC’s, Solaris, and even the Amiga! Your data is available to you on the desktop platform of your choice, using the conduits of your choice, in the applications you want to use. And it’s like that with the majority of applications on the Palm OS, with one notable exception. Most of the major “mobile office” suites insist on using Microsoft Office formats as their data format. So, that makes it more difficult for people using platforms other than Windows, or those who can’t afford MS Office, to access mobile documents.

If your data is important to you, and you want the freedom of choice to use other formats like the OpenDocument format, then it’s time to remind the manufacturers of those office suites that choice is the cornerstone of the Palm Platform. If they don’t choose to support Open standards, or at least support software like OpenOffice writing to MS formats, then we as users may choose to take our business to those who will support our choices.

Originally posted to Palm Addicts here.

Now, if you want to be able to work with Open and inter-operable document formats on you Palm or Treo, you need to let the manufacturers know. Write them an e-mail, or use the forms I’ve linked to below to tell them you’d like support for the OpenDocument format (ODF) built into their product. DataViz, the makers of the Documents to Go suite bundled with many Palm and Treo devices, are building in support for Microsoft Office 2007 formats, known as OO-XML. Since it has some of the same technologies (XML) that are used in ODF, it should be straight forward to add support for ODF into the Docs to Go suite. Feel free to tell them you’d like to see them do it!

The DataViz general feedback page can be found here. Let them know you want to see ODF support on mobile devices.

If you use QuickOffice, their feedback site is here.

For users of the MobiSystems OfficeSuite, their contact page is here.

Posted in Inter-operability, ODF, Open Source Software, Open Standards, Palm, PalmAddicts, Paperless Office, Productivity, Technology | Leave a Comment »