Technology


I jump back and forth between operating systems quite a bit, but after using Android as my phone operating system of choice for years, there are just a few things that are glaringly different while using iOS. Here they are, my favorite timesaving usability enhancements from Google.
 
Different keyboards
Exceptional text prediction, swipe to type, and amazingly accurate speech to text. You can move back and forth between these options at will instead of just being constrained to the one keyboard of iOS. 
 
Controls from notification shade
Just swipe from the top of the screen and easily toggle on and off wifi, bluetooth, GPS, and other power saving options.
 
Share from anywhere
In a lot of iOS apps, you’re lucky to be able to share to Facebook or Twitter. From just about anywhere in any Android app, you can share to just about any app you have installed. For touchscreen operating systems, it’s about the next best thing to having a more traditional file system. It is huge.
 
Back key and context key
They’re right down there by your thumb for truly easy one handed operation. 
 
The app drawer
With Apple, by default every app is in your face and cluttering up one of your home screens until you decide to hide it or add it to a folder. With Android by default a newly installed app is alphabetically sorted, out of the way in your app drawer until you decide it’s important enough to look at on one of your home screens.

No industry seems to embrace change completely without hiccup, so it makes sense that there’s a little bit of a price war going on among the major publishing forces. Except for the ability to get immediate access from anywhere, e-books will probably find it hard to compete if they cost more than the paperback version does with free shipping on Amazon.

For an unabashed book lover like myself, you’d think the advent of digital books would be met with great rejoicing as an occurrence that makes books easier to access than ever. And e-books are available anywhere at any time. I’m still not totally sure what I feel about them though.

There’s really not much point in wading into all the reasons e-books are or aren’t awesome. Those have all been covered many times. I read e-books, and they’re alright, but I find books printed on paper better for me personally. A paper book helps me get closer to the reason I like books in the first place, just words on a page with minimal distraction from what you experience while reading.

But format aside, a book is words, on a printed page, an e-ink display, or an LCD panel. A book is not a magazine, a newspaper or a website. If I wanted multimedia graphics I’d go find one of those. A book is ideas expressed through words.

Let’s not allow our excitement about the possibilities of devices like the iPad or Kindle Fire distract us from what a book is. But just because a rich canvas for multimedia magazines exists doesn’t mean that the book itself should go extinct. There will always be a place for the words-only medium. If we lose that, we’re losing an important part of our culture.

A book is pure thinking and imagination in a way that a picture is not. The writer has to express himself in words, and the reader has to interpret those words correctly. Cavemen drew pictures. Civilizations kept drawing pictures but learned to write. We should never let that get away.

Is it wrong to introduce a product before it’s polished to perfection? If so, Google is definitely a repeat offender, and also probably wouldn’t have released some of it’s most successful offerings. Or its most notoriously unsuccessful ones.

A lot of people complain about the way Google approaches things. Google+ is the most obvious one of course, but also personalized search and some of the others mentioned in this somewhat tongue-in-cheek post.

In the world of technology companies, Google is not afraid of a few public failures, as long as they are experiments that it feels teach something. Its fearlessness stands in contrast with companies like Apple that approaches things differently, like the perfectionist that wants no one to know they ever make mistakes. Apple has taught us to expect a curtain of secrecy until the perfect final product is released.

Google’s philosophy opens them up to attacks like Hof’s post. Because joking or not, it’s hard not to agree with some of the things he says. Maybe this is because Google releases incomplete products. Maybe it explains why Google doesn’t see instantaneous adoption as many Apple releases do. Instead there’s a slow curve.

If everyone was like Apple, we’d have a few really nice things, but innovation wouldn’t be so widespread and rapid. So maybe Google’s on to something.

But I’d rather they gave me simple search results instead of trying to be all fancy and make them personalized and “relevant.” And on an unrelated note, this website exists: http://itsmygoogle.com/

Over Christmas break I read some of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. He premises that internet usage is changing the way our brains work and use information. I’d have to agree with that, because I know myself and other members of my generation process things differently. We look for information in different places, and googling for an answer is almost second nature while we would never look at a physical encyclopedia and probably haven’t picked up a printed dictionary since 1999.

Carr says that one of the biggest impacts is the effect of linking, and the way it conditions us to process many different rabbit trail sources of information. We have become accustomed to constantly pursuing whatever looks most interesting and stimulating.

Just recently I was thinking about the tendency among some of my friends to call each other by first initials and last names. It happens most when the names and initials happen to work together and just have a nice ring, but occasionally we modify the last name into a shorter version that sounds better.

I started wondering why we do this, and it occurred to me that at my school, email aliases are first initial and last name. We’re getting so used to interacting online that we call each other by our online names even offline.

If you’re like me and you frequently create documents on your laptop and then later need to access them for editing or printing from a different computer, you should check out Dropbox. You can sign up for a free account, download an unobtrusive background application to your computer and you’re set to go.

A free account with Dropbox gives you 2GB of storage space, which is more than enough for a couple thousand word documents. The application creates a folder which it monitors for documents and changes and then synchronizes with Dropbox’s online servers. Anytime you add or change anything, the changes are copied online. On the other end you can either install the application on your desktop computer or simply log on to access your files through the website from any computer.

What to store in your Dropbox folder? I store any work in progress such as academic papers, resumés, job applications and anything else that I may need to print or review somewhere other than my laptop. It’s just like any other folder, except that I use it as the place to store any project I’m actively working on.

If you’re tired of forgetting to email yourself files and not quite ready to make the switch all the way to Google Docs or a similar alternative, Dropbox is a great way to get your files where you want them when you want them.

apple-new-logo-lg1At a recent class I attended I happened to be counting the computers around the classroom. Of eleven computers in the classroom, eleven of them were Macbooks. The numbers don’t lie, a growing number of people are switching to Macs, especially among the younger generation. With all these converts, it’s a perfect time to make sure that everyone knows how to get the most out of their Macs, new or otherwise.

Even before I switched from the world of PC’s there were two functions so important to me that I ran third party apps just to get that functionality. Macs have built-in software that takes care of both problems. And frankly I now find it hard to compute without these two options. The first is the ability to launch programs and search from the keyboard. On a Mac the ability to do this is provided by a program called Spotlight that it is built into Leopard and succeeding versions of OS X. To launch Spotlight just hit CMD + Space, type in your search and away you go. It’s a huge timesaver.

The second computer essential is virtual desktop ability, provided on Macs by Spaces. You can set up Spaces to allow you to have a number of different desktops that you can select from when you’re working on multiple projects and don’t want things to get cluttered up on one screen.

To change settings on things like your Spaces, you should look at System Preferences, which is basically the Mac equivalent of the Windows control panel. Most of the settings you need to change will be right here.

A big freebie that very few people are aware of is the Mac program called iSync. It allows you to use your Mac’s bluetooth wireless capability to synchronize with a variety of devices. I use it to sync my address book with my Motorola Razr, which is not even close to a smartphone. If you have a smart phone there are even more things you can do like syncing a calendar and things of that nature. I’m quite happy with just being able to use iSync to make sure that I always have my phone contacts backed up on my computer in case I lose my phone or it completely dies some day.

One last thing that can be really puzzling when you first switch especially if you go to a Macbook, is the fact that there are no Home and End keys. If you want to get the same functionality you have on a PC, just use the FN key plus the right and left arrows to navigate backwards and forewards along a line of text.

Any other Mac tips that I’m forgetting? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Today Lifehacker featured a story suggesting that you set up a system of Gmail filters to forward email to hard-to-remember addresses like your Flickr upload address. There’s nothing wrong with the Lifehacker/Digital Inspiration method, except that it’s too complicated.

As long as I can remember, Gmail and most desktop mail clients feature auto-complete features in their address fields so that you can type the name of the contact rather than having to remember their email address.

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty with Gmail filters, just come up with memorable and descriptive names for your email contacts. That way all you have to do is type in “Remember The Milk” and the address should pop up for you. It’s just as effective as the filter method, and much simpler.

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