Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Ok… so… this is where I’m at…

Sometimes being me can be difficult and frustrating.

Given the current state of consumer computing, finding a business solution for me and my needs at the office has been really difficult. As such, I’m finding myself stuck between a rock and hard place.

This area of no man’s land where I shuttle myself between two different ecosystems just to get critical work done is getting to be a pain. I honestly hate what’s going on, and I’ve got to come to some sort of resolution, soon, or I may just decide to pack it all in…

Problem:
Okokokok… so, my problem is that I’m a little OCD when it comes to meeting notes. I don’t like using a standard, paper note pad. In the past, I’ve misplaced them by either leaving them in a conference room, or have accidentally thrown them away or accidentally stuck them in a drawer or filing cabinet when trying to organize and straighten up either my home office or my desk at work.

A Rock…
As such, I made the switch to electronic notes. Originally, I chose Evernote, as it was available for Windows as well as Mac. Typed notes are great – and since I type 65 to 85 words a minute, I was able to keep up with the discussion. However, I got the ol’ stink-eye from a lot of other meeting attendees who complained that the noise from my notebook’s keyboard was distracting. So much for Evernote.

When TabletPC was popular between 2007 and 2010, I switched to OneNote and digital inking. It took me a while to OCR my handwriting, but there were ways around that. This lasted until the TabletPC died. I moved back to this solution when I had a Surface Pro and a Surface Pro 3.

With some of the issues I’ve been having with OneNote recently, continuing to use a Windows PC + Touch + OneNote combination has presented a number of different unresolvable challenges, especially when it comes to a Surface branded PC. They just don’t seem to be very reliable.

Some have asked why I have chosen to stick with a Surface branded PC, when something like a Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2 in 1 laptop would do the trick. Dell PC’s have their own issues, in my opinion, including the bundling of crapware and other undesirable software like MacAfee Live Safe. Removal of this software isn’t easy and takes a lot of time. Other Windows PC’s also have their own issues when it comes to drivers; and unfortunately, graphic drivers are always high on the hit list. I don’t know a Windows PC that doesn’t suffer from some sort of graphics driver gotcha.

A Hard Place
At this point, I know a bunch of you are trying to jump through your computers wanting to throttle me, saying, “you switched to an iPad Pro. Why are you still kvetching over this?!” and you’d be right.

I did switch about a year ago. The inking on an iPad Pro, especially with an Apple Pencil, solves all of my inking issues. So what’s all the hullaballoo about? That’s simple – OneNote for iOS.

OneNote for iOS doesn’t work ANYTHING like the desktop version of OneNote for Windows. It also doesn’t work anything like OneNote for macOS (but please, pleASE don’t get me started on a feature comparison between the Windows and macOS versions… you’re just gonna make me cry).

In short – OneNote for iOS is feature deprecated. The iOS version is missing features from both desktop versions; and the features that it does have, work somewhat differently than on either desktop side.

Because things work differently, you run into some serious synchronization bugs that make working with the software rather difficult.

For example, the iOS version of OneNote doesn’t allow you to insert meeting headers into any of your notes. (i.e. it won’t pull meeting information from your calendar and auto insert that into a note page via the Meeting Details button.

winonenote-00

Instead, you must do this on the Windows desktop side.

winonenote-01

When do you this, you MUST insure that you expand all of the collapsed links in the header that is inserted.

winonenote-02

They will appear auto expanded in OneNote for iOS. If you don’t do this, depending on how your handwritten notes are inked and where and how OneNote recognizes those ink strokes – as a contiguous flow of ink or as separate ink strokes – OneNote will move your inking down the page. It is possible, depending on how OneNote sees your ink that your hand written ink may get separated from the rest of your notes, thereby becoming illegible chicken scratch.

If your writing is recognized as continuous word objects, this won’t happen, but you won’t know this until you either try to select a block of ink and move it yourself, or until the header or other object from the desktop side gets inserted via sync from your desktop copy.

I’ve had this happen to me, and unfortunately, trying to piece things back together again is really difficult, and your notes end up ruined. I shouldn’t have to completely change the way I write just to make certain my digital inked notes synch correctly with all of the required meeting information.

Conclusion
I may be whining about this a bit, and I’m willing to accept that; but this is getting to be a little silly. There are three (3) different, disconnected teams writing OneNote software – the Desktop Windows Team, the macOS Team and the iOS Team. Why they are working on different feature sets? Why are feature basic sets deprecated between the three versions? Why are the teams working from appears to be a different vision for each version of the app on separate platforms? Shouldn’t this at least be unified? Shouldn’t this all be on the same page with the same feature sets?

Hint-hint… Bring the iOS, macOS and Android versions all up to feature parity with the Desktop Windows version of OneNote.

To be very honest, working with the iOS version of OneNote isn’t easy. The object selection tools are difficult to work with. Items often don’t get selected correctly, or fall off during a drag and drop and need to be reselected or grabbed again. Dragged objects or group of objects often don’t drop in the right place, and I end up arguing with OneNote for iOS on where and how objects get placed on a page.

Inking..? Oh yeah… it’s generally fine; but starting at the right point on the page so that when meeting information is inserted in the page there’s enough room for any collapsed text or graphics (whatever was in the body of the invitation when it was sent/ received) fits when it syncs over to the iOS version (and is auto expanded) without messing up any of your inking can be very challenging.

I find myself working around all of the issues more than actually getting any work done with OneNote for iOS.

…and THAT’S why I’m seriously considering a Windows touch device purchase.

I know right…?!

It seems crazy with all of the issues I’ve outlined above. However, in a Microsoft dominated and driven corporate world, what else am I supposed to do? Microsoft drives businesses. It drives industries. The entire world uses is office suite components. How do you switch to something else, when you need to integrate with other Office files? It seems a bit silly to switch to something else…some other kind of note taking tool at this point.

Where do you sit with all of this? Are you a OneNote user? Are you using OneNote for iOS? Do you use inking in OneNote on ANY platform? What has your experience been with it? I’d love to hear what you have to say; or if any of you have any recommendations for me. Why don’t you join me in the discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on all of this.

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Apple Releases iOS 10.2 beta 5 Developers and Public Beta Testers

It’s a test-a-palooza-thon over in Cupertino for iDevice owners

The guys over at Apple have been really busy. In the past four to five days, they’ve released two different beta releases of iOS 10.2. Beta 5 was released to both public beta testers and to their development community on 2016-12-02. I’d say we’re getting close to a final release if the beta cadence is this quick. It’s only been four days since the previous release.

Getting the software is easy. If you’re a developer, you can get the beta bits from the Apple Developer’s Portal. If you’re a public beta tester, you can get the software through Software Update. However, your device must be registered for the beta program in order for the download to actually start.

Specific changes over Beta 4 haven’t been identified as of this writing. However, iOS 10.2 is known to include redrawn emoji and 72 new emoji characters confirming with requirements from Unicode 9.0. Both iOS 10.2 and the latest beta release of tvOS, version 10.1, released on Wednesday 2016-11-30, include Apple’s new, dedicated TV app. iPhone 7 users will also get new wallpapers. Apple’s Videos app is also rumored to include a new widget; and Messages is supposed to add a new “celebration” effect for text messages.

Both iOS 10.2 and tvOS 10.1 are also supposed to include single sign-on (SSO) for streaming TV. SSO will allow users to enter in their cable or satellite website’s user name and password into their device only ONCE and allow those credentials to be shared throughout the operating system. This will allow apps like HBO Go, Max Go or ShowTime Anytime to all share and use the same login information, only entered once on your device, to authorize the playing of content. Previously, you had to enter in your credentials in every app. Now, with Single Sign-On, once is finally enough. However, each app must support SSO in order for this to work.

I would expect iOS 10.2 to be released during the month of December. With beta releases reaching five, and with the release cadence being as short as a few days, it seems that iOS 10.2 will be with us sooner rather than later.

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Fitbit Looking to Acquire Smartwatch Pioneer Pebble

The fitness tracker maker is looking to acquire smartwatch pioneer Pebble

fitbit-to-acquire-pebbleIn what is being touted as a really, REALLY cheap deal, Fitbit is close to finalizing a deal with beleaguered smartwatch manufacturer Pebble for a reported $40M. If accepted, its understood that the deal will be for IP – intellectual property and software – only. The Pebble brand would be slowly phased out, with its all of its products shut down and discontinued over time.

Pebble laid off 25% of its workforce in March of this year. Pebble has also been having some very serious product issues during 2016. They’ve introduced three new smartwatches in July of 2016 – the Pebble 2, the Pebble Time 2 and the Pebble Core. In August 2016, they released a software update for their Pebble Health feature. None of these moves has helped them get past the product issues they’ve been having.

While Fitbit has emphatically stated that they are unfazed by Apple’s dominance in the smartwatch space, Apple’s sales of its Apple Watch has declined 51.6% as of the third quarter of 2016, according to the IDC. Unfortunately, this development hasn’t helped Pebble sales one bit.

Fitbit’s reported acquisition of Pebble seems to be signaling their desire to move beyond the fitness tracker designation that most of their wearables have been labeled as. The company has introduced new leather bands and other premium accessories alongside two new smartwatches, the Charge 2 and the Flex 2. After announcing mixed third quarter results and a projected weak forth quarter, the company’s stock took a 30 percent hit.

If you remember, I reviewed both the Fitbit Surge and the Pebble Time as part of my larger, year long, smartwatch roundup last year. I took a very quick look at both and gave the Surge to my daughter (who put it on for all of 5 minutes before telling me she’d never wear it…) and the Time to a friend at church (who wears it every day). However, I know both of these devices have struggled to make any kind of showing in the smart wearables market.

While Fitbit is truly only looking at a technology purchase, I don’t see why they would want to chase after Pebble in the first place. Pebble didn’t really concentrate on the Apps market with its smartwatches. Their apps and app store never really took off, and the resolution of their displays really didn’t make for anything that looked any better than what you saw on an Atari 2600 back in the day. In other words, their graphics and their displays suck. Fitbit doesn’t have an app store, and even if they did, their perception by the market as a fitness tracker only wouldn’t draw any of the premier developers to their ranks.

I really don’t see the purchase of the technology or intellectual property doing anything for them.

What do you think? Is this a good mashup? Will Fitbit’s acquisition of Pebble’s assets provide anything of value, or are they just wasting their time and money? Talk to me, kids! Meet me in the discussion area below and let me know what you think!

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Am I a Relic from the Distant (Music) Past? – Streaming vs. On Device Music

…And by distant past I mean, like Steve Jobs time frame… or just 15 years ago.

I’m an Amazon Prime Member. For this service, I, like everyone else who subscribes to this service, get unlimited, free, 2-day shipping on all of my Amazon, physical goods, purchases and all of the digital video my internet services (both at home and mobile) will allow me to stream.

prime-music-header

A little while ago, I got an email promo for Amazon Music Unlimited. It’s an on-demand, ad-free, music streaming service offered by Amazon (obviously) that streams music from their vast, digital music catalog. It comes with personalized recommendations, curated playlists and curated stations. It also has Prime Member exclusive pricing of $7.99 USD per month (non-Prime members can get the service for $9.99 per month). You can also get an Alexa only version for only $3.99 a month. That last deal should be especially interesting to folks who mainly listen to music only through their Amazon Echo.

Amazon is really stretching the offerings here. They’ve given users a number of different ways to get access to their vast catalog and are offering unlimited streaming without any ads. The extra $4 bucks a month for access to ALL of their music seems to be a huge no-brainer, especially if you have an Amazon Echo in the house. You can listen to anything and everything as many times as you wish, and Alexa will serve it up – again, ad free – all at the asking. I’m not certain exactly how vast their catalog is, but it has to be pretty big, right?

With this new offering, it appears as though Amazon is doing the best it can to make the best of Prime’s position. Their audience is big, and they have a lot of other services that they’d like to sell…

apple-music-header

Conversely, my daughter – and a whole bunch of other folks – subscribe to Apple Music. Apple Music works on every iDevice in sight, and once you subscribe on one, the service is available on every iDevice that uses your AppleID. At $10 per month for their service, it’s a similar offering to Prime’s in that you get access to everything, without any ads. I think the best thing here, is that their trial period is three months long.

The cool thing with Apple Music is that it provides purchase links to everything you hear, interfaces with Apple Pay (at least on your device) so buying something that you hear and really like is super easy… much easier I think than any other service offering available today.

UPDATE: Potential new pricing information has come to light from Neowin while I have been writing and researching this article. It is currently rumored that Apple is seriously considering a price drop on Apple Music in order to be more competitive with Amazon’s Prime Music. The new rumored price points are said to be:

  • Regular rate: $7.99 per month, down from $9.99
  • Family package: $12.99 per month, down from $14.99
  • Student rate: $4.99, remains unchanged

The decision looks like a tough one for Apple, it’s expected that if it does slash the price of its Apple Music, it will have to directly pay the difference to the record labels. Digital Music News claims that Amazon is already forking over money to the music labels to offer its own low prices on Amazon Music.

google-music-header

Google Music is much like Prime Music in that it offers a way for you to easily upload and stream all of the music you already own – up to 50,000 songs – as well as stream new music from their service. You get to stream all of YOUR music for free. With Google Play, you get a 30 day trial and after that, the service costs $10 bucks a month.

The cool thing about Google Music is that you get to stream your own music regardless of whether or not you subscribe. The software and service work on iOS, Android, and on macOS or Windows, via a web browser. You can download anything you hear, your music or the services, and listen to it either online or offline. The service has up to 35 million different tracks, too.

Unfortunately, Google Music doesn’t offer any kind of student or family plan. With Google Music, it’s one size fits all. So, you get everything for free for 30 days, and then its $10 bucks a month.

You know… I’ve been chewing on this article for about two months. I’ve talked to a lot of people about the whole streaming craze. Me…? I get it; but I don’t get it. Traditional radio is on the outs. Kids… millennials… don’t listen to it. I’m not certain why, but they’re not. Maybe it’s the mix… the music that’s being played. Maybe the kids don’t like being dependent on the DJ or the station and all of its advertising influenced playlists. Maybe they like having more control over the content that actually plays and streams; and when you subscribe you get ad free music – so no commercials or DJ’s stopping to promote this that or the other thing – and you get both curated playlists AND the ability to skip as many songs as you don’t like (depending on the service).

Here’re the issues that I have with all of this:

  1. You Gotta Pay for the Service
    Traditional radio is free. And while I get that while most smartphones can play FM broadcasts, they DON’T include an FM radio app. Most kids carry their smartphone. They don’t carry a portable radio these days, and without the ability to actually PLAY live, traditional radio, it’s clearly OUT of the picture.

    When I talked to my daughter, who is clearly a millennial, about all of this, she said the biggest reason why she subscribes to a streaming service is music discovery. She wants access to new music. The issue I have with this is that you have to pay to play; and at the end of the day, you don’t own any of it. However, you can play songs as often as you want or like. So if you want to find new music, and you want to play it where ever you are, whenever you want, its gonna cost you on the average, $10 bucks a month to find what you want and play it.

  2. You Gotta Pay for the Bandwidth
    I think this is perhaps the singular most problematic point in the whole streaming music model; and it’s the point that bothers me the most. Not only do you have to pay for the service, you have to pay for the service that gets you the bandwidth that allows you to play the music in the first place.

    This can cost you anywhere between an ADDITIONAL $10 to $50 a month per line on your account, which – at the end of the day – more than doubles the cost of your music subscription, especially if you go over your monthly bandwidth allotment.

    This over and above any and everything else is where the whole streaming model falls apart for me. I love music. I especially love listening to music while I drive to and from work. If I were to stream everything and if I had to stick to a specific bandwidth limit, I’d likely either run out of bandwidth or go over my limit and be subject to overage charges.

    This is the one thing that everyone forgets about when it comes to the streaming model: it uses cellular bandwidth, and bandwidth costs additional money.

  3. When you Leave, you Lose the Music
    You have to remember, you don’t own any of the music that you download. You can’t burn any of it to a CD. You can’t play any of it after your subscription expires or is cancelled. You only have access to any of the streaming catalog as long as you’re paying for your monthly subscription. Stop, and you no longer have the music in you.

Again, maybe I’m just an old fuddy duddy. Maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m too old for music discovery and new artists. I don’t think I am, but there has to be another, perhaps better, easier, less expensive way to discover and play new music… Isn’t there? ISN’T THERE?!?

If there is a solution that I’d likely embrace, I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it’s in development now, or perhaps it’s still on the drawing board somewhere. In the meantime, I’ll rely on friends and family to turn me on to new music and new artists… and I’ll keep on playing the music I already own and I already enjoy.

What do you do for music discovery and for playing your favorites? Do you stream? Do you use traditional radio? Do you own a large music library and do you play locally or use a service to stream it like Google Play or iTunes Match? Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below, and give me your thoughts on the whole issue?

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Netflix Now Offers Offline Content

Streamers and video junkies rejoice..!

netflix_logoI’ve been a Netflix subscriber for years. I started off as a DVD subscriber and at one point had three to four DVD’s flowing in and out of my house a week. When the streaming biz started, we jumped on that too, as it was sometimes easier to stream than to wait for the DVD to arrive. Sometimes you had to wait weeks or months for one to get here, especially if it was a popular film. We’re streaming only now, as the DVD biz has gone the way of the do-do… and I got tired of paying for the service that regularly didn’t deliver what I was wanting to watch.

The streaming service is nice, as I can get all the kids watching on iPads as well as my wife and I and my daughter and son-in-law watching separate shows on separate TV’s at the same time. It works out very nicely for us.

One of the biggest asks of all Netflix streamers, though was offline viewing of content. Sometimes, an internet connection isn’t available, especially on a plane or on a long car trip, and a movie on an iPad is just the ticket to a little peace and quiet. Until now, that wasn’t possible. Now… it is.

Netflix recently added an option to its mobile apps that will download films AND TV shows in advance, allowing users to watch them without an active internet connection. Extended trips and plane rides will never be the same.

Unfortunately, not everything in the Netflix catalog is available for offline viewing.

Seen as one of the most desired subscriber features, offline viewing has long been the most popular subscriber request. Netflix has resisted it for years thinking that cell service would improve to the point where it wouldn’t be needed. Unfortunately, mobile internet STILL isn’t ubiquitous, and Netflix competitors began offering the service. That’s what ultimately drove the company to offer it to its customers. Well, that and expansion into other countries where cell and internet services are spotty at best.

You CAN view the following popular shows, among others, offline:

  • Stranger Things
  • Orange is the New Black
  • The Crown
  • House of Cards

The following shows and movies, among others, are NOT available offline:

  • Sherlock (BBC)
  • Disney’s’ Zootomic
  • The Little Price

However, more downloadable content is scheduled to be released, “soon.” Downloadable content is clearly marked with a downward facing arrow next to a show or movie’s title.

In order to view offline content, subscribers need to download the latest version of Netflix’s app. The app, available on iOS and Android devices.

Are you a Netflix subscriber? Have you downloaded the latest app update? Have you tried to download any offline content? What was the download experience like? What was the offline viewing experience like? Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on this interesting development?

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