Part III: Mobile Software
10 years ago mobile software meant having a Palm is your pocket. At some point, I decided to change my Palm pilot for an iPod Touch. Combined with MobileMe, I had by address book, calendar, e-mail, browser bookmarks and keychains sync across all of my devices (home, office and mobile). Nowadays it might seems trivial with Google services and all…
In term of digital workflow, the iPad has been a revolutionary device for me. It replaces my paper tablets and papers documents in meetings. It is one of my most productive gears I have ever bought (productive here is synonymous of actually doing work with the device not spending time working on - as in tweaking – the device itself)
The applications I use often sits on the first screen, which is shown below. The key ones are in the bottom “dock”. The same major apps are also installed on my iPhone and work with the Mac counterparts:
- DevonThink To Go (DTTG): my files everywhere in sync with DTPO on my Mac. I also take all of my meeting notes in DTTG, which are then sync back to the Mac and are fully searchable moving forward. Without DTTG, you will still need another application that provide you with a “file system” for your iPad if you want to keep various kind of documents. Before DTTG became available, I was using Air Sharing. Nowadays DropBox app for iPad could play this role but you won’t get the benefit of DTPO-DTTG synergy. With DTTG, I keep a copy of all my ongoing projects and associated documents, my read/review folder and my electronic tickler file system (the electronic version of the 43 folders system). About 10 Gb of data give or take.
- iAnnotate : the best on the market I think. Handles PDF files and full annotation tool-sets. Results are compatible with acrobat and other PDF reader. In addition you can project any PDF document on a multimedia projector and annotate / write in real-time. It further accepts WORD and PPT that it transform on the fly to PDF (performance is not always on par with a print to PDF on OSX). The first application I bought when I got the original iPad and has been update consistently ever since. 10$ well spent! Note that the interaction between DTTG and iAnnotate is excellent. DT assigns a unique ID to each file. From DTTG you can get a file out for annotation and send them back again to DTTG. The unique ID will allow DTTG to replace the original file with the annotated one and later sync with your Mac database. Similarly, it is easy to get new files in DTTG from DropBox or Apple Mail. However, Pages, Keynote and Numbers do not play as nice in their current versions with DropBox and the like, and going through e-mail is the only option without going through your Mac (and iTunes).
- Things for iPad. This version is just gorgeous. I find doing my weekly review (GTD again) much more easier and fun on the iPad version then the Mac one. A fast and efficient cloud sync is mow in place (stable beta version). I almost never use the iPhone version now.
- Apple Mail: University Exchange server, iCloud, GMAIL.
- Apple Calendar: iCloud sync, Google calendar.
- Apple Contact: iCloud sync.
- 1Password for iPhone/iPad: It sync with its main database that sits in a DropBox folder (it is encrypted) when you have WIFI access.
- Dropbox: if you are worried of storing your data on a third party server, there is a nifty application (PC, MAC, iOS, Android, …) called BoxCryptor that offer support for DropBox encryption.
- Apple Safari: iCloud sync.
- Message / FaceTime / Skype.
- Reminder: For Family use as we share one reminder list, otherwise I use Things.
- Page / Keynote / Number.
- iTeleport: conecting to any Mac / PC from my iPad. Cool!
- Papers: companion to the Mac version.
- iThought HD: Doing mind mapping on an iPad is almost as good as on paper.
- PressReader: the digital version of our local newpaper subscription. No more dirty hand.
- Airport: I manage the Airport at home and at work with it!
- WordPress: this blog.
I am still search a good “scanning program” using the new iPad camera.
I also keep a bunch of other applications that I used more or less often, including a few games (like Civilization and tChess Pro). However the first 8 entries above I use everyday and, with their OSX big brothers, are an integral part of my digital workflow.
For those who might not have read the first post in this series about the hardware side of things, please have a look: Digital Office I
Here is a list of the main software that I used regularly on the Mac as part of my digital workflow, including links to the most important one:
- OSX and its functionality (TimeMachine, AppleScript, Automators, terminal, …)
- DevonThink Pro office (file database / working database)
- Cultured Code Things (GTD task manager software)
- Apple iCal
- Apple Mail
- Apple AddressBook / Contact
- Safari (bookmarks sync to my iPad and iPhone via iCloud)
- Papers 2 (my main manuscript database and citation software)
- Cornerstone (access to versioning server)
- Microsoft office (not by choice)
- Endnote X4 (for collaborative works I do not control)
- MacUpdate (automatic update of software. I usually run this one a month as a repeating task in my task manager software)
- Acrobat Pro
- Skype / FaceTime
Other software installed and used once in a while:
Unix software installation package (fink / app get)
GraphicConverter / MacGIMP
The first 10 applications above are the cornerstone of my digital workflow. The main reason it works so well I think, for me at least, is because up to now it proves to be scalable to the level of ten of thousands of files as mentioned in my previous post . The second reason is that with MobileMe/DropBox and now with iCloud/Dropbox and the fact that all these applications have mobile versions (iPhone/iPad), I never have to worry about the simple stuff: passwords and digital wallet info are in 1Password, store in DropBox, accessible and in sync on all my devices. Same for contacts, bookmarks, calendars (including Google calenders) and tasks (Things beta brings a highly efficient could sync across all devices). Finally with iPad (and iPhone version) of DevonThink and Papers, it is relatively easy get your important documents with you and accessible at all time.
Before DevonThink, I tried multiple ways to deal with all the files gathered when going digital. The basic approach is to set-up an efficient folder structure and hope that in combination with the system wide search engine it will be enough to find that important documents in a few seconds when needed.
The next step is to add tagging to you files. There are multiples ways of doing this. At the time, and after trying a few options, I had adopted Together for which you can use your optimal folder structure, add tags and a few more useful trick. Unfortunately, these software do not scale very well to a very large collection of files. This is the time to turn to a true solution: DevonThink
DevonThink is at the center of an efficient, scalable and robust digital workflow. DevonThink is probably the best file database application available on the Mac. In my opinion, it is the only viable option that meet the requirements set forth in my first post and still be scalable to the level needed if you are serious about going digital. First it handles a load of files (and file formats) easily. It performs full indexing of contents of files, an operation that is fast and efficient. Search for files either by name or based on the file content works in seconds even for large databases. Tagging is supported if you feel it is needed (in addition to full indexing – I really see the need to use it). DevonThink allows for advanced search using boolean operations and also across multiple databases.
There are various version of DevonThink, the one I use is the Pro Office (DTPO) which handles OCR from scanned PDF document (the Fujitsu scanner scans directly to DTPO), multiple databases and more. DTPO is highly scriptable and I use many of the scripts, including clipping in the web browser and mail action scripts, on a regular basis. It also contains many predefine data structures (you can create you own but that is for another post). I certainly will not give a full accounts of DTPO capabilities here. You will find the e-book by Joe Kissell is an excellent reference for beginner and intermediate users.
Note that my use of DTPO mimic that of regular filing cabinet to the extend of the structure explained in David Allen Getting Things Done. I keep three main databases (I have a few more but for simplicity, I only mentioned those I used on a regular basis): On Going, Daily (an electronic tickler file system – see picture above) and Reference. I will detail this usage more in a future post.
A last note, DTPO can also index folders without importing its contents. It will allow you to search as if it were imported by frequent synchronization either through the menu or attaching the sync script to the DTPO folder of interest. Note that is only one way i.e. folder to DTPO not the other way around. I use this feature for e-mails and my scientific manuscript PDF library which is managed by Papers.
Added Note (June 13th): DT does not modify your files in anyway i.e. .doc remains .doc files. Furthermore, at anytime you can export your database back to regular Mac “folders”. So you are not lock-in.
Dealing with scientific manuscripts
I have used bibtex as a graduate student and postdoc but it lack the modern PDF handling needed nowadays. Zotero is an interesting alternative I used for almost a year. I discover Sente at the time. A superb interface, excellent PDF library, in-application search of PubMed, word processor citation handling and export to Endnote and bibtex. I used version 5 and 6. However, Papers 2 (starting at version 2.0.8) won me over with its highly efficient on the fly citation tool and I have used it ever since. So any PDF related to scientific publication, published proceedings or abstracts and so on does directly in Papers (and sync in DTPO as explained above)
Contact, calendar and mail
If you are serious about task management, dealing with a few hundreds of them at any one time and maybe close to 100 active projects (with 30-40 pending/inactive ones) there is only really two choices: OmniFocus (from OmniGroup) or Things (from Cultured Code). Bottom line, CC Things has a much simpler interface and allows for increased flexibility in how the tasks (and review) are handled. Things unfortunately does not have the notion of parallel and serial tasks and that of nested projects but this is relatively minor. With the ongoing public beta, Things now have an efficient and fast cloud sync solution which I am now using as my daily “production” option.
Passwords managements (and “digital wallet” information repository)
Finally 1Password is one of those utility application that change the way you surfed the web. It manages your password for any sites and can filled forms with various information without typing (read bypassing possible keylogging). So you can have only 1 strong password to remember but use safely different and unique strong passwords for many sites / accounts you have on the web without never “forgetting” any!