There are specific iPad applications that are key to my productivity day in and day out, and the “qualities” they need to have if I am to use them has evolved over time. Looking back over the ways in which they have changed in the last year or so, I realized that there is a specific pattern to those applications that have become more central to my work and daily life and those that were once useful but have fallen off the island.
Strikingly, these changes have less to do with the applications themselves and more to do with secondary applications and services with which the selected apps work. To be more specific, at this point if an application does not integrate and sync with Evernote, Dropbox or (to a lesser extent) Toodledo, I’m not interested.
I know that might sound a bit rigid, but there are some very specific reasons for that statement. Let me enumerate them, and then I’ll highlight a few of the apps that fit into this approach and are finding significant use these days.
Reason Number One: Platform Agnosticism
While I am a devoted Mac OS X and Apple iOS user, I don’t want to be completely locked into Apple’s platforms. Because of my writing here on the site, I want the flexibility to be able to review computers and mobile devices that run different operating systems. In addition, I like to “tinker” (play?) with new devices, and Apple’s upgrade cycle is annual. That means new devices once a year. BORING! In addition, thanks to their flexibility, I find myself increasingly drawn to devices powered by Android. Finally, my assistant Sunny refuses to make the move to Mac, and there are times when I need to seamlessly move files from her computer to mine. The result of all this is that I want my files stored and organized in ways that are accessible regardless of the device or platform I am using at the moment.
Evernote, Dropbox and Toodledo all allow me to have just that.
Each is part of what I refer to as the “hybrid web” – that is, services or programs that are resident on your device AND in the cloud. For example, you can access Evernote through any Internet-connected browser, but there are also “official” versions of resident applications for Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, Blackberry, Palm. The result is that my data is backed up and stored on Evernote’s servers (i.e. “the cloud”) but my data is also resident on my MacBook Air, my Mac Mini, my iPad, my iPhone and the list goes on. This sort of redundancy gives me a great deal of comfort, especially since I have seen more than one data disaster.
Because each service has multiple platform apps, it does not matter at wall what device I’m using at any given moment. No matter where I am, no matter what I am doing, I always have the option to either access my data through the browser or download their resident application and not have to rely on a data connection.
And this just goes for the actual applications provided by the services. Because each has made API’s accessible to developers, there is an entire eco-system of apps that have been developing around them, each using the service as the underlying “engine” and each storing new data along with all the other data. In an era of mobile computing such flexibility is key.
Reason Number Two: I Am Easily Distracted
The various applications that interface with each of these three hybrid-web service tend to have the ability to automatically sync new data you create. As someone who is often moving way too quickly for my own good, that’s a great thing since I can (and often do) forget to hit “save” when I’m done creating a document, note, task or take a picture. Put more succinctly, most of the apps that work with Evernote, Dropbox and Toodledo are “idiot”, and thus “Dan” Proof.
Moreover, I can create a new item on one device, it will auto-save to the larger service, allowing me to then access it from any other devices without have to give it a second thought.
Reason Number Three: Zipity-Doo-Da — Boy, They’re Fast and Deep
In most cases the various programs that interface with any of these three services are merely the front end that use the service as the underlying engine. Since they aren’t the service themselves, they have to “make a case” for why you would want to buy them and have yet another app on your device. That justification usually that reason comes down to one of three things: Either the application/interface is incredibly fast, the application/interface streamlines the process of creating or accessing data, or the application adds functionality that would otherwise not be there. Often these programs do all three – they are fast, they simplify the process of using the more complicated program or service and they extend what that service can do. That is a big deal when you want to quickly create a new appointment, a quick note, grab a picture that you can access from anywhere later, or record a quick voice note.
For example, a new “note” in Evernote can be in the form of text, voice or image. That means if I want to add a text note I’ll need to start the app, choose “new text note” and then type my note. That’s three steps, and while that is not complicated when I am in a rush I want to streamline the process as much as possible. An app that immediately starts a new text note is a nice convenience to have available to me.
Another example: if I want to create a new voice note I can go through the three taps to get to Evernote and wait for the startup process to finish. At times this is far longer than I might like. In fact I just tested it and it took a few seconds before the recording actually started. On the other hand, I might choose to use an app that records voice notes and immediately uploads them to my Dropbox account. I tried it just now and the app was recording me in under a second. I pressed stop and not three seconds later my MacBook air indicated that the new voice note had been uploaded to Dropbox AND downloaded to my computer. Slick huh?
Another example — Dropbox was never intended to be a task list service, but as it become more and more central to my workflow this ability becomes increasingly attractive. An app that lets me create new lists and store them in Dropbox is rather useful at times.
Reason Number Four: Mama Always Told Me That It’s Good to Share
Very often the content I create needs to be shared with one or more other people. I may create a note that I want to send to my assistant, or I may go down an idea for a post that I want to share with Judie and the other editors. Many of the various programs that take advantage of Evernote, Dropbox or Toodledo’s API and make it easy to create and share new content. Sharing content is, in fact, an aspect of the core service and the various applications that work with them.
The result of the various points made here — platform agnosticism, auto-sync, protecting data through redundancy, speed and sharing — have made each service increasingly valuable to me. And once task management is truly nailed in either Evernote or Dropbox my list of hybrid-web services will go down to two. More than adding value to the services however, they have led me to a key conclusion that guides what apps I use and how I use them. That conclusion? If your app involves creating, editing or sharing notes or tasks in any form you had better work with one of these services. If you don’t… I’m not interested.
In Part 2 we’ll look at apps that work with Evernote.
In Part 3 we’ll look at apps that work with Dropbox.
In Part 4 we’ll look at front-ends for Toodledo and the top four or five apps among all those discussed.