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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tip of the Day: Address Book "Smart Groups"

If there’s one feature of Apple’s Address Book that is overlooked by almost everyone it’s Smart Groups. The regular kind of Group is handy, and you should read up on them (try going to the Help menu in Address Book and looking for “Groups”). In a nutshell, you add people to a Group manually, by dragging them from the “All” group. Easy enough. But not as easy (and not as cool) as Smart Groups.

A Smart Group fills itself automatically, exactly like a Smart Playlist in iTunes or a Smart Album in iPhoto. (Don’t know about those things? Send me a note and I’ll blog on it.)

Here’s an example. Suppose I wanted to be able to quickly find all of my contacts who either live or work in Texas. I could go through my entire list of contacts and drag them to a Group, but that wouldn’t be much fun (and when I added a new contact I’d have to remember to drag that person to the Texas Group). Much better is to make a Smart Group that does the work for me.

Step One is to make a new blank Smart Group. You can Option-click the “+” at the bottom left of the Address Book window, or you can go to File/New Smart Group...

Step Two is to choose a name for the Smart Group, and also to choose criteria. Many Smart Groups have just one criterion but in this case, I need to check two criteria because I don’t know how the State on a person’s address book card will be entered. Note that I chose “any” and not “all” for my matching criteria. In other cases, it would be better to match “all.”

Here’s what it looks like.



If you decide to modify your Smart Group down the road you don’t have to start over. Click once on the Smart Group that you want to modify (you could have several), then choose “Edit Smart Group...” from the Edit menu. Or just Control-click on the Smart Group and choose “Edit Smart Group...” from the pop-up menu.

The beautiful thing is that the Smart Group is always up to date. Add some people to the Address Book and the ones with Texas as their states will show up in the Texas Smart Group. This is really handy and you ought to give it a whirl.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

iPhone app of the week: eReader

Surely you’ve heard of the Kindle, the electronic book-reading device from Amazon. It can hold thousands of books in its memory and you can download new ones through the air. That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news: it costs $359, the screen isn’t color, and it’s another thing to carry around (and it’s not small).

Enter eReader, the iPhone app that turns your iPhone (or iPod Touch) into a Kindle-beating device for the low low price of ZERO. Yes, zero. Nice. You can download many books for free from www.manybooks.net. You do it right on the iPhone, from within the eReader program. (I’m reading “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” on my iPhone and didn’t pay a dime.)

By the way, eReader automatically saves your place when you go to do something else, like check your email or make a phone call. If you’re partway through several books eReader remembers your place in each. Really neat.

If that’s enough to sell you on it, click here and get eReader, for free, from the iTunes Store. If you’re not sold yet, here are some pictures that will help you see it my way.

Here’s the opening screen. Notice it’s in COLOR.




Here’s what eReader’s “Parchment” color scheme looks like. Very readable. That’s from The Return of Sherlock Holmes. (You swipe from right to left to turn the page-- no need to click a special button or anything.)




A tap on the screen brings up the options and controls. They go away with another tap.




Here are some of the settings.



eReader lets you focus on reading, not on the device you’re using and not on how much that device cost you. Apart from the opening screen there aren’t a lot of pictures so even though it’s in color that’s somewhat wasted since you can’t see illustrations. But, for the money, and the convenience, eReader’s a great addition to your iPhone. I really, really like it.


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Sunday, February 8, 2009

OmniFocus: To-do list for Mac and iPhone

There are many to-do list programs for the Mac. And there are many to-do list programs for the iPhone. But there aren’t many to-do list programs for the Mac that synchronize with the iPhone, an essential feature if you ask me.

Actually, there are two Mac to-do list programs that have synchronizing counterparts on the iPhone: Things, and OmniFocus. I use OmniFocus, and that’s what I’ll write about here.

OmniFocus follows David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach, where every project (no matter how large) is broken into bite-sized pieces (no matter how many). Getting Things Done, or GTD, also emphasizes the notion of “context,” or where something can get done. Some things, like phone calls, can be made just about anytime. Some things, like working on your blog, can only be done from a computer with internet access. Other things, like buying wood for a new planter box, can only be done while out running errands. The idea is that everything that needs to get done has to do with some larger project and has a context where it can be done.

You can get a lot done with the Getting Things Done approach, but if it takes you half a day to get organized, you only have half a day left. And, if you can only check your to-do list while in front of your computer, you’re going to forget stuff while you’re out and about. OmniFocus on the Mac, and on the iPhone, solves these problems neatly.

Click here to watch a brief introductory video on the Mac version of OmniFocus. Click here to download a trial version of OmniFocus for your Mac (sorry, there is no trial version for the iPhone).

Here’s what OmniFocus looks like on my Mac:

It’s not as complicated as it looks, and you can skip a bunch of features while you learn how to use the program. In the picture above you can see I’m looking at “Remaining” items but I could look at “All” items-- in that case there would be several with checked boxes (yes, I’ve actually FINISHED a few things).

Here’s a picture of OmniFocus on the iPhone. This is the Home screen:



Touch Projects and it expands to show all of your projects. Touch Contexts and it expands to show your contexts. The Due Soon section shows items that are due “soon” (you can define what “soon” means), and the Overdue section fills itself in with items whose due dates have passed. Flagged items are simply things that you want to be able to jump to in a hurry-- maybe they aren’t due anytime soon but you want to be able to refer to them quickly.

Here’s what the Projects screen looks like (on my iPhone):



OmniFocus for the iPhone is $19.95, fairly expensive for an iPhone app (and by far my most expensive iPhone purchase). OmniFocus for the Mac is $79.95, also on the pricey side. But man oh man do they ever work well together. Once you set it up they’ll sync through the air, even through the AT&T network, so you’ll always have an up to date list. You can do your main work on your Mac and without your doing anything, the updated list will appear on your iPhone. Make a change on the iPhone and back it goes to your Mac. It’s super groovy.

If that’s not enough, you can even sync between two Macs. So, if you work on a desktop Mac sometimes, and on a laptop Mac other times, you can be sure of having the latest to-do list on both, and you don’t have to do anything once you’ve set it up.

Recommendation: if you have multiple Macs, and an iPhone, and you have lots of stuff to get done, the combination of OmniFocus on the Mac and OmniFocus on the iPhone will make things a lot easier. It has for me. Just knowing that everything is written down in one place takes a huge load off my mind. I am betting that it will for you too.


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Saturday, February 7, 2009

iWork 09 report




Apple put out a new version of iWork at Macworld Expo and it’s really terrific. I’ve been working with it fairly intensely as I’m the Technical Reviewer for the iWork ’09 “Missing Manual” book.

iWork is a collection of three programs: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Pages is a much nicer word processor than Microsoft Word, both easier to use and more capable. It also opens Microsoft Word documents, so goodbye Word, hello Pages.

Numbers is Apple’s version of Microsoft Excel, and like Pages, it’s a lot nicer to use than the competition. Keynote is Apple’s presentation program (the same one Steve Jobs used for all those “keynote” speeches) and it too is a pleasure to use, especially compared to Microsoft’s PowerPoint.

For $79 you get all three programs. For $99 you get the 5-user “Family Pack.” For free you get the 30 day trial. Click here to get the trial. You can watch movies about how to use iWork as the programs download. And you can click here to see a whole slew of tutorials.

I think you’re going to love it. Get the trial and find out for yourself.

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