Category Archives: Utility Belt

Wearables

11200223-2While I would not call myself a Horologist, or someone who collects watches, some of my
favorite souvenirs from a trip to Walt Disney World were collectable watches. Two of my favorites are a watch celebrating the 25th anniversary of the resort (see right), and a watch
inspired by my favorite ride “Splash Mountain”.* Over time, I increasingly I found myself reaching for my phone to tell me the time, and as a result stopped wearing a watch.

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve now become a “smart-Horologist”**. With the advent of “wearables”, I’ve fallen in love with watches again—both in terms of using them as well as collecting them, much to my wife’s chagrin. In today’s post for the Utility Belt, I’ll share my favorites with you.

My First Smartwatch – The Pebble 

51drvw0jzjl-_sl1000_Like many “Smart Horologists”, my first foray into wearables came in the form of the Pebble smartwatch. I didn’t participate in the record setting Kickstarter campaign that put Pebble on the map, I instead purchased one out of curiosity. Much as I purchased my Walt Disney World watches because of looks, I thought the Pebble “looked” like a neat combination between a traditional watch with geek couture.

After pairing the watch with my iPhone, which was a bear of a process, I quickly realized the value wearables can deliver. Aside from telling me the time and date, the Pebble allowed me to stop my phone from “dinging” all of the time***. A gentle buzz on my wrist, followed by a quick glance, and I could either ignore a meaningless notification without disrupting those around me or excuse myself to address something critical.

The Fitness Craze – The Fitbit Flex

Along the way, I traded in my Pebble for the Fitbit Flex, a “smart pedometer” that you wear on your wrist to track how many steps you take in a day and how well you sleep at night. While this device did create a competition within our house on who could out walk the most, I missed the ability for a device on my wrist to, well…tell time. I also hated returning to my phone ringing and dinging all the time, as the Fitbit Flex had no display to show notifications.

As it turned out, I wanted a device that blended the functionality from both the Fitbit Flex and the Pebble. Thankfully the next generation of wearables eliminated the need to choose fitness over function. I’ll spare you my journey through the Samsung Gear Neo, the Moto360, the Pebble Time Steel, and the Samsung Gear S2, and skip to my current favorite.

The AppleWatch

When Apple unveiled AppleWatch****, to say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. I didn’t find the functionality Apple stressed to be compelling, because through use I wanted a smart watch for three purposes:

  1. Tell me the date & time
  2. Show me notifications
  3. Track my fitness progress, or lack thereof.

I believe that in an effort to justify another device, Apple tried to make it’s wearable do too much. Their vision of using apps on my wrist sounds as dumb today as it did two years ago. The honeycomb User Interface (UI) isn’t really all that friendly to use, and the digital crown sounds good in theory but in practice is not. Since I prefer a round watch instead of a square one, the AppleWatch design didn’t impress me. Once you add in outlier pricing, with the least expensive AppleWatch Sport starting at $350, and the AppleWatch had plenty going against it.

With all of the negativity above, I still planned on purchasing one but before I could, Lady Luck found me. I won a contest at Avaya for participating in Social Media, and as a result was awarded an AppleWatch. After setting it up, the watch definitely lived up to my concerns from above. While I used it, I struggled to make it fit into my use. There were some nice additions, such as the ability to respond to text messages using my voice, but the complex UI outweighed those advances.

With all of those negatives, I’m sure you must be asking yourself— why do I still use the AppleWatch above all others? The answer to that question lies in two parts.

The first reason I chose AppleWatch over all others lies in software improvements Apple made to WatchOS. Starting with WatchOS2, Apple reinvented and simplified the WatchUI. While the honeycomb is still there, I now use it infrequently. WatchOS2 minimized it’s dependency on the digital crown, moved the app tray to have a dedicated button, and ported “Command Center” with a swipe up motion. This radically simplified UI makes AppleWatch much more functional. While I still don’t really use any apps on the watch, the core functionality of a wearable is now spotlighted instead of buried in a messy way.

Second, while I don’t care for the square design of AppleWatch, there is one piece of hardware innovation that I love—interchangeable watchbands. Using no tools, I can change my AppleWatch from a sporty look to a professional look in a matter of seconds. I’ve purchased watchbands from Apple directly and from third parties on Amazon, with sometimes mixed results. My personal favorite bands are the Apple Sport bands*****, a Milanese steel band, and a Stainless Steel Link band.

Do you have a smart watch? Share your experience in the comments below!


* I’m kicking myself, because I can’t find this watch now. I looked around on the internet for a photo of it for this article, and couldn’t find one. I also wanted to get the Haunted Mansion edition, but alas they ended the sale before I went back to Disneyworld.

** I’ve never read the term used elsewhere, so I’m staking claim to it! My wife says the thesaurus would just suggest nerd, but whatever. She knew what she was getting into when she married me.

*** I also will say a smartwatch stopped the buzzing on my rear end, but that seemed too personal.

**** Can I just say, this new naming convention from Apple is horrible. Number one, prefixing their brand name to every product is a touch egotistical. Second, the version names of AppleWatch are S-T-O-O-P-I-D. I mean seriously, AppleWatch Sport? OK. AppleWatch? Fine. AppleWatch Edition? What the heck does that even mean? How does that name represent Apple’s “luxury” line of watches?

***** Third party watchbands provide a solid value with a huge discount compared to their Apple counterparts. I purchased my Milanese Loop band from Amazon for $15, compared to $150 at Apple. The quality is extremely comparable and the difference is undetectable. That said, heed my advice, and don’t cheap out on the AppleWatch sport bands. My wife and daughter each purchased one from Amazon for their AppleWatches, and the materials used are radically different than their Apple counterparts. The third party sport bands collect lint and hair so quickly, they resemble a pair of my black dress slacks after the cat and dog both sat in my lap at the same time. Trust me, it’s worth the extra money to get those from Apple.

Present Like a Pro

One of the reasons I love my job is my love of public speaking. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to present solutions to my colleagues, business partners, and our customers. In today’s post, I’ll share with one of the most important tools on my Utility Belt. While this tool isn’t high tech, it has been an invaluable in my professional development.

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Apple products, the Apple company, and it’s founder Steve Jobs. In my professional life, I use an iPad Pro*, an iPhone 7 Plus**, and recently added a new MacBook Pro. My entire family uses Apple services such as iCloud, iMessage, and FaceTime to stay connected, and a combination of iTunes and AppleTV have replaced the bulk of our cable subscription.

As much as I adore Apple’s products, I am just as enamored with how they market and sell those products. I remember watching my first Steve Jobs keynote presentation at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in 2009 where he unveiled the iPhone 3GS. Having recently purchased my first iPhone, I was instantly mesmerized by Steve’s presentation. He spoke about a phone in a way which instantly made sense. He unveiled and described new functionality which made me desperate to upgrade my nearly new phone. It was at this moment that my Apple addiction took over, a cure for which has not been discovered.

Death by PowerPoint

At the same time as my Apple addiction began taking hold, I was undergoing an evolution in my career. I moved from working on solutions after they were sold to presenting solutions during a part of the sales process. As I began this transition, I participated in a variety of technical and sales presentations. This was where I became acquainted with, and fully understood, the term “Death by PowerPoint”. All too often, a technical presentation consists of a large number of Microsoft PowerPoint slides being projected on a large display. The slides are cluttered with a million words all over them, and the presenter then read them to everyone in the room. If a presentation ended, the lights were turned back on, and no one was snoring, it was considered a success.

That’s not my definition of success.

A Journey to Be Interesting

When I started building presentations, I struggled to replicate Steve Jobs work. I asked myself, what makes his presentations so good? Is it the software he uses? Is it the fonts? Is it the animations?

After some research, I cracked the code, and my career hasn’t been the same since. The book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs : How to be insanely great in front of any audience” by Carmine Gallo (Available on Amazon – Click here ) had all of the answers I was looking for, and as it turns out, Steve Jobs’ presentations were structured in a way which is easily repeatable and can be applied to any topic, product, or presentation.

While I’ll share three tips with you below, I strongly recommend reading the book.

Tip One – Tell a Interesting Story

When asked to present to an audience, most people begin looking at a collection of PowerPoint files to find relevant slides. This FrankenDeck is a series of random thoughts glued together, and is a proven cure for insomnia.

To make your presentation memorable, it needs to tell a story. All good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Another trait shared among good stories is the presence of a villain, an evil plot, and a hero who saves the day.

When I make a presentation, I start with an outline. Begin by identifying the evil plot in your story, or the problem your audience faces. Introduce the villain to the audience, which is your competitors and how their solutions lead to or make the evil plot worse. Finally, introduce your hero, or your product, and explain how it vanquishes the evil plot.

Tip Two – Practice

Imagine if you purchased a ticket to a play, and the lead actor starts the show by turning his back to the audience to describe the set? This, of course, sounds absurd. Actors memorize their lines, and the set is a backdrop for the story being told by the actor. The same holds true for presentations.

Poorly prepared presenters turn their backs to the audience, reading content from the slide projected behind them.  Your presentation is essentially a bit of personal theater! Just as a play starts with a script, your first steps towards building a presentation starts in Microsoft Word, not PowerPoint. Build an outline of the story you wish to tell, focusing on three “acts”— the beginning, middle, and end. Once you’ve built your outline, expand into a full script. Once you’ve built your script, it’s time to rehearse!

I often memorize my scripts in small chunks, two or three slides at a time, rehearsing until I can deliver them perfectly. I then put them together for a dress rehearsal, where I run the presentation from beginning to end.

This approach delivers three major benefits. First, you be able to keep eye contact with your audience, which is incredibly powerful. Second, you will be able to eliminate the filler words from your speech. No “uhm”s or “ah”s to distract your audience. Finally, rehearsing in this fashion makes your presentation “modular”. When the inevitable last minute request to present a topic comes, you can take the scripted chunks from different presentations and weave them together into a new presentation on a similar, yet different subject matter.

Remember the saying, “Practice makes perfect!”

Tip Three – Build a Set That Compliments You

Once you have a script, it’s time to build a set, which for a presenter means a PowerPoint slide deck. You’re set should have one purpose, and that is to reinforce what you’re saying. Well built slides compliment the presenter, not the other way around!

When building your slides, throw caution to the wind, and remove as much as humanly possible. Use HUGE fonts to limit the number of words on each slide. Replace words with gorgeous high resolution photographs.*** Above all else, remember—remove all bullets, because bullets in a presentation lead to your audience reading ahead instead of listening to you. If you MUST use a bulleted list, make it animated so only the topic you’re speaking to is visible to the audience. However for the love of all things holy, if you animate something on a slide, make sure it’s a part of your script, and add it to your script rehearsal.*****

I hope you enjoyed this post on my “Utility Belt”. You can take away my Mac. Force me to use PowerPoint instead of Keynote. Make me present remotely or in person. The one tool I couldn’t live without is the knowledge I’ve learned from The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. I simply cannot recommend it strongly enough.


* You can find my thoughts on the iPad Pro by clicking here.

** You can read about my iPhone experience by clicking here.

*** I know you really think your slide deck’s theme is off the hook, as my 13 year old daughter may say, but if you put a photograph on a slide that’s what we want to see. Make it full screen and you’ll thank me later.

**** I fully admit, this may be my OCD kicking in, but nothing drives me more insane than a presenter advancing to a slide, stopping their speech and clicking their slide 5 times to complete all animations. If they don’t server a purpose, GET RID OF THEM!

Amazon Alexa

After fifteen years of marriage, my wife knows me too well. She knows she married a nerd, which I believe makes Christmas shopping easy*. She remembered how eager I was to add “JARVIS” to our home after we watched the first Iron Man movie together. This year, she chose one of my favorite Christmas gifts, the Amazon Echo. Today’s post on the utility belt will discuss Amazon’s hardware and artificial intelligence solutions.

How does it work?

Amazon has developed an artificial intelligence solution named Alexa. Much like its counterparts Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant, Alexa can respond to questions and commands.

Alexa

Amazon’s artificial intelligence solution is named “Alexa”. Alexa can respond to simple questions such as “Alexa, will it rain today”, “Alexa, please tell me the news”, or “Alexa, what’s on my calendar today?”.

Much like the Amazon Dash buttons, Alexa can also be used to place orders on Amazon. Find you’re running low on paper towels? Simply say “Alexa, re-order paper towels”, and thanks to Amazon Prime, they will be on my doorstep in two days.

Similar to other artificial intelligence solutions on the market today, you can also issue commands to Alexa. You can ask Alexa to play a specific song, music from a specific artist, or to play a specific genre of music. While you’re listening, you can ask Alexa to adjust the volume, pause the music, or stop it all together.

Where Alexa really shines however is in her ability to “learn new skills”. Just as installing an app on your cell phone grants you the ability to do things like order a pizza, start your vehicle remotely, or schedule a haircut, skills empower Alexa to interact with third parties. This means you can say “Alexa, open Dominos and track my pizza order”, “Alexa, tell 1800Flowers I want to send flowers to Lindsay on May 28th.”, or “Alexa, ask Automotive if I need to get gas on my way to work.”

There are thousands of skills available for Alexa, and more are added every day. This ability to “teach” Alexa new skills really puts the intelligence in Artificial Intelligence.

Smart Home

In the movie Iron Man, one of Tony Stark’s lady friends attempts to access a restricted area of the house and is surprised to hear JARVIS announce that she is not allowed to access that room. Pepper Potts, Tony’s personal assistant, appears and explains “That’s JARVIS. He runs the house.”

As described above, Alexa can provide tremendous assistance in our home by answering questions, ordering household products, and integrating with third party apps. I plan empowering Alexa to “run my house”, by responding to voice commands. For example, If someone says “Alexa, turn on CNN in the living room”, Alexa will work with my Logitech Harmony hub to turn on the TV, change to the proper input, and adjust the cable box to the correct channel. If I ask “Alexa, turn on the Air Conditioner in the Bedroom”, Alexa will work with the smart plug the air conditioner is plugged into to turn on the appliance.

There is a host of devices, all at surprisingly reasonable costs, which empower Alexa to truly “run the house”.

Hardware with Alexa Inside

To access Alexa, Amazon developed a line of hardware solutions for your home.

The Echo

The Amazon Echo is an internet connected device which has seven always-on microphones and built in speakers. The Echo uses all seven microphones with a technology called far field voice recognition, which means you can the hardware in a room and it will hear your voice from anywhere in the same room—no need to raise your voice!

The Echo also has an amazing speaker solution with 360 degree Omni-directional audio delivered from a 2.5” woofer, a 2.0” tweeter, and a reflexive output port. What this means you can ask Alexa to fill your room with music that sounds amazing.

The Dot

Much like its bigger brother, the Dot is an internet connected device which has always-on microphones and a built in speaker. The 7 microphone array on the Dot is identical to the Echo, meaning it can also hear you from anywhere in the room.

Unlike the Echo however, The Dot comes with a single built speaker. This means that while the Dot can listen and respond to commands for Alexa, it isn’t optimal for playing music. The Dot does however allow you to “Bring Your Own Speakers”, wired or wireless using Bluetooth.

The Tap

The Amazon Tap is billed as a “Alexa Enabled Portable Bluetooth Speaker”. This means that while the Tap has a microphone to listen to Alexa commands, it’s microphone is not triggered by voice recognition. To access Alexa from the Tap, you must press a button. It’s portability, with the built in battery pack, would make it ideal for travelers or other uses outside the home.

How Alexa Will Run My House

My master plan is to make Alexa “present” anywhere in my home, and empower her to control as many elements of my home as possible.

Due to the small room size and open floor plan, I’ll cover my living room and kitchen with the Echo. I plan on using multiple Dots to provide coverage for other rooms in the house such as my bedrooms, the laundry room, and my office. In some spaces, such as the laundry room, I’ll just use the built in speaker. In other spaces, I will use external speakers. In fact, I plan on pairing the Dot in my office with my Avaya E.169 Docking Station.

To empower Alexa to control our house, I ordered several smart plugs (Click Here) which will let Alexa turn things like air conditioners, lamps, or heated blankets on or off. I will integrate my Logitech Harmony entertainment hub with Alexa to give her the ability to control the TV and associated devices**.

Looking to the future, I plan on investing in a smart Thermostat and door lock. I also intend to replace the light switches with their smarter counterparts, which will allow both Alexa to control them as well as me to simply press the switch.

Did you get an Alexa enabled device over the holidays? Working towards building your own smart home? Tell me about it in the comments below.


* She, on the other hand, is near impossible to shop for.

** My poor mother-in-law cannot figure out our home entertainment system, not that I blame her. When I told my wife “Hey, your mom will now be able to just say ‘Alexa turn on CNN'”, I was greeted with an eye roll. Apparently not everyone is as jazzed about speaking to computers as I am. Sheesh.

The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus

My wife likes to say I change mobile phones as often as I change my clothes. I then remind her that she knew what she was buying into when we got married, and the return policy has elapsed.

While my geek eyes have wandered in the past*, my main crush has been the iPhone. Starting with the iPhone 3G, I’ve owned one of every model of iPhone. With the launch of the iPhone7 family, it was time to upgrade. In the end, I chose to upgrade my iPhone 6S to the iPhone 7 Plus. I’ll share my thoughts with you below.

The Most Boring iPhone Ever

Historically Apple released a new design, packed with new functionality, and then updated the internal hardware the following year while keeping the external design the same in their “s” release.

With the iPhone 7 and 7 plus, Apple changed their design strategy. The iPhone 7 made very small refinements to the design of the iPhone 6/6s family, such as adjusted antenna designs. As a result, the iPhone7 and 7Plus have been called the most boring iPhone ever released.

When I visited the Apple Store to see the new phone first hand, I was struck by the fact that I couldn’t visually identify the new phone from the old one. I had to pick the phone up and look at the back, for the new camera bumps, or the bottom to look for the missing headphone port.

Far be it for me to question one of the most successful companies in the world, but this strategy seems questionable. My college aged son, who has been even more faithful to Apple than I, recently asked me about potentially trading his iPhone 7Plus in for a Google Pixel. That should set off warning bells for Tim Cook and crew, while at the same time send shudders down the spine of Apple stockholders.

What’s New

The short answer? Not much.

In addition to the upgraded internals**, the iPhone7 and the iPhone7Plus are now waterproof devices. While I still wouldn’t recommend using your new iPhone for underwater selfies, this does mean one less accident you could have with your device.

In addition to waterproofing, both models have received upgrades to their cameras. The camera on the iPhone 7 is identical in resolution to the iPhone 6 (12 Megapixels), however it has an improved aperture, four LED flash (up from 2), and most importantly Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). These improvements are all geared towards improving performance in low light shooting situations.

The camera upgrade on the larger iPhone 7 Plus is even more interesting and dramatic. The single lens, 12 Megapixel rear camera with OIS has been upgraded to a dual lens camera which creates some very interesting capabilities. The iPhone 7 Plus sports the traditional wide angle lens, as well as a second, 2x telephoto lens, both with 12 Megapixel resolution. The improved flash of the iPhone 7 is also present with the 7 Plus.

The value to the dual lens system, beyond the ability to finally zoom in on a subject optically***, is the ability to add a blurry background to a portrait photo. These types of photos make the subject of the photo stand out, and traditionally are hard to create on a phone. Here’s an example of a photo I took of my niece, with no retouching.

img_0073
Thanks to an abundance of outdoor light, Natalie is in razor sharp focus. When paired with a blurred out background, it makes the subject of the portrait pop off the page. All done with point and click simplicity.

There are some things to be aware of however. The telephoto lens has a wider aperture and does not have OIS, which means that lens will not perform as well in low light shots as it’s wide angle sister. This limitation will dramatically affect Portrait mode in anything less than well lit scenarios. Here’s an example of a photo shot using Portrait mode indoors with what I thought was decent light.

img_0957
See the graininess, and overall lack of focus?

All in all, the camera on the iPhone 7 Plus is a huge step forward, but it does have limitations. While I quickly fell in love with Portrait mode, the excitement has waned. I’ve learned to only use it in perfect conditions. When it works, it’s outstanding…but when it doesn’t, you’re left with broken dreams and missed opportunities. 

Courage

As you’re most likely aware, Apple made the decision to remove the traditional headphone port on the iPhone 7 family of phones. This means you will have three choices for listening to music on your new phone:

  1. Use a pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones
  2. Use your standard headphones with an adapter (included in the box)
  3. Use the Earpods included with the iPhone which now feature a lightning plug

Apple historically leads the industry in disregarding old technology which has seen it’s better days. In the past the decision to retire technology, such as the CD ROM drive, was driven by a desired benefit, such as reducing the thickness of a laptop. The functionality delivered by the retired technology had been replaced by something better, such as cloud storage, which made the trade off appealing to the consumer.

The removal of the headphone port does not accomplish this. While Bluetooth headphones have become more commonplace****, they are still not as ubiquitous and affordable as standard headphones, and are another device to require battery maintenance. The sound quality from Bluetooth headphones is no better than the sound quality in wired headphones, and in some cases it’s worse. Finally, this “courageous” change means you cannot charge your phone while listening to music on wired earbuds, since there is only one lightning port on the phone.

This is a troubling trend, exacerbated on the new line of Macbook laptops, but I’ll expand on that another time. Just know, I miss my headphone port.

The verdict

So would I recommend you upgrade to the iPhone 7 family of phones? The answer is, it depends. If, like me, you are enrolled in an early upgrade program, where the upgrade comes with little to no cost, then go for it. I’ll also assume you are in a courageous mood, and will move to wireless Bluetooth headphones.

If you’re currently using an iPhone 6S or iPhone 6S Plus, and are considering an upgrade to the smaller iPhone 7, I’d advise against it. While the waterproofing and camera improvements are nice, I don’t believe it’s enough to warrant an upgrade. I would wait for the iPhone 7S next year, which is rumored to have a radical new design and a bevy of new functionality (wireless charging perhaps?).

If you are considering an upgrade to the iPhone 7 Plus however, I would recommend it. The dual camera setup can empower even the most casual photographer to create amazing, art like photos with the simplicity of point and click. The waterproofing and stronger internals are benefits, but the upgrade is essentially driven by the camera in my opinion.

Have you upgraded to the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

* Aside from a short dalliance with Motorola, my mistress has always been from Samsung. I’ve found they make the best Android phones on the market, especially in the camera department. That is, until they started blowing up.

** I’m downplaying the internal upgrades, partially because Apple downplays them, and partially because no one really cares about them. That said, Apple did upgrade the amount of RAM in the iPhone 7 Plus to 3GB, which should help the phone perform even better than previous generations.

*** “Just because you can zoom in to a photo digitally, doesn’t mean you should do it.” – “Uncle Ben” Parker, Spiderman. It’s paraphrased, but you get the point. Digital zooms are evil, and leave you with photos that resemble a 1980’s Nintendo game. Don’t use them. Period.

**** The folks at Plantronics are too kind to me. I’m currently using either the Backbeat Pro (over the ear) or the Backbeat Fit (earbud) wireless headsets. They’re great headsets, and will eventually get their own “The Utility Belt” treatment.

The iPad Pro

One of the most important gadgets is my 13” iPad Pro. It has become my daily driver, effectively replacing my computer. I’d like to explain why I love this device.

Hardware

It’s an iPad, so it comes with the same elegance as the iPad Air before it. It’s super thin, lightweight, and provides a huge canvas to work on. TouchID saves me from having to constantly type my password when logging in. If I lose it somewhere*, I can instantly locate it using the Find my Phone app, and lock or erase the device.

What really makes the iPad different than a laptop however is the battery life. While the MacBook has come a long way, the iPad Pro can comfortably run for over 10 hours on a single charge. Since I no longer have to carry a bundle of power cords, I don’t use a laptop bag anymore.

I have found two drawbacks to the iPad Pro hardware.

The first centers around Apple Pencil. Unlike the Microsoft Surface Pro, there is no way to attach the Pencil to the iPad. I keep it in my pocket, and habitually lose it for days, weeks, and one time months at a time. It’s a minor issue, but one Steve Jobs cautioned about during the iPhone launch when discussing the lack of a stylus.

The second, and more critical, is the lack of ports on the device. The only port on the iPad Pro is the Lightning port on the bottom of the tablet. In my new position, I will have to present to customers and business partners. While I could mirror my iPad to a big screen using Airplay, most enterprises have not adopted the AppleTV in their conference rooms. I can plug in an adapter to connect physically to a TV or projector, but I cannot plug in a USB presentation clicker. With the removal of almost all ports on the MacBook line of laptops, this will be an issue for any Apple user who regularly has to connect to a projector to present a slide deck.

Accessories

I use two primary accessories with my iPad.

Apple Pencil

One of the main benefits to the iPad Pro is the ability to use Apple Pencil to draw on the iPad screen. Unlike the cheaper stylus which try to mimic your finger size, the Apple Pencil behaves like an actual writing instrument. The latency between writing on the screen and seeing the “ink” is almost undetectable by the human eye, and this has enabled me to avoid the white board in meetings. Instead I will draw on my iPad, and then instantly share the drawing with those in the meeting. It’s like a portable smart board. My only gripes with Apple Pencil are how easy it is to lose, and this:

Apple Keyboard cover

Adding a physical keyboard to the iPad Pro is a must for anyone looking to use this as a laptop replacement. I purchased my iPad Pro right after the launch, and as you can imagine accessories like Apple Pencil and the Apple Keyboard cover were in short supply. I also have not had good luck in the past with Apple’s smart covers**, so it did not take much convincing for me to look at alternatives. My journey resembled Goldie Locks looking for the right bed to lay in.

I started with the Logitech Create keyboard case. While it does have a lot of benefits, such as a backlit keyboard, a row of function keys, and compatibility with the MagSafe connector, there are two MAJOR drawbacks.

The first*** was a frustrating latency which constantly caused either missed keystrokes or the iPad to act as if I were holding down a key. If a keyboard can’t keep up with your typing, what’s the point? The second issue, and frankly the more critical, was the design of the Create keyboard case actually scratches the screen of your iPad Pro. I stopped using the Create case before the scratching became dramatic, but it was frustrating to look at. Luckily Apple replaced my iPad under warranty, and explained this apparently is a known issue with the case. That said…the case is still on store shelves. It looks like it has a slight redesign to accommodate the Apple Pencil, but I would personally recommend caution with that accessory.

I then tried the Zagg keyboard case, which is VERY nice. Unlike the Create keyboard, the Zagg keyboard uses bluetooth for it’s connection to the iPad and is another device that needs to be charged, however Zagg claims the keyboard will operate for an entire year on a single charge. I’m not inclined to disagree, as I never recharged the keyboard during my stint with the case. The biggest drawback for me was the size. I love my iPad Pro due to it’s thin size and light weight. The Zagg case effectively turns your iPad Pro into a Macbook. It’s not the end of the world, but it wasn’t right for me.

Ultimately I ended up with the Apple Keyboard case, and it is hands down the best of the bunch. It keeps the iPad thin and light, it is very sturdy both when closed**** and opened. Unlike the new Macbook keyboards, the Keyboard cover still feels very natural to type on. And thanks to it’s magnetic connection, it doesn’t require any type of recharging.

Long story short…the company who designed the iPad also designed the best accessories for it. Who’d have thunk it?

Software

Like every other iPad before it, the iPad Pro runs Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS10. Apple’s “Post-PC” revolution is coming into focus with this iteration however. Coupled with the huge 13” screen, the multi-tasking feature added to iOS10 is really effective. As I type this post, my email sits on the right hand side of my screen. Instead of windows, I can have two apps share the screen real estate. This enables me to be much more productive, and I find I focus on tasks much better. The only drawback is the fact that the App must support multi-tasking vs. being a function of the OS. This creates an inconsistent performance, as apps such as Facebook can only be used full screen until their developer updates them to support multi-tasking. Since this feature is over a year old, and there are multiple apps that do not support it, it can be frustrating. Hopefully Apple solves this in the near future.

The other part of the software discussion centers on third party applications. Productivity apps such as Microsoft Office, Google Apps, and iWork are near twins of their desktop counterparts. I can easily open a spreadsheet, create a professional document or build a slide deck complete with animations without an issue. Where the iPad apps truly shine however is in the photo manipulation apps such as FaceTune. Coupled with the Apple Pencil, I can modify and clean up my photos with precision and an interface which never felt natural on the computer and mouse combo.

Summary

For most users, consumer or business, the iPad has effectively become a computer replacement. You can both create and consume content on the device. You can use it as a tablet on an airplane or as a full computer at your desk. And with battery life that can easily get you through the day, you don’t need to worry about finding a table with a power outlet at the coffee shop or airport.

Do you have an iPad Pro? Share your thoughts below!


 

* I clutch this thing like a newborn, so there’s zero chance of this happening. But for you non-geeks out there, it’s a nice feature to have.

** The magnet holding the cover in the closed position was always too weak in my opinion to keep the screen protected. I did however absolutely LOVE my brown leather Apple SmartCASE for my old iPad Air. It was outstanding both in looks and functionality.

*** This admittedly may have been solved with a software update since I returned the Create. Your mileage may vary.

**** I think the keyboard folded under the smart cover allowed Apple to use a stronger magnet. The Keyboard cover stays firmly in place over the screen, while the plain old SmartCover did not in my past experience.

Plantronics Voyager 5200

As someone who spends a lot of time on video conference calls1, I will tell you I’ve heard it all. The keyboard clicking away from someone who forgot to mute their line. The elevator music broadcast into a bridge when a participant absentmindedly places their call on hold. The dogs barking in the background when the mailman makes their delivery2. But none of these annoyances can hold a candle to the person joining a video conference with a pair of Apple earbuds hanging on their face3.Poor audio quality is a death sentence for a productive video conference.
I’m not one of those guys who wears a headset all the time, whether on a call or not. As a result, Bluetooth headsets have always been a challenge for me. I’d regularly look like a contortionist answering a call on my iPhone, only to have the headset in my pocket pick up, then fumbling through pockets while yelling to hold on. Bluetooth headsets were notoriously uncomfortable to wear, too quiet to hear, and had horrible microphones. Yuck, Yuck, Yuck.
Fast forward a few years and I was introduced to the Plantronics Voyager UC4. The headset used a proximity sensor to know when it was on my ear, and when it wasn’t. No more contortionist act when answering phone calls. The earpiece fit comfortably in my ear. But most importantly…it delivered outstanding performance for sound quality. It instantly became my go-to headset, so much so that I wore it out.
My Plantronics representative was kind enough to replace my unit with the new Voyager 52004. The 5200 delivers everything the original Voyager gave me and then some. The biggest advantage is the new WindSmart technology which helps reduce background noise when I take a call in a noisy location such as a Boston street or crowded coffee shop. Additionally, the case provided with the headset doubles as a charger and a stand for the headset when it’s not in use.
If you’re looking for a high quality headset that delivers outstanding results, I can’t recommend the Plantronics Voyager 5200 highly enough.


1 Since I began using Avaya Equinox, my video calling has gone through the roof. The ability to make a business video call from my mobile phone has been a game changer.
2 Yeah…that was me.
3 Hopefully with Apple’s *ahem* courageous decision to remove the headphone port from their iPhones, this will become less prevalent. At least until they add a lightning port to their laptops.
4 I was provided with an evaluation unit, which this article is based on.