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    Top Ten Web Tools of 2013

    January 6th, 2014

    oldtools

    This is the sixth time I have compiled a list of the top ten web tools I have used during the year. I am finding it interesting looking back over 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and 2012 which tools I still use and which have fallen by the wayside. My 11th tool would be Delicious, which I have started using more, but certainly not as much as the other tools listed below.

    10. Dropping one place to number ten is Speakerdeck. I replaced my usage of Slideshare with Speakerdeck in 2012, and in 2013 I continued to use Speakerdeck as a platform for sharing my presentations. It drops a place, mainly as I did fewer presentations in 2013, so as a result used the service less than I did in 2012

    9. Dropping one place from 2012 is WordPress which is number nine. I still use the blogging software for my blogs. I like the flexibility it offers and it certainly works for me. However as I did less blogging in 2013 than in did in 2012, though still a useful tool, I was using it less. I still think the only thing that is missing for me is a decent mobile client or iPad app.

    8. Flipboard falls a couple of places to number eight. The main reason it falls is more down to Google than Flipboard. Google retired Google Reader and I was using that service to feed Flipboard. Though I did manage to import my Google Reader subscription into Flipboard, I am finding it slow to refresh and of course much more difficult to add new sites to the feed. I do need to spend some time working out how to maximise my use of Flipboard as a news reading tool, as when it works well, it works really well.

    7. Climbing three places to number seven is Evernote, the online note taking tool. Since changing jobs in the Autumn, I am using Evernote more than ever. A really useful tool for making notes and syncing them across devices.

    6. Instagram drops three places back to number six and I know that part of the reason was that in 2012 I used Instagram everyday as the main way of posting a photograph a day. I didn’t do that in 2013, so used Instagram less. I did try though and improve the quality of my images in 2013. I have decided to return to the photo a day thing in 2014, so will now be using Instagram much more than I did last year.

    5. Dropping three places to number five is Flickr. Whereas in 2012 I added 1300 photographs to Flickr, in 2013 it was a measly 635. I also used Flickr extensively for finding photographs for the blog and for many of the presentations I gave this year.

    4. Climbing three places is Chrome, which is now my default browser on my main computers. Even though I use it a lot, I do use it alongside other browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. What I do like is that I can now sync my browsers across different computers and different devices. Using the Google Nexus 7 I can now see and open the tabs I was using on the iMac or the laptop. I also like how I can do the same with Chrome on the iPad. Great when you want to refer to a site, but either can’t remember the URL or how you got there.

    3. Climbing one place to number three is the Twitter. I use Twitter almost every day for checking out news, links, travel reports and interesting stuff. I certainly don’t have the conversations on there that I have on Google+, but when they do happen they are useful and interesting.

    2. Dropping one place to number two is Dropbox. It isn’t social, but I use it every day and in some cases all day. Dropbox is a fantastic tool, in the main because it works! It was interesting switching to a Windows PC for a few months in the new job how my usage of Dropbox stopped and I was using an USB stick of all things! In the previous nine months though I did use Dropbox extensively and it was a really useful tool. It just works, to the point it is transparent and it never gets in the way of me doing my stuff, which is as it should be.

    1. In the top spot for 2013 is Google+ climbing four places from number five. There are two core reasons for the rise of Google+, mainly more people used in in 2013 than they did in 2012, but in my new job it’s an integral communication tool for sharing links, news and views across the group.

    So that’s my top ten web tools for 2013, what were yours?


    Apps and Google Drive

    May 10th, 2013

    Over on my Tech Stuff Blog I have written a short blog post about adding apps to Google Drive.

    Adding Apps to Google Drive

    I was quite impressed with how easy it was to add apps and liked the added functionality it brings to Google Docs. In the blog post I have shown a couple of useful edtech apps, mind mapping and MoveNote. Still working out what else it can do and importantly the limitations.

    One of the real advantages of this, is that learners can use their computer at home, at college or work, without needing to worry about installing software, or having files they can’t work on as there isn’t the application on the hardware.


    Top Ten Technologies of 2012

    January 24th, 2013

    I did mean to post this back at the beginning of January, but missed my own deadline. However I have found my previous top tens from 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 useful so decided to get this article done.

    So what’s in the top ten for 2012 then? Well these are technologies that I actually use, they exclude web tools and services which I do a separate top ten for. They are generally tools that make my life easier, more efficient and more productive.

    10. BT Infinity FTTC drops seven places to number ten, not because it wasn’t great and useful, but I moved in June and my new place couldn’t get FTTC so I couldn’t use it anymore. This is a top ten for 2012 and for the first six months of the year it was great and since moving back to ADSL I realise how much I depended on it. It is looking like there is very little chance of our cabinet getting upgraded in 2013, so I expect not to see FTTC in the top ten next year.

    9. The Blue Snowball Microphone would probably have been higher this year, if I had used it more. I use it for recording podcasts, for doing online presentations and voiceovers. I love the way it records sound and would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a decent, but not super expensive microphone. The main downside is that the size of the microphone makes it less than ideal for taking to events and carrying in a bag. However the quality of recordings means that I am more keen to use this then any other microphone.

    8. The iMac is my workhorse computer, the one I do big things on such as movie editing, managing my photography collection, writing, large spreadsheets, desk top publishing and so much more. It is very much my truck when it comes to computing, but it isn’t that portable… The main downside with the iMac is the size of the hard disk, and I might replace it with a larger drive, but I am quite intrigued by the newer model, the one with the fusion drive.

    7. My Google Nexus One is now three years old and is in terms of phones quite an old phone, almost an antique… however I do use it all the time. Mainly for tethering, I am grandfathered into an unlimited tethering plan from T-Mobile so loathe to get rid of that SIM… However it is also a great phone, and most of my Android apps work just fine on it. The big change for my was Froyo, that turned the Nexus One from an interesting phone to an useful phone. Sadly it is now stuck at Gingerbread, and Google have said that they won’t add any future updates. I think I will be replacing it this year, with what though I am not sure. One of the reasons I haven’t upgraded it was purchasing the Google Nexus 7.

    6. iPhone 4 drops to number six, the main reason was iOS 6.0 which thought brought many useful features, also removed some too (looking at you Maps). I kept thinking about upgrading the phone to initially the iPhone 4S and then the iPhone 5, but though there were some nice features, to be honest none were really “outstanding” enough to make me upgrade. The iPhone 4 is still a great smartphone and was what the iPhone should have been from day one. The camera is excellent, and great for taking stills and video. The retina display still astounds me in terms of the visual quality. It’s fast enough and apps open smoothly, for a phone that will be three years old this year and I still think of it as a modern phone! Using the iPad and the Google Nexus 7 a lot this year however has made me appreciate the larger screen space that is severely lacking on the iPhone. If I have a choice then I will not use the iPhone and move to a tablet. The key question is will I upgrade this year to the iPhone 5 or the 5S, it might be time for a change.

    5. Google Nexus 7 comes straight in at number five. If I didn’t have an iPad and was ensconced into the iTunes ecosystem of apps, music and films, then I think this would be much higher, possibly even number one. I didn’t think I would like the form factor, but it just works, in the main as it fits in my jacket pocket. As a result when going out I have access to a tablet device and don’t need to carry a bag, which I would need to do if I took the iPad. When the iPad mini came out and was available to play with in the Apple Stores, you would have laughed as I went to have a play and then tried to fit it into the inside pocket of my jacket, so see if it would fit in the same way that the Nexus 7 does. Was challenging as the iPad mini was cabled to the table! The main downside of the Nexus 7, well the version I have, is the lack of 3G, so I need to use wifi; it’s not too bad as I then use the Google Nexus One for tethering or free wifi in coffee shops. The screen is great and movies, books and apps look really good. The main downside for me is writing on the tablet, as the on screen control buttons are at the bottom of the screen, when I type I find that too often I hit the “home” button and drop out from what I was typing.

    4. Apple TV wasn’t in my top ten last year, what made a real difference this year was AirPlay. Though I liked using the Apple TV for playing and streaming my iTunes content and showing photographs on my Mac, what I liked more was been able to stream content from my iPad and the MacBook Retina to my television. Having lost FTTC one aspect of the Apple TV I do miss was the ability to stream content I had purchased direct (again) without having to download it again, or move it back into iTunes. I think the Apple TV could do with apps, where is BBC iPlayer for example? Also no 4OD or ITVPlayer. If the Apple TV had these apps then it would be even better than before. There was a new Apple TV released in 2012 which plays 1080p content, mine is the previous model to this which does 720p content. Not sure if I would notice the difference, so didn’t upgrade.

    3. The 15” MacBook Retina was almost an impulse buy to utilise the remaining part of a budget. My existing 13” MacBook Air that I use at work was then reallocated to another member of staff. I did miss the thiness and lightness of the MacBook Air, as the 15” MacBook is much bigger and heavier. However though I was expecting the screen to be good (having used retina displays on the iPhone and the iPad) I didn’t realise how good it was going to be. The retina screen is incredible and I was really really impressed with it. In my job I do read a lot of text and often I would print it out, I now read a lot more on the MacBook then i did on the previous model. It’s incredibly fast and very powerful. Part of me thinks maybe I should have waited for the 13” MacBook Retina, but I actually like the larger real estate of the 15” screen.

    2. The 11” MacBook Air I have is now a couple of generations behind now, but it is still a really superb piece of kit. It’s fast, well it has an SSD inside, it’s light, the battery still lasts a decent amount of time (the 13” had a much better battery life, but the 11” is a lot more portable). It is the laptop I take with me to events and conferences. I think I probably could survive with the iPad for most events, however on the train and at the events I find I am typing a lot more. I did a fair bit of conference reporting last year and having a reasonably decent keyboard made it much easier. I have used a Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad, but even then the challenge is moving the content back to the desktop computer. If I had all my devices running the latest versions of OS X and iOS then I might be able to take advantage of iCloud, however they’re not, some are running Lion, one is running Snow Leopard! I do use Dropbox, but that doesn’t work in the same way on iOS as it does in OS X, as a result I would get multiple copies of files, something that adds to administration. The other reason for using a “proper” laptop with a “proper browser” is that some websites, including my WordPress blogs, don’t work particularly well on mobile Safari, and I’ve still yet to find an iOS app that works the way I need it to for WordPress. So though I really like the iPad, it doesn’t always do what I need and how I want to do it, for those reasons I use the MacBook Air.

    1. For the third year running the iPad is my top technology. Well not quite true. The first iPad was my top technology in 2010 and 2011, even beating the iPad 2. This year’s top technology is the third generation iPad, the one with the better camera, faster chipset and retina screen. I certainly feel silly taking pictures or video with the iPad, it certainly lacks the ergonomics of a camera device. However the quality of the video on the iPad is pretty good. I was quite surprised that Apple released a fourth version of the iPad during 2012, but it’s not an upgrade I think I will make from the third generation iPad I have. I do like the retina screen, but when I first saw it, I wasn’t that impressed with the screen, but once I had one and used it everyday I was totally won over. I’ve always preferred paper for reading, until I started using the iPad retina for reading. Even I am surprised by how I now much prefer the iPad for reading over paper. Combined with the MacBook Retina my use of paper as declined considerably. If you read my reasons for making the MacBook Air number two, you might think why and how did the iPad beat it. It’s true the iPad is not a perfect device, and there are shortcomings when it comes to writing and file management. The file management side of things is awful, in theory that is solved when you use iCloud, but the reality is that, that can’t be a reality for me, well not yet. I have too many legacy items of kit I use for my different workflows. Some applications don’t work on Lion or Mountain Lion, so I need an older operating system, and of course iCloud doesn’t work on them. Also using various web systems such as WordPress and Moodle means that you need a proper browser, also there are various websites that I use that just don’t work as they should in mobile safari. Having said all that there are lots of reasons why I find the iPad such an useful device and has a real positive impact on how I do stuff. For example, I find the iPad one of the best devices I have to deal and process e-mail, it’s fast and very effective. I also like how the Calendar works and integrates with the e-mail; this is all through Exchange by the way. The browser (despite some shortcomings) is perfect for that quick browsing you do on the sofa, in meetings or at conferences. Using Chrome as well means that I can sync across various machines, well I know I can do that too with Safari and iCloud, but I think I have explained why I don’t do that, well not often. I do like the app ecosystem, I use a variety of apps for lots of different things. The apps I use on a regular basis include Flipboard, Evernote, Keynote, Pages, iMovie, iPhoto, Snapseed and then there are the games too. I have found it, using iPhoto and Snapseed a great device to use alongside my Canon DSLR, using the camera adapter I can import the photographs into the iPad and then edit them in iPhoto (or Snapseed) before uploading them to Flickr. I much prefer doing that on the iPad then on my Mac. That’s often the reason I take both the iPad and the MacBook Air to events and conferences.

    Overall the iPad has and continues to be a device that changed how I worked and makes my life easier and more efficient. That’s why it’s my number one technology for 2012.

    There are a few things that aren’t in the list, in the main as I don’t have them, the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini are two examples. I did seriously consider getting an iPhone 5, but haven’t got around to buying one. I think it’s the thought of having to go into a phone shop. I do like the iPad mini, but would I use one having got both the iPad and the Google Nexus 7, I think not. Also it doesn’t fit in my jacket pocket!

    My workhorse of a printer, the Canon MP600R also isn’t in the list, but that does get used an awful lot. I would probably have put the HP B110a in there as initially I was very impressed with it, from both a print our perspective, but also how mobile friendly it was for scanning and printing. However after putting in new print cartridges, which killed it, I had to throw it away. So as you might expect, it’s not in the top ten.

    So what were your top technologies for last year?


    …and then everything changes

    July 2nd, 2012

    Over the last couple of months, on some of the learning technology mailing lists I belong to there has been a lot of discussion about tablets. Despite the fact that it dominates the market, considered by many to be an industry standard, popular with consumers and revolutionised the tablet market; there was a significant number of respondents on the mailing list who had decided that the iPad was not the right device for their learners and/or institution and were looking for some other tablet.

    There were also others on the list who felt that the iPad was an expensive toy…

    This attitude does surprise me slightly as, yes though Apple usually do charge more for their devices (and I guess this is where that attitude comes from) when it comes to the iPad they are one of the cheapest tablets on the market.

    Yes, you can buy cheap Android tablets from Amazon, but in terms of comparable specifications, I have found that most Android Tablets are just as “expensive” as the iPad, if not more so… The Motorola Zoom for example was £499, though now it is only £350.

    When it comes to WIndows tablets, Microsoft recently said in their Surface announcement that the price would be comparable with other Ultrabooks. Most Ultrabooks are in the £800-£1000+ price point, significantly more expensive than the iPad.

    The newest iPad is £399 and you can get last year’s model for £329. Yes you will need to pay more for increased storage and more for 3G, but the same can be said for Android devices.

    In terms of functionality, it is quite normal for someone to explain loudly how limited the iPad is and how much more functionality other tablet devices or Windows netbooks have.

    The iPad 1 didn’t have a camera, the iPad 2’s camera is poor quality. There is no USB port on the iPad, no way to add external USB storage. The screen resolution is poor, it doesn’t play DivX natively out of the box. There is no Flash player on the iPad, nor Silverlight. The OS is locked down, you can’t install any app on the iPad, you can’t tweak the OS, it doesn’t run Office! The on screen keyboard is “unusable” and you can’t plug in a USB keyboard… etc… etc…

    Then the “virtues” of other devices are added into the conversation. It has a proper keyboard, removable battery, proper USB port, good camera and it supports Flash!

    The problem with these arguments is that they often fail to take into account usability and the user experience. The reason that people like the iPad is very little to do with the hardware, but how the operating system works and their own user experience. The iPad is responsive and meets users’ expectations.

    A week ago my recommendation for a tablet would have to be the iPad.

    A week later, well a lot can happen in a week, and it did this week. It was a week that everything changed.

    What changed?

    The Google Nexus 7 was announced.

    Now it will be a few weeks before someone like me can get their hands on it, but this is the first Android Tablet that I think can be a real game changer when it comes to using tablets in education.

    Firstly it sounds incredible value for money, just £159 for the 8GB model, £199 for 16GB.

    It looks great and hopefully with Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, this will be a mature tablet operating system that just works, and works just as well as iOS does on the iPad.

    If this tablet is as well tweaked as the Google Nexus One was then this is going to be one useful tablet. The initial reviews talk of fast performance, beautiful screen. The only real failing is that 8GB is way too small! So if you are going to buy one, go for the 16GB model.

    I’ll be honest I have been meaning to buy an Android tablet for a while now. Most of the really cheap ones didn’t even run the tablet only version of Android, Honeycomb, but only ran 2.2, Froyo. Those that did run Honeycomb were quite expensive and in most cases more expensive than the iPad! I really quite liked the look of the Sony Android tablet devices, but the reviews were quite scathing, saying they were sluggish and not powerful enough. They soon dropped in price too, indicating poor sales.

    Things have changed recently, but I really do like the idea of the Nexus 7 and like the fact it will be running Jelly Bean the latest version of Android OS. So as they say, watch this space.


    ChromeVox

    February 29th, 2012

    ChromeVox is a screen reader for Chrome which brings the speed, versatility, and security of Chrome to visually impaired users.

    If you would prefer to watch the video with an audio description.