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Top Ten Technologies of 2013

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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.

Having changed jobs in 2013, this has made the list a little more interesting as the technologies I used over the year did change quite a bit.

Missing from this list is BT Infinity FTTC which made the list for the last three years, not that it doesn’t exist anymore, I moved in 2012 and am now connected to the only cabinet on my exchange that won’t be upgraded to FTTC. As a result I am stuck on a very slow 1-2Mb ADSL connection.

Here are my previous top tens from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

10. The iPhone 5S is a new entry and I’ve only had it a couple of months. It certainly is one of the best smartphones I have ever used. It is a big improvement over the older iPhones, not as much an upgrade over the 4 as I was hoping though. It isn’t perfect and it has crashed on me a fair few times since I’ve had it. I do like the new camera, but the one thing that has taken a lot of getting use to, was the new interface that came with the launch of iOS 7. I found this to be a big change and quite a steep learning curve in changing the way I use to things on my older iPhone.

9. Another new entry at number nine. I used a Samsung 50” Plasma Screen a lot this year for training and presentations. On a mobile trolley with a Mac mini underneath it was an ideal presentation machine. Air Server on the Mac mini allowed me to use AirPlay to mirror my iPad or the MacBook. It was much easier to use than a projector with small groups, and much brighter and clearer. Moving jobs this was one piece of kit I really did miss when I started my new job.

8. Sticking at number eight is the iMac. It 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… When I changed jobs in the Autumn I lost my work iMac and started off using an Acer Windows 7 PC with a 17” screen… I can tell you I certainly noticed the difference.

7. In my old job I had the iPhone 4 and to be honest though I would have liked an upgrade, I didn’t need one, it did a fantastic job and I was sorry handing it back (which is the main reason it drops a place to number seven). The camera was excellent, and great for taking stills and video. The retina display still astounds me in terms of the visual quality. It was fast enough and apps opened smoothly, for a phone that is now over three years old

6. The Google Nexus 7 is my sixth choice. If I didn’t have an iPad and was ensconced into the iTunes ecosystem of apps, music and films, then it would be higher. I really like the form factor, 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.

One issue I have with 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. I would also have appreciated a rear facing camera. 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. It is well ensconced into the Google ecosystem, so great for Mail, Google+ and Google Docs.

5. The 15” MacBook Retina from my old job was an excellent piece of kit, mainly for the beautiful screen, using other devices really showed me how much I appreciated the retina screen on this laptop.

4. 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. The lack of apps does curtail the use of the Apple TV if you don’t have an iOS device, but is almost a critical extra fore presentations if you do have an iOS device. 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. It looks like there might be a new model in 2014, wonder then if I would ugprade?

3. Climbing four places to number three is my good old Google Nexus One, which is four years old this year! The main reason I like it is the portable wireless hotspot (wifi tethering) that came with the Froyo 2.2 update. It’s not perfect, I do find that the OS is not as stable as I think it should be, it also doesn’t keep time well. However as a phone for making phone calls, it works very well. One of the reasons it has climbed so many places, was that I retired my iPhone 3GS at the beginning of 2013 and started to use the Google Nexus One as my personal mobile phone (I had an iPhone 4 for work and when I changed jobs I got an iPhone 5S, hence the reason for three phones in the top ten).

I have made extensive use of the phone as not only a phone, but also as a smartphone (using apps) and for tethering.

I am expecting it to fall apart at some point, but I still get great battery life, decent coverage with EE (better than the iPhone 5S on Vodafone as it happens) and it just works. I keep meaning to upgrade it, but never get round to it. There are some issues, the main one is phone memory, too many apps rely on being installed on the phone’s memory, which is quite limited, and as a result I am unable to install many new apps. It is also now limited to Android 2.3.6 so not KitKat for me!

2. Dropping a place is the iPad. This device I use every day, from checking that the trains are still running first thing in the morning, to reading books before I go to sleep. It is such a useful and versatile device. I use it extensively for e-mail, calendars and general browsing. There are various apps I use on are regular basis and many more than I use now and again. Airplay is a great technology which I used a lot in 2013 for mirroring and streaming video.

I do think the iPad is a great piece of technology for conferences and events and wrote quite a lengthy piece on how it could be used to support the amplification of a conference.

Certainly compared to using a large laptop, an iPad is a much better device for using on the train, more so on those trains that don’t have tables. It is also a great way of doing stuff in a café or on the sofa.

Blogging on the iPad is still a bit hit and miss for me. There are still a fair few things that I do on a regular basis that the iPad makes it more challenging compared to a device with a regular keyboard. I have used my Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad, but not always an ideal situation, for example when travelling on a train (the iPad keeps falling over).

When it came out in 2010 it made my top ten for that year, I did ask though “So my number one technology for 2010 is Apple’s iPad, I wonder if it will still be in my top ten next year?” This was a honest assessment, as experience of other mobile technologies I had used previously rarely got extensive use after a while, usually because of too many limitations. I do think that it is indicative of the success of the iPad that it is still in my top ten for four years, but it has dropped a place. Does that say something?

1. Jumping to the top spot is the 11” MacBook Air, this is an amazing piece of kit and an ideal technology for working whilst travelling. I used an older one for a while in my old job, but in my new job I have the latest version. It’s 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. One 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.

So what were your top technologies for last year?

Top Ten Technologies of 2012

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?

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #088 : We’re going social

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We cover the power of social, why James hates BT, a few technical issues, and toilet rolls.

With James Clay and David Sugden, Dave Foord, Lilian Soon and Ron Mitchell.

This is the 88th e-Learning Stuff Podcast, We’re going social.

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Download the podcast in mp3 format: We’re going social.

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes

Top Ten Technologies of 2011

This is the fourth time I have posted my top ten technologies of the year. Looking back over 2008, 2009 and 2010 it’s interesting to see what new technologies I am now using, which old ones have been left on the shelf and the technologies I still use.

What was interesting this year was how little change there was from last year, as though my personal technologies have settled down. There is no iPhone 4S for example in this year’s list. I keep thinking about upgrading my 3GS to the 4S, but keep putting it off.

There were a few technologies that nearly made it to the list. I really like my Apple TV and it’s a great tool for streaming content to my TV. However I really don’t use it as much as I thought it would. Without content providers such as BBC iPlayer or 4OD it’s not as useful as it could be. No cameras in my list this year, I do use my Canon DSLR a fair bit, though my Sony stills camera has spent very little time out and about. I still miss my Koday Zi8 which went missing in 2010, but the fact that I haven’t replaced it says a lot.

Will be interesting to see what is in my 2012 list.

10. Tricaster

The Tricaster makes a re-entry into my top ten, it was number six in 2009.

So you need to shoot video? You need to stream video? You need to record video? You need more then one camera? You want graphics, you want presentation slides, you want to screenshare? Though there are a plethora of tools out there for shooting and recording video, screen captures, presentations; most then require you to edit the footage before sharing. One of the things I wanted to do was to do all that, but do it live!

The Tricaster makes a comeback this year as it was the tool I used for ALT Live Beta, an experiment at ALT-C 2011 in which we broadcast live backstage video from the conference. It was a lot of fun and was well received by those who couldn’t attend the conference (and by a fair few delegates who were).

9. Blue Snowball Microphone

I have been recording this year again, not just e-Learning Stuff podcasts, but also symposia and other discussions. The Blue Snowball Microphone is certainly a key tool for this. I also use it at home for Skype and making recordings.

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.

It is lower down the list this year, in the main as I used it less. It is however still an essential tool for me.

8. Edirol R-09HR

The Edirol has appeared in my top ten for the last four years. it’s enduring quality has to be down to the fact it is that it still a brilliant job. It records fantastic audio in WAV or MP3 format to an SD card and uses AA batteries. Still a great technology and does what it says on the tin really well.

7. i7 iMac

People often ask me why I buy Macs, well the i7 iMac is a testament to why I do. I bought my i7 iMac in 2009 and was really impressed, it was my number two in my top ten in 2009 and was also in the top ten in 2010. It’s in the top ten again. Why, well for a computer that is over two years old it is still a really powerful computer that does everything I throw at it. It’s great for video editing, audio editing, video recording, encoding, all that web stuff, office tools and so much more. I use it virtually every day for a whole range of tasks. It’s one powerful machine and I don’t expect to replace it for at least a year, probably two, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I was still using it in 2015!

6. Kindle

I got my Kindle in 2010 and I was impressed with how easy it was to use, to get books and importantly read. Supported by the excellent Kindle app on the iPad, I am using Kindle much more for reading these days.

5. iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 is an amazing 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, especially when I drop back to the 3GS (which drops out of the top ten this year). The key advantage of the iPhone for me is the sheer number of apps and the quality and quantity have changed how I use a phone. iOS 5 has improved the user experience, for example notifications (very Android like) are so much better.

I do think the iPhone 4 is one of the best phones I have ever used and I am really pleased with it. However the reason why it has dropped a few places is that it fails now and again as a phone for making phone calls. I have also had some signal issues failing to get a decent 3G signal.

4. Google Nexus One

The Google Nexus One is getting a bit long in the tooth for an Android phone these days, it’s stuck at Gingerbread, there is no Ice Cream Sandwich for the Nexus One (which is a pity). However Gingerbread means that I can use my phone as a portable wireless hotspot so the MiFi stays in the bag and I returned my 3G USB dongle over a year ago now. Another reason why the Nexus One is higher in the top ten was the integration with Google+ and I do like Google+. The main reasons that the Nexus One is higher in the top ten that the iPhone 4 is the fact that it is a better phone for making phone calls. Also I seem to get a better 3G signal on the Nexus One than I do on the iPhone, though that may be down to T-Mobile on the Nexus One over O2 on the iPhone. On quite a few occasions I have used the portable wireless hotspot on the Nexus One to provide internet connectivity to the iPhone (and that can’t be right). I will say I prefer the app experience on the iPhone, but that’s not to say the apps on the Nexus One are awful, no they are really good, but my preference is for iOS.

3. BT Infinity FTTC

My fibre connection was in my top ten last year and over the last twelve months I have been very pleased with the stability and speed of the connection. Rarely, well once or twice, I have had an issue with bandwidth (dropping to a still reasonable 7Mb/s) but generally I have had a stable 37MB/s down and 8MB/s up.

2. MacBook Air

I upgraded my 13” MacBook Pro this year to the 11” Air. Alas not the new model. However I have been very impressed with the MacBook Air. It took me a while to get use to Lion, especially the gestures and though I still prefer Snow Leopard, I am now use to Lion on the Air and it isn’t stopping me from doing stuff (which is key really). I really like the weight (or lack thereof) of the Air and despite the lack of raw power the SSD ensures that the speed of the MacBook is fast enough. It has made an impact on how much I use my iPad and if I had to choose one I think I would choose the Air, but would really miss the iPad.

1. iPad

So for the second year running, the iPad is my top ten technology for the year. Now I know I just said I would choose the Air over the iPad, the difference is that I only got the Air in July and I have been using the iPad all year, and this is a top ten for the year; so it will be interesting to see what will be number one in 2012. Also they are complementary technologies rather than competing technologies, they both have their uses, advantages and disadvantages.

I was surprised in 2010 the impact of the iPad on the way that I did stuff. It continued in 2011 to have a real impact. I use it on a daily basis for communication, collaboration, content creation and content consumption. I did managed to get an iPad 2 in the summer, but in terms of how I use the iPad it had a minimal impact, I rarely use the camera, but do like the mirroring. As a result the iPad 2 is not in my top ten, whereas the original iPad is.

Back in 2010 I said

At work I use the iPad for dealing with e-mail and my calendar and quickly checking things on the VLE. For some meetings I do need to take a laptop as some tools we use rely on Flash or Java and that is one of the main weaknesses of the iPad is that these kinds of tools can not be used on it.

I still use the iPad for e-mail and calendar, however I now use a Citrix app to access our Windows XP corporate desktop to access those Java or IE based tools that we have. Therefore the main limitation is less of a limitation for me now. The fact I can easily access these iPad unfriendly tools using the iPad still makes me smile.

… its media capability easily surpasses any other mobile devices I have used. It’s not all perfect, I would like to stream (easily) video and audio from my iMac to my iPad…

AirPlay has made a big difference for me for media streaming across my home network. I like that I can stream iTunes Rentals from my iMac to my iPad without having to go through the laborious process of transferring the movie file from the iMac to the iPad, I can just stream the DRM’d content across the wireless network.

So last year the iPad was my top technology, Apple have made things better and on the basis of how much I used it, the iPad is once again my top technology of the year.