Tag Archive for 'Tech'

Copy2Contact For Android… So Close, Yet So Far

Please skip to the bottom if you’re interested in helping out with a quick little test, but aren’t interested in all the history.

The History of Copy2Contact for Android

Despite my recent not-so-pro-Android post about Android vs. iPhone, we have been working in the background to get Copy2Contact ready for the Android platform. It may seem like an easy task, and it may seem like we started this a long time ago, but there’s more below the surface.

When we started this project, we were gung-ho to get it done, and invested a ton of time and money into building the user interface and porting the Copy2Contact engine over. All went smoothly until we tried actually using the app, and found that most Android phones just didn’t have copy and paste from email at all. This is a big problem given that Copy2Contact works on data that you’ve grabbed from another app (usually email) and onto the clipboard.

I couldn’t believe that a modern smartphone and supposed iPhone competitor didn’t have such a fundamental feature, so I looked more closely. It turns out, some of the later versions of the OS had copy and paste, but it was implemented in a very awkward way, and it wasn’t clear how many users out there even had this feature since the Android market is so fragmented. So we surveyed some users who had expressed interest in Copy2Contact for Android and lo and behold, only two of them were able to copy and paste.

The project was shelved. Not only would it be unusable by most Android users, but the cost of supporting each potential customer to help them decide if they can even use it in the first place would be astronomical.

Fast forward to now, many inquiries later from customers wondering what could possibly be taking us so long. Since keeping watch on the fragmentation issue and the evolution of the Android OS, it was starting to look more likely that it might be time to get the project going again. Having been burned in the first go-around, we started with research. We hired an outside consulting firm to do a market analysis of the different phone models out there, their native email clients, and their copy/paste functionalities. Results were positive… copy/paste is now ubiquitous on Android devices!

So we started development again full swing. Dev tools had improved since the early days, and new capabilities had arisen. Still nothing like the Apple/iOS development environment, but pretty good stuff. I’m leaving out a lot of hard work and dealing with bugs in the tools, OS, or different phones, but that’s nothing new since we’re used to developing with Microsoft Windows, the gold standard for difficult platforms. You can usually get around everything that comes up, it’s just painful.

But guess what… we’re back to square one! The first trial of the new build of Copy2Contact on a real device failed miserably. Not because of any programming failure, but because copy/paste on the device doesn’t work properly! When you copy a signature from an email, the email client puts everything on one line, completely removing the key formatting needed to separate the data into its individual fields. Copy2Contact is smart, but it’s not expecting a zip code to run right into a phone number, for example. Even a human would have to look carefully to realize the jumble of numbers isn’t one big international phone number, or a big typo.

Talk about frustrating, it’s back to research time. The question now is, how many Android devices out in the real world have this bug in their email application? The Android ecosystem is still very fragmented, with about half of Android users out there using a positively ancient version of the OS. But it’s clear this bug isn’t necessarily OS version specific. There are a multitude of different email clients, carrier customizations, and user interfaces out in the real world as well.

How Can You Help?

So that’s where we’re at with Copy2Contact for Android, and we could really use your help! To find out how prevalent this bug is, we’re asking people to complete a little test. Please click here to enter your Android device’s email address, and we’ll send you a little email with test instructions.  It’s a snap to do, and is a BIG help to us. Thanks! We have all the results we need right now, thanks!

Race Between iOS, Android Not Even Close

I don’t believe in brand loyalty. I’m a big fan of being open-minded when it comes to technology, and I try to get my hands on everything. At the same time, I’m quick to realize when one product is obviously superior to another one. That’s why I was a little stunned when I ran across this article about Android dominating the smartphone market in recent months. Why buy a calculator when you can have a supercomputer for the same price?

The iOS vs. Android debate isn’t like the Pepsi-Coke debate. There are significant differences and one really is far better. If anything, it’s like the Coke-Pickle Juice debate: there’s a pretty clear winner. Really, the Android-iOS debate is just like the Windows-Mac debate. Many people still use Windows but few will actually try to argue that it’s the superior operating system, or they just want to feel better about spending hours reinstalling their system or twiddling with anti-virus software instead of getting work done.

Just this year I finally dabbled in the Android space. I wanted a phone with a real keyboard because between the virtual keys and the spell check, my work emails were starting to look like they were written by a third-grader. Upon playing around with a few phones, I realized there were worse things than having your phone decide you mean “pubic” instead of “public”.

Before we can even compare Android to iOS, we need to compare Android to Android. Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean, the last two versions of Android to be released, are definitely better than the previous Gingerbread and (ugh) Honeycomb releases. There are a million Android phones, but admittedly the Samsung Galaxy is a much better phone than many low-end options from a plethora of manufacturers. That having been said, if we’re going to talk about Android dominating the smartphone market we need to acknowledge that most people do not have a high-end Samsung and most people do not have ICS or Jellybean.

That in itself is an inherent problem. There are dozens of different Android phones running dozens of different versions of the OS. Does that create more options for the consumer? Sure. Are most of those options good? Not by a long shot, but at least they can double as paperweights.

Every year Android releases a new version with a cutesy name and leaves every previous phone model and Android version behind. Want to upgrade your iOS 5 to iOS 6? No problem. Want to upgrade your ICS phone to Jellybean? You have a better chance of upgrading your Toyota to a spaceship.

Of course, this creates problems for both developers and users. For users that want to have the best phone possible, Android’s deals with half a dozen different manufacturers makes that impossible. While many people bash Apple for releasing an ever-so-slightly better phone every year, there is a good chance a better version of your Android phone will be released by a different manufacturer within weeks or months of your purchase.

At the same time, developers have to test their applications for a plethora of different phones and operating systems. That means a much longer time to market or sometimes no Android app at all since the effort isn’t worth it. Think I’m exaggerating? Take a look at what the fragmented Android environment looks like in graph form. Here at Copy2Contact, we did a survey of Android users interested in getting Copy2Contact for their phone, and found that many of them didn’t have a copy and paste feature, or couldn’t find that feature on their phone. Hello, customer support nightmare.

Speaking of apps, the Google Play Store is an absolute mess. Comparing the iTunes store to the Google Play Store is like comparing Walmart to the guy selling fake watches in Battery Park. It’s touted for allowing more freedom than iOS but as with the hardware, having a lot of options isn’t the same as having good options. Yes, Apple has very strict guidelines for the apps it allows into the store. But when you go into the Apple store, you never get malware, you seldom get really buggy apps, and you can actually find what you are looking for.

Google doesn’t really have too many guidelines for their apps. It’s no surprise that the Android store is filled with incomplete, buggy apps and apps loaded with malware. This is especially problematic if you have a business and can’t control what your team puts on their phone. I’m big on securing business data and the lack of checks in the Android environment simply puts your data at too much risk. Android is called the Wild West for a reason, and it isn’t because of their funny hats.

If you search for an app by function rather by name, expect to see a ton of useless apps with a handful of downloads right next to great, established apps. Why download Salesforce when I can simply get Ted’s CRM listed right above it? It’s impossible to sort, and the unchecked abundance of apps makes app searching incredibly time consuming. Also, with a few exceptions, Android apps tend to have more bugs and fewer features than iOS apps.

Every phone is also preloaded with a ton of bloatware from whatever manufacturer you chose. Granted, the iPhone has some too, but not nearly as much and the apps are rarely as useless as the copy of SCVNGR that I was never able to delete from the phone. Worse, most of the stuff on your phone just keeps running in the background, eventually slowing the phone down to a crawl. It’s like getting the full Windows experience but in phone form.

Searching for ways to get my Android phone to work the way I wanted, I headed straight to Google, where the only suggestions were that I “root” the phone. Is it too much to ask that the phone be ready out of the box? Sorry, I just want a phone, not a $300 do-it-yourself project.

Besides all that, there can be no argument that iOS is far more intuitive than Android. Apple has always prided itself on its sleek and easy-to-use interface and their phones reflect that. While I really like many of Google’s web applications and services, particularly for their minimalist approach, their phones are cluttered and need more getting used to.

At the end of the day, Fandroids will be unconvinced that their beloved Android hasn’t quite caught up to Apple. Their phones do, after all, have an extra eighth of an inch of screen space and the Bump app works way better! I say just look at the stats: Most phones’ battery life can’t compare to the iPhone and the iPhone 5 is unequivocally faster than any phone out there. There is one thing we can all agree on though, any iPhone or Android device is still way better than a BlackBerry.

You’re Using Tech All Wrong – You Only Need One App

The goal of incorporating new technology into your business should be to streamline your work and increase efficiency, not create additional tasks for yourself or clutter your phone with the latest-and-greatest apps you read about on a blog. Between the time you spend searching for that one “game-changing, cutting-edge application” and the time spent learning how to use it, you would have been better off using the cutting edge technology of the 1800s instead: a pen and paper.

The problem is that we’re always looking outside ourselves to find the missing ingredient that will turn that small business into a productivity machine a Chinese sweatshop couldn’t compete with. We see others integrate cool sleek apps into their operations and immediately assume that we must be behind the curve. This is no different than running home to your mom and asking to get the same new toy your friend just got – it’s a fine way to fit in at school, but running out to buy the latest toy isn’t a great business practice, especially since you’ll get bored of that toy and want a new one a week later.

The key isn’t to find an app for every single thing your business does. Instead, find one app that does as much as possible as simply as possible. Why shop at eight different stores when there’s a perfectly good supermarket down the street?

One place to start could be a project management app like BaseCamp or FreshBooks. These allow you to collaborate with a team on projects, tasks, files, documents, deadlines, etc. The only thing they can’t do is DVR this week’s episode of Honey Boo Boo. These are nice full featured suites that allow you to run and track your entire business in one place and that in itself will simplify your life. Still, these can get a bit cluttered which can turn a simple project into an overwhelming headache. Minimalist designs are less overwhelming and don’t make you feel like you’re in a race against time when you look at all the things you have to finish.

Enter Trello. It’s designed to be a simple organization tool that helps you visualize the progress you’re making on any specific set of tasks. I use it as a virtual bulletin board that can break down, track, and manage just about everything. Other apps like KanbanFlow or AgileZen do the same things but I’ll focus on Trello for now since it’s the one I use.

Boards and Lists: When you create your first board, it will be divided into three lists: To-Do, Doing, and Done. You can name your board whatever you want, and you can change the list titles and add as many lists as you like.

The basic layout (To-Do, Doing, Done) is a great a great way to divide projects up into actionable tasks and track your progress. I use the default layout to track what I’m currently working on, but I use other boards to manage ideas, clients, and appointments. Essentially, there is nothing that you can’t use the board for.

I know people who use Trello to organize presentations, track sales, create every type of list imaginable, schedule employee work shifts, vote on company policies and agendas, organize materials, and a ton more.

Cards: Lists are made up of cards. Let’s start with a basic project. Divide the project up into actionable tasks that can be added as individual cards on your list. Then, you can use the simple drag-and-drop interface to prioritize the most important tasks. For better organization, you can label cards, color code them, add comments, and attach files. In other words, this allows you to use your board like a regular project management tool but in one minimalist view.

If you work with a team, you can also use Trello (or the other apps) to delegate tasks and collaborate with your team members. With the permissions settings you can allow your team to view and edit any boards you like. You can set varying permissions for different members and assign specific tasks to members as well.

Tracking: Once you’re set up, you have a great view of what’s happening in your business, what’s on the agenda, what’s in progress, and what’s done. Of course if you customized your lists you can view whatever the board is set up for. One of my boards helps me see ideas I have for blog posts and I organize it based on how developed and ready the ideas are for publication. I use another board as a makeshift CRM, organized into New Leads, In Talks, Working, and Past Clients. There’s no limit to what you can organize and track on your board.

The app also has task and deadline reminders for you and your team. This is especially handy since dealing with employees and freelancers can be touchy. No one likes to remind people of what they have to do, and no one likes to be reminded. Let the app do it for you with email reminders that are set for specific times. You can also subscribe to specific cards to receive notification every time there is new activity and you can add checklists to cards for larger tasks so you can track every little detail.

Which App is Right For You: I use Trello because it’s free, has a sleek and intuitive interface, it works great on my computer and phone, and is completely unlimited.

KabanFlow is essentially the same app but also helps you track hours and includes a Pomodoro timer that creates 25 minute work segments followed by a break. It’s a better app when it comes to tracking time and estimating the time needed to complete a certain task. Their free version allows you unlimited boards and users but the $5 Premium version allows you to assign different permission levels, provides more detailed activity and revision logs, and let’s you filter and search easier.

AgileZen isn’t quite as sleek as the other two but does offer more features for a cost. Their free version only allows you one project. Plans cost from $9 to $99 depending on your team’s size.

Windows 8: Dead on Arrival

Microsoft’s attempts to finally create a touch-friendly interface is laughable considering they’re about 5 iPads late to the party. Even Amazon beat them to it. Upon trying out the preview version and seeing what other reviewers had to say, it turns out that Windows 8 is an even more awful foray into the touch-friendly world than I had imagined.

Windows 8. Is it a mobile interface? A desktop interface? Both! Sort of like combining peanut butter and jelly in the same jar and hoping it doesn’t end up an inedible goo. A bit of desktop manageability, a bit of mobile gesturing, and what do you get? A ton of confusion over basic functions and a bunch of extra things you have to do for simple tasks like getting the thing to power off.

It seems like Microsoft copy-and-pasted a tablet version onto the desktop version, or maybe it was the other way around. The OS is like a Frankenstein monster of operating systems, takings parts of Windows 7, iOS, and the acid trip the “Metro Design” developers were on and creating one amazingly annoying and burdensome look and feel that makes me yearn for the days of Vista.

It’s not all bad. The interface is a great start for a possibly useful tablet down the road, albeit three years after the release of the iPad.

The Pros

Finally some touch screen abilities! Better late than never, Microsoft is definitely diving into the tablet and mobile market headfirst with Windows 8, even if it means sacrificing the desktop version. It’s a good start, but only a start.

Faster boot time! Thankfully, Microsoft has taken steps to drastically cut their embarrassingly long boot times that Windows users often use to catch up on their reading or take weekend getaways to Vermont. The one good thing, literally one good thing, about combining the tablet interface with the desktop version is the faster start up and restart.

Integrated Anti-virus! Like Windows 7, Microsoft continues to try to catch up to Mac’s virus force field with an integrated anti-virus program, which is nice to throw in when you are trying to come up with a whole three Pros for the new interface.

Now, onto the real meat – the many things wrong with Windows 8 and the many reasons you’d be better off with Windows 7, XP, or a desk calculator.

Is it for desktop or tablet?

There is no start menu, which means you have to switch over to the separate start screen to open any desktop app and then back to the desktop to run it. It is similar to opening apps from the Android app menu except more unnecessary on a PC than a floppy disk drive.

Since people seldom turn off or restart their tablets, Microsoft has happily stashed away the “Power Off” and “Restart” buttons, formerly featured prominently on the handy, no-longer existent Start Menu, about four clicks away for your convenience. Good thing there are a billion updates coming so your PC will automatically restart for you, just about every other day.

Similar to a tablet, you’ll now have to exit an extra lock screen on your desktop before logging in. Yet another unnecessary extra step that Microsoft makes you take because they were too lazy to separate desktop and tablet versions. Perhaps your PC can show you how many bars you have in the top right corner too. Can you hear me now?

Remember how easy it was to switch from app to app in Windows 7? Well forget it. Windows 8 is so focused on pushing their non-existent store apps that you can conveniently find ALL of your open desktop apps in ONE thumbnail on the bottom task switcher like Word documents.

The App Store

The App Store is a key feature of all modern operating systems and obviously Microsoft is no different. Right? In total, the App Store contains a whopping 4,000 apps. 4,000? I’m pretty sure iOS has 4,000 fart sound apps alone. Microsoft claims that by January there will be over 100,000 apps. Your biggest new feature is “probably” going to have 2500% more apps in a few months? Besides, no one is going to make apps for this thing if no one uses it, kind of like the Windows 7 desktop widget store.

Even if they do, iOS and Google Play both have about 700,000 apps each. Not only are you playing some serious catch-up with the big boys, you aren’t even legitimately challenging RIM/Blackberry in the mobile market with those kinds of numbers.

Metro Mail

Outlook has moved onto the web to replace Hotmail, which leaves the new Metro Mail client as your built in email manager. Let’s just go ahead and set up our POP account… Oh wait, you can’t! It works fine with IMAP, but for some reason a brand new operating system released in 2012 doesn’t know what to do with a POP3 account. Not only that, it doesn’t even import anything from other Windows programs like Outlook or Windows Live Mail. It can’t even consolidate inboxes for multiple email accounts. Frankly, it’s amazing the thing has a Reply function. I checked just in case… it’s there.


This isn’t a massive feature but it really goes to show where Microsoft went wrong in creating this Frankenstein monster. Bing is obviously built very nicely right into the operating system. The Bing app has large images, great preview tiles, etc. Now click on a result and…oh, Internet Explorer pops up. Not only does it pop up to take you to the result, it covers up the entire Bing app. Now you have to go back to continue searching, only to keep going back to IE to see your results. If you have to do all that, what’s the point of a stand alone Bing app anyway? It seems like one of the many features created for the sole purpose of over-complicating the PC experience even more.

Windows 8: Not For Business

Perhaps Windows 8 will appeal to some, though probably not the Windows hardcore fans who won’t get much of what they are used to in this massive overhaul. It certainly isn’t built for business. With an interface stolen right from that failed line of HTC “social phones”, the OS is focused too much on social integration, catching up to the touch-screen capabilities of the big boys, and pushing their tens of thousands of store apps – that have yet to be built. It’s primarily designed for fun, not business and certainly not productivity when you consider all of the extra clicks and gestures that go into something as simple as restarting your computer.

Also, the operating system is still very buggy but Microsoft is rushing it like a beta version, ready to aggressively send users frequent updates to make their computer or device, you know… work. As someone with a business, I wouldn’t rush to a new operating system with this many bugs, anti-malware built in or not, knowing Microsoft’s long standing problem with security. And as far as the tablet version goes, with so many versions of iPad and Android gone by, why would anyone take a risk on a first-generation work-in-progress Windows tablet?

Overall, Windows 8 touch screen features ruin the desktop version and Windows 8 desktop dependency ruins some of the touch screen features. It’s something that Microsoft should have released as a test version years ago before they fell so unenviably far behind Apple and Google. It’s something that’s going to be updated – A LOT. Hopefully it will set up a fairly good operating system in the future but right now Windows 8 is just the really, really early version of Windows 9.