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Personal Productivity Update

I report here on several recent initiatives to improve my personal productivity, some successful, some not. 

Verizon Beats AT&T for Mobile Data Access. My most successful change has been switching from AT&T to Verizon for mobile voice and data. Until September, I used an iPhone 4 on the AT&T 3G network. In the places where I spend time, AT&T data service worked very poorly for me. Pulling e-mail to my iPhone or using it as a hotspot was more often than not a big frustration. With Verizon Wireless, I find so far that data service is much more reliable and consistent. I also enjoy the faster speed of 4G (LTE).

iPhone 5 Underwhelms Except for Siri Dictation. In switching to Verizon, I upgraded to an iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 is a fine device but for me, the only meaningful upgrade from the iPhone 4 is Siri (and LTE support). Siri, the Apple dictation feature, speeds composing text and e-mail messages. At a conventional keyboard, I type very fast; on a the iPhone, I struggle mightily with the virtual keyboard. So dictation saves a lot of time and aggravation. (Siri has other uses but those pale in comparison to substitute for typing.)

Task Management Remains a Challenge. Finding software for task management remains a challenge. As I noted in my 2004 post Tracking Tasks, Outlook is under-powered for task management. Today, OneNote integrates with Outlook tasks. Though I am generally a big OneNote fan, I find its Outlook integration clunky and weak. My colleagues and I tried web-based Asana for both individual and group task management. It received positive reviews but we eventually gave up. For me, the final straw was that Asana did not make comments to tasks searchable. So I am still in search of both individual and group task management tools.

Microsoft Office365 / Outlook WebApp Failed for Me. To simplify my e-mail management and improve synchronization between Outlook and my iPhone, I wanted to migrate from Outlook desktop to Microsoft Office365 / Outlook WebApp (“OWA”). OWA retrieved e-mail from my three work e-mail accounts but failed to retrieve my Yahoo! and gmail personal accounts. I spent several hours with Microsoft support on this to no avail. (Getting through to a human was surprisingly easy and all tech reps were very friendly and responsive.) MSFT offered no explanation re Yahoo!. Re gmail, tech reps suggested turning off 2-factor authentication. Never mind that this is a good security practice; I successfully use Google-generated “application specific passwords” for multiple PC and iOS services. Mentioning my troubles to a couple of friends elicited rather unkind words about OWA from those who use it.

Solid State Drive Speeds Work. I’m on thin ice here because conducting a truly controlled test is hard. But it strikes me that having a solid state drive (SSD), instead of a conventional rotating hard disk drive, dramatically improves PC performance. My 5-month old Toshiba Portege Ultrabook, with SSD, failed. While it was at the factory for warranty repair, I reverted to a back-up PC. The Intel processor in my back-up is the same generation but runs at a slightly faster clock speed. The back-up’s hard disk spins at 7200 RPM (an upgrade from the standard 5400 RPM). Nonetheless, I found the back-up PC noticeably slower for almost every operation. Anecdotal evidence from friends supports the idea that a solid state drive enhances performance.

i-Device Migration Easy – Once You Figure It Out for Yourself. I complained in a post one year ago, Does Apple Oversimplify Technology (or Under-Document)?, that Apple did not properly document how best to migrate an iPhone or iPad to a new PC. By trial and error and several migrations since then, I’ve now figured it out. It’s actually quite simple in the end but it took me a while to figure it out.