Android Apps Revisited

I periodically revisit the apps I have installed on my Samsung tablet.  Over the past 6-8 months, I have essentially eliminated all of the apps on my phone as my tablet becomes my primary consumption point.

The Stalwarts

These tend to be the apps I’ve used for information consumption, which is my primary use for mobile technology.  Adobe Acrobat Reader and iAnnotate PDF (and its particular functionality) remain in heavy rotation.  Most of the content I access is in a PDF format, either because I’ve put it there or because it comes that way.  For example, I rarely keep e-mails any longer than 90 days.  Those that I need to keep are printed to my PDF printer and saved as documents with attachments and other files in the appropriate folders on my computer.

Access to these and other files is made easy by my cloud storage accounts.  I’ve switched off Sugarsync and am now using Box primarily.  One of the features I’m using more on the tablet is the Share function.  At first, I’d assumed it was for sharing on social media or perhaps an equivalent to “Send to” on a Windows PC.  And it is like that, but to a much broader group of apps.  I’ll frequently download a PDF to my tablet and then “share” it to my Box account.  This is then synchronized to my PC(s) where I can use it in the future.  Because I download everything to a Download folder, I can easily wipe it clean regularly with the knowledge I’ve saved everything I need to keep.

CamScanner remains a regular as well.  I’ve talked about it on the Slaw site but I still use it for paper documents that I receive.  This might be things that come in the mail or that I am given at a meeting with other staff.  Since I no longer maintain paper files, CamScanner has helped me to make clean digital copies of whatever comes through the door.

Information Management

The tablet gets used most often on the train or outside my office.  I’ve recently rejigged my schedule so that I head down to the cafeteria every morning for a coffee and to read the overnight and morning newsfeeds.  This has helped me to get out of the office and “manage walking about” more consistently, as well as have a concentrated period to do some reading.

I check in on Twitter using the official app.  I’ve tried a half dozen others and not been happy with the experience.  However, the Twitter app’s search is terrible and will only return a very truncated set of results.  I’ve got Hootsuite as well for both following hashtags and better search.

News comes from a couple of apps.  I use a Tiny Tiny RSS reader app to connect up to my RSS server and get my daily dose of news.  NPR’s streaming audio app gives me my morning news before I head down for the train.  Don’t try to select a station from the app unless you’re actually online, though.  Otherwise it deletes the station and you need to re-add it to your favorites.

One new addition is Google Currents.  I’ve tried others, including RSS-capable apps like Flipboard and Pulse but they’re always cluttered with “social” news from people I follow.  Currents provides subscription access to a specific set of information sites.  If the ones you want to follow aren’t there, you’re out of luck.  But it has major news sites and journals and is a great way to break out of your filter bubble, if you have one.  I follow science and design journals as well as general news sites.  Currents has enabled me to eliminate most online news reading.

Google Keep is another new one I’ve been using.  I was a heavy Scratchpad user and Keep is the successor to that now-defunct Google product.  Keep synchronizes between my PC and tablet so I can take notes in either place.  It is not, for me, a replacement for Evernote, which is where I clip most information I find.  But it’s a great note taking app.

Communication Tools

Twitter is the only social media I use.  For the most part, I don’t use the client for sending though.  The share option is live in most apps and I just send from the information app.  Google Chrome is my only Web browser.  It synchronizes my bookmarks across machines and has other features I like; the share option is on the main menu.

I’ve tried a bunch of e-mail apps.  For a long time I used K9 but have switched over to Inomail.  My e-mail accounts are a mixture of cloud-based, like Google Mail, and internally hosted.  I needed IMAP access to a variety of accounts and K9 seemed to choke on retrieving from my internal server.  Inomail has an iOS look and feel, which I found refreshing and easier to read.  It also supports the creation of “smart” inboxes, so I have subfolders on my accounts that I can set as an inbox and have it appear in the unified inbox view.

Productivity Quirks

Keyboards remain an issue for me.  I determined from the outset not to bother with a physical keyboard.  But my fingers are large for onscreen keyboards; or else I’m just clumsy!  In any event, Thickbuttons has been a mainstay both on phones and now on the tablet.  The keys get bigger or smaller depending on what you’re typing, with the bigger keys being the most likely NEXT key you’ll type.

I’m also using that share feature more often.  For example, it took me awhile to realize that I could send highlighted information to Google search using that menu.  Again, it’s the old “Send to” idea.  Initially, I had highlighted information (long hold on screen and then move the endpoints to select) and clicked the Copy button on the screen.  Then I’d toggled back to the Home screen and pasted that into Google search.  But the Google search icon appears on the list of apps under the share feature, so clicking that eliminates the whole cut-and-paste.

Pareto Principle

I frequently – probably once a month – visit the Play store and look at the latest apps that have been added to the productivity and business-related categories.  For the most part, I find that I return to the same half dozen apps for most of my work.  Occasionally something like Google Keep will come on the horizon but more often it’s a change in my own environment, like a change in RSS servers, that changes what I use.  These apps handle probably 80% of what I do on the tablet, even though they represent less than 20% of my installed apps.  The remainder are special case or just-in-case apps.

Apps are probably another thing I’m doing wrong but my mobile devices are still 99% consumption devices.  They don’t make me more efficient, but they do provide me a way to work less on a computer.  It’s a time shift, not a time savings.  It will be interesting to see if that changes in the future.

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