The Path To #INBOXZERO

When I start to nerd out on the latest productivity app I’ve stumbled on people’s eyes usually just glaze over but when I tell people I have reached the holy grail of #inboxzero their eyes pop open wide then begin to flutter in a jealous haze.  What is #inboxzero well simply put it’s when you manage to empty the entire inbox of your email client.  If you’re like I was for years your inbox has become so inundated that you may have resorted to entirely turning off your mail’s app counter icon or notifications because it’s just too depressing.  Honestly any time I’ve ever bragged about being at inbox zero I’ve never met anyone else who claimed to be as well.  We’ve gotten so acclimated to the furious pace of incoming mail that we’ve become numb to it and have resorted to workarounds to filter out all the noise so important emails raise to the surface.  Most people develop their own methods for keeping track of the most important emails.  Personally my strategy was to simply mark every one as read then leave the most important ones marked as unread until it’s been properly dealt with.
My process to #inboxzero began with a now-shuttered app called Mailbox.  It started the trend of swiping to archive email or to snooze an email to return to your inbox at a later time or date.  It worked exclusively with gmail and Dropbox snagged it up and soon after shut it down.  Meanwhile Google created Inbox by Gmail.  Its secret sauce, borrowed liberally from Mailbox, is a balanced blend of purposeful swipes and automatic smart filtering that enables any user to easily tame the beast that is most people’s inboxes and keep it tamed.  Swipe right archives any email and swiping left snoozes any email until a later time or date of user’s choosing making it quick and painless to dismiss email on the fly.  For the bulk of your incoming mail Inbox smart filters will automatically filter out most emails into 6 main categories (purchases, finance, social, updates, forums, and promos).  You can archive entire categories or train certain emails to skip your inbox entirely and go straight to your archive.  You can go deeper and create your own categories if you like.  My favorite feature is the ability to mute any conversation (automatically archive emails from sender) by simply long pressing the option to archive (checkmark).
Inbox makes email meaningful again by filtering out the noise and allowing only those emails that actually merit your attention into your inbox.  If you’re a gmail power user and haven’t tried Inbox yet I highly recommend taking it for a test drive.
Other features include the ability to pin important emails, display Google Reminders, Google Now events like trip summaries, and a handy Chrome web extension for sharing or saving web links.   Finally Inbox will group emails not assigned to a category together.  So for example that weekly newsletter you get might get grouped together with every newsletter from that sender and appear as one email.  Selecting it unrolls all the emails in a stack with a summary of the most recent at the top of the stack.
There are other email clients that adopt many of the same features but not many are available across all major platforms like Inbox is.  Inbox shines best in Chrome while I primarily use the iOS version.  The iOS version, as is to be expected from Google, is pretty stable.  In contrast, I also use the Outlook App (which was actually Accompli before Microsoft snatched it up and rebranded it) for my MS accounts and it’s consistently glitchy.  In any case, a few hours spent with an app like Inbox can lead you to #inboxzero heaven!  What are you waiting for?
Advertisements

New Year’s Resolution: Read The Bible

1420972105_holy_bible2015 has rang in and you’ve decided this is going to be your year to read the Bible cover to cover so to speak.  I’ve put together a short list of apps to get you started.  There were many worthy Bible Apps to choose from but I’ve narrowed the list down to my three personal favorites.  The good news is you can’t really go wrong with any app that brings you…well the good news right?

The Bible App*

Bible-app-icon-english-64x64The Bible App by YouVersion is the most downloaded Bible app at 166 million downloads and counting.  It’s been my go to Bible app for at least the last 6 years. The Bible App is best known for giving away free unfettered access to virtually any translation or language you might fancy and a robust selection of devotionals to boot.  You’re most likely to find a devotional by your favorite author, pastor, or publisher in its library.  Part of the reason for its success is the fact that you’d be hard pressed to find a single platform it’s not available on.  This past year saw the addition of a social feed to discuss your favorite verses and insights with friends and video content most notably from the Lumo Project and the popular Bible Series that aired on The History Channel.  I personally love that I can easily switch between any Bible translation and find a plethora of devotionals and reading plans on any topic to suit my mood or need.  In fact one thing I’ve struggled with is staying current on a one year reading plan while being teased with so many tempting (pun not intended) choices.  Bonus if you’ve got kids, check out their accompanying free The Bible App For Kids.  It’s chock full of interactive storyboard kids’ games of popular Bible lessons.

Faithlife Study Bible

FSB-100If you’re familiar with Logos Bible Software then you’re already likely aware of their suite of Bible apps.  One of them is the Faithlife Study Bible App and I’ve listed it here because I stumbled on this gem last year and found myself even more distracted from my traditional one year reading plan in The Bible App.  Basically it’s a free study bible complete with maps, pictures, exhaustive study notes, and even videos.  It’s library is so huge it can actually be a bit daunting.  The only caveat is the only free translation is their in-house Lexingham English Bible (LEB) translation unless you’re willing to pay for popular translations like the NIV or NLT which are available for free on the aforementioned Bible App.  Nevertheless it’s a feast of biblical knowledge and even serves up a daily dose of sharable Bible word art each day.  If you’re serious about going deeper in your Bible study this is a must download and is available on most major platforms and the web.  Tip- be sure to create an account for their Logos content store because I was pleasantly surprised at Christmas time with a free $20 to spend on anything which I used to buy the NIV translation which is transferable across their suite of apps and services including the next one in this list.

Every Day Bible

EveryDayBibleAlso from the folks at Faithlife /Logos Bible Software and recently released in December.  You see both The Bible App and the Faithlife Study Bible App are robust at what they do good which can be a bad thing if all you want to do is open the app up and just pick up reading the Bible where you left off distraction free.  Enter the Every Day Bible App with its straightforward top to bottom reading design.  It’s literally a Bible app devoted solely to a one year reading plan.  You can’t select chapters or verses, study notes, maps, social feeds, or even highlight individual verses or phrases.  You simply open the app each day, start at the top, and read to the bottom where you check a box marking that day complete.  It serves up a mix of old and new testaments with some nice Bible Word art mixed in and if you’re faithful with it then 365 days later voila you’ve read the Bible through and start over.  It’s become my choice to read the Bible through this year and thanks to the aforementioned $20 gift I’m able to read it in my preferred translation.  I will still flip to the Bible App for shorter devotionals, topical reading plans, and social feed but the Every Day Bible App will be my workhorse year round solely due to its simple and fast formula.  Note it’s only available on iOS and the web for now.

* It should be noted the Bible App by YouVersion is a ministry of LifeChurch.tv, a multi-site church based in Oklahoma of which I’m a devoted member of.

The Third Party Keyboard Fail

Apple Third Party KeyboardsI lauded the arrival of iOS 7 more than another other iteration of Apple’s mobile software mostly because I was so ready for its new flat look but it doesn’t remotely compare to my anticipation for iOS 8 and with it the arrival of third-party keyboard support.  Apple’s stock keyboard has been much maligned for every successive iteration of their software and for me has been the single greatest point of frustration with iOS.  Reasons for my frustration are quite simple and don’t really have much to do with snazzy gestures or pretty color templates so much as it has to do with accuracy.  I simply just can’t master typing on the stock keyboard.  It’s really quite maddening how poor I can be at times.  It’s not rocket science but for reasons both known and unknown I can nary type a single sentence without an error and at this point I’m honestly resigned to the fact that I just suck at it.  I had great hope that some third-party keyboard would come along and rescue me from my unmanageable thumbs.  By the title surely you’ve guessed by now I was disappointed with the results.  So here’s what lead me to the ultimate conclusion that I am ditching all third party keyboards for the stock Apple keyboard.

Somewhere in all the buzz leading up to the launch of iOS 8 and with it third-party keyboard support I came across news that a third-party app available on other platforms had set the Guinness World Record for fastest typing.  Its name was Fleksy and after reading up on it I was immediately sold on its gesture based predictive algorithm.  It seemed so fluid and quite slick.  You see my crutch is simply typing accurately.  I can spell just fine.  I know how to structure a sentence.  Still it’s a mystery to me why I err so much because I don’t have fat fingers, I consider myself very dexterous, and my thumbs keep in shape playing Xbox nevertheless I’ve always sucked at typing on the iPhone.  The UI presented to me by Fleksy just seemed to hit the sweet spot because unlike most other keyboards including Apple’s it doesn’t try to predict as you type instead it just tries to predict what you just typed.  Translation, it basically auto corrects your spelling.  After downloading iOS 8 Fleksy was the first new app I installed.  Frustration set in immediately as the keyboard crashed the very first time I took it out for a spin.  After about a day of constant crashes I would learn that all iOS 8 users were experiencing the same thing and that the issue was baked into iOS 8 and affected all third-party keyboards.  I would stumble on a couple more days until I just turned off the keyboard entirely to wait for Apple to offer up an update to fix what was a widely reported major bug.  The first update supposed to fix the bugs we would quickly learn could brick phones and a successive update for the update would promptly come out soon after.  I gave things a couple more days to smooth out before downloading that update.  What’s important to note here is in that brief period while Apple was ironing out the kinks to the kinks so to speak I got some time with the updated stock Apple keyboard and discovered as advertised it had improved by leaps and bounds over the last one.  It’s prediction engine was quite good and I would have to say did cut down my errors to some extent. That didn’t stop me from reactivating Fleksy once I finally downloaded the iOS update with fixes for third-party keyboards.  I had after all already made my mind up to ditch yet another stock Apple feature for a better alternative something I have successfully done with practically every other stock Apple app or feature to date where alternatives existed.

Sadly Fleksy would turn into a maddening disaster.  The predictive gestures were fun but what sunk it for me from almost the first day was its over corrective tendencies.  How can you over correct the spelling of a word you ask?  Simple really.  Take the word “gun” for example.  Typing it correctly would often yield a different word like “fun”.  It begs the question how does this happen really?  Wouldn’t in the hierarchy of rules a correctly spelled word take precedence over really any other rule?  With Fleksy replacing a correctly spelled word with another word entirely happened astonishingly frequently.  This left me altogether pissed off frankly.  If I couldn’t correctly type in a word and have it accepted (especially since we’ve already established how much trouble I have typing accurately to begin with) then what is the point really?  I researched the 3 major keyboards getting buzz at launch (Fleksy, Swype, and SwiftKey) and I’m not sure if I made it past two full days with my first choice, Fleksy, before moving on to my next choice.  SwiftKey.

The lure for me about SwiftKey was really 3 things.  First it was free which helps considering I had to purchase Fleksy, next it incorporated swipe to type gestures and learned your typing patterns getting better the more you used it (allegedly), and last you could always tap away if you didn’t want to swipe.  I was at first really impressed with it but quickly discovered that learning your typing patterns was too much of a good thing.  If I incorrectly misspelled a word in the same way a couple of times well…the incorrect spelling became its default first prediction thereafter.  After 2 or 3 weeks I found myself full circle with the keyboard over correcting too often albeit now with a slew of misspellings.  I could easily reset the keyboard to rid myself of all my polluted predictions but as I stated with Fleksy what’s the point of using their keyboard then?  Truly frustrated I took a brief hiatus from third-party keyboards and went back to the stock Apple keyboard.  At this point though I found that I had grown quite fond of the swipe to type gesture.  It just felt more natural for one-handed use especially with the bigger iPhones that have virtually eliminated the ability to type one-handed so I finally convinced myself to drop a buck and download my third option.  Swype.  As luck would have it Apple would make it the FREE app of the week the very next day.  Go figure.  Nevertheless I found myself as with SwiftKey quite smitten with it I think mostly because it worked better (at first) than the previous keyboard I had tried, but not perfect.  In fact Swype‘s fatal flaw is no different from all the others for me.  Over correction.  I don’t understand it really.  I found it had trouble acknowledging swipes for words with two identical successive letters but not in the way you might think.  For example I can’t tell you how many times it replaced “to” with “too”.  Such a common word…too pun intended!  Ultimately I concluded I was spending just as much time correcting Swype‘s predictions as I was correcting my own typos in the stock Apple keyboard so like I’ve stated the other two times what then is the point?!

I’ve been mulling this question over for some time as my frustration level has continued to build.  Not mentioned with these three different experiences is the one factor that is the same across the board that muddles all of these third-party keyboard experiences.  Crashes.  Yep they are still a constant despite Apple updates meant to address these crashes.  I know it’s not just my phone because in the middle of this experience I actually switched iPhones (for other reasons) starting from a clean slate rather than restoring from a backup.  Users still complain of the constant crashes.  They’re certainly better than at launch but nevertheless they are a daily miff.  Honestly it’s astonishing really how prevalent they are and how little attention it’s getting.  There’s another factor that has influenced my choice to spurn third-party keyboards.  Emoticons or lack thereof.  Support for them varies between the apps I tested with Fleksy doing the better job nevertheless emoticon support seems more or less an afterthought.  I’m not really sure why.  Perhaps it’s a combination of both iOS restrictions and/or lack of creativity on the part of third-party app makers to incorporate them better.  It seems petty to include this as a deciding factor but I must admit to embracing emoticons as a significant portion of my day to day mobile communication and to have it buried sometimes 3 taps back is off-putting to say the least.

It’s taken me two and a half months to finally throw in the towel but I finally did.  It really boiled down to simple math for me.  In the negative column you’ve got a common theme of over correction, constant crashes, and a case of emoticon denial.  In the positive you’ve got an improved stock Apple keyboard that at least is stable and better at offering you up predictions while not jamming them down your throat.  Ultimately though the deciding factor for me was my general level of frustration.  When I use a third-party keyboard I have this expectation that it will work better than the stock one and that some launch bugs are expected but not to this degree.  I expect it will not just be pretty but actually make the task of typing easier or more efficient for me.  None of these have remotely been up to the task.  I got more frustrated using third-party keyboards than with the stock keyboard which I guess in part is because I have come to accept some level of frustration already over the years with the stock keyboard.  I’m left now with only one choice to return to the Apple stock keyboard.

Now that I’m reluctantly all in on the Apple keyboard train I offer a couple of thoughts for the masses who might agree with me.  Why can’t we have different colors schemes for the stock keyboard baked in?  It’s surely not because it’s not possible; I find a different color themed keyboard when I’m utilizing spotlight search versus Messages already.  How about long presses to a secondary keyboard much like Swype already employs?  Yes I know there’s already the trick to long press the 123 button already to get to that secondary keyboard but it’s nowhere near as intuitive as the Swype keyboard in this regard.  What about adjusting the size of the buttons like Fleksy offers?  This one really seems like a no brainer especially with the bigger screens for the new iPhones.  How about the option to add a top row of numbers or characters so I can easily tap out #comeonalready?  Am I asking too much…really?  Final parting thought, I wonder how long it’s going to take me to untrain all the different gestures and shortcuts I’ve learned the past 11 weeks and just get back to my normal pace of error laden typing?  Er I feel worse off than when I started.

APP REVIEW: Mailbox For iOS

MailboxLogo+Wordmark_Vertical_BLUERating:  TekIt

Price:  FREE

Goodieness:  If Gmail is your primary mailbox service and you have an iOS device you’ll never have a cluttered inbox again all without ever having to dispose of a single email.  Sorting mail is literally addictive, like playing Angry Birds.

Crummieness: Besides not being available before….only syncs with Gmail.

Review

With one quick download my pile of emails almost instantaneously got sorted.  I can honestly say that never has an app ended up straight to my main app dock so quickly.  Same day in fact.  Mailbox by Orchestra, Inc. is exactly what the name suggests.  It’s a mailbox for email, Gmail specifically and exclusively.  It’s currently available for Apple’s iOS devices only.  If you fall into both camps then this is good news for you particularly if you’re inbox is cluttered which so easily happens nowadays as you pretty much have to subscribe to everything online.

I read the buzz about this app a couple months ago and decided to take the plunge.  It was still in beta which meant going to the App Store and downloading it only put you in a long line to getting a link to downloading  it.  I was given a number (750K and change) that I could check daily by opening the app icon to see it tick down.  After about 6 weeks a notification popped up allowing me to grab it finally.  I was not disappointed.   Note it’s now available for download instantly.  After a painless sign in screen to my Gmail account the sync began. Then a really helpful tutorial ensued.  The first thing you’ll notice that’s different about its approach to mail is that  my icon badge defaulted to listing the number of items in my inbox (approx. 454 for me at time of download).  It did not distinguish read from unread items.  Before you get in a tizzy over that, realize this is the whole point of mailbox, it aims to help you clean out your mailbox and keep it clean in a fun and visually pleasing way.  In fact there’s even a reward for doing it!  I’ll get to that soon.

IMG_2137 photo photo1

Read More