How Microsoft Word became useful again

Originally, Microsoft refused to put Word on the iPhone or iPad and trusted that its millions of users would go oh, okay then, we won’t buy an iPad. It didn’t work out quite like that and a fair short summary is that Microsoft shot itself in the foot many, many times.

For once people bought iPads and were therefore required to use alternatives to Word, they discovered there are alternatives to Word. Suddenly all of Word’s brilliance gets forgotten and all of its outrageously irritating problems get remembered as we go discover we can get more done without it. In truth we actually can’t: Word is the most powerful word processor there is but with great power comes stupid problems so something which technically does less is much more useful because we can use it more. If you can get your writing done without Word changing the formatting on you, without Word simply crashing just because you dragged in a picture like it said you could, then you get more writing done.

Shunning the iPad was Microsoft doing its once typical and once extremely successful technique of pitching its bulk against a competitor but this time the competitor won and the blowback damage to Microsoft was huge. Word ceased to be ubiquitous. People stopped buying Word just because it was Word. Not just people who were buying iPads but people who were buying word processors for any machines. Including Windows PCs.

Good. We are now back in a world where you have many choices for how you write your words and if choice can be overrated, it’s better than when we just had the one.

But last year Microsoft finally brought Word to iOS and I wrote about how surprisingly good it was, particularly on the iPhone. I’ve changed my mind a bit since then: I hardly touch it on my iPhone but I do keep Word on my iPad and I use it from time to time. It’s been steadily improved too, plus the original slightly messy business of how you could read but not write in it unless you paid some money is gone. You can now use Word without a subscription and it’s worth keeping.

I don’t find myself moving over to it for everything, even though I’d like to find one single application I could use everywhere. As it is, I’ll write on Drafts 4 for iOS, or Pages for iOS and OS X, on Evernote everywhere, Simplenote in many places and occasionally Word. I feel slightly schizophrenic which is fine, but I also find my writing is all over the place. I’ve a hundred or more pieces in TextEdit. A dozen in OmniOutliner. It can take me a spell to find what I’m sure I wrote the other day.

So I can appreciate what this fella Andrew Cunningham says in Ars Technica. The short summary is that he’s now turned. It took the new beta version of Word for Mac to tip him over, but having the one word processor on OS X, iOS, Windows and Android has snared him:

So yes, Microsoft didn’t make it to the iPad or to any of these other platforms as quickly as it could have or should have. There will be people, including some at Ars, who found other non-Microsoft solutions that worked for them in the meantime. But I find myself revising my initial “too little too late” stance to something closer to “better late than never.” A subtle distinction, maybe, but an important one.

You win, Microsoft: How I accidentally went back to Microsoft Word – Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica (20 June 2015)

Read the full piece.

Droptask comes to Android

It’s a To Do manager especially for visual thinkers – and as of today it is on Android as well as iOS and the web. Droptask does this:

DropTask is a powerful productivity tool enabling you to visualize your workload in a unique and engaging way. Simply drag and drop tasks for all your essential to-dos, and organize them within larger colorful circles to truly see the bigger picture. With powerful functionality delivered intuitively to the user, DropTask adds simplicity to even the most complex projects and provides effortless task management for teams and individuals alike.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 17.18.39

Take a look at the official site or go straight to the Google store for the new Android version.

Alternatively, wait for me to get my finger out and review the iOS version like I’ve been trying to do for two months. There is an irony in how I fail to do a review of a To Do app, but it’s not an irony that helps you much. But if you like Droptask on Android or the web, do take a lookout it on iPhone and iPad too.

New Android switchers: solve the iMessage black hole

Instead of texts, iPhones default to using iMessage: same thing but more, better, free. If you switch to an Android phone, though, this causes problems. Most of us keep the same phone number and from now on that rings your Android phone but nobody tells iMessage to shut up.

So if someone on an iPhone sends you a text message, it goes via iMessage and simply never reaches your Android phone. It can’t. And until now that’s been tough luck: there was no way to say oi, iMessage, I’m outta here.

Now there is a tool to say oi, iMessage, I’m outta here. It’s called the Deregister iMessage tool and is available free from Apple. Details on the official site.

The Verge on the best coming-soon Android features

This means nothing to me. But if it’s your thing, knock yourself out while I deal with a sudden hankering to visit Vienna. Let me know if any of these features look like they’ll be handy for productivity, would you? Thanks.

Google’s approach for rolling out the latest version of Android, Lollipop, is a little different. There are the usual things we see every year — a new Nexus phone and a new Nexus tablet — but instead of a big event, the company is posting details in blog posts and on the main Android site. So if you’re tracking the rollout closely, you probably have a sense of what’s new and what’s cool in the OS. If you’re not, though, getting a sense of what Lollipop is actually like and what it actually does isn’t easy.

Luckily, we got a chance to sit down with some Google execs last week to get a walkthrough of the coolest features. We won’t know everything until we actually have a chance to use the final version, but there are some clever additions we saw last week. Here are some of our favorites.

12 of the best new features in Android Lollipop – Dieter Bohn, The Verge (28 October 2014)

Read the full piece.

Now Samsung copies Apple’s near-death experience

It’s hard to believe now but Apple was once within 90 days of going bankrupt. Samsung isn’t in as bad a way as that but it has just announced that its profits are down. A lot. Seriously, a lot. They’ve dropped 60%.

Cue lots of articles. Most go along the lines of how every technology and business advisor or expert in the world has said, suggested and sometimes demanded that Apple copy Samsung and give us cheap phones with massive screens. Apple’s ignored them all and suddenly, say the articles, is looking pretty smart.

I agree. It appeals to me as a writer, since we spend so long typing away, that Apple’s head-down working approach is paying off.

But I am frustrated. Today Samsung is deaths’-dooring and everybody understands why. (Short answer: the company leaps in quickly to copy existing hits like the iPhone and now other firms are leaping in to copy Samsung. Samsung was a ‘fast follower’ rather than the innovator everybody kept telling us and now everybody always knew that,)

It’s just that we’ve been told Android is the very best phone system in the world and it just never is when you pick the bleedin’ thing up. Quick aside? A respected, long-standing computer journalist handed me a Nexus 7 tablet one day and I agreed it was very good. The icons and the spacing of them looked a bit ugly to me but actually, I think the spacing of the icons on iPads is ugly too.

But I tried to swipe to the left and couldn’t because I was at the first screen. I can’t remember how this worked now but it had a very clear and obvious visual clue that I was at the first. I scrolled to the right, reached the end and had no visual clue. This journalist rolled his eyes and said it was because Apple ‘invented’ whatever you call that elastic-band-like thing when you reach the end of a list or a screen.

I call it crap. The designers of this Nexus couldn’t be bothered to do something at both ends of the scrolling, they just did one. Absolutely zero interest in making something useful, zero interest in having any pride in the work, just knock it out, tick the box that says there’s the elastic band like alternative, then claim it’s better than iPad. And wait for journalists to say it’s better than iPad.

If you like Android, great. Have a good time. You have far more patience than I do.

But if you like Android on Samsung, that’s now… interesting.

I have a problem with Samsung copying Apple, I have a problem with Android really, really copying iOS, I just also have a problem with articles saying that this 60% profit drop is the end of the line for Samsung.

Mind you, you know that 60% drop? It is for the quarter before the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus came out. The iPhones with the big screens that were previously an Android purview.

This is how it should be: a Safari Extension I’ll use hourly

Not only will I use it hourly but I want to use it hourly now. The quick news: 1Password will use Extensions so that within Safari, you can get it to enter your username and password.

The slightly less quick news with more detail and enthusiasm… In case you haven’t come across it yet, 1Password is one of those apps that stores your passwords for you. Fine. It also creates ones like Wel6cAct9iB9Bit (that really is one it created, I just got it to do that). It creates these strong passwords and then saves them for you so that you don’t have to remember. You just have to remember the one password you need to get into 1Password. It works on iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac, PC, Windows, all sorts.

The phone and tablet versions come with their own web browser too. So if I’m organised, I can go into my 1Password app, tap on the name of my bank and that browser will zoom off to their site. Goes to the site, enters my username and some of my security details, then it even presses return. Only with my bank do I stop there. With other things I log into like, it does the lot. One tap takes me to the site and then into the site. Another single tap and 1Password has entered all my credit card details for me.

Except I’m often not that organised. Very often, I will go a site in the regular iPhone Safari web browser and after a lot of fiddling like picking train times, I will reach the login or credit card screen and wish I’d remembered to do this in 1Password. Usually, I nip over to the 1Password app, copy the detail I need and go paste it into Safari. But just occasionally, I’ve moved over to 1Password and redone the whole job just to save that schlepping about.

Not any more. Behind the scenes it’s going to be using Touch ID and Safari Extensions but no matter: in future, when I’ve gone to a site in the ordinary Safari browser, I will still be able to use 1Password to enter my details.

This is how it is on the Mac and PC: wherever I am, I can whack a login detail or an over-used credit card in with a tap or two. This is how it will be on iPhones and iPads.

The company isn’t saying when it will happen but there is a limited beta test going on now and it all requires the forthcoming iOS 8. So you can bet that when the next iPhones come out around September, so will the new 1Password. No idea yet whether it will be a paid upgrade or a freebie but whichever, I’m having it. (Though it must be said, as great as 1Password is in every other way I know, upgrading to a major new version is agony.)

Here’s where you can learn more of the latest official release of 1Password and here’s a shaky video of the beta in action:

Weird day at Google

Just one more thing about Google, this time partly because it has a lot of news detail that it’s done much better than I could. But mostly because it’s quite funny:

After two hours of technical talk, with nary a mention of new hardware or consumer-level software, the attendees began to get a bit bored. It was at this point that Twitter briefly became a strange meta-I/O, with dozens, or perhaps hundreds of attendees hopping on their Twitter accounts to talk about how bad the show was—while it was still going on.

The Only Thing You Need to Read About Today’s Weird Google I/On Keynote – Mike Wehner. The Daily Dot (25 June 2014)

Sort-of extensive Android coverage

Strap yourself in: I’m going to name drop. Well, place name drop. I missed all of Google’s Android announcements yesterday because I spent the day in Parliament.

Oh, come on. It’s the best I’ve got, just pretend to be impressed.



I missed the Google announcements and I had planned to get you some proper catch-up coverage in case you missed it too. But it was a strange announcement.

It was at Google’s I/O conference which is pretty much the same thing as Apple’s WWDC: it’s an annual gig officially for software developers but which has become more. These are now platforms for Google and Apple to show off new things. That’s typically new things for consumers as well as developers, but not necessarily.

This year’s Apple WWDC didn’t have any new hardware, for instance, and it’s considered a success for how much it did for developers. It’s also a success for how Apple-slick it was with the company’s presenting style. It doesn’t always work and when it’s off, it’s a clanging bell, but when it does work, it’s the kind of presentation you would want to give. Quick but not rushed, long enough to be detailed but not long enough to feel padded. Witty helps.

It’s a lot harder to do than it seems and nobody’s expected Google to be as good. You expect Google to have lots to say and maybe to eschew style and slickness for straightforward practicality.

None of that happened.

Not the straightforward, certainly not the style. Instead, it is reported that one journalist in the audience fell asleep. It’s reported everywhere that the presentation was boring, extremely long, extremely padded and while it had many announcements, they were muddled and confusing and lost.

By today I expect us to see Android fan boys usefully explaining the actual features and details that were hidden in the mess. But for now, I want you to see a good rundown of the event in this article. Really, I want you to see the title of the article.

Do to take a read of “We watched Google’s 3-hour keynote so you wouldn’t have to” on Cult of Android.

Three hours? What the L?