Final Draft on sale (pretty briefly)

You’ve got until 19 September to get Final Draft version 9 for $149.99 US, approximately 40% off, from the official site here.

The sale includes both the Mac and Windows editions: for Mac you need OS X version 10.7 or later – that’s better known as OS X Lion – and for Windows you need XP or later.

Final Draft doesn’t exactly stretch your computer: it’s funny how old-fashioned the software looks. I have version 8 and don’t really use it enough now to warrant going to 9 nor can I really see much of a difference in the upgrade: there isn’t a killer must-have feature.

But it’s a solid script-writing word processor and if it has more and better competitors today, it is still true that Final Draft is the nearest thing to an industry standard.

If you are an existing user, by the way, you can upgrade to version 9 for $99.99 on the same official site’s store.

Apps We Can’t Live Without

This is the video that opened Apple's WWDC: it's a paean to the app developers of the world, without whom I wouldn't now be talking to you. (Just to say this to you, I'm using Editorial, Safari, YouTube and WordPress on iPad).

Marco Polo lost again – if you’re a woman

Previously… Marco Polo is a new 69p iPhone app for helping you find your phone when you've left it around the house. Just shout “Marco!” and your iPhone will reply “Polo!”.

The trouble is, it doesn't work for women. Or children. Or the Bee Gees. Hats off to The Unofficial Apple Weblog for bothering to test it out – and hats off to the app's maker, Matt Wiechec, who's taken TUAW's criticism and is dealing with it.

Read their coverage of his response and hear their test of the app too.

Marco Polo found – on iPhone

Maybe you have to be a Doctor Who fan to be alert to any news with the words “Marco Polo” and “found” but that's how I just discovered a new app that I can't make my mind up about.

Get this new app, run it on your iPhone and the next time you lose your phone around the house, just shout the word “Marco”. Your iPhone will reply at top volume: “Polo!”

I have no idea why the maker chose those words. You can change the “Marco” bit but you won't because there's no changing the Polo response.

Take a look at it on the App Store and be ready to spend your 69p UK, 99c US.

More advice on how to get hired at a job

There’s this firm, right, and it’s looking to hire various people but one particular group is proving a problem because they write rubbish applications. Apparently Project Managers are so bad at managing to project an image of themselves that the person hiring them was driven to write an article about how they should do it. Remarkably, just as with so very many other pieces of advice for job applicants, the answer is to write better.

You can do that. You’re a writer. We forget sometimes that what we do is hard and that many, many or even most people just can’t do it. So use your skill, use your talent, write your way into a job interview.

I also think that Product Managers need to write better resumes. Designers have, for the most part, figured out that it’s more about showing than telling. It’s easy to go to someone’s sites and portfolio to get a sense of what they’re about. Product Managers still appear to be stuck in the “Let me tell you how awesome I am” rut, though. This is a generalization, of course, but what I’m mostly seeing right now is resumes that excel at vagueness. It’s not uncommon to see a sentence like “Applied world-class methodologies to create a successful customer-centric product”, or some variation of that. What does that mean?

It’s great to see proof of success, yes — stats about conversion improvements, etc. are extremely useful. But hiring managers need more than that to assess Product Managers. We need to know how you think. We need to know how you approach problems, how you work, what methods you like and don’t like, and why. And for some reason most PMs I speak to seem surprised by those questions and have trouble answering them.

How to Get Hired as a Project Manager – Rian van der Merwe, Elezea

Grab Word Lens right now – it’s suddenly free

It's the app that looked like a joke: point your iPhone camera at a sign written in French and on the screen, you see it in English. It's the universal translator of Star Trek or the Time Lord Gift of Doctor Who except that it is real. Like many, I downloaded the free app just to see if it were true and it was. But you get only a kind of demo limited unless you buy packs such as English to Russian. I can't remember how much those cost but it was enough that I put it off until I was going to a country. I never once remembered to do that.

Except.

Now we don't have to: the whole thing, in-app language packs and all, is free.

It's free because the development company has just been bought by Google. The mark has turned everything free and I am downloading it all right now.

I'm sure it won't remain free for long. I'm not sure whether it will continue as a separate app, though: you can well imagine that Google is intending to incorporate this technology into its other offerings. Fine. Good, even. But the current Word Lens app may not survive so grab it while you can.

Word Lens on the iOS a App Store

It’s when an app fails that you realise how much you like it

TripIt_icon_flatThere are bad apps that you either ditch or tolerate. There are good apps that you use a lot. Then there are great ones that you use so much you forget that you’re using an app, it’s just the way things are. (I would offer that there are then even greater apps that are melded into your DNA: if I’m being harsh then I’d say only OmniFocus is like that with me, but isn’t it great that a tool can become so much a part of your life?)

Right up there in the so-great category for me is TripIt and I only appreciated that this week when it failed on me.

This is what is supposed to happen:

  • Make any travel booking anywhere and get an email ticket from ’em
  • Forward that email to plans@tripit.com
  • TripIt parses the ticket and pops every detail into your TripIt account
  • When you’re travelling, see everything you need on your iPhone

That last doesn’t sound so great but, seriously, it is. I had a thing where I was travelling from Birmingham in the UK to a village in the deepest part of southern France and it meant a lot of train rides and a lot of connections. Many of them were easy and great – I especially loved that I got a couple of hours in Paris both ways – but some were very, very, very tight. There was one where I had six minutes to get across what turned out to be a giant train station on multiple levels and though the guard I asked turned out to speak fantastic English, he also told me the wrong thing. Please picture me running, running and eventually sliding, sliding, sliding Charlie-Brown-like onto my train.

I do remember stopping on the way to help a woman carry an enormous suitcase up some stairs. So, you know, give me credit there: I may have made a mistake booking trains too close together but I’m a mensch under pressure.

What helped me throughout the whole journey was that I could look at TripIt on my iPhone at any time and be shown exactly what I had to do next. What the next train was, where it was, where it was going, what my seat reservation was, any booking references I needed, all that. I could choose to look at any or all of the steps in my journey so if something came up I’d be able to judge if I had the time to do it.

I’m not going to say that it made the journey pleasant when in fact the whole journey was great anyway, but it was a help and a guide and it became automatic that I would check TripIt along the way.

However.

It gets all this information from your email ticket. It parses that ticket: goes through it looking for departure times, train or airline reference numbers and so on. Fine. It’s handy that you just forward your ticket email to plans@tripit.com. (And clever that it’s always that same address: I can show you that address. It’s not a secret one like Evernote or OmniFocus use to let you email details in, it’s a big wide-open for-everyone email address and the smarts are in how it also parses who sent it. If I forward an email to plans@tripit.com, the service sees it’s from me and the details are popped into my account.)

Ticket emails differ between companies, though. TripIt is really good at this parsing but it gets thrown by two things: firstly a company it hasn’t parsed before and secondly if a company changes the layout of its emails. TripIt is an American service and I’m based in the UK so I’m not surprised that I occasionally hit companies that it doesn’t know. When that happens, TripIt sends you a warning that it couldn’t do anything with this stuff and that it has instead kept a copy of that entire ticket email in your account’s notes section. So at least you can see that.

But this week I booked a flight via Tripster and TripIt fell over. It believed it had parsed the email correctly, I got the regular TripIt success confirmation rather than any warnings, but it hadn’t. It believed my flight was tomorrow, it believed there was no seat or airline or reservation number. It was as close to a blank item in my travel itinerary as could be.

But TripIt is so useful when you’re travelling, so very useful, that I’ve taken the time to enter all the details for this trip by hand. Man, it was boring. And the knowledge that I will rely on this detail later actually made me nervous of entering it all, of not making any mistakes.

TripIt usually enters all my details for all my trips and it usually never goes wrong. I know I’m telling you of a time that it failed and that it was a boring time because of that, but it’s made me appreciate how good this app and this service is.

Let me quickly tell you that you can join the TripIt website for free and that there is a free app. I used that free app for years even though I don’t like ad-supported ones: I’d rather pay than have ads, I find them that intrusive. For those years, the choice, though, was between an ad-supported free app or a Pro version that required an annual subscription. I seem to travel more and more, but it’s still not enough for that.

However, at some point the company caved and released an app that you pay for but only pay that once. No subscription. It’s got an ungainly name: it’s called TripIt Travel Organizer (no ads) but it costs only 69p UK or 99c US. When I bought it I paid £2.49 and I still paid up before I’d reached the end of the sentence telling me it existed.

So: I thoroughly recommend, verging on urge you to use the TripIt website and this particular TripIt app.

Taking the Pomodoro technique to its obvious conclusion

The Pomodoro technique is where you set a timer and you work for, say, 25 minutes and then take a break for 5 minutes. Then you do it again. And again. The name Pomodoro comes, through a reasonably short but twisty route, from a type of clock or timer that was apparently popular somewhere. This timer looked like a tomato. And the word pomodoro means a kind of tomato sauce. Flash forward to the age of the app and we get this:

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 21.37.30

Looks more like a fella with green sunglasses if you ask me, but it’s a tomato timer for the Pomodoro Technique:

Pomodoro Timer helps you boost your productivity using the Pomodoro Technique™, one of the most effective time management methods out there. Not only will you get a fully configurable timer that lets you customize every aspect of the technique, but you will also enjoy a clear and beautiful user interface.

Pomodoro Timer costs £1.99 UK or $2.99 US and is available in the Mac App Store.

Call it like it is. It’s crapware

Apparently Samsung recently boasted that a feature of its latest phone (this was some minutes ago so there'll have been another latest phone since) was that it came with only 40 pre-installed apps instead of 50 or so. I don't know the details because I haven't the patience for Android – every time I see an Android phone that looks great, I use it for a mo and it feels like it'll be brilliant when it's finished – so I also didn't know how bad this crapware problem is.

Kinder people, or ones with stronger filters on their website than I have, tend to call it bloatware. It's the apps that come on your phone from the manufacturer and you can't get rid of them. I'm an iPhone user and I find it irritating that Apple won't let you delete any of the many apps it provides. Just taking a quick look now, I can see my iPhone 5 has about 22 and I'm using 12. The rest are tucked away in a folder but I can't delete them.

That's actually much more than I expected to find. I am including the Settings app plus the Phone one, the one that you use to make, like, actual phone calls. So there are ones without which it isn't a phone, I don't mind those. And I use the Camera, Photos, Mail, all sorts. But there are about 10 I simply never open. Stocks. Weather. All that.

Still, even if we said I never used any of them, that's 22 Apple pre-installed apps versus a whoo-hoo newsworthy 'only 40' Android ones. You would be hard-pressed to come up with another 20 or 30 apps that you could think a manufacturer would include but that's because you're smart and sensible. You wouldn't put, say, three text message apps on, would you?

You're not Samsung, plainly. Buy a new Samsung phone and you get Samsung's text message app. Fine. But you may also get one made by your mobile phone carrier and you definitely get Google Hangouts, which also does text messaging.

It's the same with many others and the argument in favour of it all is that you get choice. Bollocks. The apps are there because of deals and contracts that benefit the makers and not the customers. I've nothing against the makers getting benefits: if they don't, they cease to be companies. But at least let me swear at you once on the day I buy your phone and spend an hour deleting all the crapware.

Time magazine says:

Users aren’t completely powerless to fight back, at least. If you’re bothered by bloatware, you can go to Settings > Applications (or Apps on some phones), then swipe over to the “All” section. Tap on any app you don’t want, and press “Disable.” Ignore the message that says it may misbehave if it’s a built-in app. As long as it’s an actual app, represented by an icon in your app tray or on your home screen, you shouldn’t have any problems. But even this isn’t a perfect solution, because these apps are still hogging space on your device, and removing them is still a chore.

Friday Rant: The Ever-Sorrier State of Android Bloatware – Time magazine (9 May 2014)

Reportedly there is likely to be a special version of Android that is sold without bloatware. You'll have to pay extra, naturally. Wasn't there a version of Windows that came without the crap too? It is a funny world where the absence of something is a unique selling point and you get charged extra for it.

At least Android phones don't come with all those stickers on the front.

Free today – Lists To Do for iPhone

I've not used it, not even heard of it before two minutes ago – but on being told of it, I wanted to make sure you knew too. This fairly basic-looking tasks app, Lists To Do, is free for today only.

It's usually 69p so it's not like that will destroy your bank balance, but To Do apps are so important that it's worth checking out a lot of them. And a lot of 69p can add up.

So do take a moment to check this one out here.