Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The truth about using your iPad as a (business) laptop replacement

I'm going to assume that you're at least moderately like me.

That you do the majority of your business computing on a PC. That the list of things you need to do includes email and web, Microsoft Office documents, PDFs and that you need to manage your diary and be able to present at meetings.

I'm also going to assume that, like me, you would like the technology you use to work with a minimum of fuss and fit into the way you currently work. That you don't want to have to re-write your working practices for the sake of one item of technology.

As you may have spotted from my past blog post, I'm now using an iPad. What I'm trying out is replacing the netbook (an Acerbic Aspire One D150, running Windows 7 Ultimate) that I use when I'm out of the office for meetings and presentations with this iPad to see if it can be a contender.

The fact that I'm writing this post on it is a positive sign, but isn't the whole story. There are a few truths about the iPad, it's app security and data management model and the Apple walled garden that have a significant impact.

Let me explain.

An iPad, for all the similarities is not like a desktop or laptop computer. This difference is inherent in the underlying way that it handles data. Your desktop computer provides a unified filesystem which underlays the applications that you use. You save files there, from any application that you use, and any other application can see them (even if it can't open them). Built into this filing system is the ability to handle a variety of types of media such as local and network drives, cdroms, sd cards.

The data storage on your iPad or iPhone doesn't follow that model, but exists in secure silos with limited capability to uniformly connect with other data resources on the device itself, let alone external data sources.

The upshot of this is, that you need to engage the facility of one or more online data storage and transfer services to get the files that you need to work with on or off your iPad.

QuickOffice HD is a good example of an app that is built to work within these constraints. It is an app able to create, view and modify Microsoft Office documents. Built into the app is the ability to connect to online file transfer services ( I'm using Drop Box ) as a vector for transferring your work to and from your iPad.

Not perfect, but a reliable and workable solution, but one where you need to change your working practices to enable you to complete tasks that would normally have a simpler solution.

For example: I'm going to a meeting, so I want to take my credentials PowerPoint and some other documents with me.

PC centric solution - I connect to the share holding the documents I want, copy them to a location of my choosing on my laptop and know that I can choose which application I will use to display the files later on. I could even just put them on a USB stick and use them direct from that storage device.

iPad centric solution - I plan which apps I want to be able to use to work with or display the files that I'm taking, I upload the files to the online transfer service that is compatible with the app(s) I choose. From within those apps, I then download the files to that local storage accessible by that app. It is only in a few circumstances that apps can share data, so if you want the same file available in two apps, yes, you may have to download it twice.

But let me balance this a little: it's a bit of a hassle, but it does work, and whilst not a suitable replacement for the computer you do your 3D animation work on and iPad can offer a different solution for general business tasks and can provide a novel platform for presentations.

And you should also note that I've chosen to write this on my iPad rather than anything else.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

10 iPad apps for business - and it doesn't matter if you own a 1 or a 2

I was spurred into writing this having read ZD Nets recent article entitled '10 iPad 2 apps for business'. Why? Because when you read the article (and the comments show I'm not the only one to think this) the list is more apps that show off your iPad 2 and aren't games.

That doesn't really help someone who wants to use an iPad for business, since most of the really useful stuff isn't on there.

So he we are: the PHD list of iPad apps for business (in no particular order).

1. Informant HD

I needed a calendar and task list, and wanted one that would tie into the office shared Google calendar. Informant also features handy tagging and folders functions as well as an iPhone version that offers the same functionality. This was one of the more expensive apps I purchased, at nearly £9, but in my opinion definitely worth it.

2. Adobe Ideas

I find it really useful to be able to sketch out rough ideas and diagrams. Abobe Ideas does this very easily, and in addition to saving your sketches in the app, allows you to either save to an album or email in an Adobe Illustrator compatible format. Very handy. And it's free (unless you want to buy the layers upgrade).

3. BlogPress

I'm using this to write this post off-line, on a train. BlogPress is connecters to both my company blogger account and my personal tumblr account works neatly with both. Not free, but worth it.

4. Printer Pro

My basic complaints about Apple is their perpetuation of their walled garden: if you buy one apple product, you end up buying more because I makes life easier to make them work together. This is where Printer Pro comes in. We run a predominantly PC/Windows and PC/Linux office, with printing provided via a shared printer on one of the PC/Windows boxes. This is a common build, but one that iPad doesn't seem to acknowledge out of the box. Installing Printer Pro solves this by installing a free client on your printers host PC, and the app communicates with this via wifi. Then free version of the app allows you to test the setup works before you buy the app. Worked well for me and means printing doesn't involve syncing, dropbox or email to a PC.

5. QuickOffice HD

Given our PC base, I wanted an MS Office natively compatible office suite. QuickOffice HD seemed to get the best reviews when I did my research and so far I agree. Having authored Word documents and PowerPoint presentations from my iPad, as well as being able to project them using the Apple iPad to VGA cable, I have to say I'm impressed. Again one of the more expensive apps, but worth it in my opinion.

6. Evernote

If you work in business, I'm fairly sure you'll recognise this scenario: cafe meeting/ brainstorm/ collaborative meeting and the results of the past 4 hours are on a number of flip chart pages or White boards. Normally someone ends up using a mobile phone to take photos then the rest of the group await the images via email. This is the point where Evernote steps in. Evernote provides a set of apps for a range of devices (including Apple, Android, Blackberry and PC) which all tie back to a communal web based document storage solution. Take the photo of the flip chart with your Blackberry, it's accessible from your other devices straight away. Add tagging and management functions to the mix and this solution rings true to it's name - never lose your notes!

7. Desktop

A remote desktop client comes in handy sooner or later, even if it just to be able to log into you computer and move a file or email something to yourself. The imaginatively named Desktop supports both Apple and Windows based desktops and worked fine with a variety of Windows 7 boxes. Worth having, just in case.

8. Twitter

Whilst HootSuite is great if you want to manage multiple twitter accounts (and I have this installed too) I have to say that the experience offered by the free, official twitter app is great. Worth downloading and trying out.

9. Filer

As an alternative/ companion to DropBox, filer is another way to get files from a variety of sources onto your iPad, with the benefit of including a really good PDF viewer.

10. Something non-work

It's true what they say about all work and no play. So here is a quick list of my choices for interesting non-work iPad apps.

TED: The free TED app offers access to their wonderful library of talks. If you know TED, you won't need me to sell this to you, if you don't, try it out.

IMDB: A great way to find out about movies old and new, to access the wealth of information in their database and do it from the comfort of your iPad. It's also free.

Sky News: I'm a fan of Sky as a news source, and the app brings an experience that ties together their web content, video content and also provides a route to watch the live feed of the Sky News channel. Free at the moment, but only for a limited time apparently.

11. Apple iPad to VGA cable

Ok, I know this post is all about business apps for iPads, but given the way I work - presenting to clients or prospective clients amongst (many) other things - this one item is an essential part of the iPad for business mix. Whilst I have successfully done two or three person presentations with my iPad standing in the middle of the table, it is only a matter of time until you need to handle a projector. In my experience, the majority of board rooms out there still favour a VGA cable to connect to the projector (I've never seen HDMI). Apple do make a connector cable for this and in my local Apple store I had to ask one of the assistants for it as the didn't have them on display. At £25 it wasn't cheap, but very useful.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Why testing needs to go further than just your PC

As anyone involved in it knows, there is a lot of thought and planning needed in testing. Whether you are working on the web or any of the other development platforms, you need to plan your testing to cover a full range of user behaviour, test data and operating platforms.

I had a perfect demonstration of this recently.

Like many of us, a good proportion of my email is HTML based, be it update or marketing emails. One such email arrived from Asus. I happened to open the email on my Blackberry, which doesn’t immediately download the images and politely displays the ALT tags for the images in the structure of the page. You can see the issue in this image (the typo in the word ‘cloud’.

Trouble is, once you’ve seen the typo, the effectiveness of the rest of the message is lost. This wouldn’t have been something immediately visible when testing the page on a PC – the PC would have immediately loaded in the images and without intentionally looking for it, this mistake would never have been seen and consequently slipped through.

At PH Digital, we carefully plan the testing phases of our projects, including using technologies like VM Ware to build dedicated testing platforms that match the scenarios and specifications we need to test against, and for mobile content we always test on a range of real mobile phones.

To find out more about PH Digital and how we work contact us at or visit

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Twitter for business - build your own marketing channel

Twitter has seen a lot of media exposure recently - the majority of which has been good, compared to the negative press about Facebook recently. One of the big questions is what use is twitter for business and how best to make use of it.

As a communications tool, Twitter can be used both externally and internally.

Internally, twitter can provide a channel for managing fast status updates and for example information on current team news, locations, contactability. Twitter allows for updates to be maintained as private - meaning that you have to be invited to be able to view them, which is a perfect solution for managing team or business communications in a way that can be extended to include your clients or external partners.

Externally, Twitter can provide a great way for your customers to follow your activities and for you to follow and identify with your customers. It is a great place to announce new products and services, and making sure that each status update that you post contains a URL for your site can be demonstrated to generate direct web traffic. To extend the reach of your own Twitter network, you can also identify similar interest groups following other compatible organisations and follow their followers. This will likely encourage them to follow you back (the Twitter popultion are by there very nature gregarious) and so expand the reach of your status updates.

Twitter also publish good documentation and an API that allows you to embed your Twitter feed onto your web page or to build custom pages or applications that use Twitter as component.

Like blogging twitter can be used to increase the traffic and awareness of your business and it's products or services, and more importantly, as a tool to identify and engage with your customers.

Monday, 23 March 2009

What can small business get from eMarketing?

A common question is: why should we bother with eMarketing?

For the same reasons you should maintain your non-eMarketing - it is your voice to your customers, your way of telling them who you are, how to find you, what you sell and, most importantly, why you. In today's congested marketplace, with the additional challenges that the current financial markets are throwing at us, it is even more important to remember why we bother with marketing at all.

I'm going to use PH Digital ( as an example - since I know it well and I'm not under any prohibitive contracts that prevent me talking about it.

We sell services, skill and knowledge in what is a fairly busy marketplace - digital communications. There are a huge number of companies that may seem to overlap with our offerings and there is the normal mix good average and less than average.

My key objectives in my marketing work are to make sure as many people know what it is that PH Digital does and that they understand what it is that makes us unique.

So how do I go about doing this?

If I was going to focus on purely traditional methods, I would be looking at press releases, print advertising and placing articles in periodicals that I estimated would appeal to my target audience. I may also be trying to win any applicable industry awards, joining professional organisations, engaging in charitable work, attending networking and even resorting to leaflet drops.

All of this should be fairly familiar. It's a traditional solution and can be very effective if used and targeted well. It can also be expensive, time consuming and unmeasurable.

For some business models, these solutions work well. For many, particularly small businesses or niche markets, this solution isn't practical.

eMarketing can offer both support for traditional marketing strategies, but also provides a unique low-cost alternative that can be used to extend the reach of your marketing efforts and provide some measurability and feedback.

So how does it work?

There are a large number of methods for promoting a business online that extend beyond just having a website. This blog, and particularly this blog post is a good example.

The blog itself is provided free by, as is the technology that enables me to embed the top 5 posts onto the PH Digital homepage. This blog post represents an investment of no more than a couple of hours of my time writing about a subject that I know very well since it is one of the key service areas for PH Digital. While I'm writing this you'll notice that I've been careful to include a reference to the PH Digital company name a number of times, to include the web address and write something that includes a discussion of our services.

The way this post has been constructed becomes important when it is published. I will choose a number of labels that represent the subject matter of this post and since Blogger is owned by Google, it won't be long before Google has indexed this blogpost.

The marketing benefit of this can be seen in a number of ways. Firstly, I've found an easy way to add extra content to my website without needing to involve an agency or spend anything other than a little time to make it happen. Secondly, I've generated a some content that will be indexed by google directly from this blog and is specifically about my business, and points back to my website. Thirdly, I have been able to discuss and publish some basic information in a way that will help to differentiate PH Digital from some of the other agencies out there.

This kind of communication can be seen as a way of generating traffic for your website, but it is equally important to capture and maintain a relationship with those visitors. Subscription based services (e.g. offering a useful document for download if your customers provide their email address and consent to direct contact). You can also offer subscriptions to email newsletters, ongoing release of new content, forums and use of micro blogging. All these solutions help to capture your audience and maintain an open channel to them.

Being able to provide something unique is key to keeping your audience interested (if they can get the information anywhere, they will). Innovative use of web based technologies can allow you great opportunities to engage your audience. For example, if you run a retail based business and take delivery of a new product line, you could just add it to your website. A better solution would be to add it to your website and reference your review of the product that you post on your blog. You make sure that this blog post gives good description of the product and it key selling points , but you also make sure that you use your mobile phone or digital stills camera to film a short (30-90 second) video review of the product which you upload to a site like and reference it from your blog. This takes you a little longer than just putting the item on your website, but has a huge effect on your ability to reach a wider audience - you don't just show it to people who are already coming to your website, but to anyone who searches and finds it on your blog or on youtube. You are increasing the chance that you'll be found as a vendor of that product by ensuring that you can be searched for and found on 3 different sites all of which provide links back to your website.

There are many other opportunities to integrate technologies to reach a wider audience, and create ongoing engagement with your customers. To find out more, contact or visit PH Digital.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

What does blogging bring to small business?

For all businesses, small or large, publicity is an important matter. Any opportunity is worth investigating, and blogging provides a unique and personal way to connect to your online audience.

Blogging provides a free (apart from the time you invest in updating it) channel for delivering useful information, news and updates to your audience. It's also easy to use - if you can use MS Word, then you can write a blog post. One of the most significant things is that your posts can be indexed by Google and with the correct configuration can be embedded into your website so that the headlines of each post can be seen on the page.

This means that you have an easy to use solution for updating content on your website, for recording your wins and reporting your news as well as providing industry specific information and recommendations to help your customers choose your business or products. You can then refer to this material with your customers and it can provide you with additional traffic and further enhance your customer appeal.

So the big question is: if you have a business and you don't have a blog ... why not?

For help and advice about blogging and other social media, and how they can benefit your business contact or visit PH Digital.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Welcome to the PH Digital blog

PH Digital is an independent agency that specialises in internet based communications.

We provide expertise and support for your strategic planning, project specification, concept, tactical delivery, launch and ongoing development.

Our solutions deliver e-marketing, internal communications, training, customer education and community building. Measurement and information collection is built into our solutions from the outset.

PH Digital - smart design, smart solutions