Let’s Talk iOS Gmail

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Native email on the iPhone and iPad has always left a lot to be desired, particularly if you are a Gmail user. Same has historically been true for Gmail users on iOS. However, with a major refresh of the universal iOS app yesterday, Gmail has really come into its own on the Apple mobile front. I’m not sure whether buying uber-popular email app Sparrow had anything to do with it or not – I’m just happy with the results.

 

Obvious changes include improvement in the physical UI, which is simpler and easier to view, and responds beautifully on my iPhone 5. Other improvements clearly had me in mind as well – I am thrilled that the newest version not only has multiple sign in, but allows really simple switching between accounts with icon-based buttons. You can add up to five Gmail accounts within the app – I’ve filled up four slots already.

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Another new benefit is better integration with other Google products – clearly the direction Google has been heading in with all its products. You can now add calendar invites and events from within Gmail without having to switch to another app. And you can post to Google+ from within your Gmail, such as +-ing a post.

 

There are notifications, now, if you prefer to have your incoming email accompanied by a charming tone and a lock screen note. Really. Some people like that.

 

Easily add photos or scribbles to your emails. Yes, scribbles. You can draw something and attach it.

 

Search in the iOS app is now predictive – Google will offer up options as you type your query. Certainly speeds things up a bit. And, with infinite scrolling you can slam through 150 emails with a few swipes, without having to reload after 50 items.

 

All of the new features have usability in mind. I like the new app so much, I am thinking of moving it to the tray. A lot of these features have already been available in the Android version, which really is no surprise at all. And Google also updated the Android version yesterday as well, keeping it well ahead of the iOS version with pinch-to-zoom on individual messages and swipe (left or right) to delete or archive. There is also an ability to “auto-fit” a message to your phone’s screen, a thumbnail view of attached images that can be tapped to open a swipeable gallery, and the ability to attach phone-captured videos to an email. For phones with Android 4.0 or higher, unfortunately, but still pretty cool.

 

Both apps are free. What are you waiting for?

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The Intersection of Social Media & … Motion Practice?

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O.k. I know it. I am breaking my own rule. I vowed not to post again about another attorney’s misfortune. But I seriously can’t resist this one, because it involves court practice and social media and, therefore, fits within the general topical framework employed around here. My advice? Don’t mess with Texas. Again.

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Hat Tip to Above the Law

Combine Web Reading & Email And Get CC:To Me

Some people like their readers. Some people prefer their inboxes. I use my inbox as a sort of “to do” list, by keeping messages that require action in the active inbox, moving those that I have completed to a certain file within the inbox and organizing the rest according to type.

If you are the type of person who relies on their inbox and prefers email subscriptions to blogs to RSS, then CC:To Me might be for you. This bookmarklet will allow you to catch any web page you are browsing and send it to your email. You can send a note containing text and images or the entire article. You get a reader friendly version of your selection in your inbox, where you can read, sort, file, and resend at your leisure. And the sent post includes the original URL, so you can go back and get more.

Do you use labels or filters? I do – I can’t live without them. With some tweaking of those filters or labels, you can use CC:To Me to turn your inbox into a reference library – add dedicated topic “hashtags” to your CC:To Me posts and your filters will do the rest. You can even have CC:To Me and your filters auto-send on certain notes to a different email address. You can add more emails to your CC:To Me account and then have options within the bookmarklet as to where to send. This works beautifully for me, as I have dedicated email accounts for my blogs, personal and business – I can forward mobile app articles to my MobileAppOfTheDay email, personal articles to my personal email and business articles to my business email.No need to log in and navigate a separate site to get your goods – most people are in and out of their email all the time and your saves will be waiting for you, right there in your inbox (or filters / labels).

That is a lot for nothing! And it appears CC:To Me will be developing pro accounts with more features. Such as sending items to different email users (great for enterprise) or to other services, like DropBox. All in all, the free version seems very solid and perfectly capable of helping you sort, save and share via your inbox.

Search & Send: It's What We Do

In case you were wondering just what exactly adult Americans spend their time doing online, you can rest easy now. Just as in 2002, we almost universally spend some of our time online sending emails and searching for stuff. Pew Internet Research conducted its annual survey on Internet usage and has just issued its report based on its findings. The results were culled from data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from April 26 to May 22, 2011, across a sample of 2,277 adults, age 18 and older. The numbers have remained fairly consistent with respect to these activities over the years: this most recent survey shows that 92% of online adults use search engines to find information on the Web, with 59% doing so on a typical day, and 92% use email, with 61% using it on a typical day. The overall number of users of both email and search engines has also grown: in January 2002, 52% of all Americans used search engines and in May, 2011 72% of all Americans used search engines. In January 2002, 55% of all Americans used email and in May, 2011, 70% of all Americans used email. And these numbers are fairly uniform across the generations. The report further breaks down results by gender, race, education, and household income. Three other uses were measured, with getting news and buying products holding steady over the 2002 to 2011 time frame. Using social networking sites didn’t register in 2002, but from 2004 to 2011, usage jumped dramatically from 11% to 65%.

Interesting results, no doubt. It is interesting to me that social sites have not put a bigger dent in both email and search as means for communicating and finding relevant information. I anticipate that social net use will eventually have that effect as communication tools and relevance-based news tools within the sites improve. Guess we will have to wait and see.

Want To Stop Sending Hot-Headed Emails? There's An App For That

I’ll give you the spell-checker. While I wish we all could embody the skill set natively of a National Spelling Bee finalist, the spell-checker has been around long enough to gain even my old-school acceptance. But what if you suffer from email rage? For those of you who have a problem with the premature send, check out Tone Check. Tone Check, the “emotional spell check for email”,  is an add-on to Outlook or Lotus Notes. Or it can operate as an extension to Gmail in Chrome. Coming soon for Firefox, Safari, Apple Mail and Windows Live Mail. Once installed, it essentially assigns a tone rating via meter  on the bottom of your email. There are plenty of settings for establishing how you want the checker to respond to your writing and when you want it to respond. You can use a slider to establish the application’s sensitivity.  It’s free for basic use, with two tiers of pricing for pro and business levels for added features.

On one hand, I find it amusing that someone thought we might need an app for this. On the other, I have received enough emails to recognize that we might, in fact, need an app for this. So, what’s the harm in getting a little reading at the bottom of your email that tells you your language is “too darn hot?” If you want to know, Tone Check’s your tool.

Attachments.me Ends the Email Hunt & Peck

I tear my hair out looking for attachments in my email inboxes. Sometimes I can find the attachment I am looking for when the sender has put a useful, descriptive label in the “re:” line. But, when the sender merely labels the email “Hi” and attaches the key piece of information in a separate document, I might as well just throw that attachment into the circular file.

Admit it – you have searched fruitlessly for attachments too. If you want to cut that process off at the knees, check out the very cool service Attachments.me.  The application “reads” your emails, indexes your attachments and displays them in a visual grid for easy searching and scanning.  The tech behind the scenes figures out the file type (music, image, docs, etc.) and filters them accordingly, and can organize attachments by date. Dig deeper with search, which works by file type, email address, or tag. The application can also search the content of PDFs and text documents, as well as go outside to pull information from certain sites like Flickr and YouTube, relative to the attachments. Essentially, Attachments.me is attempting to structure the data applicable to attachments within the attachments themselves and across the Web!

Or course, there is the social. You can share your old attachments with friends. More social features are on the way.

I love the idea of this service! Not just because I am a very visual person and can scan images much faster than text, but even moreso because applications like Attachments.me hold the promise of broken barriers between websites and the data held within those sites. Useful and high tech – a winning combination.

The service is beta, by invite only at this point. I can’t wait for my invite to arrive!

Turning Gmails Into Tasks with Taskforce

Despite the advent of mobile devices, specifically-targeted applications, and multi-style messaging systems akin to unified inboxes, people (particularly business people) still love their email. I know I am still tied to it – a large chunk of my time is spent sifting through my five or so main email accounts.

I have been a proponent of Gmail for some time now – largely due to the fact that I can avoid the hefty downloads of messages onto my computer via my local email client. Gmail also allows for multiple messaging formats – I can access Google Chat and Google Voice right from my Gmail page.

You can collapse yet another function into Gmail. Check out Taskforce, a browser add-on that lets you manage and coordinate tasks within Gmail. Taskforce enters public beta today. Simply install the add-on, currently available in my three browsers of choice  – Chrome, Firefox and Safari, and see a toolbar appear on your Gmail page.  The bar includes “tasks”, “activities” and a + sign for adding a new task outside of a specific email. But the truly cool thing is the addition of two buttons on an given open mail item – “add to an existing task” and “convert to new task.” When you click the later, Taskforce goes to work creating a “task” for you from the title of the email and a few prompted questions. Add contacts to the task and you now have a task-based “filter” of communications or “comments” pertaining to the task. You can add due dates. the “activity” button shows a feed of all of your outstanding tasks, offering an overview of your Gmail-based “to do” list. Further organize yourself with task folders.

There is a desktop version of Taskforce, and it appears to work with email systems other than Gmail. There is also an iPhone optimized interface – check it out here.

 

I see this as a great add to Gmail – since many emails are the genesis of some call to action, why not turn them into tasks with a simple click of a button? If you are into tracking tasks in a medium other than your brain, Taskforce seems like a no-brainer.

Do Your PowerPoint Presentations Need Help?

I am by no means a whiz at crafting PowerPoint presentations. I know enough graphics, layout and the basic rudiments of working in PowerPoint to struggle through the creation of a serviceable deck. However, it takes me a great deal of time and, with time being money and all, it gets expensive, if you catch my drift.

Enter Jazz Presentations (link here). This site is all about PowerPoint. In addition to a wealth of “how to” blog posts that give great information for the do-it-yourself crowd, Jazz also offers very affordable PowerPoint templates that take much of the labor out of the process. Jazz also has a slew of great HTML email templates too – very visually appealing and professional. Their pricing is great, mostly less than the cost of a WordPress theme.

Check out some of their nice PPT designs:

Here are some of their email templates:

Nice work, Jazz!

Checking Your EMail's Customer Service Appeal

Here is a specialized web tool – how about an app that allows customers to slot your emails on the niceness scale? Nicereply (link here) is a free service (in public beta) that inserts a link into your email along with an invitation to the recipient to click the link and rate the email for professionalism and courtesy. You can create accounts for each employee, so that they can actually see how they rank amongst all employees. Log into the account and get detailed stats on how responsive your business is generally and how helpful each employee is specifically.

Nicereply is working on an API that will permit widget creation so that you can trumpet your stellar grades to the entire Web.

I can’t help it – I am reminded of those bumper stickers you see on commercial vehicles:

Time to Re-Wave?

Been a while since I talked about Google Wave in the Studio. Seems much of the initial excitement (zealotry?) has worn off. I was a fan of Wave back at the very beginning, from the moment I was able to successfully beg and plead my way to an invite. I am still a fan, although for me personally, the service still suffers a bit from lack of public participation.

As you may or may not know, Wave is a communication and collaboration tool that walks the fine line between email, chat and Google Docs. Participants in a Wave can edit in real-time and watch while others do the same. Wave’s are highly extensible – meaning that you can add “gadgets” to a Wave to make it perform tasks not normally associated with email or chat, such a mapping, gaming, polling, and video-conferencing. Lots of tools and flexibility, but, at least initially, not a lot of friends on it and not so easy to navigate.  

Despite a brief foray off the path with the introduction of Google Buzz, the brainy developers at Google have returned some of their attention to the Wave platform and recently trotted out a few new features aimed at making the tool more user-friendly. From templates for starting a Wave based on your intended purpose, to email notifications, from anonymous viewing of Waves (by those without a Wave account) to easier extension embedding, Wave has smoothed over some of its rough spots.

First, the templates. Wave now suggests six templates that you can click to start your new Wave. They include “blank wave”, “discussion”, “task tracking”, “meeting”, “document”, and “brainstorm.” Obviously, these are the most popular uses distilled over the past seven or so months since Wave’s introduction. Not only will your Wave be formatted correctly from the get-go, but it will be pre-loaded with the gadgets that are most useful for the task at hand. Nice.

Next, email notifications. Probably the last thing we need is another inbox – that’s why services like Threadsy that aggregate communications centers and inboxes are so popular. Wave initially was only accessible via its own little closed system, requiring that you frequently open and view your inbox in order to stay on top of developments. On the other side of it, if you don’t have a lot of Wavers to wave with, you might, like myself, forget to check your Wave-box for weeks at a time. New email notifications may be set to provide news of Wave developments at set intervals. This enables the user to put the business of checking Waves on auto-pilot.

Next up, Wave access for non-Wavers. People without a Wave account or those who weren’t logged into Wave couldn’t view a Wave. This was a big stumbling block for encouraging Wave use. With the addition of a little bit of code into a website, users can now “drop” a Wave anywhere and others can actually see the Wave update live without a log-in. You can adjust what casual observers can see and do with these more public versions of Wave, including limiting editing permissions to a smaller group while the larger group may view those updates as they happen. Cool way to present an interview or live-blog an event.

 

Finally, extensions. Fun as they may be, they haven’t been easy to find or easy to install on a Wave. I never was able to locate and add the wizard extension that provided instant translation. Now, your Wave inbox shows a menu in the left sidebar for “extensions”. You can view just the featured extensions or browse through all of them. Simply click and add. Much better.

So, what do you think? Would these changes prompt you to either return to Wave or renew your attempts to secure a Wave invite? I, for one, am glad they are still developing for Wave. I still believe Wave is an awesome tool for communication and collaboration that still hasn’t seen its best form or use or realized its full promise.

UPDATE: It works! I just got an email in my Gmail inbox advising of one new Wave in my inbox! Thanks Chris – I’ll get back to you on that this evening! Woohoooo!