Digitizing Your Paper Manuals

Trying to go paperless here. While I can definitely see the prize to be won, I am finding the process quite cumbersome. It has been made more difficult by the unanticipated rupture of a main water line and unwanted intrusion of a great deal of water into my basement office where Scan Central previously was located. While I struggle with insurance adjusters (nothing like being on the other side of the fence), my scanning project has hit “hold” status.

So, I of course was attracted to an article over at Apartment Therapy about finding and saving product manuals into the iPad-friendly iBooks format. This is a very cool process that doesn’t require a scanner.

If you have ever lost a manual and needed to recover it, you probably are familiar with the process of searching for the manual online in your favorite search engine of choice. For the most part, I have been successful in finding the manuals I have needed. Expand that effort to include all manuals you may someday need (take a look at that bursting at the seams paper manual file for a decent start on your list). Search, find and download. Then toss the paper.

Open iTunes, hit the File Menu and select Add To Library. Find the documents you have downloaded and select them. Grab the iPad and connect it – make sure you have books selected to sync and check all those manuals you captured. After they hit the iPad, slot them all into a Collection / Category within iBooks on the iPad itself. After you organize within iBooks, sync again and that organization will transfer back into iTunes for easy filing and reference. Because they are already saved on the desktop, you need not keep them all in iBooks, but they are there and available if you want to shift them on or off the iPad for ease of use. And, because I am a search-head, digitizing this way makes it easy to jump right to the section you want with a keyword and a click.

Voila! Instant manual order. Thanks, Apartment Therapy.

How To Organize Your (New) iLife

Given the vast (and growing) number of iPhone users, there likely is a growing number of iOS4 users. Both iTunes and the iPhone have recently received software updates that enhance the phone’s usability and organization. The principal new addition along these lines is folders for applications.

Previously, if an iPhone user had more than, say, three or four pages of applications, finding them was a multi-step process of searching and swiping. Organizing them was also cumbersome – you either moved them one by one on the phone itself, or used the marginally better tool available in iTunes for switching them around. You still needed to consider where you put them, perhaps grouping like apps on the same page and organizing pages from most to least used or some other convention.

Folders have the power to change this process and, better yet, can collapse 10 + pages of applications down to 1 or 2 pages. But, how do you use this new foldering system to get the most out of the phone?

Folders are created when you enter editing mode on the phone by tapping and holding any app icon, then dragging one app on top of another. Once you do this, a folder is born and the phone even suggests a label based on the App store category of the first two apps you have grouped. If you want to change the label, simply tap on it and an edit box comes up. To access apps within folders, tap the folder and a strip of apps within the folder overlays the screen. You can fit 12 applications within a single folder. Before folders, the iPhone could fit 180 apps – 16 on each of 11 pages plus 4 in the dock. With the new foldering system, you can load 2,160 apps, if you fill each folder with 12 applications and load the dock with 4 folders. You can load more than that – they just won’t be visible on the page and will only be accessible via Spotlight search. And, if an app within a folder has an updated status (the tiny red circles with numbers), then the folder shows that status, adding together the notifications from all apps within the folder. You can delete a folder by removing all apps from the folder. You also can use the new, folder-friendly iTunes to create, edit and move folders. Simply drag apps onto other apps in iTunes and a folder will be created. Select a bunch of apps together and drag them all onto a folder at once.

So, how do you organize your new, extended-to-more-than-the-power-of-Ten App life? Well, you can apply a process similar to the pre-iO4 phone and simply stack like apps into folders, per the instructions above. Don’t be fooled – it’s still tedious. It took me the better part of an hour to get the hang of it, add, edit, move and shuffle apps and files. There are ways, however, to improve the process, particularly if you have tons of apps.

iTunes offers limited ability to categorize applications. When your device is connected, click on the Apps label in the left column of iTunes. You will see all your apps in there. Along the top is a tab labeled “Genre.” Click on that tab and your apps are instantly reorganized by type using App Store labels, such as reference, productivity, travel, lifestyle, etc. You also can see how many apps you have in each category. To view your apps via filters, use the “sort by” button underneath the “Sync Apps” box. This allows you to filter by name, category, date and size. You can use these filters to get a sense of what apps may be redundant or which may be outdated.

The rest? Well, that is up to you. Because I am a bit of an app collector (and reviewer), I tend to have the maximum number of both apps and folders. My system may not be right for the next guy. My convention is to put a few (not even a full screen) of key apps on the front page – right now, I have Calendar, Settings, Camera, Photos, App Store, Dragon Dictation, my grocery list manager and Messages on the home screen, along with the default dock icons (I haven’t yet modified them, but for sure the iPod icon is getting moved). All my folders live on pages 2 and 3 and all the remaining apps are organized by folder. My folder categories are News, Social, Photography, Navigation, Notes & Files, Music, Games, Weather, Search, Video, Work & Docs, Blogging, Utilities, Art, Finance, Shopping, Messaging, Travel & Food, Books, Contacts and Reference.

I am sure I will refine the system as I go, but this is a decent start. If you haven’t yet begun the process, consider using the “Genre” feature in iTunes to get an overall picture of your app life. Then, let your OCD tendencies run wild!

iPhone Apps for Writers

PenA couple weeks ago, a writer friend who also has an iPhone asked me about apps for writers. I explained that, with more than 85,000 apps in the App Store, there are more than a few that fit the bill. Thought I would share with you the list I sent to her. These apps are not lawyer-specific, but certainly would help a writer of any ilk.

Wikipedia – encyclopedia by crowd consensus. Free. Or its more readable counterpart, Wikiamo.

Dictionary – word resource that includes both a dictionary and a thesaurus. Free.

Quickword – word processing app, Microsoft Word-friendly. $12.99

Evernote – note-taking app that works well for collecting research. Syncs with software on your desktop (free download) and on the Web (also free) so you can take your notes anywhere and add them into virtual notebooks. Can store notes in many forms, including pictures, digital drawings and voice recordings. Can’t say enough about how great this app is. Free.

Stanza – free ebook reader, with access to paid ebooks but better yet, access to Project Gutenburg online database of free ebooks of the classics. Free.

Goal Tender – simple goal setting and task app for organizing and getting things done. $2.99

Story Tracker Lite – tracks your writing submissions to various publications. Free.

SimpleMind – mindmapping (brainstorming) app. Free.

WriteRoom – a notetaking app that works much better than the one of the iPhone for writing. Can sync with a version that stays on your computer, so you can write while out and then sync it back into your computer. Loads of special features that make it great for writers. $4.99

Happy writing!