Countdown to June 30th – The End of MobileMe. Is it the end of your email and data?

In case some of you have been under a rock, or trapped on a deserted island without WIFI, allow me to bring you up to speed. The end of this month marks the end of MobileMe, the annual subscription service Apple once sold for $99 a year, which included synchronization of contacts, calendars, bookmarks, easy-to-create and use iWeb websites, find-my-iphone, back to my Mac, Photo Gallery and iDisk. While this post may seem repetitive, the questions we continue to receive make it clear that we really need to review this change again, before folks lose their email addresses or data. As corny as it sounds, time really IS running out here.

After June 30th, unless you’ve made the migration to a new server called “iCloud”, these services, and your precious (albeit perhaps under used) email address ending in either @mac.com or @me.com, will evaporate and be irretrievable. The “new and improved” iCloud services will NOT include photo galleries, NOT include iWeb, nor include iDisk storage. If you have data stored online with iDisk, you’ll want to pull it off quickly and find an alternative (such as dropbox.com). Photo Galleries will also evaporate, but your photos in the online galleries should already be in your iphoto library – so it shouldn’t be necessary to pull photos from your online galleries unless you’ve deleted them from iphoto.

Any websites you’ve created using iWeb, the handy site-creating tool, will disappear unless you move them to another host. Other web hosting companies have offered hosting for iWeb too, and it shouldn’t be difficult to find a new place to park your iWeb site. Currently, most iWeb sites reside on Apple’s servers dedicated to the me.com domain. After June 30th, those sites will be gone. If you have iWeb sites, all you need to do is purchase a hosting account elsewhere, such as with Godaddy.com or many other available vendors, launch iWeb, and change the settings in iWeb to publish using FTP. Note that, at some point, iWeb itself will cease to function. Systems updates will most likely render iWeb obsolete. Detailed explanations on how to move your iWeb sit can be found online, and soon in a how-to video here on our site.

The transition to iCloud is explained in more detail on a link to Apple’s Summary (“Apple iCloud Migration Info”) posted in our links column. The migration is for the most part automated, and simple to implement. Even if you don’t have the latest Lion operating system, you will be able to preserve your @mac.com or @me.com email address, and eventually take full advantage of iCloud down the road. For today though, you’ll want to make sure you’ve at least taken the minimum precautions to avoid loss of your apple email, and perhaps any data you’ve been storing with Apple. If you’re a MobileMe user and don’t do anything, your mac.com or me.com address and data stored with Apple will be toast come July 1st. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Good luck.

What can Siri, on the iPhone 4S, do for you?

Need a personal assistant but can’t afford one? Or are you a personal assistant trying to do the job of three people? Take another look at the iPhone 4S and Siri.

Siri is the personal digital assistant that is accessible via every iPhone 4S, and soon, the iPad. We say accessible because it’s not actually built-in to the phone, but rather “she” resides on a super-computer, accessed online. That’s why Siri’s performance can vary according to how good the iphone’s connectivity is. She’s an advanced online database, capable of remarkable voice recognition. But, go “off the grid” (outside the cellular or wifi network), and Siri asks you to get on the internet, then falls silent. To understand why some folks love Siri, and others are less enamored, let’s examine what expectations are vs. the real-life functionality.
Some of us couldn’t wait to get that iPhone 4S, and others don’t really see the point. The nay-sayers believe the iPhone 4 works just fine, and really, Siri has been a big disappointment for many, right? Well, not exactly. The iPhone 4S, just like it’s 3GS predecessor, is markedly faster than the 4. The screen is brighter, and certainly crisper with that retina display. But let’s face it. We live on our iPhones, having adopted it as an additional, indispensible appendage. We check for messages, updates, use it as a watch, a map, a pricing comparison tool, a problem-solver, a camera, a camcorder, a journal, a level, and a flashlight – all in less than an hour. And, it’s a phone. I almost forgot.

Yes, we’ll admit it. We are hooked. And since we use the iPhone so much (to the point we might have to consider a 12-step program to pull us away from it . . . briefly), speed and ease of use is paramount. Enter Siri, supported by a dual A5 processor. Tired of tapping away on those little keys? Ask Siri to write it for you. Can’t see the calendar in the bright sunlight to jot down that appointment you just agreed to? Tell Siri to make the appointment with Julia next Tuesday, at 10am. She’ll even confirm that she got it right. They’re not kidding with those commercials. Siri CAN remind you to pull something off the stove in 15 minutes. While not perfect, Siri is as impressive as the flipping of a light switch for the first time must have been in 1893. We take those light switches for granted now, and within months, perhaps weeks, we will do the same with Siri.

When Siri was first introduced, users couldn’t wait to put this wonder assistant through its paces. Users asked Siri the meaning of life, among other things, and were amused by the multiple, entertaining answers Apple has programmed into it. Curse Siri, and she will reprimand you. But soon enough, unrealistic expectations mounted. Who doesn’t want a device that understands not only what we say, but what we MEAN? Those unfamiliar with how voice recognition works don’t realize that background noise can interfere with Siri’s ability to understand a command or a question. Harder still, the program is challenged by erratic, halting dialogue some users might use to communicate with the assistant. Rather than ask Siri a straightforward question, someone asks “uhm…let’s see, tell me how many stars.. are …uh… (what was I going to ask? Oh yeah) how many stars are in the uh..”
Siri would pause, unable to answer. Or, one would say “call my mother and tell her I’m going to be running about five, no, better make it ten…nah…let’s say 20 minutes late, then remind me that I need to write her a birthday card before I leave for my trip, ok?” Imagine the myriad of accents, poorly enunciated speech, or jumbles of words coming out of mouths that have just taken a bite of food. Humans can adapt to poor speech quality – computers, not so much.

Clearly, the more direct, and simple the questions are, such as “how many stars are in our galaxy” or “remind me to call my mother to let her know I’m running 20 minutes late”, the more successful the command. With that in mind, let’s review some of the commands that you might use to take full advantage of this cool feature.

A few tips to keep in mind:

– You’ll want to pay attention to background noise.
– If you’re driving, roll up that window, and turn off the radio.

– If you’re walking past a construction site, or are in the middle of traffic noise, or a
large hall full of people chatting away, Siri will most likely not be able to discern your commands from the background noise.

– If someone is speaking to you, don’t pull Siri up and ask a question. Not only is it rude, but Siri will listen to the person addressing you as much as she will listen to your being rude.

– If a child is crying, or a dog is barking, or a door is slammed just when you try to use Siri, you will not get the desired result.

– Find a quiet moment when posing questions to Siri. And, pause a moment when giving a command, so that Siri can process your question.

– Remember, Siri is not in the palm of your hand, but rather a super computer you are calling for information. It takes time to retrieve such information, especially if your cellular connection is slow at the time.

– If you don’t get the result you expected, she probably couldn’t connect to the mothership.

What Siri can do (Pre-iOS6):

Pull information from the web
Read back the last text that was sent to you
Write and send a text that you dictate
Retrieve information from the internet (weather, time, definitions)
Find places close to your location (such as restaurants, stores, landmarks)
Set appointments in you calendar when prompted properly
Set reminders when prompted properly
Call contacts in your Apple Address Book
Allow you to dictate to any app that offers a keypad (such as Mail, Safari, Texting, Notes)
Play selected playlists.
Remind you of events when you’ve setup location-aware event reminders (reminds you to pick up groceries when you’re near a supermarket)
Show addresses you dictate, on a map
Recite stock quotes
And More . . .

What Siri does not do (Pre-iOS6):

Launch multiple apps and steps to execute complex command sets.
Read back your email (in pre-iOS 6 versions)
Delete photos you’ve taken
Give turn by turn directions
Tell a joke
Change voices
Look up store hours of retail establishments on a website
Turn on or off on command
Send messages or texts to contacts not in your address book.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. And keep in mind that with the new iOS updates that were just announced (coming this Fall), Siri’s functionality is about to expand to include:

Future developments

Support for Sports Scores
Standings
Schedules
More restaurant information (Reviews and Open Table Reservations)
Trailers
Geo-fenced reminders (we’ll go into that on another post when the time comes)
Navigation (technically a separate application, but accessible via Siri
And the list goes on. . . .

The good news for real-life assistants is that Siri and the iPhone can make them more efficient, and actually assist THEM in underscoring how invaluable they are to their employers. The iPhone 4S should be in every executive assistant’s ammo belt.

For some examples of Siri in action on the iPhone 4S, please refer to our “How-to” video clips (COMING SOON), and locate the one entitled “Hello Siri!”
Last but not least, Siri will soon be available not only on the iPad, but will also be integrated into the new Mountain Lion OS as dictation becomes part of the standard OS. Don’t get rid of that Mac Dictate software by Nuance just yet. We have to see how well the built-in dictation works. If it’s all that Apple promises, we may soon be able to finally ditch that keyboard, and ask Siri to bring us coffee.

Fujistsu Scansnap S1500M – The scanner that will change your life

Our goal in life is to simplify, and finally have technology make things easier for us, rather than more challenging. Unfortunately, the quest for simplicity and efficiency is usually thwarted, even frustrated, by products that fall short of glorious promises. So it’s rare when a product lands in our office and completely exceeds all expectations of performance, usefulness, and speed. This little gem of a scanner is our favorite hardware (not made by Apple), period. In the past, we tried (and often failed) to maintain a digital office, scanning every document, every receipt to make the retrieval of information easier. With the flat-bed scanners available as part of the all-in-one printers, keeping up with the document tide every week was almost impossible. Even dedicated, stand-alone Epson scanners – while excellent in scan quality, were slow. Having to flip the documents over on a flat-bed, to capture both sides, was tedious. The papers were “organized” in trays, then boxes, and those boxes grew.

With the purchase of Scansnap, all of that changed. This little scanner scans BOTH sides of a document simultaneously, with the speed of a sheet passing through a shredder. If you try it, you will want one. This is the one of the most addictive gadgets you will bring into your office. Clients who purchase one become giddy with excitement as they quickly feed their piles of papers through the magical scanning slot. But let’s get to some specs:

One button searchable PDF creation
Intelligent paper feed detection
20ppm color scanning
50-page automatic document feeder
Adobe Acrobat Pro included
Simultaneous front/back scanning via two CCD image sensors
Multi-feed detection
USB connectivity
600 dpi capable resolution

Video Intro Link: http://content.webcollage.net/apps/cs/mini-site/fujitsu/module/fujitsuamerica/wcpc/1328897538918?channel-product-id=PA03586-B105&enable-reporting=true&showtabs=

We’ve been using Scansnap for years now, and it has paid for itself many times over. Case in point: scanning check deposits before running them to the bank. In the past, we would receive notices from the bank from time to time, advising us that “unfortunately, you failed to include check X in you recent deposit”, and that the bank would be deducting said amount from our deposit. Thanks to our scans however, we are able to pull up copies of those checks, take them down to the bank, and demand that they find the missing checks. They always do. Before you suggest we change banks, note that this problem of “missing” deposits has happened with three major banks here in California. Changing banks did not make it go away. Having scans of our deposits available, did.

Once the documents are scanned, we label and organize the digital copies. Now if a two year-old contract needs to be reviewed, we can pull it up in seconds and email it if necessary. Need a print-out of an airline ticket, that receipt for a hotel stay for your last conference, a check that you handed the gardener three months ago? It’s all quickly and easily available thanks to Scansnap.

The unit has a small footprint, and when not in use, folds up into a neat little package. I will say that the automated document detection isn’t always perfect, and we don’t rely on that feature. If you put multiple pages in at once, Scansnap will combine them all into one, multi-page PDF document if you like. Also, we wouldn’t feed precious one-of-a-kind documents or photos through this machine. Any type of sheet-fed contraption has a risk of jamming, and possibly mangling that document or photo. Use the slower but safer flat-bed scanner for those.

Since the ScanSnap is a sheet-fed scanner, you won’t be able to scan the page of a book or some large item that can’t be fed through the machine. For larger items, you’ll still need a flat-bed scanner. As many printers these days are multi-function and include a scanner, that shouldn’t be a problem.

If you have a lot of documents to keep track of, we recommend the Scansnap S1500M. It changed our office environment dramatically, and had paid for itself in improved efficiency. We think you’ll love it. Note that there are different models of the ScanSnap hardware available. They have a Mac version, as well as a Windows version. If you’re on this site, you’ll want the Mac version – the S1500M, which currently retails for around $420.00.

And finally, save yourself some grief. After scanning all of your papers, make sure you have the digital versions of those documents verified and backed up BEFORE you shred the original documents. A client once shredded the contents of all his file cabinets, then accidentally trashed the digital files. Don’t let that happen to you.

Linked In and the Security Breach

A few days ago it was announced that hackers have cracked the linked in database, and obtained what amounts to potentially millions of user passwords. If you do not have a linked in account, nor know what LinkedIn is, then this urgent message will not apply to you.

For those of us who do have a LinkedIn account, it is imperative that you change your password to that account and, as many people use the same password across many different accounts, including banking accounts, login accounts to other services, and especially email, I urge you to change your passwords on all of those.

Should you be contacted by email to supply additional private or confidential information, based on information that may be culled from your linked in account, please disregard it. You never want to provide confidential information, login information, or passwords to any company or individual who requested it via email or text. Banks will never ask you for such information. Instead, they will direct you to a secure way of resetting your password to something new. Those security questions you answered or created when the account was first created come in handy when it’s time to reset.

If you have an account with LinkedIn, and that account uses a password that you have used anywhere else, you need to change the password on LinkedIn and the same password on any other service or login you use.

If your LinkedIn account password was unique, and you didn’t use that password on any other service, then you only need to change the password on your linked in account. Generally, you want to create a password that combines a word or a phrase with numbers. Do not use pet names, family names, children’s names, birthdays, anniversaries, or addresses. If you are using the word “password” as your password anyway, you deserve to be hacked.

According to news reports, the list of passwords obtained from LinkedIn was also posted on a Russian website. LinkedIn is a wonderful and often necessary resource for many of us. It happens to be our favorite method of sharing documents online, and replaced our idisk long ago. This message is not meant to scare you from using your LinkedIn account. However, we do want to be cautious here. Tread carefully as you continue to use your LinkedIn account, and be careful with your passwords.

The Problem with iCloud

As a huge fan of most things Mac, it’s not easy for me to be less than enthusiastic about the transformation of MobileMe into iCloud. Some users have paid for MobileMe for years, without really understanding what it is, or taking advantage of all the features it offered. Now that MobileMe is on its way out, and Apple is sending dire warnings that MobileMe users better switch to iCloud or else, there is anxiety. What is Mobile Me? What is iCloud? What do we do?

First, let’s start with MobileMe. MobileMe evolved out of iTools, then Dot Mac years ago, and offered not only the .mac domain for email addresses, but also iDisk, MobileMe Galleries, Find My iPhone, contact, calendar and bookmark synchronization across devices and computers, and storage space for iWeb. iWeb was the easy to use website creation tool. MobileMe was an annual subscription service that ran $99 per year. For many it was a great deal, allowing mere mortals with no programming skills whatsoever put together and maintain elaborate websites. Apparently, Steve Jobs reportedly was not a fan of what MobileMe had become.

For one thing, synching via Dot Mac, later MobileMe, was anything but reliable. Users were constantly wiping out their data, losing their calendars and contacts, and generally getting themselves into trouble with the whole, complicated sync process. The idea was that MobileMe would be the digital hub for your content, tying together your music, photos, contacts, calendar and bookmarks. But the reality was less than elegant. After several unhappy starts and changes (the switch from Dot Mac to MobileMe was especially painful, and led to loss of service, loss of email and loss of the upper level of management in that division), it seemed that MobileMe was finally coming into its own. Probably one of the most popular, and useful features was Mobile Me Galleries. With a mere click or two, a user was able to post Photo albums online, in a private, password-protected account. Friends and family could then view these galleries online, and even download images they liked as full-quality digital copies, if the owner chose to allow it. It was wonderful.

iWeb was another great feature that many users mourn the loss of. But it’s not really disappearing, per se. It just won’t be a part of iCloud. With a few adjustments, determined users will still be able to use the iWeb program (at least for awhile) to create sites and host them somewhere else using FTP. iWeb 3 made it possible to publish websites on traditional web hosts. Keep in mind, however, that future upgrades of the OS on your Mac may render iWeb inoperable. We would suggest biting the bullet and converting sites to WordPress, the new standard for website templates. iWeb’s days are numbered. In the short term though, you can at least move and keep your iWeb sites alive a bit longer while you rework them.

So what will happen when Mobile Me goes away? If you don’t migrate to iCloud by June 30th, 2012, your Mobile Me stuff will basically cease to exist. The Galleries on MobileMe will disappear, and websites hosted with iWeb (on Apple servers), will also go off-line. Many folks have been ignoring the call to make the switch. And Apple has clearly decided to turn up the heat by launching an aggressive email campaign, warning all MobileMe users that they need to switch to iCloud sooner than later.

Now that we remember what MobileMe was, what’s with iCloud? Apple describes it in great detail on their website. For our purposes, let’s just review what it means to make the switch. To realize the full potential of iCloud, you’re going to need an upgrade to Lion (OS 10.7.x). This is no small feat if you happen to have an older Mac, since Lion can only be installed on Intel machines with dual cores, and not G5s or older Macs. The highest you can upgrade a G5, for example, is 10.5.8. A client mused recently that Apple will soon be mired in class-action lawsuits over this switch. Not so fast. That small print we all click on allows them to make whatever changes they deem appropriate, and discontinue any service after giving us reasonable notice. Apple announced the introduction of iCloud, and the termination of MobileMe, over a year ago. They then extended all subscriptions to June of 2012, allowing ample time for users of MobileMe to prepare for alternative services, or the upgrade to iCloud (and Lion). If you don’t like it, there are alternatives to do not require an upgrade.

If you’ve been using MobileMe galleries, you’ll have to find somewhere else online to share your pictures. What I’ve seen of SmugMug, recommended as an option by David Pogue, looks promising. If you have a website created in iWeb, you’ll have to move it to a hosting company other than Apple, or convert it to something like WordPress (while still hosting it somewhere else). If you plan on ignoring iCloud altogether, you can use other calendar programs, like Google Calendar, to keep track of your appointments. The same holds true for your contacts, if you need them to sync across all your devices.

And finally, idisk will go the way of the dinosaur. In it’s place, you might consider Dropbox.com. The iphone/ipad dropbox app is free, as are the first 2 gigs of storage.

The good news is that those of us who have a .mac or .me email address, and move it to iCloud, won’t lose it. We’ll be able to continue using it, for free. What you won’t be able to do is create new .mac email addresses or address aliases. But that hasn’t been an option for quite some time. Membership to dot mac closed when MobileMe was introduced, and .me took its place.

Rather than go into what iCloud offers here, I suggest you stay tuned. This week Apple will be announcing an expansion of the iOS, as well as a new line up of hardware, and possibly a fine tuning of what iCloud is to be. Once that information is available, they’ll be a follow-up article. For now, move that dot mac or dot me email address before the 30th, or you’ll lose it. And remember, the most important thing you can do for your Mac today is backup your data.