REVIEW: nimblstand iPad easel for increased productivity

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There are many products on the market that seek the make the iPad more productive and laptop-like. I have owned four different iPad/keyboard cases over the years with varied success. Some of them have been retured, some have worn out and my current Zagg Folio seems to be working reliably. However, even though the Zagg is working, I still love to try new gear. One new piece of gear that I have been using now for the past couple of months is the nimblstand iPad easel. The nimblstand is a unique product that combines an iPad stand with the Apple Wireless Keyboard to create a perfect productivity setup; assuming of course you already own the Apple keyboard. What sets the nimblstand apart is just how simple the design is, there is essentially nothing to break as it leverages the elegance of the iPad along with Apple's own keyboard. Read on see if the nimblstand is for you.

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As you can see from their website, the stand is designed to be used in conjunction with the Apple Wireless keyboard. If you have ever used the keyboard you are probably familiar with the excellent feel and efficient operation of this high quality keyboard. After having used most of the iPad case/keyboard products on the market I am confident that none of them is as efficient and high quality as the original Apple Wireless Keyboard. nimblstand props the iPad at the perfect angle for typing at a desk or even on your lap. The stand has the additional benefit of reversing the iPad for an angle better suited for reading or writing with the Bamboo Stylus.

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The nimblstand is made from non-bleached plastic that comes from a single sheet which is molded into the stand. nimblstand includes an option to buy the Wacom Bamboo stylus with the package as well. The design of the stand includes an “inkwell”; location to hold the stylus for quick access. The overall design is essentially future proof as it works perfectly with the original iPad up to the latest iPad Air and props your tablet in either portrait or landscape mode. The stand would work perfectly with other tablets as well. The package included a few foam stickers that prop up the iPad Air which is smaller than the original iPads. The stand would even work with an iPhone as well.

Of course, if you already have a keyboard/case combination, the usefulness of the nimblstand is certainly diminished. My current keyboard/case combination is the Zagg Folio for iPad Air which has served me well. However, when I am home and the kids are not on the Mac, I can definitely see setting up the nimblestand with the Apple Wireless Keyboard as I am still a better typist on the Apple keyboard. Additionally, the nimblestand works great at propping the iPad for reading and writing; much more stable than what the Zagg provides.

The nimblstand is a good value, regularly 39.99 and 56.99 with the Bamboo; but for the holidays nimblstand is running a 20% off sale bringing the price even lower to 31.99/48.99. Given the high price of cases and especially keyboard/case combinations, the nimblestand is a good option. Even if you do not already have the Apple Wireless Keyboard, buying both together would bring the total cost to about $108, just $8 more than the Zagg and over $60 less than the ClamCase Pro. Yes, the ClamCase and the Zagg provide a more laptop like package but the nimblstand essentially future proofs your investment, i.e. there will likely be a time when you may upgrade your iPad and the nimblstand along with the Apple Keyboard will be there no matter how big (or how small) the future iPad may get.

Overall I am pleased with the nimblstand as it fills a need and provides additional productivity options for the iPad. Even if you already have a bluetooth keyboard, the nimblstand allows you to connect the more efficient and fast Apple keyboard for heaving writing sessions. In fact, I am writing this post using the stand and my Apple keyboard.

Have you seen the nimblstand?

 

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Workflow, a new app to automate tasks on the iPad and iPhone

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I have been playing with automation on the iPad as long as their have been apps created with automation in mind. Given that an iPad is not a PC, either Mac or Windows; the iPad has always had limitations from a workflow perspective. Automation of simple and sometimes complicated tasks has been a way to make the iPad even more useful from a productivity perspective. My last post on the subject reviewed some of the key automation options around summer 2014. Fortunately, developers have not stopped coming up with more and more ways to make work more efficient on the iPad. And the most recent example of this ceaseless development is an amazing new app for the iPad iPhone called Workflow. This app is designed to take automation to a whole new level for iOS and ultimately make workflow automation available to the masses rather than just the nerds. After spending some time with this app over the past few days I have to say that the developers did an amazing job right out of the gate and I can already see how this tool is going to make my life easier on the iPad and maybe could make your life a bit easier as well. Read on to learn a bit more about this app and about my first attempt at creating a useful workflow with Workflow!

With iOS8, Apple added a lot more capabilities for apps to interact with each other whereas prior versions of iOS kept each app separate, i.e. “sandboxed”. This design decision allowed Apple much more control over what is happening on the devices which limits the bad things apps can do. The opposite of this design is of course Microsoft Windows where installed apps can access other apps and system processes which means that each machine is at the mercy of the quality of the apps installed. The effect of course are things like full system crashes, viruses and other assorted issues. With iOS 8, Apple provided more options for apps to interact with system processes/apps like Calendar, Mail, Contacts, etc. as well as providing options for apps to work together in new and unique ways. Workflow leverages these additional integration capabilities by building a framework to create workflows that can combine different functions across the iPad/iPhone. Whereas prior to iOS 8, automation was mostly limited to automating specific tasks within an app with tools like TextExpander or using outside services like IFTTT or TaskClone to monitor very specific things like new Evernote notes or Google Mail. Workflow changes all of this by providing the ability to create real automation directly in iOS without former limitations. The best way to see how this works is to download the $2.99 app and take a look at the included Gallery of workflows. If you want a more in depth overview of the app and a few useful workflows take a look at this review out on Macstories. You may be wondering whether Workflow is a bit advanced for the average iPad user. And to an extent it is, at least for the average person starting out. However, Workflow does provide some great example workflows that are easily expanded or adapted and there will continue to be people like Federico coming up with new and useful workflows. Additionally, other 3rd-party apps will surely jump on the bandwagon developing hooks and other integration methods for Workflow to leverage.

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In an effort to create something useful as a starting point I created one very basic workflow to create a new note in Evernote with a list of the day's meetings and open reminders/tasks. This is hopefully the beginnings of a more sophisticated workflow to recreate what I saw executive assistants creating for executives at a former employer. Each exec would be provided a schedule for the day with associated notes, phone numbers and directions. The executive would carry around this folder from meeting to meeting to use as their guide. At the time I always thought there had to be a way to automate this. This rudimentary workflow is a first step in creating this daily guide. The workflow is an adaptation of the Share Availability workflow included in the Gallery. This workflow pulls all calendar events for a user-selected day and then sends the booked times via email. With a few small tweaks I was able to change the output of this template to create a new note in Evernote with the listing of events including start time, end time and event name. I also added a second section to pull active tasks from Apple's Reminders app. Here is the resulting note in Evernote from my workflow.

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Yes, this is basic but I think you can see the potential. I would love to extract addresses from all meetings for a day and list distance between meetings and maybe even pull directions to meetings adding each to the daily agenda. Given the wealth of building blocks included with Workflow, I bet both of these requirements are quite possible. You can try my workflow by downloading and installing it from here. Also, take some time to try out the workflows that Federico posted in his article.

As you can see, the possibilities with Workflow are endless. Hopefully Apple will not be threatened by the power of this app and pull it off of the App Store, so get your copy soon just in case. And, the price of $2.99 is not the final price, but an introductory price to get the app in more hands.

Can you see the possibilities of Workflow? If so, what would you like to automate in your workflow? Have you created you own workflow already that is saving you time? If so, please share it in the comments.

DISCLOSURE: The links above are affiliate links. This means that I earn a few cents if you click the link and purchase the app. This costs you nothing but it helps me keep this site running.

 

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Virtualization, the key to unencumbered iPad productivity?

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Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/

Ever wonder whether it is possible to leave the laptop at work or access all of your work applications from your iPad? For some it is absolutely possible to run any Windows-based application including Microsoft Outlook on an iPad using technology called virtualization. Many organizations have made the switch to virtualized applications and full Windows environments to simplify the process of maintaining large numbers of desktop machines. Other corporations have added virtualization as a way to provide acccess to corporate applications and networks across different platforms like Apple Macs and even Linux machines. The benefit for iPad users is that two of the largest virtualization players provide excellent, free iPad applications so that iPad users can access their Windows-based environments from an iPad! And this is the last mile allowing iPad users to finally cut the laptop cord to get things done securely using an iPad. Read on to learn about how Citrix Receiver and VMware Horizon can provide you this access.

Virtualization is a great way to access Window-based resources on the iPad. Many companies have implemented some form of virtualization to simplify the process of maintaining and building PCs at work. Some use virtualization to implement thin-clients in the workplace which essentially allow the deployment of extremely cheap, thin client PC’s. Others implement virtualization to simplify the maintenance of PCs across the network. Check out this article for a great overview of what virtualization is and where it makes sense for organizations. For iPad and other tablet users, visualization is a way to access a full corporate desktop from the convenient form factor of the iPad. Two of the major visualization software companies provide excellent iPad applications for accessing a virtual desktop, Citrix Receiver and VMware Horizon (owned by EMC).

Citrix Receiver is available on the iPad App Store and allows for access to whatever virtual applications your organization provides including full desktops as well as individual applications. Here is a screen shot of a virtualized instance of Microsoft Outlook.

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Here is a picture of a full desktop running through Citrix.

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I access various Citrix environments by logging onto my company’s virtualization web page and then choosing the application that has been delivered to me virtually. I work across various locations and network domains which limits my ability to access Outlook as a native client. A perfect example is that I work from home a lot and my home network is of course not connected to my work domain. I get around this by running the virtualized Citrix client for Outlook. This essentially allows me to run a full version of Outlook in a seemingly native fashion on my work laptop, except that I am viewing a picture of Outlook running on a corporate server. I can access these virtualized applications the same way on the iPad, I just login to the corporate virtualized application directory, click the application or environment I want and then chose to open the application in iOS Citrix Receiver.

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In summary, for me accessing virtualized Citrix environments on the iPad works exactly the same way as it works on a PC or a Mac.

VMware Horizon is a similar application in concept to Citrix, but of course designed to work with VMware-based virtualized desktops.

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Connecting to my Horizon environment is a bit different in that remote connections are made using a RSA SecurID. I just launch the VMware Horizon app on the iPad and then enter my secret PIN along with the RSA token currently displayed on my RSA iPhone App. From there a full Windows desktop environment is presented and I can access all of my work appications including Outlook as if I was sitting in the office on a full Windows computer.

 

Overall both Horizon and Receiver are great applications for accessing corporate systems on the iPad. Both applications allow you to do what you need to write emails, edit documents and even access spreadsheets without having to use the iPad versions. I would not recommend working on either of these applications all of the time on an iPad, but both allow you to do just about anything you would need while working at home or working remotely on a business trip. Give your corporate IT organization a call to find out if your company supports virtual desktops or VDI’s. If they do, you may be in luck!

Have you tried Horizon or Citrix on your iPad? Does your company provide virtualized environments for its workers?

 

 

 

 

 

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Office on the iPad + Dropbox = Flexibility!

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Well, Microsoft went ahead and did it, they connected another cloud service to Microsoft Office for the iPad, Dropbox! I am still a little shocked; Dropbox + Office definitely changes things. I have written extensively about Office on the iPad and I continue to be a heavy user since it was first released last spring. However, I have found the ability to share documents using OneDrive more difficult than Dropbox, Box and Google Drive. But, I stick with OneDrive because I have to, it's the only corporate-approved option. Now that Office integrates with Dropbox, I may have to seriously consider doing more work with Dropbox and less with OneDrive where possible. Read on to for a bit more perspective.

Being a heavy Microsoft user at work and quite frankly I continue to be quite happy with what I can do with Excel and even Powerpoint compared to what I can with other apps. Yes, I could certainly be more cool and polished with Keynote like Macsparky, but being Microsoft-focused at work for two decades, its hard to imagine making the leap to anything different. I can now confidently spreadsheet-jocky with the best of them easily whipping out pivot tables and VLOOKUPs whenever necessary; why would I waste the brain cells to figure all of this out with Numbers or other alternative? I already know that if I was able to use a Mac at work I would surely use the Mac versions of Office. So, with this in mind, as I wrote back last spring, I was extremely happy when Office for the iPad came out. I was even more happy when my company jumped into Office 365 and OneDrive for Business. This essentially allowed me to be efficient on my iPad within the corporate confines WITHOUT subverting corporate IT. However, even with this freedom, I have run into document sharing problems from time to time with OneDrive. In short, it's just not as reliable to share documents as Dropbox and Box are. Both of these services allow for individual file and folder sharing via URL with a simple click or tap from either a computer or the iPad. OneDrive allows for this directly from Office for the iPad, but I have found that some recipients have had trouble opening documents shared via link from OneDrive. However, I have never had a problem sharing documents from either Box or Dropbox. In fact, I have used Dropbox to share copies of my eBook over the years whenever there was a glitch with a PDF download.

Now that more users have the ability to access their corporate Office documents on the iPad for free, I have to imagine that this will put additional pressure on all of those non-Apple, non-Google iPad competitors. I have written about these competitors many times over the years with this article on TabTimes being the most recent. In a way this saddens me as I think that real innovation in software often comes from the small startups. I just hope that Microsoft's move does not effectively do to CloudOn and Office2 HD what Microsoft Word did to Wordperfect. At least companies like CloudOn are still fighting by trying to innovate on the tablet as this press release in October attests. But, even before trying out CloudOn's new update, I find it hard to imagine a scenario where I would switch off of Microsoft. But, I am sure my curiousity will get the best of me in the near feature.

Have you made the switch to Microsoft Office for the iPad? Does Microsoft's new pricing scheme change whether you would use Office on the iPad?

P.S. If you are curious what others are saying about Microsoft's move, check out this review out on the Wall Street Journal. It certainly provides a conflicting perspective on Microsoft's new pricing strategy.

 

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Exporting formatted notes from Drafts 4 to Evernote on your iPad

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Other than email, the app I use most is Drafts. I have been using Drafts to document meetings and notes for well over two years. I added automated task processing with TaskClone back at the end of 2013 and have not looked back. So, when I heard about the new update to Drafts, I was a bit concerned about whether my trusted workflow would work in the new version. In short, my workflow worked, but not in the way that I had hoped;the note made it to Evernote and TaskClone processed my tasks; but all note formatting was lost. Whether you use my workflow or not, the ability to get Markdown-formatted notes created in Drafts into Evernote is awesome. Read on to learn how to get Markdown-formatted notes into Evernote using the latest version of Drafts.

There are many improvements in Drafts 4 that specifically leverage key features of iOS8 which I will write about in the future. Here is a list of the improvements and new features. A really great summary and overview of the new Drafts 4 is out on Macstories. If you want to learn about some very specific improvements in Drafts and how to use them, Federico's post will walk you through some powerful new capabilities. The first thing I noticed when switching to Drafts 4 and migrating my actions from Drafts 3 to Drafts 4 is that my workflow to export a note to Evernote for my Taskclone workflow broke, specifically the saved note lost all of the Markdown formatting created in Drafts.

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Now what?

The solution to this problem was found by searching the Drafts Action directory until I found this shared action. As you can see, this action uses the date/time to create the note title in Evernote. However, the critical piece of information that I found in this shared action is the code to enter into the Content section of the Drafts setup;

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So, to get Markdown-formatted notes into Evernote simply use the Markdown to Evernote Action from the Drafts Directory. Or, add the code from the picture above directly into the action you use to export to Evernote. Either way you will now be able to retain the formatting you create in Drafts once the note is imported into Evernote.

Do you use Markdown in Drafts?

DISCLOSURE: The links above are affiliate links. This means that I earn a few cents if you click the link and purchase the app. This costs you nothing but it helps me keep this site running.

 

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iPad Productivity and Evernote iPad eBooks now only 99 cents!

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My two iPad ebooks are now only $0.99! I am running this special promotion in advance of my upcoming edition of the iPad Productivity ebook coming this winter. The new version is over twice as long, contains content related to iOS8, Omnifocus, 1Password and much more.

In the meantime, enjoy my original ebooks for the low price of $0.99 each! The iPad Productivity ebook is over 10,000 words and contains lots of great iPad workflow ideas, app reviews and process suggestions. The Evernote eBook is focused on how to get the most out of Evernote in the iPad.

Check out the iPad Productivity eBook here and the Evernote ebook here.

 

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Free eBook: Introduction to iPad Productivity

As a busy blogger and iPad "expert", I get asked all the time about the tools I use to be productive on the iPad. So I decided to write a small book explaining some of the basics, the things that will get you using your iPad for work rather than play. This eBook is not a replacement for my iPad Productivity eBook, but rather an introduction for those of you ready to leave the laptop at work.

You can’t buy this eBook. There’s only one way to get it—by subscribing to my FREE email newsletter. Don’t waste any more time lugging that laptop around. Sign up today!

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