Taking My Business on the Camino (Part Two – Software)

In part one of this series I went over the tale of how my wife and I decided on hiking the Camino de Santiago this fall. For me (and I imagine many of us), aspects of my life can’t be suspended while we are gone – chief amongst them, my freelance web development business. So, through research, I’ve settled on bringing my iPad and bluetooth clamshell keyboard, using an unlocked iPhone 6 as a mobile hotspot whenever WiFi isn’t present.

In part two of this series, I want to cover the software I am going to be utilizing on this trip. Quite simply, without the iOS apps I’ve found, this entire situation wouldn’t be possible. It isn’t a perfect setup, as there are certain isolated objectives that I will have to perform (or would be better performed) on my MacBook Pro. But with the apps I’ve purchased and now thoroughly tested, I am confident that I can keep the day-to-day aspects of my business up and running  while I am away for these seven weeks.

So let’s dive in shall we?

Please note: these won’t be in-depth reviews of apps, just quick descriptions of how I will use them during my journey.

File Transfers – Coda for iOS

coda4ios

I am a web developer/designer and I spend most of my time coding in Coda 2 for OS X. Diet Coda, when it first dropped, was capable (and ambitious), but it couldn’t provide the functionality, fit, and finish that I needed to perform any heavy lifting or transferring of files from my iOS devices to my client’s web servers. It just didn’t click for me. That all changed though when Panic Inc. rebuilt Diet Coda into Coda for iOS.

It is, frankly, jaw-dropping how they transitioned literally everything I need from Coda 2 on the Mac, to my iPad and iPhone. And with Panic sync, I was up and running with all of my settings and client profiles in less than 5 minutes! Coda for iOS was officially the first iOS app that made me hopeful for running my business on my iPad. Whether you are making edits to existing sites or even creating new ones from scratch, Coda for iOS has your file transfer and coding needs completely covered. Add the fact that it’s a joy to use on your iPad (or iPhone – yes, it’s universal) and it’s a no-brainer for anyone that works in web development own.

Site Content Updates – Editorial and Drafts

drafts&editorial

In addition to building sites, a lot of clients keep me on retainer to help with their content needs. For content going live on the web, I often draft text (in Markdown) in OMZ Software’s Editorial. This way I have a copy of anything I draft synced to Dropbox. From Dropbox I can share direct links to the files I’ve created to clients if they need to vet anything before it goes live, or I can use the robust workflows in Editorial to convert the Markdown I’ve written into clean html, posting it as a draft to any sites my clients have (currently all WordPress).

The UI/UX (which I use in dark mode) is so clean and well laid out that I often look forward to drafting content, or just writing in general, on my iPad before doing anything on my Mac. I should also note that I use Editorial extraordinarily lightly compared to other users out there – it’s an unbelievably powerful program – but for what I use it for, it’s perfect for my needs.

For all other text situations I use Drafts by Agile Tortoise. Drafts handles text in such a swift and agile way that it’s become muscle memory to me for any emails, notes and other text of mine that needs to be shared with other apps in iOS. It’s also universal, making sharing my drafts between my iPhone and iPad effortless.

Last, but not least, both Drafts and Editorial have baked-in support for TextExpander snippets. These snippets save me a ton of time, more of which I will talk about below.

I’ve also written stand alone reviews on both of these apps (Editorial and Drafts) on this site. You can read them here and here if you want to go a little more in-depth.

Social Media Wrangling

socialiconsios

One of the other services I help keep clients up to date with, is their content on various social networks. For automation I’ve found Buffer’s iOS apps to be more than capable. Pair it with their share extension, and you’ve got a frictionless way to keep your Buffer queue filled up with lots of things to share. For all social networks (Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc…), I use the official apps with the sole exception of Twitter, for which I currently use Icon Factory’s Twitteriffic. For onesy-twosy Twitter and Facebook postings, I use Linky which, aside from being extremely capable (its share extension is amazing), is also a pure delight to use.

Between these apps, wrangling and contributing to social feeds on the iPad is an absolute breeze. Once iOS 9 drops and there are more split-view-capable apps available, my workflows will get even better!

Photo and Video Editing

imovie&pixelmator

Occasionally a client needs me to cut up some video or edit some photos. For the video edits I use Apple’s own iMovie and I am continuously amazed at how capable this program is. I can splice video into chunks rearranging them, apply color correction, add narration or text overlays, even speed up and slow down specific bits – it’s really quite remarkable what I’ve achieved with this program.

Similarly with photo editing, I’ve found Pixelmator to be shockingly intuitive and fun to use. Having thoroughly used Pixelmator on the Mac, I am already familiar with the ins-and-outs of the program. Luckily, the nuances and workflows I use daily, translated flawlessly to iOS on the iPad.

Of all the discoveries I made during my research this month, it was diving in deep with these two programs that genuinely amazed me the most. In some cases (especially with iMovie) I found myself wanting to hop onto iOS instead of OS X to do edits! Really powerful stuff.

Project Management

omnifocus&evernote

This one is easy. For keeping all of my client work in order and scheduled appropriately, I use Omnifocus. I’ve yet to find a single app that works exactly like my brain does like Omnifocus. On iOS it’s light and nimble, allowing me to queue anything up and view everything else I have in the pipeline. Quite simply, my business wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does without Omnifocus knitted so tightly into the mix.

For all other client info and asset organization I use Evernote which, admittedly, has gotten quite bloated over the years. However, it doesn’t have a rival that fits quite into the mold it has created for itself and I like that I can keep anything that needs archiving, in one place.

It’s also where I keep passport scans and vital personal info for trips. So yeah, Evernote has become a vital travel companion.

Time Tracking and Monthly Invoicing

hours&pages&smile

For time tracking, I use Hours on my iPhone. Keeping time tracking on my phone helps me separate the process of keeping time whilst working on my iPad. It may seem counterintuitive, but give it a shot sometime. I think you’ll find it’s a good separation of daily duties. Hours also exports to PDF and CSV, making it easy to share hours spent, and their respective descriptions with my iPad.

For invoices, I have templates set up in Apple’s own Pages. I fill them out and export them to PDF where I then add a signature using Smile’s PDF Pen, an app that is brilliant at so many things when it comes to marking up PDF documents.

Are there better options out there? I am sure. But for my needs, this works just perfectly. After the PDF’ed invoices are complete, I share them to a new email, immediately switching to Smile’s TextExpander Touch‘s custom iOS keyboard where I have a text snippet for each client set up. I type in the client’s respective snippet, it pre-fills the email with text and the correct dates, and I hit send. Easy peasy!

Storage and Back ups

db&oned&box&backblaze

For cloud storage, I predominantly use Dropbox. I’ve been using it for years, it has outstanding iOS support, great UI/UX, and it allows me to share files effortlessly. It also gives me a great place to back up documents, making them available anywhere there’s an internet connection. I’ve also got accounts/apps for OneDrive, Box, and iCloud, the latter of which I am forced to use when syncing my Pages and Numbers documents between my Apple devices.

I also have my MacBook Pro backed up to Backblaze, so any files that synced to Dropbox will sync to my Mac in the U.S. and then be backed up to Backblaze without me having to think about where to move files to achieve backup redundancy. If I need any files from my Backblaze backup, I can use their excellent iOS app, which couldn’t be more intuitive to use in a pinch.

Accessing My MacBook Pro at Home

screensios

I doubt I’ll need it, but in case I do have to access my Mac at home, I am using Edovia’s Screens which is an amazing VNC client that allows you to tunnel into your Mac from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. On the iPhone it’s a bit cramped, but on the iPad? It works like gang-busters! There is of course a bit of latency, but not much (we’ll see if that differs overseas) and, with a bit of patience, I will be able to accomplish anything my MacBook Pro can… from my iPad, which never ceases to amaze me.

This will undoubtedly be my “Plan B” when disaster strikes. But it’s a solid one, and the added confidence it supplies is pretty priceless.

Communications

When email doesn’t work fast enough, in addition to an international SIM, I’ve got Google Voice/Hangouts, Facetime video/audio, as well as Skype. Everyone’s familiar with with these and I sure am grateful they exist. Keeping contact with my clients will be my chief obligation while I am gone, and these apps handle every form of that without issue.

Shattering Preconceived Notions

With the tools I’ve mentioned above, I genuinely feel confident that I can keep my freelance Web Development business running while abroad. Do I have some apprehension? Maybe a little, but that’s only because I’ve never done anything like this before. In reality and real-life practice, I’ve already run my business on my iPad for weeks now and I’ve only grabbed my MacBook Pro once. That’s right, just once, and it was to delete a single folder off of a client’s web server – a task that I am sure could’ve been accomplished on Coda for iOS, but I couldn’t figure out how and I was in a rush.

There’s a shift that’s occurring right now in the tech community. For years, we’ve been constantly told that you can’t get “real work” done on an iPad, and yet there are folks out there that do it constantly every single day. I’m about to count myself as one of them, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision.

I leave for the Camino on September 10th and I won’t be back until November. I’ll post more updates on how this setup is going after we return from Spain!

Click here to go to part 3 of this series where I talk about how everything turned out!

Taking My Business on the Camino (Part One – Intro)

When I asked my wife what she wanted to do when she graduated massage school in August, I half expected her to say “let’s rent a cabin for a week or two in the mountains”. I figured it would be a request that, you know, would be logistically easy for me fulfill while still running my freelance business and spending much-needed time with her as she decompressed from a challenging year of study.

So when she said “Let’s hike the Camino!!” my jaw, understandably, dropped for a few seconds.

3431441_1424613139.0896_updates

The Camino de Santiago is historically a Christian pilgrimage that starts in southern France, down through the Pyrenees mountains into northern Spain where it terminates in the city of Santiago de Compostela. It’s 500 miles, can take weeks (or even months) complete, and it’s something we’ve always wanted to do.

Connecting While Away

I’m a freelance web developer and my business consists of just me. Leaving my client-base hanging for a month and a half without support simply wasn’t an option. My inclination was to say “there’s just no way I can do this”. but then I thought about it some more and began researching web connectivity along the route we would be taking. I was relieved to see that my initial hunch was right. Every day would begin and end in a city or town and all of these stops had multiple options to connect to the internet. Additionally, my iPhone is unlocked, so when there isn’t a wifi connection, an international SIM card would bridge the gaps in connectivity between stops. I’d simply make my phone a hotspot when needed.

Connectivity was no longer an issue!

But then another challenge presented itself.

Traveling Ultra-Light to Avoid Light Fingers

One of many amazing things about “the way of Saint James” is that not only is it hundreds of miles long, it’s also hundreds of years old. People have walked it for a very long time and, as such, towns, villages, and cities have built an entire economy around it. Each stop along the way offers shelter to pilgrims, so we would not have to bring a tent. In fact, everything I’ve read is telling me not to bring very much at all: just a few changes of clothes, rain gear, needed toiletries, wallet and a passport. So the thought of me bringing my trusty MacBook Pro along with so little else, suddenly seemed foolish (not to mention heavier than anything else that will be in my bag).

The other issue is theft on the Camino. It doesn’t happen often, but apparently it does happen enough for hikers to be quite wary and warn anyone who will listen online. Having traveled to a few places on this planet, I am not naive to the fact that theft can occur anywhere. Nonetheless, it did key me in to thinking about hardware alternatives. Without a doubt, if my MBP got pinched while abroad, it wouldn’t be the end of the world (I’ve got redundant backups and such), but it would be an enormous setback for my clients, not to mention my wallet.

So I needed something light as well as something I could part with, without breaking the bank. I initially eyed the new retina MacBooks for their weight, but then back-tracked because of their price and lack of horsepower. I also looked at Chromebooks for their price, and though I was psyched to see how far they’d come, in the end I balked at what they still lacked. Then I looked at my iPad Air 2 and wondered what was possible. It was light to a fault, way less expensive (since I already owned it), and had plenty of horsepower for what I needed it to do. All I needed was a proper keyboard.

keyboard&ios9

iOS 9 to the Rescue

I typically don’t run OS betas on my main devices, but when I saw the recent iPad-only features added into the recent betas of iOS 9, I took the plunge once the public beta kicked off. As of the last version (mid August), iOS 9 feels more stable than ever. And with its improved inter-app communication, multi-tasking, and keyboard support, my iPad feels more and more like a workhorse, and way less of a consumption device.

To prepare in advance, I’ve been using it as my sole productivity device for four weeks now and I’ve been genuinely surprised to see it accommodate 99% of everything I’ve needed to do to keep my business running and my clients happy.

Coupled with the highly recommended QODE™ Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2, there isn’t much that I’ve encountered that I can’t conquer with this setup alone.

What About Software?

Ah yes. About that.

My hardware needs have been met, I will be traveling super light, and connectivity is no longer a concern… but quality web development is only as good as the tools you have at your disposal.

I mentioned above, that in my pre-prep there was very little that I could not accomplish with my current iPad and keyboard setup. But hardware has only been half of the equation. In truth, the software is where all the magic has been happening. Luckily, the iOS dev community has created some beautiful, highly capable tools that will help me accomplish my day-to-day.

Click here to go to part 2 of this series where I talk about the software I will be using on the Camino.

Interesting Ideas: AirType

AirType concept image.

I have a hard time shooting these concepts down because I actually do think this where the future of interface is going.

When the soft keyboard debuted with the iPhone in 2007, it was met with extreme skepticism. But over time we all got used to it. There’s an entire generation now that looks at a phone with a physical keyboard much like my generation would look at a 14.4k modem.

How long before our kids’ kids look at a any physical interface at all and laugh?

I’m just about to leap into my 40’s and I imagine the days of buttons are going to be replaced by our fingers dancing through the air long before I head to a nursing home.

Still, while I love the portability and the idea of concepts like AirType, I do wonder how long it would take for my keystroke accuracy to catch up to how fast I can type on a physical keyboard.

We shall see! Probably sooner than we think too! I look forward to finding out.

Interesting Ideas: “Knock to Unlock” software…

I’ve been using this for a little over a week now and while it does have some issues with the LE Bluetooth connection to my phone (iPhone5), periodically causing me to quit and relaunch both apps (on the Mac and iPhone)… I gotta admit, it’s pretty awesome when it works.

There is about a 10 second lag from when I open up my rMBP in sleep mode to when I am able to knock on my phone (yes, I timed it), but it actually seems much shorter than that. I imagine this would be quite handy for folks out there with iMacs that are always on, locked, with a screen saver. When my computer is sitting there, locked and at the ready? It works like a charm with no wait whatsoever.

Other things I noticed:

  1. People out there flipping out about knocking on an iPhone clearly don’t own one. You’d think they were hitting it with a damn baseball bat instead of the knuckles on your hand! Please calm down. You don’t have to knock that hard at all for it to work.
  2. The initial setup is a breeze once your computer recognizes and pairs with your phone.
  3. True to their site description, your phone’s battery life doesn’t take a hit at all. It is one of the first interesting (and awesome) uses of Bluetooth LE that I’ve seen to date.
  4. Check out their site: knocktounlock.com, there’s some fun stuff going on in there.
  5. Before you buy, make sure your computer and phone are compatible!
  6. If, for whatever reason, your computer doesn’t find your phone via BT, don’t worry, you can still type your password in. Though that admittedly will make you snicker and doubt your purchase.
  7. If this app doesn’t make you hunger for the day that NFC (near field communication) proliferates our lives and devices a bit more, I don’t know what will.

I really hope they continue development for this fun idea! As I said, when it works it’s a lot of fun to watch (not to mention it’s a legit time-saver)!

Sold!! Where do I get it?

  • For your Mac, it’s free here.
  • For iOS, you can find it here, for $3.99 USD.

Interesting Ideas: Pocket Tripod – 360° wallet-sized iPhone stand

Hey all,

I stumbled upon this Kickstarter this morning and had to share it with you. For years I’ve been looking for a versatile stand for my iPhone that wasn’t a pain to carry around in my pocket.

To date, I’d only found stands that would work if I was wearing shorts or pants with cargo pockets.  I always wanted a solution that was less obtrusive and more portable.  I know, I know, it’s probably stupid but – I just hate the feeling of extra crap in my pockets. Hell, I even hate carrying my keys.

This invention by Geometrical Inc. & Rambod Radmard appears to remedy all those issues. About the only thing that I am concerned with, would be the structural integrity of the stand once it’s assembled. After watching the video though, I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think! Did you back it? If not, why?