My Favourite Apps 2016

December 12, 2016

This is a little off-piste compared to my usual blogs but I use a wide variety of tablet/smartphone apps (more than 150 at the last count) and I thought it might be of interest to share those I use most often or find most useful. This is not intended to be one of those ‘ten things that changed my life’ lists. If that is what you are looking for, try GQ’s 100 Best Things in the World Right Now. By contrast, I hope my short list contains at least one or two that you do not already know about that might potentially save you time or money or make your life a little easier. (I am not connected commercially with any of these organisations. I’m just a very satisfied customer).

Revolut
revolutRevolut is, quite literally, more than just an app and I am telling everyone about it. Combined with a pre-loadable MasterCard it provides a highly effective way to buy goods or access cash in a multitude of currencies and at highly competitive exchange rates. Just install the app, link the app to your bank account and then order the MasterCard. It will arrive in a few days and then you are ready to make purchases or get cash (usually without transaction charge) from an ATM wherever you travel. Preload as much or as little sterling as you wish and top up instantly at any time through the app. I have already used it in the Netherlands, Ibiza, Germany and South Africa without problems. You receive a text confirmation within seconds after every transaction and you can even block the card instantly through the app if you lose it (I have had cause to test that too!). As well as the convenience, I estimate that the very attractive exchange rates have already saved me between £100 and £200.

Citymapper

citymapperIf you need to find your way around London (or about 40 other cities), Citymapper will quickly show you all the available modes of travel. Start by telling it where you want to go (obviously, it already knows where you are) and it will rapidly calculate available options and display journey time and approximate cost. It is particularly useful if, like me, you prefer to use buses instead of the underground. In London, the choices are pedestrian, bicycle, bus, underground and taxi. If you have an Uber account (see below), it will offer you this option and click directly to the booking app. Once you have made your choice, you can see the route and number of stops as well as how long you need to wait for the next bus, train or tram.

Uber

uberOne of those organisations that polarises opinion, Uber seems to have adopted the ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ mantra on a global scale that makes Ryanair look like amateurs. Love them or hate them, Uber have disrupted the taxi industry in a way that Amazon or Airbnb have reshaped their respective markets. I have been a ‘rider’ for nearly 4 years and love the convenience and transparency of the user experience, which has evolved significantly over the years. I have used the service in several cities in a number of countries and there is something quite reassuring about arriving at an unknown destination and opening a familiar app which summons a car with a driver whose name you already know. I have also just discovered that, if you are a new customer and you register here, we both get a discount!

Notability

notabilityI attend many conferences, seminars and webinars. I learn a lot of useful information but I am not very good at taking notes. Notability enables me to scribble notes, type them or even record the event. My preference is to type the notes but I also record events to listen again later. When I do this, I can jump to the relevant section of the audio recording by clicking on the note text I was typing at the time. I can also take photographs (of presentation slides, for instance) and embed them at the relevant stage of my notes.

Google Keep

google_keepThere are hundreds of note-taking apps and I use others (Evernote and Wunderlist) for specific purposes or situations. Where Google Keep really comes into its own is when you need to remember something at a specific location rather than at a given time. I use it mostly for shopping: to remind me to pick up the dry-cleaning or get some toothpaste but it’s equally useful to remember to do things as soon as I get to the office or return home in the evening. It’s really simple and can be used as a Google Chrome extension as well as the app.

Google Photos

google_photosYou may wonder why an iPhone/iPad/iPod user would have any need for Google Photos when iCloud integrates and synchronises the photo output from these devices so well. The answer is that I also have a digital camera! On a recent safari, I was able to take zoom photographs that far outclassed anything I could have taken with my iPhone. I upload these directly to Google Photos. I also synchronise my Google Photos account with my iCloud account so that I can see everything on any device. Digital photography allows us to be indiscriminate in what pictures we take so, like everybody else, I take far too many photographs and have to be quite ruthless when selecting what to keep. Deleting the ‘master’ image in Google Photos also deletes all Google/iCloud copies on other devices.

CamScanner+

camscannerI can still remember when a photocopier was one of the most essential tools in any office. In the days of pdfs and email, we just have a small multi-functional printer/scanner/fax machine that is a printer more than 95% of the time. More commonly, I scan documents with my smartphone using CamScanner+. It is quicker, easier and much more flexible. Simply take a photograph of the document, use the autocrop/alignment tool to ‘square it up’, auto adjust light or colour if necessary and then save as a pdf or jpg. Brilliant! You can then email or share the document directly from within the app. The ‘+’ version is chargeable but a free version (that watermarks documents) is also available.

I hope you have found something useful here that you did not know already. These are all based on my own experiences so, if you are more of a geek than me and can tell me how to make better use of these tools – or you want to suggest something else – please do.


Orgatec and Beyond

November 5, 2014

Orgatec South EntranceVisiting a large, international exhibition is always an experience full of contrasts. On the one extreme are the companies making products that do not look much different from their range 20 years ago and on the other are the companies that have transformed their portfolio, even since the same exhibition last time.

There will always be a (surprisingly large) demand for cheap, unimaginative desks, chairs and associated furniture that add nothing to the job satisfaction, productivity or sense of worth of a worker.

There will also be a small but entertaining array of ‘designer’ products that seem to be a victory of style over substance. Perhaps it’s my age – or my aesthetic insentivity – but I always have a sense of ‘emperor’s new clothes’ about such highly priced, and often impractical, concepts.

Much more interesting to me are the designers and manufacturers whose products embrace all aspects of modern employment.

I have been involved in workplace ergonomics for over 20 years and there is no doubt that the pace of change has never been faster and the assault has never been more multi-faceted. Gone are the days of the first mesh-back chair or the first height-adjustable desk – or the first counter-balanced filing cabinet!

Today we must embrace agile working whilst considering wellbeing and engagement, accommodating BYOD, understanding the ‘always-on’ generation and not forgetting the ageing workforce and, for good measure, not being distracted by the news that ‘sitting kills us’!

What is most exciting is the evidence that many companies are producing products to address these demands. This does not, of course, mean that they necessarily understand them! Whilst some manufacturers innovate to create demand, most are happy to respond to a market need. For example, over 100 companies exhibited sit-stand desks at Orgatec but I suspect that only a handful have anything more than a primitive comprehension of the psycho-social and cultural impacts of introducing this type of working to an organisation.

technologyOn the other hand, some furniture manufacturers are introducing technologies to improve communication and collaboration, forging partnerships with software, hardware and telecoms companies to truly integrate our different ways of working.

This means that it is even more important for the consumer to understand the wide-ranging issues affecting today’s workplace by assembling a multi-disciplinary team to plan any move or reorganisation.  The days of ‘how many desks do we need and what colour are the chairs?’ are long gone!

But watch out – because the Internet of Things is coming fast and that is changing the landscape once again!


What Can Psychometrics Teach Us about Sitting Behaviour?

August 30, 2013

Earlier this month, I was in the Netherlands visiting some of our key partners. As always, there were some interesting conversations and I gained intriguing insights into new product developments and concepts. Amongst the many topics we explored, there was one particular comment that triggered a fascinating discussion and I have been thinking about its possible significance.

The conversation was about developments relating to the BMA Smart Chair, which I have blogged about elsewhere. The technology provides data about sitting behaviour, chair use and user habits. Sensors in the chair monitor how the user is sitting and, as well as buzzing to prompt the user to change poor postures, they also record posture data.

The latest development, Smart Cloud, polls user data from each chair at 15 minute intervals giving almost-real-time statistics about how the chair is being used.

BrainCogsA chance comment from one of the project team triggered my lateral thinking – and this blog!  He said that they were starting to anticipate sitting behaviour according to the character of the individual.  All users are trained to set up and use the chair before recording begins but “people in accounts”, for example, tend to follow the training and sit (and move) well, whilst “sales people” adopt all sorts of postures. For the purposes of this article, I have simplified the comments but let us assume for a moment that character types really do point us to sitting behaviour.  We can then see where that hypothesis might take us.

For nearly ten years, we have worked with The Colour Works to develop our recruitment, teamwork and customer relationships by understanding how different individuals think, behave and interact. As a result, I have a lot of experience, albeit on an unqualified level, of some of Carl Jung’s psychology concepts and behavioural dynamics. I know, for example, that different character types respond differently to particular types of communication.

terrible_posture_laptop

Not one of our customers!

Following this thinking, we could use a psychometric assessment to identify the character types of chair users (and my guess is that this would not need to be too in-depth or sophisticated). With the data created, we could then tailor the posture training to suit not only their learning style and attitude but also their likely sitting behaviour. It is still just a hunch at the moment, but I believe this could be really significant.

I am now planning some practical case-study research into how this thinking could be optimised and used.  In the meantime, I would love to hear from anyone who knows of any previous work in this area or who agrees (or disagrees!) strongly with my thinking so far.


Time to Hang Out at the Office?

April 1, 2013
Suspensis Incredulum Integrated Inverted Workstation

The Suspensis Incredulum Integrated Inverted Workstation

We would not normally announce a new product on a Bank Holiday (it’s Easter Monday in the UK) but I couldn’t wait any longer with this news. In fact I couldn’t even wait until noon today!

Working with internationally acclaimed designer & researcher, Rif Loopal, we are delighted to announce the unique Suspensis desk range and, specifically the Incredulum model pictured here.

Rif explains, “The Suspensis Incredulum Integrated Inverted Workstation evolved from my fascination with the debate about sitting and standing at work and the arrival of some radical solutions such as the walking/cycling desks now appearing in the workplace”.

The grey-headed flying fox hangs upside down all day and works night shifts without evidence of musculo-skeletal injury

The grey-headed flying fox hangs upside down all day and works night shifts without evidence of musculo-skeletal injury

He continues, “I have recently spent some time in Australia observing the Grey Headed Flying Fox (Pteropus poliocephalus).  This fruit bat hangs upside down all day without any evidence of adverse effects. Indeed, I have made a number of Google searches for “musculo-skeletal injuries in work-age fruit bats” and found nothing at all. Some may argue that the very healthy fruit-based diet of this creature is a major contributor to its resilience but I would also contend that they work a lot of night shifts, so it’s not by any means an easy life. These experiences inspired me to design this product”

On the basis of his research, Rif has worked with us for several months to create the workstation illustrated here. The benefits are obvious: no slouching, no risk of spinal disk compression and no possibility of cluttering up the work area with unnecessary papers, to name just a few.

A range of accessories will followRif is already working on a range of complementary accessories.  He tells us, “The computer mouse has been the biggest issue – people keep dropping it. The simple and immediate answer (illustrated here) is to use a rollerbar mouse attached to the desk but that doesn’t suit everybody so we are working on a traditional mouse that is helium-filled.  Early field trials suggest that some users may also decide to invest in a crash helmet and some high impact rubber matting”.


RSA Animate

October 29, 2011

I have seen other animations by Andrew Park of Cognitive Media but this series from the RSA illustrates very effectively how the understanding of quite complex topics can be aided and enhanced with his brilliant cartoons.  There are plenty of other illustrators on YouTube but, in my view, nothing else comes close to the quality, style and humour that Andrew offers.  The animations also condense concepts into abridged versions of the full lecture or presentation.  This RSA series covers topics that affect all our personal and work lives – guaranteed to get you thinking!


Wordle

September 19, 2011

The web site describes it as a “toy” but I think that Wordle is actually a useful (and free) business tool. It provides a quick and easy way of creating focus or finding the core message from a single document or from several concatenated together. Simply go to the Wordle web site and paste in your text from one or several documents.

Moments later, Wordle shows the word cloud it has created. Sometimes, the results are a real surprise, even for the author of the text!


3D-Printing – the Next Industrial Revolution

September 12, 2011

Mathias Bengtsson's Cell chair, commissioned for the V&A

I have been familiar with the principle of Rapid Prototyping (RP) for several years but only recently realised just how far this technology has progressed.

I was listening to a couple of recent podcasts of Peter Day’s excellent World of Business. These are entitled “New Dimensions for Manufacturing” and discuss the current state of 3D-printing (also known as Additive Manufacturing) technology. It has been described by some as the “next industrial revolution” and, it seems to me, this may be an understatement.

In case you are not familiar with the concept, there are now machines that can convert a CAD (computer-aided design) file into a 3D reality. In the same way that an inkjet printer lays tiny droplets of ink onto a sheet of paper, these machines build up layer upon (very thin) layer of epoxy to create an object from the base up. Epoxy resin is the most common material but developments in building manufacture are now using the same methodology to create building components from concrete and a printer developed at Exeter University apparently creates products out of chocolate!

Only a few years ago, RP products were brittle and fragile, and only available in a murky grey colour. By contrast, multi-coloured 3D-printed products are already in stressful everyday use in Formula One motor racing, orthopaedic surgery and aerospace. Other applications will follow rapidly as costs come down.

There are other significant advantages to the process. It is possible to create a single item which would have to be made in several components by traditional methods (so assembly is eliminated). It is also possible to manufacture products that would quite simply be impossible any other way so designers can be freed to let their imagination run wild. Perhaps most significantly, it reintroduces the viability of replacing smaller elements and extending the life of vehicles, domestic appliances and other household objects. For example, the hose casing on your vacuum cleaner breaks and, instead, of throwing it all away and buying a new vacuum cleaner, you pop down to your nearest hardware supermarket (or corner shop 3D-printer?) where they download the CAD file (like an iTunes purchase) and 3D-print it for you whilst you wait. There are no stock-holding costs for the component, it was not made and shipped half way round the world, there is no waste in the manufacturing process and you extend the life of your vacuum cleaner. There are, therefore, very significant environmental benefits and this technology also has the potential to bring manufacturing back to the UK and reintroduce the specialist corner shop.

Perhaps it is only a few years before you are able to purchase a specialist computer mouse from us and find it is delivered in the form of one electronics module and a password-link to a computer download. That download will enable you to enter certain dimensions to configure the CAD file and then your local 3D-printer shop will create the body of the mouse to fit your hand exactly.

By then, you may even be able to 3D-print it at your desk!

In the meantime, Belgian 3D-printing specialist, Materialise, is already selling designer jewellery and household products manufactured in this way under the .mgx brand and Victoria & Albert museum features 3D-printed products at its London Design Festival 2011More here.


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