Road Testing the iPad – Final Thoughts

Derek Curtis and I on a conference call with the office.

With only 48 hours left on my trip, I feel I have experienced enough to write the last blog post and finish up my thoughts on the iPad and how it performs on the road. So, as I sit here in a cafe in Rome I offer you a summary of my almost 3-week experience with the new iPad while traveling through Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy.

The miles have been plentiful and transportation methods varied: plane, train, automobile and boat. The locations have been as different as can be with heavily populated cities, very rural cities and even cities set on water, such as Venice’s different islands. The one constant, however, has been the iPad and its impeccable performance. Overall I am really, really impressed with how it’s performed for me, regardless of the circumstances of its use.

Review of the new iPad for consumers

As a consumer, I’m concerned about some of the hardware aspects and how they affect standard usage. I’m also an avid user of various media (movies, video chat, photos, etc.) and the iPad excels in this area. Add in the simplicity and power of iOS and you have a pretty powerful combination. That said, there are a few items I want to note:

  • With over 50 different wi-fi connections that I’ve used, including the one on the train from Amsterdam to Paris, the iPad has performed flawlessly. This is contrary to a few of the Android devices I’ve used, including the Android phone I carry with me every day.
  • The AT&T cellular service has stayed well connected all throughout Europe.
  • Battery life was impressive, giving me a good 6 to 8 hours of continued use. However, I did notice the 100% battery issues some people are reporting. This will hopefully be resolved in a future update.
  • The new iPad does get hotter than the 1st and 2nd generation iPads. It’s not awful but it’s probably as hot as it should get without being uncomfortable.
  • The higher-resolution screen makes many tasks, like remoting into my iMac, much easier and more efficient. It also makes reading easier on my aging eyes.
  • Having access to a data plan and using the GPS functionality allowed me to always have maps and directions on a big screen. However, turn-by-turn navigation is much better on my Android phone. Even so, having an interactive map on the big, beautiful iPad screen  was awesome.
  • I used FaceTime and Skype to talk to the kids back home. So while I was away from home, using these on the iPad made is feel like I was still there with them.
  • Photostream allowed the family to see all of the pictures we took. Images went to our iMacs at home, to the iPhones of our children and even to the iPad my grandparents (try to) use–all in real time. I originally thought that Photostream was going to be a less than useful feature when it was announced. Boy, was I wrong! Allowing us to keep our family up-to-date on what we were doing and giving them the ability to see what we were seeing, practically in real time, was a great way to share the whole experience.
  • During downtime, it was nice to watch a movie or TV show on Netflix or Hulu or listen to music on the device or using iCloud/iMatch.

Review of the new iPad for business and the enterprise

Now, from a purely business perspective, here are some additional impressions:

  • VPN worked perfectly with our Microsoft RAS servers, unlike the constant issues we have when connecting with Android. I’ve been using VPN not only for business, but also so that I could watch Netflix and listen to Pandora–services that can’t normally be accessed from international IPs. It’s a great work around and the iPad worked flawlessly!
  • The native NT authentication in Safari is another lifesaver. Android’s lack of compatibility with NT authentication is one of the main reasons it isn’t being adopted in the enterprise.
  • The cellular data efficiency of iOS is outstanding. Using data on an international plan is VERY expensive, but iOS did a great job managing data activities and using wi-fi as the default alternative whenever it was available. As a result, I was able to keep the iPad on and get emails and notifications immediately while traveling overseas. I see this as a major benefit over using a MacBook Air on a trip like this.
  • I can’t say enough about the applications that are available, not to mention their quality. Dropbox, WebEx, Evernote, LogMeIn, RDP Lite, Kindle, Facebook, Tweetbot, IM+, Around Me, Quick Office, Hulu, Netflix and Atomic Web were among the most common third-party applications I used the last few weeks. The quality and usability of these apps played a major role in an overall great experience.
  • The ability to work on servers when necessary, write or review any document at the office, do simple coding in PHP or jQuery mobile, instant message with employees or even have conference calls and view presentations with and without video were all possible with the iPad, much to my surprise.
  • And usability isn’t the only area that is impacted but efficiency is as well. For example, something I appreciate in the Atomic web browser is the ability to remove images from webpages and also use the Google web mobilizer to strip webpages down to just the necessities (namely just to display content). This probably saved me hundreds of dollars on the trip, as condensing pages down to just text decreased my data usage.

So after all of this, how is the new iPad for business use?

I’m absolutely amazed at how capable the iPad is and I have to say that the results gave me a greater insight into the future of computing and where things are headed. Just like many others, I wondered what role a tablet can play in both our business and personal lives. I used a tablet for testing our products or reading the occasional website or even reading a book at night, but this test helped me see that the much-discussed “post PC era” is really here and the tablet will replace the computer for a large percentage of consumers. This is especially true for consumers who are on-the-go.

More importantly, this was primarily a test of a business use case, and I can easily state that the iPad (and eventually tablets in general) are more than capable for business use. I’m a bit of a unique case as I tend to want to do more with a tablet than most business owners. I can’t see the CEO of a management consulting firm, for example, needing to VPN into a server to modify DNS or other items; but even with my advanced testing, the iPad performed flawlessly. Tablets are here to stay and the post-PC era is creeping ever closer.

Road Testing the iPad – Part 2

What a great trip so far! WHD.global was a fantastic conference and we got to meet with a number of customers and partners. For the few days the conference was running, the city of Rust, Germany, became a small town full of true computer and hosting geeks. Definitely our type of people! Interestingly enough, a local Rust resident remarked that they would be glad when the conference was over so that they could get their WiFi back… That should be a good indication of how we took over the town!

As I’m still traveling through Europe, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to further evaluate the iPad as a replacement for a standard laptop computer and road testing its effectiveness in that capacity.

Observations on the iPad for Business

  • Right off the bat, I needed to use LogMeIn… into a 27-inch iMac with the incredible resolution of 2560×1440.
  • I can’t discuss the new iPad without mentioning the resolution and display. On a normal iPad, you need to zoom in and out constantly to work on documents, read websites, etc., but this is no longer necessary with the new high-resolution iPad display. Word documents, spreadsheets, image files and websites are all completely legible and unbelievably crisp and clear. I can honestly say there is a clear business benefit to the new iPad because of the improved resolution and display.
  • I have an Android phone and have constant issues with our standard Microsoft RAS VPN server. However, with the iPad and with the iPhones I’ve had, there is never an issue. I’m not sure how this continues to be a problem for Gingerbread devices, but it’s a shame.
  • Speaking of issues with Android and Microsoft compatibility, we use NT authentication to protect our development sites, internal reporting servers, etc. Working with this authentication schema is also a challenge for Gingerbread devices, although it seems that BETA versions of Firefox work around this on Android. By comparison, the standard Safari browser on iOS works flawlessly.
  • I did hit one snag working on the iPad. It’s not a hardware issue, but more of a software one. Many of our corporate documents are in Dropbox. Some of our Word and Excel documents are password protected as they contain sensitive information. Unfortunately, the Dropbox viewer on iOS doesn’t support this level of security and neither does Quick Office for the iPad. Therefore, I had to contact the office to have some documents and information sent to me instead. There is another app that may work (Documents to Go), but I have not tested it to see if it has a similar limitation.
  • Another thing I noticed, although it’s not a limitation of the iPad so much as it is a call to action for website owners and their designers: To prepare for customer and partner meetings, I review their websites and other materials in order to better understand their businesses. Unfortunately, I found that nearly 50% of the sites were not able to handle the browser on the iPad very well. Areas where pull downs were being used on their sites would not work, making it nearly impossible to read those sections if there wasn’t an alternative navigation scheme in place.
  • Our Exchange ActiveSync and iOS integration is awesome, but I get some pretty largeHTML emails from time to time that I have to review and provide feedback on, etc. Unfortunately, when you reply to emails like that, the iPad carries the HTML over to the reply and slows down the compose window. In some cases, this butchers the entire message. I wish there was a way to reply and strip the HTML to prevent this from happening.
  • As good as our Exchange ActiveSync implementation is, there isn’t a method to create folders in mail on the iPad. When I work with a new partner, I normally create a folder and move communication into the new folder. I can’t do that using the iOS mail client. However, our webmail interface (which works on the iPad) and our new mobile interface coming in SmarterMail 10 (which we are currently ALPHA testing on our production servers) DOES allow you to create folders and move messages into them.

That’s just a little bit of what I’ve learned so far. There have been a number of benefits from a consumption standpoint that I might discuss in my next post, including things like integration with my Plex media servers at home and using Photostream throughout the trip.

All-in-all, the iPad has really worked out well no matter which country we’re in or the connections we use. However, the overall impression, while positive, leaves me feeling a bit lost without the power and flexibility of my computers. We’ll see if that dissipates over time.

Why SmarterTools Eats Its Own Dog Food

Google Management's Public Use of Google+

Click for full-size image.

Although overshadowed by Steve Jobs’ death, last week’s revelation that Google’s management doesn’t use Google+ is a pretty big deal. So much so that Mashable’s Ben Parr called the technology giant out and challenged its senior managers to eat their own dog food in his op-ed, “If Google’s Management Doesn’t Use Google+, Then Why Should You?

It’s an excellent question—one that the senior management at SmarterTools has asked since the company was founded in 2003. You see, everyone at SmarterTools, from our CEO Tim Uzzanti to our sales and support staff to our graphic designer, uses the products we develop on a daily basis. We send messages from SmarterMail, answer sales and support requests with SmarterTrack and evaluate our website statistics and SEO rankings with SmarterStats every single day. Call it what you want: “dogfooding,” “ice creaming” or “drinking your own champagne.” The bottom line is we do it. The next obvious question is: Why?

Well, our developers (and customers, for that matter) know that our management team has a lot of trust in our products when our day to day business operations rely on the quality and usability of our internal software. Since we use our software daily during all stages of development—from ALPHA to BETA to production—we’re able to test the products in real-life scenarios, which gives us the information we need to fix bugs faster, improve usability and identify potential features for future versions. As a result, we’re able to deliver a higher-quality production release to customers because we’ve identified as many bugs and improvements as possible in the pre-release versions of the products.

Perhaps more importantly, we’re delivering software solutions that actually fix some of the problems small businesses face. Believe it or not, SmarterMail, SmarterTrack and SmarterStats were created because our management team couldn’t find comparable software on the market that met our business needs. Odds were, they reasoned, other businesses felt the same way. And so, from the very beginning we not only developed software that we wanted to use, but that we do use.

And in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that the point? If you build something—doesn’t matter if it’s a house, a vehicle, or even a software solution—shouldn’t you use it yourself? Shouldn’t you be using it every day, kicking the tires, slamming the doors, and performing blank text field searches just so that you know, deep down, that what you’ve built is not only functional but that it actually does what you set out to do? Besides, wouldn’t you think twice if Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Company’s CEO, drove a Chevrolet? Would that give you any confidence in the company? At SmarterTools, we actually use what we build and we build what we want to use. Thankfully, a lot of other people think that’s a good way to set about building a company.

This post was written by Tiffany D., a marketing and technical communications specialist for SmarterTools. If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to the SmarterTools Blog so you don’t miss an update.

The Value of Email

There is a lot of talk these days about social media–its import, its impact, its value and its effect on how we do business and communicate. What’s lost in all this discussion, however, is any recognition for the only consistent and pervasive similarity between ALL social media outlets, from Twitter to Facebook to Google+: email.

Why is that?

Well, there are a few reasons. The most obvious one is that email is ubiquitous and is a commodity–it’s almost become a generic service. As such, it seems to get lost in the shuffle when people talk about the latest and greatest service release. It’s so persistent in our lives that we tend to forget that it exists. However, now more than ever, email is possibly the most valuable commodity each and everyone one of us owns. Need proof?

  1. In the Internet Age, email has become the most common unique identifier an individual possesses, surpassing things like Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers or other, more traditional means of identity.
  2. Your email address has a dollar value attached to it. Your email address ranks near your social security number and your credit history as the one piece of data that advertisers and marketers feel has the greatest value to them.
  3. Email is central to EVERYTHING you do online. You need an email address to sign up for things like newsletters and promotions, to order items online and you even need an email address before you can sign up for social media services like Twitter and Facebook.
  4. Email is everywhere. Anyone who owns a computer has an email address and these days virtually everyone has at least a computer, tablet or smartphone that they carry around. In fact, the Google Android mobile OS even requires a Google account–including a Gmail address–in order to operate. Your iPod and iPad sync to Apple’s iTunes service, which requires an email address. Since email is required in order for these things to operate, you could technically NEVER even use email–never send an email, never check your email account–yet you NEED an email address in order to get around in today’s online economy. Email truly IS everywhere.

The list goes on and on. The infographic below places email side-by-side against social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and even demonstrates email’s ubiquity when compared to the number of searches Internet users perform. IN ALL CASES, email reigns supreme. Legitimate email usage is far larger that social media, total searches, and even total internet pageviews combined. (Note: Click on the infographic to open it in a new window.)

Now to the data. Here are links to some of the sources used to gather and present the information in the above infographic:

For more information on the value of email, be sure to check out the following posts that correspond to a talk Jeff Hardy, vice-president of business operations, gave at HostingCon 2011 in August:

And here’s some media perspective on the discussion, courtesy of ReadWriteWeb:

This post was written by Derek C., vice president of marketing and communications for SmarterTools. If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to the SmarterTools Blog so you don’t miss an update.

Microsoft Makes a Bid for (SPLA) Redemption

New plans and competitive pricing for SPLA, service providers, and cloud offerings

Nearly eighteen months ago we discussed, in this very blog, some potentially negative results from Microsoft adjusting their SPLA pricing.  We took Microsoft to task—rightfully so, we believe—for attacking on the wrong front.  At the time it looked like Microsoft was targeting their hosting partners in order to cannibalize the hosting partners’ business.  We suggested that Microsoft was missing the point entirely about who are their real competition (Apple, Google, Linux, et al) and the potential impact of cloud computing for the future of IT in general—they should facilitate, not restrict and control.

It wasn’t just us.  Microsoft was roundly criticized for that move and—perhaps not surprisingly—both market-share and profits did not appear to accelerate as a result of their change.  Well…it seems that the good folks in Redmond listened and learned.

On March 30th, Microsoft announced revisions to their SPLA licensing plan that actually help make Windows hosting more competitive and that do not further punish industry partners who seek to host websites, email, and applications on Windows servers.  This story was picked up by the good folks at The WHIR a few days later.

We hesitated to get too excited by all of this up to now because the changes are scheduled to go into effect on July 1 of this year—so we will see what we will see.  But if these changes DO go into effect as planned, it will be a good sign that Microsoft is starting to “get it.”  According to Microsoft’s announcement, “These enhancements are referred to as license mobility” and are designed to “… offer customers the flexibility to deploy application servers on-premises of hosted by Service Providers in the Cloud.”

Highlights of the changes include:

  • A new, lower price for SLPA licensing plans for service providers
  • The ability for license owners to “move” certain licenses off site to third-party hosts—and to move them back without licensing hassles
  • The creation of a new Core Infrastructure Suite in SPLA to facilitate the delivery of Infrastructure-as-a Service offerings (IaaS)
  • A reduction in Subscriber Access licensing costs (increased competitiveness in shared application hosting)
  • Deletion of the Windows Server Outsourcing product and its higher price points

We think that it is too early to say that Microsoft has seen the light fully.  Those of us who develop applications for the Windows platform—even those applications that compete directly with specific Microsoft products—ultimately help Microsoft expand its base.  Furthermore, hosting/service providers are not entrapped serfs to squeeze extra profits from—they are partners in business and when your partners win, you win too.  Ultimately we all help Microsoft to compete with the Apple, Google, and Facebook’s of the world.

That said, this is a great move by Microsoft and they are due a bit of credit for starting to (belatedly) recognize us all as the opportunity we are.

Windows and SPLA are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation (MSFT). Apple is a trademark of Apple Incorporated (APPL). Facebook is a trademark of Facebook.

This post was written by Jeff H., vice-president of business operations for SmarterTools. If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to the SmarterTools Blog so you don’t miss an update.

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