Writing, reading and mobile devices

GOOD Web writing is non-linear. It takes advantage of the key technology behind the Internet—the hyperlink—to provide context, additional information and even marginalia.

It is “writing for selfish readers,” as usability expert Jakob Nielsen puts it.

Web readers have so many sites and services competing for their attention they barely have time to read your article.

TABLET READING. The experience of reading on the tablet is closer to print.

TABLET READING. The experience of reading on the tablet is closer to print. CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.

Nielsen says that in the linear writing of print and TV, readers and viewers expect the author “to construct their experience for them.” In the non-linear character of hypertext-driven writing, users “construct their own experience by piecing together content from multiple sources.”

If another fire were to break out in Cebu, an article written in a non-linear, hypertext manner would just mention that it would be the 10th blaze in recent days, with that phrase hyperlinked to archives of previous stories of the fires. Writing the article that way presents the reader with the option of clicking the link for more background information on the fires or ignoring it if the reader already knows about the previous incidents.

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News writing: 5Ws, GPS

When fire broke out in Barangay Tejero late Saturday afternoon, I was dragged to the scene by my wife, who wanted to cover it for her news blog and as trial for the system of Yahoo! Philippines’ foray into local news.

I can no longer recall the last time I covered a fire for news. But it was definitely before mobile Internet became as ubiquitous as it is today. I think it was also before I had a wife who would drag me to a fire scene.

Amid the panic of people trying to save what they could as they accounted for family members and friends, we posted updates through our phones, took photos and videos.

Saturday’s experience taught me a lot about the speed by which the technological juggernaut changes the way we do things, especially in reporting for a quickly-evolving online media landscape.

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Google Docs on Android in Samsung Galaxy Tab

In the cloud? What if it goes up in smoke?

I wrote this column in Google Docs, the Internet search giant’s free online office suite. I thumb-typed a rough outline on an Android device—a Samsung Galaxy Tab—before I finished the first draft on my favorite desktop, which runs Ubuntu Linux, and edited the final piece in my office PC, which runs Windows XP.

All the time that I worked intermittently on this article during free time from desk work, I did not know precisely the physical location of this digital file nor the number of its copies and iterations. All I knew was that it was in Google’s data centers–precisely where I do not know nor care.

Saving digital office files in the correct location is among the first things you are required to learn on the job, whatever the industry or the size of the company. In our newsroom, file location is something seared into your brain the very first day on the job. Unless you saved your article in the designated folder, editors cannot access your story in the modern-day filing tray called The Local Network.

Google Docs on Android in Samsung Galaxy Tab
Writing using Google Docs on the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab gets updated to Gingerbread

I just upgraded my Samsung Galaxy Tab (Model GT-P1000) to Android 2.3.3 or Gingerbread. Ever since Samsung announced the tab was getting Gingerbread, I’ve been regularly checking whether the firmware was already available for the Philippines.

Gingerbread offers a streamlined user interface “for simplicity and speed.” Here’s a listing of the firmware’s improvements.

Samsung Galaxy Tab upgrade to Gingerbread from Froyo

GINGERBREAD UPDATE. The Galaxy Tab gets upgraded to Android 2.3.3 or Gingerbread, which offers improvements on the user interface, power management among a slew of other features. Click on photo to enlarge.

“The user interface is refined in many ways across the system, making it easier to learn, faster to use, and more power-efficient. A simplified visual theme of colors against black brings vividness and contrast to the notification bar, menus, and other parts of the UI. Changes in menus and settings make it easier for the user to navigate and control the features of the system and device.”

It also comes with a keyboard “redesigned and optimized for faster text input and editing” as well as improvements in copying and pasting text. Gingerbread also offers improved power management, built-in Internet calling, downloads management and offers “user access to multiple cameras on the device, including a front-facing camera, if available.”

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CSS cheat sheets as Android apps: stop taping printouts on your cubicle walls

I need to work with CSS/XHTML often enough that I’d need a reference but rarely enough to make me memorize the damned properties, selectors and syntax. I used to print out CSS/XHTML cheat sheets and tape these on my cubicle wall for easy reference whenever I was working on a website.

Just as I was about to print new cheat sheets to replace the torn and smudged copies that I had, I found handy and infinitely better references—two free Android apps.

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Smart launches low-cost Android tablet

SMART today announced the offering of a 7-inch Android 2.2 powered tablet bundled with its Smart Bro package. The company said the offering will further “democratize” Internet access in the country.

The ZTE V9 was launched last week with a suggested retail price of P12,795.

ZTE V9. The 7-inch Android 2.2-powered tablet is being bundled with Smart Bro and is sold at a suggested retail price of P12,795. (CLICK ON PHOTO TO ENLARGE)

“The ZTE V9 is an affordable way for our subscribers to get the rich Internet experience of desktops and laptops, and the convenience and portability of Internet-capable mobile phones,” Smart chief wireless advisor Orlando Vea said in a press statement.

“We know that many Filipinos still access the Internet mainly through Internet cafes and work or school computers. With low-cost Internet devices such as this, we aim to increase the country’s Internet population, by enabling more people to easily have their own personal Internet access device,” Vea said.

Initially being offered for prepaid subscription, Smart is making available the ZTE V9 on affordable payment terms. Subscriber may pay in six monthly installments at 0 percent interest through participating credit cards. It comes with a Smart Bro prepaid SIM with five days of unlimited Internet browsing. Subscriber may then register the Smart Bro prepaid account to avail of Unlisurf Packages, Per Minute Packages, or All Text Packages.

But more than just for Internet surfing, Smart officials expect Smart Bro to revolutionize the way subscribers use data services through the ZTE V9.

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Ditching paper planners for Google Calendar-Android combo

EACH November, I’d eagerly start my annual search for the next year’s planner. It is a circuitous process that almost always ends the same way each year—I’d drool over one planner after the other, go on coffee binges to collect stickers for a free diary, and end up buying a Moleskine.

I’ve been regularly trying and experimenting with online calendars and task managers for years but never got around to using one for long, back when the only interface was a Web browser and you needed to have an Internet connection to be able to use the system.

Paper was more efficient, apart from being more beautiful.

Starbucks 2011 planner and Google Calendars on the Samsung Galaxy Tab

BLANK PAGES. My Google calendar items in the Galaxy Tab placed on top the blank pages of the free 2011 Starbucks planners that I got after a coffee binge. Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge. (PHOTO BY MARLEN LIMPAG)

Last year, however, I started to gradually shift from using paper planners to online calendar services and a mobile phone.

I started with Nokia Ovi using my trustworthy-but-now-gone Nokia E63. If you have a Nokia phone, you have to use it with Ovi, a suite of online services that allow you to manage your phone’s calendar and contacts from the Web. Although I repeatedly encountered downtimes and syncing problems with Nokia Ovi last year, I found it useful enough that I migrated my office tasks and even marathon training schedule to the service.

With Ovi, you could enter tasks on the Web, set reminder settings and then have all these downloaded to your phone. Close to the end of last year, the service started allowing the sharing of calendar tasks and I was about to test it with the Sun.Star Cebu business section team when I lost my phone.

Then I got an Android phone.

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Have phone, will travel

IN the early morning of Feb. 5, I guided an experienced taxi driver to a nondescript and obscure hotel in Makati using Google Maps, GPS and my Android phone.

It was something almost right out of the movies—we were getting a real time rendering of where we were on the map (indicated by a moving blue dot) and using it to find our way through Isabelle Royale Hotel and Suites (I told you it was obscure).

On Feb. 4, I took the red-eye flight to Manila for the Condura Skyway Marathon with my wife, Marlen, and the kids. For that trip, I took copious notes of travel details in my phone, an LG P500 running Android Froyo, instead of the handy paper notebook I used to always keep with me.

Google Maps with GPS on Android Froyo in the LG P500

VIRTUAL GUIDE. Google Maps uses GPS to pinpoint my exact location on the map. Using the system, I was able to guide a taxi driver to an obscure hotel in Makati City.

I kept travel details in Springpad–a free notes-taking web service that has mobile clients for smartphones like the Android and the iPhone. Springpad is a really great web and mobile application that’s very useful for writing and organizing notes. I’ve used Springpad in my Android phone for more than a month and find it indispensable. I came to Springpad from Evernote, another free note-taking service with mobile clients. While both are great web services, I prefer Springpad because I find that it fits my workflow better.

Since we would be arriving in Manila at past midnight, Marlen and I were worried about finding our way to the hotel. Hours before our flight, I took a screengrab of the Google Maps rendering of the areas leading to Isabelle Royale Hotel and Suites intending to show it to the driver.

But the driver of our cab said he wasn’t that familiar with the place. I suspected he was feigning ignorance. I turned on Google Maps and GPS intending to to check where we were on the map so that we could find our way to the hotel.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Google Maps renders your location in real time. I was connected to Smart’s HSPA (a high-speed mobile Internet network) network and the map tiles were downloading and rendering flawlessly—fast enough to keep up with us, as represented by that blue dot on the screen. Maybe I was just lucky or maybe the network wasn’t as congested because it was early in the morning (I encountered some lag in buffering maps data when I used it early in the afternoon two days after).

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Turning into a fandroid

HOW long does your initial fascination with a new phone last? Two weeks? A month?

In my case, it used to take about two weeks before the novelty of a new unit started to wear off.

But not with my LG P500, a device that has Android 2.2 or Froyo as operating system. Two months after buying it, I’m more fascinated and attached to it today than in the day after I unboxed the unit.

Before Android, I wouldn’t have considered buying either a Samsung or an LG unit. I was a Sony Ericsson and, later, a Nokia person. It was such a hassle having to transition to another mobile phone brand and relearn everything—from quirks in the keypad to the way other software components worked.

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Use QR codes to make your business cards interactive

DO you still hand out business cards or do you just wirelessly send contact details? Does the printed business card still have a role in a time when phone users can just Bump to exchange contact data?

In some tech circles, contacts data are already transmitted through a type of bar code known as QR for quick response codes. QR Codes, which was created by Denso-Wave in 1994, are widely in use in Japan, even in encoding passport data.

With most smartphone platforms—from Android, iPhone and Symbian—supporting QR Codes and even coming bundled with a scanner, its use has a chance of going mainstream.

Increasingly QR codes are being used in business cards to simplify the entry of data into the phone.

I wrote about using QR codes in business cards in a column here four years ago but the steps it took were a bit tedious. Now, it’s infinitely easier.

SCANNING. The phone redirects to my Dooid.com profile page after scanning my QR Code. Using QR Codes, you can make your business cards interactive.

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