Quick Lessons From Losing an iPad

A couple of weeks ago I forgot my iPad on the train.

After getting over the initial overwhelming feelings of idiocy on my part, I started thinking a bit deeper about the consequences and whether I had taken sensible precautions to mitigate those consequences.

The Problems

A couple of problems dawned on me:

  1. I had lost something that is quite valuable (one colleague told me with some measure of sincerity: “Nice gift for somebody else”. I don’t spend €700 casually and was distressed about losing something that is worth that much.
  2. More important than the device is the data that is on it. There are two potential problems here. The first is that you might have lost access to data that is important to you. The second is that somebody else suddenly might have gained access to your data. Both of these made me feel very uncomfortable.
  3. Finally, losing the device made it clear to me that all iPads look alike, especially in their locked state, and that there is no way for an honest finder to know who the rightful owner of the device is.

The Solutions

So here is my advice on how to minimize these problems. I recommend for you to apply these immediately if you haven’t done so already.

  • Fully insure your device (I had actually done this). Even though this is prohibitively expensive and even though you really shouldn’t insure devices if you can afford to replace them yourself (those insurance companies have to live of something), I still think it is a good idea as there are so many things that can go wrong with it, just through bad luck. I take the cost of the insurance into account when buying the tablet and amortize that over two to three years.
  • Ask yourself this question: Could I throw my current device in the water, walk over to any random computer with a browser and an Internet connection and access all the data that matters to me from there? If next, you would get a new device, would you be able to easily get that data back on the device? If your answer is no to either of these questions you should change your strategy. Some people might think I ask for too much as they are happy to backup to iTunes. I prefer to be as independent from iTunes as possible (I only use it for updates) and think most people would still lose a couple of days of data if all they had was an iTunes backup. Even before I lost my iPad, I was ok in this area. Here are some of the things that I have done: I like to have all my data in apps that keep both a local copy (for when I am offline) and transparently sync to the cloud. For email, contacts and my calendar that is easy: I use Google Apps for my domain and set it up to sync (you have your own domain right?). My task are managed with ToodleDo. My news reader of choice is Google Reader. All my notes are done with Momo. I have copies of my most important documents synced in a Dropbox folder. Dropbox also provides the syncing architecture for my iThoughts mindmaps and for the large collection of PDFs I have sitting the Goodreader app. I buy my ebooks DRM free and read them with Goodreader or I get books as a service through the Amazon Kindle bookstore. Apple now allows easy redownload of the apps you have purchased in the past.
  • Make sure you set a passcode on your iPad (this I had done too). I’ve set it up so that it only comes on after a couple of minutes of being in standby mode. This why I get to keep some of the instant on and off convenience, but also know that if somebody steals it from my bag they won’t just be able to access my data. One thing I am still not sure about is how secure the passcode lock is. What happens when people try to connect a stolen iPad to their iTunes? Is there access to the data?
  • Find my iPad

    Find my iPad

    Apple provides a free Find my iPad service. I had never bothered to set it up, but have since found out that it literally only takes two minutes to do. Once you have it installed you will be able to see where your iPad is, send a message to the iPad and even wipe its contents remotely. All of this can only work once your iPad has an Internet connection though.

  • Finally, I have downloaded a free iPad wallpaper and have used GIMP to add my contact information on top of the wallpaper file (making sure not to put the info underneath the dialog that asks for the passcode. This way, when somebody with good intentions finds the iPad they will have an easy way to find out who the rightful owner is.

To finish the story: a couple of days after I lost my iPad I called the railway company to see if they had some news for me (I had asked them to try and locate it as soon as I realized it was missing). They told me a fellow traveler had brought in my iPad to the service desk and that I could pick it up. Unfortunately, I have no way of thanking this honest person, other than by writing this post.

Workflow Driven Apps Versus App Driven Workflow

Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. This month we write about how the constant flux of new apps and platforms influences your workflow. We do this by (re-)viewing our workflow from different perspectives. After a general introduction we write a paragraph of 200 words each from the perspective of 1. apps, 2. platform and 3. workflow itself. You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here.

Instapaper on my iPhone

Instapaper on my iPhone

To me a workflow is about two things mainly: the ability to capture things and the ability to time-shift. Both of these need to be done effectively and efficiently. So let’s take a look at three separate processes and see how they currently work for me: task/todo management, sharing with others and reading news and interesting articles (not books). So how do I work nowadays for each of these three things?

Workflow
I use Toodledo for my task/todo management. Whenever I “take an action” or think of something that I need to do at some point in the future I fire up Toodledo and jot it down. Each item is put in a folder (private, work, etc.), gets a due date (sometimes with a timed reminder to email if I really cannot forget to do it) and is given a priority (which I usually ignore). At the beginning and end of every day I run through all the tasks and decide in my head what will get done.

For me it important to share what I encounter on the web and my thoughts about that with the rest of the world. I do this in a couple of different ways: explicitly through Twitter, through Twitter by using a Bit.ly sidebar in my Browser, in Yammer if it is purely for work, on this WordPress.com blog, through public bookmarks on Diigo, by sending a direct email or by clicking the share button in Google Reader.

I have subscribed to 300+ RSS feeds and often when I am scanning them and find something interesting and I don’t have the opportunity to read it at that time. I use Instapaper to capture these articles and make them available for easy reading later on. Instapaper doesn’t work with PDF based articles so I send those to a special email address so that I can pick them up with my iPad and save them to GoodReader when it is convenient.

Platform
“Platform” can have multiple meanings. The operating system was often called a platform. When you heavily invested into one platform it would become difficult to do any of your workflows with a different platform (at my employer this has been the case for many years with Microsoft and Exchange: hard to use anything else). Rich web applications have now turned the Internet itself into a workflow platform. This makes the choice for an operating system nearly, if not totally, irrelevant. I regularly use Ubuntu (10.04, too lazy to upgrade so far), Windows Vista (at work) and iOS (both on the iPhone and the iPad). All of the products and services mentioned either have specialised applications for the platform or are usable through any modern web browser. The model I prefer right now is one where there is transparent two-way synching between a central server/service and the different local apps, allowing me access to my latest information even if I am not online (Dropbox for example uses this model and is wonderful).

What I have noticed though, is that I have strong preferences for using a particular platform (actually a particular device) for doing certain tasks. The iPad is my preference for any reading of news or of articles: the “paginate” option on Instapaper is beautiful. Sharing is best done with something that has a decent keyboard and Toodledo is probably used the most with my iPhone because that is usually closest at hand.

Apps
Sharing is a good example of something where the app drives my behaviour very much: the app where I initially encounter the thing I want to share needs to support the sharing means of choice. This isn’t optimal at all: if I read something interesting in MobileRSS on the iPad that I want to share on Yammer, then I usually email the link from MobileRSS to my work email address, once at work I copy it from my mail client into the Browser version of Yammer and add my comments. This is mainly because Yammer (necessarily) has to be a closed off to the rest of the world with its APIs.

Services that create the least hickups in my workflow are those that have a large separation between the content/data of the service and the interface. Google Reader and Toodledo both provide very complete APIs that allow anybody to create an app that accesses the data and displays it in a smart way. The disadvantage of these services is that I am usually dependent on a single provider for the data. In the long term this is probably not sustainable. Things like Unhosted are already pointing to the future: an even stricter separation between data and app. Maybe in that future, the workflow can start driving the app instead of the other way around.