Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Unlocking the iPhone’s potential, part 1

apple_chrome_logo Despite the title, this article is not about unlocking the iPhone so it will work on networks other than AT&T.  And as much as the cool kids keep trying to tempt me to do it, it’s also not about jailbreaking the iPhone so you can run rogue apps on it.

As you may know, I wrote about my “top 3” challenges with the iPhone a while back and they were irritating enough to get me to switch back to my Blackberry.

Now, I’m back on the iPhone 3G.  What’s changed?  This post begins the discussion about what’s changed for me in the hopes that other iPhone users (or wannabe users) can benefit from what I’ve learned.  I want to share with you how I’ve been able to overcome (or at least make tolerable) some of the iPhone’s current limitations, and I’ll start with my top 3 issues from the previous post:


  1. Problem: No cut & paste. 
    Solution:  Well, this one isn’t totally solved but all is not lost. 
    • emailtextpaster The real solution is (finally) coming in Apple’s forthcoming iPhone v3 software which will include cut & paste.  That should be here this summer. 
    • Meanwhile, I’ve found a free app called “Email Text Paster” in the App Store that lets me create 4 different, predefined blocks of text that you can use to quickly add them to an email.  I’m using it for different signature blocks (work & personal) and for a couple of canned email instruction sets I send out a lot.
      • One drawback is that it isn’t really integrated with the mail client.  You have to go run Email Paster to create the message, then click a button that will launch a new email and put your predefined text into the new message.  Kludgy but I can live with it for a little while.
      • The other drawback is that you have to manually type in each of these email blocks since (of course) you can’t cut & paste them from someplace else.

  2. Problem: I couldn’t attach / forward contact information to others. 
    Solution:   I found a free app called “Email Contact” that allows me to select a contact from my address book and click a button to create a new email with the contact informationemailcontact automagically contained in the body of the message. 
    • This app is simple, but pretty useful.  You can even configure what fields of the contact info are included by default. 
    • Unfortunately, the contact info is in plain text only, and isn’t put into a standard vcard kind of attachment.  But it’s better than nothing.

  3. Problem: No task list on the iPhone. 
    Solution:  Toodledo There are a bunch of good task lists out there, but I’ve fallen for ToodleDo.  It supports GTD contexts, works online or off, has a web-based component, has a conduit to sync with Outlook tasks, allows me to add tasks with my voice using Jott, and more. 
    • The only “drawback” is that you need to pay for this app but it didn’t cost much, works as advertised, and is much better than any of the free apps I’ve tried.

  4. Problem: The iPhone’s “Notes” app sucks and won’t sync with anything
    Solution:  Good golly, I’m so glad my friend Matt (@matthixson) turned me on to Evernote.  In fact, Evernote was one of the main reasons I switched back to the iPhone.  Evernote is an awesome application and it reminds me of Microsoft’s OneNote (which I was using all the time) except Evernote supports more platforms than Windows & Windows Mobile. 
    • evernote Evernote dramatically expands the concept of what a “Note” is. Evernote supports text notes, pictures, and voice notes and it stores them in a searchable “database in the sky.”
      • You can enter notes from a web browser, from a desktop client, from your iPhone, from your Windows Mobile device, or by emailing notes and attachments to a unique email address of your very own.
      • Each note is indexed and synchronized across every place you use Evernote.  You can even search for text in images – this is very cool since I can now take pictures of business cards, white boards, handwritten notes, receipts, and other things like that and use Evernote to search for them.  The image comes up with the search text highlighted – it’s like magic.
      • Pictures can be “geotagged” so you can search for things you added when you were near a specific location.  For example, you can take a picture of where you parked your car when you leave it at the airport, then search for notes “Within 1 mile” to instantly pull up a picture on your iPhone showing where you parked.
      • This is starting to become my “life journal” I think. And I am only scratching the surface here – check out Evernote’s site for more.

Still unsolved

  • I can’t invite or add others to appointments.  There’s no word on whether this will be solved in the iPhone v3 release, but I sure hope so.
  • Battery life still isn’t where I’d like it to be.  I have an extended battery that makes things workable, but I’d rather have longer native battery life.
  • Would love some kind of “macro” capability that would let me create a dictionary of substitutions (like Blackberry’s AutoText feature, or Activewords on Windows) so I can create a library of frequently used text blocks and use them on demand (for example, on the Blackberry, I had macros for autoresponses, signature blocks, standard email closings, and more – a bit time saver.
  • No turn-by-turn GPS navigation.  You can use Google Maps to get directions and have it (sort of) take you through the directions, but it won’t talk to you, won’t show you a driving-friendly display, and just plain doesn’t replace a dedicated GPS device.  The Blackberry worked great in this area.  They say this world will be opened up for the iPhone in the v3 software update, as well – apparently, it’s some Apple control freak thing that is being loosened up in the v3 software development kit (SDK).  That will make me happy.

That’s enough for now – stay tuned and I’ll share a short list of apps that really make me happy I’m on an iPhone.