Mac Apps vs. Web Interfaces

It’s weird to think how, these days, mobile is the first platform many people think about.  Instagram was an app first, and a website second.  Even now, Instagram.com is just a place to view your timeline, you can’t even post photos.  There used to be things that I could only do on my computer, not my phone; now it’s often the other way around!  So with all these apps, it can be nice to be able to access their data while using a computer.  This is normally where a company makes a web interface.  These allow people to use the service from any computer, which is great.  But there are certain downsides to web interfaces.  This is where Mac users have another option: Mac apps.  Sure, developers can make apps for Windows as well (and with Windows 8 and the Windows Store, they’re starting to), but for some reason, the Mac seems to get a little more attention here.  Well, I say it gets attention, but that’s not entirely true.  It sometimes seems like developers make a point to make a Mac app, but then sort of let it be.  Mac apps often feel a little out of date and neglected, compared to the shiny new iPhone apps and web interfaces.  So that leaves an interesting question.  Which is better – Mac apps or web interfaces?  I’m going to look at three examples.

Evernote
The Evernote web interface was recently redesigned.  It looks really nice, nicer than the Mac app.  That being said, though, the Mac app is more useful.  It has more buttons everywhere, so it’s faster to use.  This is the downside of having a clean interface on the web – clean means less buttons.  Also, the Evernote web interface can be a little slow.  The app fixes that problem nicely.


myHomework
I wrote about myHomework last month, but I didn’t really touch on the Mac app too much.  The app and web interface are almost identical here, but myHomework shows the single greatest advantage that Mac apps have over web interfaces: they launch faster.  One click on my dock, and I’ve got the app right there.  In contrast, for the web, I have to open Safari, type in the URL, and then sign in.  Not too big of a deal, but the app is certainly a lot easier.


Twitter
Twitter is an interesting one here.  I actually like Twitter’s web interface best.  It’s the most fully functional and it works well.  The only think I don’t like about Twitter.com, or any of its official apps, is that they doesn’t support timeline sync.  Timeline sync, available on pretty much every other Twitter app, means that your reading position in your tweets timeline syncs across devices – no more scrolling to find where you left off on your phone.  This is great, and it means that, for just reading Twitter, I use Twitterrific.  Twitterrific for Mac isn’t all that pretty, and honestly, for anything other than reading, it doesn’t work that well.  This means that when I just want to scroll through my tweets, I use Twitterrific.  If I want to post anything, search for someone, or any number of other things, I go with the web interface.  This means that I don’t really use the official Twitter for Mac app at all, although I do have it installed for some reason.


So as you can see, Mac apps offer some distinct advantages that usually make them worth using.  However, I also sometimes head over to the web interface, for various reasons.  I like having both options at my fingertips, so I can use whichever is best for different tasks (that’s a first world problem right there, isn’t it?).  ••

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Dropbox vs. Microsoft OneDrive

I’ve been a Dropbox user for 3 years now.  I think most people have heard of Dropbox; it’s the most well known cloud storage service available.  Up until a couple of months ago, Dropbox was the only cloud storage I used.  In July, however, I got a Microsoft Office365 subscription (I got a really good deal as a college student), and as part of that I get 1tb (not a typo) of space in Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive).  At the time, I mostly used Dropbox for photos and documents, and I had worked my way up to almost 6gb of space.  Upon getting 1tb, my first thought was “I’ll never have to clear out my cloud storage ever again!”  Six weeks later, however, I’ve moved my photos back to Dropbox, leaving the documents in OneDrive.  As I found out, each service has its pros and cons.

Desktop Client
As the leader of the cloud storage industry, Dropbox really knows its stuff.  It has a certain “it just works” feel to it; a polish that’s come simply from being around for so long.  I used to think that this was a given, but after using the (slightly less polished) OneDrive, I’ve really come to appreciate it.  For instance, there are times when I need to get a file from my iPad to my computer.  Sitting in front of both devices, I watch the iPad until it says the upload is complete, then I look up at the computer, and the Dropbox client is already downloading the file.  I took speed like this for granted.  However, when doing the same thing using OneDrive, I look up from my iPad and… OneDrive isn’t doing anything.  I click the little icon, and OneDrive proudly tells me that it “Last updated 8 minutes ago.”  What has it been doing for the last 8 minutes?  OneDrive just sits there, waiting patiently for what is apparently a timed update cycle.  There’s no manual refresh button; the only thing you can do is reboot the client.  This is really frustrating.  The OneDrive client seems slower and less efficient in general, too.  Other than that, though, it is a serviceable client, and it works well enough.

iOS Apps
I can’t speak to Android apps here, but I did use both Dropbox and OneDrive on my iPad and iPod Touch.  Both apps have features to automatically upload photos, and the OneDrive app seems better at keeping up with this in the background.  However, the Dropbox upload algorithm has one or two clever touches.  For example, the most recent photos upload first.  This way, if you take a photo and want to share it via Dropbox, then find there’s 30 photos that didn’t upload yesterday, you don’t have to wait.  Videos upload last for the same reason.  The OneDrive app is also missing a way to save files for offline use (as someone who doesn’t have an iPhone, this is a feature I missed).  Again, though, both apps work well.  One other important point is that Office Mobile apps can connect directly to OneDrive.  Sure, there are plenty of productivity apps that link with Dropbox, but when you use a third-party productivity app alongside Word you usually get little formatting bugs in your document (not that I care too much about these, but if you’re doing something important for work or school, they’re not good).

Browser Client
I actually think I’m going to give this category to OneDrive.  The interfaces are very similar, but I like OneDrive’s better, especially for photos.  Also, OneDrive has Office Online integration, so clicking a Word document opens it up right there in a new tab for editing.  The one leg up Dropbox has is that newly uploaded files automatically appear, without you having to refresh the page.  On OneDrive, you’re going to have to reach for your browser’s refresh button.

Storage Space
Dropbox starts you off with 2gb of storage space.  This might have been a lot five or six years ago, but these days, it’s pretty small.  OneDrive starts with 15gb, so does Google Drive, and Box gives you 10gb.  As you can see, 2gb is really small.  Granted, there’s lot of things you can do to earn more space (use their photo uploader, refer friends, connect with Twitter and Facebook, etc.), but OneDrive offers many of these bonuses as well.  I’m really hoping that, sometime soon, Dropbox will increase their starting space to something more competitive.  Hopefully, this will also apply retroactively to old accounts.  I know that sounds unlikely, but when Dropbox upped their referral bonus from 250mb to 500mb, they applied the extra space to retroactive referrals as well.

Sharing
Both services allow you to send file links to other people (even if they don’t use the service), as well as created shared folders (with those who do use the service) for collaboration.  When you get a shared link from either service, you have an option to download the files as a .zip.  However, when you get a Dropbox link, you also have the option to “Add to My Dropbox.”  This is easy and quick, and can also be done from a smartphone.  Even if OneDrive were to add this feature, it would be less useful, because less people use OneDrive.

So what is each service good for?  Well, as I said, I decided to move my photos back to Dropbox, because it just works better (even though I wish I had more space).  I did decide to keep my documents in OneDrive though, mostly because of the aforementioned Office Mobile integration.  Finally, I’m going to continue to use Dropbox to share files.

So that’s my future plan, but what are your thoughts? How (and why) do you use different services? Feel free to leave a comment about your preferences. Thanks for reading!  ••

Update 11/6/14: Microsoft Word for iOS now has native Dropbox support!  This is fantastic, and it works really well.  Dropbox also announced that they will continue to work with Microsoft to incorporate Office Online into Dropbox.com.  That being said, I have now moved my documents back to Dropbox, and plan to keep them there.

What Comes After the Internet?

Last week I would have looked at that title and laughed.  Nothing comes after the internet, of course; the internet is the future.  Or is it?  Didn’t people say the same thing about TV, and radio?  I just finished reading From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Disruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet (which I highly recommend, by the way).  In the book, John Naughton (the author), while admitting that we can’t know for sure where the internet is going, tries to postulate where it’s going by looking at another enormous leap for technology: the printing press.  Turns out, there were doomsayers for the printing press too (they thought an avalanche of books would cheapen their quality), much the same way there are doomsayers for the internet today.  Looking back, we scoff at those who scoffed at the printing press.  Will future generations scoff at us for being afraid of the internet?  Or is the internet so special, so new, and so different that our fears are justified?

I can’t answer that question.  But I can answer the first part of it.  The internet is not different.  It’s just another medium, the same way printing, radio, and TV were before it.  This was the light bulb that hit me this week, the one that made me change my mind about this title.  I’d always thought that the internet would just continue to evolve, never ceasing, never being replaced.  However, the odds of that now seem rather low.  When television first came, it was thought to be the death of radio.  Radio didn’t die, but its heyday was over.  Ironically though, it seems television is also nearing a decline.  The internet is slowly (quickly?) taking over as our primary form of entertainment, but there’s no reason to believe it will last forever.  On the contrary, history indicates that almost everything will slowly become obsolete.

But what will replace the internet?  That’s the flip side of my epiphany: I haven’t the slightest idea.  This seems odd that we know change is so imminent, so sure, but we don’t even have a glimmer as to what it might look like.  I’m sure that, for now, the internet will keep improving (in much the same way television did).  However, at some point, something totally new is bound to come.

That’s what makes the future so exciting!  As I follow the tech world, every day I’m more and more aware of what an electrifying time we live in.  Everything is changing so fast, and we have no way of knowing where we’re going.  But maybe that’s the fun of it.  ••