Using Surface Pro

Surface Pro 4, Logitech K811, M570 trackball.
Surface Pro 4, Logitech K811, M570 trackball.

Short note on what I have found to be the most useful way of using MS Surface Pro 4 in my daily workflow: firstly, I have mostly learned to ignore the dedicated “Windows 10 app” versions of services that I am using. The user experience in those, stripped down versions are generally rather bad. It is much better idea to use the full, desktop version (if available – and Surface Pro 4 is powerful enough to run the desktop one in 99 % of cases). The second option is to try using the “web app” version of the service – even those are generally much better than the “app” you might find from the Windows Store. Chrome is really helpful here, as you can save almost any web page into a Web App to the Windows desktop (go to: Settings [three dots up right], then ‘More Tools’, then ‘Add to Desktop’). The web versions are versatile and powerful these days, and you can e.g. easily enlarge elements in the web interface by simple ‘pinch zoom’ finger gestures – in contrary to the Windows apps, whose interfaces mostly do not scale at all.

I have also tried to learn my own user interface technique, which is a combination of scrolling and pinching with my fingers, precise pointing, underlining, drawing and writing with the Surface Pen, and more exact mouse work, where I currently mostly use Logitech M570 Wireless Trackball. I have never really learned to enjoy the official Type Cover, even while it is great improvement over previous generations of thin-and-light keyboard covers (there is still bit too much flex, and the shallow and imprecise key movement sometimes really irritates a touch typist). So I use a high quality external wireless keyboard, currently either a Logitech K810 or a K811, which I have several.

The downside of this system is that there is a real patchwork to move around and set up: Surface tablet, Pen, trackball mouse, external keyboard, plus of course the power brick. When contrasted to a regular laptop, the benefits are in flexibility: in tablet mode, I can go some time without any other items, or just work with the Surface and the Surface Pen (e.g. when marking drafts and grading student work). But when writing and productivity tasks take priority, then a regular laptop would indeed make things a bit simpler. Maybe the next version of Surface Book might bring these things together? Currently there are some nice compromise efforts (e.g. Lenovo Yoga 900S), but there are multiple compromises in e.g. processing power, storage, pen integration and keyboard quality that this kind of “convertible ultrabooks” take, as contrasted to having separate devices that are all excellent in what they do.

Thus, my current patchwork seems to work best, for me, at least.

Contextual apps

S4 with the Cover app lock screen
S4 with the Cover app lock screen

There are digirati who claim that the era of contextual apps and services is here and that it will transform our daily lives (the recent, app-cataloguing book Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel is one example). Since the mobile media experimentation and development really took off in the late nineties, there has been much talk and few real breakthroughs in this area. However, some recent developments have brought the “contextual revolution” a bit closer to reality. Particularly all the information industry giants like Google and Apple are collecting is making it easier to use algorithms and sensor data to identify various locations and provide estimates on what the user would be interested in doing in that particular spot. I have been test driving e.g. Cover, the contextual lock screen app, and Aviate, the contextual home screen app (currently in beta) in my Android device (Samsung Galaxy S4). While there is obvious promise in making the mobile operating system and user experience more adaptive, providing the most used applications in my particular locations seems still a bit hit-and-miss affair for these apps, at least. I suppose they will get better by learning from what I am actually doing, but currently I end up manually configuring the app shortcuts in the various “Spaces” that Aviate serves me, for example. And that is not exactly making the life easier than having a static home screen where I can immediately find my most used apps, always reliably in the same place. Having this “lively interface” where things are dynamically moving around can be also confusing, so my mind is stil divided about the actual usefulness of this, first generation. But I can definitely see that this kind of functionalities could come built-in some of the next versions of Android, for example. When these services start to know you better than yourself, the holding power of such apps can obviously grow to remarkable (or frightening, depending on the perspective) degrees. A really insightful recommendation system can really affect your behaviour (think about all those Amazon.com recommendations, for example), and when something similar is always making suggestions to you while you are going around and deciding upon the directions and activities in your daily life, the effect is potentially vastly greater.

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