When we think about computers and technology, we often think of investments. If I want to buy an iPad today, should I save money and buy an iPad 2, or get a new fourth-generation model that will probably have a longer useful life span? Should I buy a new MacBook Pro or replace the hard drive in my current model with a fast solid-state disk?
We want our investments to last as long as possible before ponying up more money for something else. But investments aren’t just monetary. You also have to consider the investment in time of adopting a technology or a specific product.
I bring this up because lately I’ve run into a few situations where my time investment is affecting how I work and how I move forward.
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When I say “time,” I’m talking not about how long it takes to accomplish a task — although that’s related — but how much time I’ve invested in something in the past.
For one example, it’s tax time, which means I need to locate a lot of financial information. As a freelancer, I deduct business expenses from the previous year, which means I need to locate all that data.
Fortunately for me, we’re beyond the age when that meant pulling paper receipts out of a shoebox. I download financial data from the bank and consult my purchase histories from Amazon.com and other online retailers.
But I still need to pull it all together, and I don’t spend enough time throughout the year importing and categorizing that data to make doing my taxes easier. I lay a large portion of blame on our friends at Intuit, who collectively forgot that Mac users (who now number several million more than when Intuit lost interest) need to work with money, too.
I made the jump to Quicken Essentials (quicken.intuit.com) when it looked as if Quicken 2007 was dead, but it has remained virtually unchanged since its release in 2010. It’s hampered in several ways (no tracking of investments and poor reporting capabilities to name two), but for me to fix that situation would require that I switch to something else. Maybe back to Quicken 2007, which Intuit updated to run on modern versions of OS X because there was such an outcry on its demise — but only to make it work, not to add features or advance the app at all.
Other alternatives exist, but jumping requires that I set aside a bunch of time to convert many years’ worth of my data, learn the new program, and incorporate it into my workflow. Would that time investment pay off next April? I don’t know.
One example of where I did make a jump is in listening to podcasts. Last year, Apple created a new podcasts app for iOS to concentrate podcasts into one listening experience and de-clutter the Music app.
But the podcasts app wouldn’t reliably sync my podcasts or remember my place in them, and it suffered from a mysterious bug that could continually redownload podcasts and use up vast quantities of cellular bandwidth.
After a bit of investigation, I decided to start using Instacast (vemedio.com/products/instacast3) instead. It’s been solid and consistent. Naturally, a week after I switched Apple released Podcasts 1.2, which appears to address many of the issues.
But I’m not going to rush back to podcasts just yet. In this case my time investment was negative: I spent a lot of time failing to get it to work, so I feel like Apple had its chance.
Time to let something else shine.
I’ll end with one last quick example of where I am seeing the fruits of investing my time. I started using Evernote (www.evernote.com) to organize miscellaneous snippets of information — websites, notes, recipes, and the like — out of curiosity, but only sporadically. Evernote’s strength is its ability to sync that information among many devices. Whether I’m on my Mac, iPhone, or iPad, the data is always there.
Evernote has expanded its offerings lately, including Evernote Food, an iOS app that helps you look up recipes and find restaurants. Other apps do the same, but Evernote Food’s advantage is that it’s already integrated into the Evernote ecosystem. The recipes I stored away in the Evernote app over the past year automatically appear in the Food app.
Evernote is a free service, or you can pay $45 per year for the premium service that offers more storage space and other features.
Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.