Microsoft Surface Pro 4 First Glance – a heart breaker and a deal breaker

As those that know me will know, I’m a big fan of Apple products. Some call me a fanboy – but my view is that I like them because they work. I’ve owned my Mid-2012 MacBook Pro 15″ since… Mid-2012, and have barely lost a day of productivity. The last time the MBP was out of action was when I dropped it on the corner onto granite, and dented it. Apple took it in and replaced nearly everything, a process which took a few days.

That said, 3 years is a long time in technology, and the MBP has seen better days. It’s out of warranty and some of the connectors have stopped working, and it’s getting a bit slow. It’s time for a replacement and the rumors are that Apple will have a new machine in Q1 of 2016.

And here it is that I find myself browsing the world of computers.

Why not the iPad Pro or MacBook?

I love the new MacBook, it looks great. But, for me it is underpowered and the keyboard is a little cramped, and I’m certain that it’s not well built enough to survive the pounding that anything I own will go through. I went through 3 MacBook Airs before I was smart enough to move to the Pro, and those light machines can’t handle it.

As for the iPad Pro… it’s just a big iPad. That will suit some people, and the screen and battery life are glorious, but I can’t download 20GB of email from Office 365 locally, or curate complex documents. A few of the reviews have said the same – the iPad Pro is an awesome consumer device, but it’s no laptop replacement.

A Mid-2015 MacBook Pro isn’t an option – it’s way too incremental an improvement over what I’ve already got. So Apple… you’re out!

Then it must be the Microsoft Surface Book?

The next logical device is the Microsoft Surface Book. On paper, it looks like it’s the ultimate laptop convertible. There seems to be no downside to this thing! It’s a laptop… it’s a tablet… with 12h battery life and no downside.

My take on the Surface Book is that it’s very much a first generation device. Is it the future of computing? Hard to tell. Certainly, it appears to offer the best of both worlds, but the battery as a tablet is very limited, for example, and it can’t charge from base station to tablet – you have to be plugged in. I also heard various problems with docking and undocking the base.

I walked into Best Buy and they admitted that whilst they did have Surface Books in stock, I couldn’t see one because their demo device didn’t power on any more and they were awaiting a replacement from Microsoft. That sealed the deal.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

And so it is that I find myself writing this on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I’m sat on the sofa, tapping away on the keyboard on my lap, with the kick stand propping up the screen. The keyboard case is remarkably stiff and I find myself typing remarkably quickly, though I’m still not quite used to the offset keyboard, so accuracy is off.

For the last week I’ve been traveling with both my SP4 and my trusty MacBook Pro, so I can be sure not to lose productivity. I’m not ready to make a final conclusion yet but I think you’ll find the initial findings interesting.

It is conceptually amazing

The concept of the SP4 is amazing. It’s light, it’s a tablet, and it has a detachable keyboard. It claims a 9 hour battery life and Windows 10 is convertible-friendly, so you can switch in between use cases on a dime.

The screen is fantastic – detailed and crisp with great colors, and the kick stand means you can get comfortable on any surface. Microsoft Edge is a good browser and is quite effective in tablet mode, which is very nice browsing on the sofa, where you can detach the keyboard and save all that weight.

I’ve got the i5 version so it’s not got the raw power of a MacBook Pro, but I find it responsive and speedy enough for my needs. I figured the i5 version would have better battery life, and it’s far less expensive. Office 2016 is also awesome, and can be downloaded via your Office 365 subscription.

It excels at some things

The SP4 absolutely excels at some things. For example I just ran an off-site, and I used OneNote with the pen to take notes, taking pictures of white boards with the camera, and it was awesome.

Same with being used for email in a café or train station – you can pull it out, and the keyboard is remarkably good to get out content quickly. I used the iPad Pro keyboard and was much less impressed. It can’t match a full size keyboard like the MacBook Pro, but it’s not far off.

It misses the mark in the real world

I’ve been trying to work with the SP4, but so far it’s not met my expectations. See, there are deal breakers.

First, the Wi-Fi is flakey. This is well documented on the web, and running all the updates in (which takes 4 reboots and over an hour) helps. But I still can’t access my iPhone hotspot, which means I get no internet on the go.

Second, the claimed 9 hour battery life is simply not true. In very modest use, it’s 3-4 hours of browsing and email. I don’t understand how a consumer product company is allowed to make statements like this. I guess you might be able to get 9 hours of video playback with the screen turned off.

Third, the usability is off. I put the SP4 down and then pick it up some while later and open the keyboard flap. It doesn’t turn on, you have to press the button for this. And depending on how deep it has gone to sleep, you have to wait several minutes for it to come to life. Or sometimes it doesn’t come to life at all and you have to hard reset.

I’ve taken a hard line – I must try to use the SP4 first, and use the MBP as a backup device, but too many times I’ve got frustrated with the SP4 because I had actual work to do, and pulled out the MacBook Pro.

Fourth, the tablet mode isn’t quite right. I had a Lenovo Yoga, and that converted automatically between tablet and PC mode when you flipped the keyboard. Not so with the SP4, you have to manually switch, which is frustrating. What’s more, many apps (Slack, for instance) aren’t tablet-enabled, so they aren’t responsive and the on-screen keyboard gets in the way. Slack is my primary messaging tool, so that’s another deal breaker.

And last, the so-called lapability factor of the SP4 is off. The kick stand means that the keyboard is 3″ closer to you than in the MacBook Pro, which means that the SP4 is horribly uncomfortable on an airplane or train, and because it doesn’t have a hinge, the keyboard and screen don’t support each other. On a flat surface, it’s awesome, but elsewhere, it’s really unpleasant.

Final Words

I’ll be traveling with the MBP and SP4 over the next few weeks and I’m hoping I come to like the SP4 more. Perhaps it will come into its own in situations I haven’t encountered yet.

But for a fourth generation device, the SP4 has too many deal breakers.

What bag to carry on a Regional Jet

As a part of my job, I get to do a good bit of travel. I suspect that some people who don’t fly a lot imagine this is glamorous like Jennifer Aniston’s A380 Emirates advertisement!

In reality, a good amount of it is being crammed into a 50-seater Regional Jet, especially when doing short 90-120 minute hops in the USA. In fact, American Airlines uses American Eagle as its regional carrier, and has 290 small jets which were acquired in a spree of consolidation over the last 20 years.

Many passengers hate them, but I’ve come to quite like them. However, they don’t have any WiFi and they can’t take a full size 22″x14″x9″ (2772 cubic inches) carry-on bag in the cabin.

The Gate Check

If you’ve been in Zone 5 in an American Airlines flight, you will have experienced the loathed Gate Check, where they take your bag off you at the plane entrance, and you pick it up at the baggage carousel at your destination. For frequent flyers this is highly frustrating, because we hate waiting for anything. This is one of the major reasons that keeps flyers loyal to an airline: if you fly more than 50,000 miles a year with that airline, you start to get perks like priority boarding, so that does’t happen so much.

The Regional Jet

The Regional Jet, or RJ, is a set of planes with 50-60 seats, usually, like the Bombardier CRJ-200, configured in a 2+2, or like the Embraer ERJ-145, a 2+1 seat config. Some, like the Bombardier CRJ-700 and CRJ-900 (formerly Canadair) and Embraer ERJ-175, have a 1+1 first class at the front, but most are all economy. The bin sizes vary on all these jets, and if you want to get really specific, there is a nice thread here which discusses the varied overhead cabin sizes… but the short version is that 19″x14″x8″ (2128 cubic inches) is the largest bag that will fit in these jets – and that is tight.

Also note that they will almost always valet check any rollaboard bag, regardless of size (unless it’s really small, see later on). That’s dependent on the cabin crew, who have final say.

The Valet Check

The valet check first appears similar to the gate check, but instead of a full luggage tag, you get a valet-like cardboard receipt when you give the bag to the luggage handler when boarding your flight.


When you get off the flight, you line up on the jetway and wait for your bag to be returned to you. This typically takes 5 minutes or less and is pretty convenient. But for some reason I don’t like to valet check. When I get to my destination, I want to get out the airport and on with the day.

So what do you do if you don’t want to valet check? You find a bag which works for you! Here are my top suggestions.

Tom Bihn TriStar

These two bags from Tom Bihn are designed for the 1-3 night flyer. The TriStar is a really tight fit on a CRJ-200 at 1976cuin and they have the Western Flyer (1812 cuin), which will fit easily.

The TriStar is not inexpensive at $315, but frequent flyers seem to love it.

Tom Bihn TriStar

The TriStar has 3 fold-out pockets and can take a spare set of shoes and gym kit on one side, shirts on the other, and a laptop in the middle. Don’t believe it? Check out this video. It also converts into a backpack. Tom Bihn bags are made in the USA and only available on their website.

Red Oxx Air Boss

I was in JFK airport a few months back and saw a guy carrying two of Red Oxx’s signature bag, the Air Boss. Honestly, he looked like he was going to collapse under the weight, because these things overpack to be huge! At 21″x8″x13″ it is on the high-end of being able to fit in a CRJ-200, and if you overpack it then it just won’t fit.

But if you want a full-size carry-on that can carry anything, this bag might be a good fit. At $255, it’s a little less expensive than the Tom Bihn option, and also made in the USA.

Air Boss Carry-on Bag Designed for 1 Bag Business Travelers by R

Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag

I don’t know that I love the design of the Gate8 bag, but it’s a cool invention. It fits a suit and clothes in the main bag, and it has a zip-off laptop bag.

Gate8 TriFold Cabin Bag

When fully packed (watch this video to see how), you can’t fit both into the overhead bin of a Regional Jet. Instead – just unzip the laptop and put it under your seat. This makes it a super-convenient option and at $235, it might be considered good value since you get two bags for the price of one!

Tumi Arrivé LaGuardia

The Tumi Arrivé LaGuardia has been replaced by the Norwich, and I own the older model, which I bought deeply discounted (the original $1000 retail price is insane).

At 17.5″x16.5″x8″ it is a very tight fit in the smallest Regional Jets, and you have to remove the laptop and put it wheels out! I assume that the Norwich would also fit (it’s the same, but has spinning wheels), but you’d need to check this, and they have a 30-day returns policy in-store.

Tumi Arrivé LaGuardia

Incredibly, it will fit a spare pair of shoes, gym clothes, 3 shirts, jeans, underwear, washbag and a laptop, when packed to a bulge. It’s the bag I use for 2 night trips, when a single suit will suffice.

The nice thing about this bag is that it looks like a laptop bag, so you don’t get challenged when boarding the flight (remember to fold the handle and carry it on, not drag it!), and it also looks quite nice with its leather and chrome. The latest version is generally available on discount for $700, but deeper discounts are available periodically.

Lat56 Red-Eye

The Lat56 Red-Eye is the latest addition to my collection. It’s an interesting bag because it has a unique feature – a supposedly wrinkle-free suit carrier which fits in the lid.

Lat56 Red-Eye

Here it is, filled with a 4-day trip of clothes (Spare suit, 3 shirts, spare shoes, t-shirts, jeans and gym kit).


Lat56 Red-Eye

At a claimed 21.5″x10.5″x7.5″ it should neatly fit in a regional jet (I reckon it’s closer to 22″x11″x9″) and because it’s so light at 2.4lb, you can easily carry it fully packed.

It does require a separate bag for your laptop, and since it doesn’t have external pockets, it’s necessary to put your wash bag in your laptop bag (no big deal for me). If you want a wrinkle-free spare suit with you, there are precious few options. It looks indestructible and at $299, it’s pricey but not insane.


This requires a whole separate blog, but oftentimes, people ask me how I can pack in such a small bag. The short answer is by packing only what I need. There are several themes here:

  • A 3-day trip only really needs 2 changes of clothes. I wear Monday’s clothes, and pack for Tues/Weds.
  • Personally I like to carry gym clothes and casual clothes for the evening (jeans and a t-shirt).
  • Transfer things like hand creams into 1oz containers or less. This way you can fit all you need for a week of travel into a small TSA-approved cosmetic case.

I never carry anything I don’t use, so everything in the bag has a purpose. I’ll blog on this in more detail some time!

Final Words

I am aware that all this time spent on the humble travel bag could be considered a little neurotic, but traveling efficiently has become a bit of a fun obsession for me. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this and if you fly frequently on the Regional Jet (dubbed the flying sewage pipe by many customers) then you might consider putting away the full-size carry-on rollaboard and go lighter.

Also if your preference is to check a bag, or valet-check a carry-on, then that’s all good. The world is made up of preferences!

Happy Travels!

The rise of the amazing professional laplet

When I left university in 1998, one of the first things I did was to invest in a laptop. They were expensive things back then and my shiny new IBM ThinkPad 770ED cost nearly $8000 in today’s money.

It was really an amazing machine for its time – including a video capture card, 128MB RAM, a 5GB hard disk, and a beautiful 14″ screen. It also weighed 8lb and the palm rest peeled, leaving black dust all over your hands, but anyhow. The point it was just as powerful as the desktop PC it replaced, and that transformed the kind of work I could do on the move.

But from there I found that I needed a laptop every 12-24 months. I’ve had at least 14 laptops over those 17 years (not including replacements under warranty), including the Apple PowerBook G4, Dell Latitude C400, C810, C410, C420, C610, C630, E5510, two E6410s and two MacBook Airs, and my current machine, the MacBook Pro 15″.

Quite often I’d flip between a light, anemic machine, and a powerful, heavy machine. I could never decide the compromise that fitted me best. The MacBook Air probably suited me least, because my demanding needs would mean they overheated and crashed regularly. When I accidentally dropped my Air, I went on the look for a new machine.

I have nothing but incredible praise for what I bought next, the MacBook Pro 15″. I have had on average a laptop a year for 17 years, including warranty replacements, and the Pro has lasted 3 years and is still going strong. It has travelled a million miles, it has a few dents, but the battery is still 5 hours if you are frugal, and it’s still quick. And I haven’t had to reinstall Windows every 3 months, and I’ve rarely had a Blue Screen of Death.

And so my Pro is entering its twilight years, and I’m considering its replacement. The Pro is just 0.5lb heavier than my Ultrabook Dell C400 with its diminutive 12″ screen. I’m usually lugging a few days clothes with me, so I’m not too bothered about the size. I don’t think I’ll be going back to an Ultralight machine again – not least because the Pro is built like a tank, and when you travel every day, not having to service your computer is a big deal.

I’m also scared because I don’t want to go back to a life where I needed IT support. According to IBM, Macs require less support, and my anecdotal evidence supports this. Provided my email, VPN and corporate systems like Time and Expenses work, I rarely contact IT. Nothing against my IT folks of course, not contacting them is a good thing.

But here’s the kicker: wow, there is an amazing choice of machines on the market. At the SAP TechEd keynote in Las Vegas, I recently had a Lenovo Yoga 900 Pro on loan for a few days. I liked it so much, I “accidentally” left with it and had to ship it back to them. It’s a giant tablet that turns into a PC, and weighs next to nothing. Amazing machine.

And then you just have to look at the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, and the Surface Book, to see at how well Microsoft is playing Apple’s game. And what’s more, Windows 10 Pro is a really nice system – the Lenovo Yoga was a pleasure with it. Huge respect to Microsoft for finally taking the leadership in the device market, rather than letting OEMs control it. Judging by the quality of the Lenovo Yoga, this has already paid off.

The Surface devices feature Intel’s latest Skylake i7 CPU and are shipping on November 20th. I assume that Apple also have Skylake MacBook Pros coming shortly (rumors say Q4 2014 or Q1 2015). The current Broadwell MacBook Pro doesn’t excite me because they are only incrementally better than the Mid-2012 Ivy Bridge model that I have. Typically Apple overhauls its Pro range every 3 years, so I have high expectations.

I’m suspect about the Surface Pro, because I actually spend increasing amounts of time in front of the laptop. I find I can create content – emails, presentations, documents, so much faster than on an equivalent tablet, and the keyboard is only OK. Interestingly I liked the Lenovo Yoga most on a plane – you get a full 30 minutes of extra work on takeoff and landing, by flipping the keyboard and using it as a tablet.

What amazing times we live in, where we have such incredibly powerful and portable machines available. Question is… do I switch to a Microsoft device or stick with another MacBook Pro? And will the moniker “laplet” stick? Probably not!

Writing a business book – the 80:20 rule

12 days ago, I wrote Writing a Business Book in 30 days and I’m now 15k words through. I’m probably a couple of days behind, but I’m at peace with that given my travel schedule has picked up. It seems preferable to prioritize phoning home, to adding to the book.

What’s more it’s clear that I’m now in the final stretch of the first draft. I’ve got only 2-3 sections left to write, and they are the ones I’m struggling with most. Probably by the end of today, I’ll have finished the first draft, and it will be time for an extensive re-write.

In particular, it’s interesting that the advice from my friends and colleagues has shaped this to be far better than I ever imagined. Here’s a few things I picked up along the way

Write the draft in MS Word

Jeff Word gave this advice and I think it’s definitely the way to go. It enables much easier editing, moving sections around, and is easily legible by colleagues. You do have to be careful to keep formatting simple, but more on that later when I write a blog about workflow.

I was tempted at one stage to use a dedicated eBook publishing software like Scrivener, but in the end, I found this was a real workflow killer, because you can’t easily get in-line edits from friends and colleagues.

Find a place and time to write

I’ve tried to find my place and time to write. When I’m at home, it’s the first hours of the morning, on the balcony with coffee (this will only work for a few more weeks before it gets too cold, so I’d better hurry up and finish!) and when I’m traveling, it’s usually on a plane, which definitely makes writing harder, since I’m flying 4 days a week. That can’t be helped, it’s my day job!

Having that time which is mine, and my book’s is an important thing. I also added to this to write 1000 words a day, which has been a nice target to get me to breaking the back of the book.

Separate Writing and Publishing workflows

In comments from Dennis Howlett and John Studdart, I had take-aways that writing and publishing workflows should be separate.

This is significant for me and has really relaxed me, because I’ve just spent an hour finding a publishing workflow that works (more on this later, when I’ve actually used it in anger), and reliably gets me from a MS Word document to the two major eBook formats (MOBI and EPUB). Phew.

Before that, I was definitely a little stressed because I was concerned that I’d have to totally rewrite all the formatting in my book – something that as it grows, is getting incrementally harder. That worry has totally gone away now, and I can focus on writing.

Get an early view from your customers

This is a book where I seek to reach out to two particular demographics – consultants, and salespeople in consulting. My book has to resonate with them, and I feel it’s been incredibly important to get their feedback.

Thanks, for example, to DJ Adams, who pointed out that the introduction didn’t connect to him as a consultant, which would have made him reluctant to finish reading, if he hadn’t agreed to review it. This enabled me to be a lot more customer-focussed in what I did, which is essential to the success of this project.

The 80:20 rule applies

There is a rule of thumb in IT projects that the first 80% of the work takes up 80% of the time, and the last 20% takes up the other 80% of the time. That definitely seems to be applying here, because I hit a wall at around 15k words. It’s partially because I have said most of what I want to say, and partially because the parts that need writing are the parts that I put off because they are hard, or needed research.

I know I have to live with that, but also push to get the first draft. I know this is important… because once the first draft is complete, the book is probably only 30-40% complete.

Everything is a priority

Everything we do in life is a matter of priorities, or choices, and that’s never more clear than committing to a project like this. People ask how I make time for it, with work and home and everything else, and that’s the simple fact.

I can’t take time out from the working day to work on this because there’s plenty going on there (and my employer isn’t paying me to write a book, though they should benefit from it). Nor do I choose to take time out from my personal life, because, well, that’s a priority.

And so this writing this book (and this blog) fits into the cracks between them, which is probably why enjoying the leaves falling from the balcony is such a workable time.

Writing a Business Book – Workflow Woes

For the first seven days, I cranked out a happy thousand words a day – I was on vacation for the first four, and didn’t travel for two more, so that was easy.

But then the week got tough, and I ended up stuck away from home in a storm, flying into Washington DC and driving hundreds of miles in a storm. All in all, I’ve been traveling for nearly 20 hours this week, mostly by car, and you can’t write a book whilst driving.

As an aside, a friend of mine used to put on cruise control in the USA, and drive for hundreds of miles on the Interstates, whilst reading books. He tried to do this in the UK and was immediately arrested, so I definitely don’t recommend this!

So it’s 9am on Saturday morning, 11 days in, and I’m at just 7.5k words and feel like I’ve let myself down. Thankfully it’s a quiet morning and with a few cups of coffee, I’ve managed to get past the 11k mark and am back on track. Yay!

Jeff Word described my style as the “vomit draft” in my last blog post, and he followed up with a kind email with some guidelines on writing which have served him well. He doesn’t recommend the vomit draft – instead suggests creating more outline structure first, but 11 days in, I’m feeling reasonably good about what I’ve written thus far. The structure isn’t quite perfect, but it’s not a million miles off.

What has come to bother me (rightly or wrongly) is how I will in future turn the manuscript into a book. In my last book, the Bluefin marketing department kindly took this on and turned the book into a visual masterpiece. That said, it did take a long time and it was really tough for them to turn the printed book into an eBook.

So I spent a little time looking into tooling. A lot of people recommend writing the manuscript in Word, and then using HTML coding manually. That looks like a lot of hard work, but apparently it makes for a guaranteed working eBook structure.

And then there are tools like Scrivener, which claim to allow a much better workflow. I did try to use Scrivener and I didn’t find it easy to use at all, or to visualize the whole book – you have to compile the book, there’s no easy preview.

When I wrote my University thesis, I used the wonderful text markup language TeX, which allows unparalleled writing styles. It’s a little technical to use, but you get beautiful and consistent page structures. Unfortunately I don’t think that TeX easily translates to eBooks.

For now, I’m ploughing along and using Microsoft Word to write my manuscript, which as Jeff correctly pointed out to me is ubiquitous and allows for excellent version management and editing capabilities. Plus, he says, you can publish directly to Kindle from Word, though that doesn’t help me, because I don’t expect to publish this book publicly.

I’m still feeling though that there must be a better way. After all, most books have a title, table of contents, sections, subsections, and some basic formatting. Why is there not an excellent workflow available for the writing and editing process? Am I missing something?

Writing a Business Book in 30 Days

I’ve recently had a few days off work, which have been much needed. I can always tell when I haven’t had a vacation recently enough, because I stop writing. It’s a nice early warning sign, and my last blog on this site was in April.

I was also lucky enough to get my first book published this year, Building the Business Case for SAP HANA. It was a fascinating learning experience, and the most interesting part was how hard it was to get from a part-finished manuscript to a published book.

Part of it was getting part the inertia of filling in the gaps, part was getting a good executive summary and introduction, then hassling people, and getting the design process done for the initial print run, and then the conversion to e-book. But I’m so glad it was done, and thanks to those who helped – co-author and editor Jon Reed, Steve Lucas from SAP and Geoff Scott from ASUG. Not to mention James Appleby from Bluefin and our marketing team, who turned the manuscript into a book.

All of this has given me the energy and desire to continue to write something which sucks a little less than my last book. I’ve got pretensions of writing a novel, but I don’t have even the inkling of a storyline yet. That will come one day. I’d also like to write a sequel to Building the Business Case for SAP HANA, focussed on the age of SAP S/4HANA, but I don’t think that story is ready to be written yet.

And so I settled on an internal business book, something which will be available exclusively and for free to the 15,000 combined Bluefin and Mindtree employees. I’ll share more details on the title and what it contains later, but I’m not ready to let that out yet!

From a personal perspective, I specifically wanted to understand how to get over the hurdle of getting out of writing and into editing, fast. And so I have set myself a goal of writing a business book in 30 days. My specific goal is to write 1000 words each day, in around an hour in the morning after I wake up and whilst I enjoy a coffee or two. I have to continue this until I’m done writing content and have a first manuscript to share with colleagues.

What I’ve found myself doing is filling in the gaps from the previous day, and then adding the structure for the next day. Sometimes I add a few extra things that pop into my head as the day progresses.

So far, I’m 6 days, and 6000 words in. 6158 if you want to split hairs. This flies in the face of a lot of writing theory, which says you should create all the structure first and then fill it in, and so maybe my experiment won’t work.

I don’t have a word-count in mind, but now I’m 6 days in, I feel like I may be nearly half way through the story I want to tell. It needs to be readable in an hour or two, because that’s the maximum amount of time I want to ask my colleagues to spend. Since the average reading speed is around 250wpm, that puts my desired word count at around 15-30k words.

One early question I got was whether it would be 1000 quality words, or just 1000 words per day. My sense on this is that there’s some duplication, some reordering, and some rewriting to be done, but the 6000 words aren’t just drivel. I’ve shared the first few chapters with some colleagues and got some interesting feedback on the idea which have helped shape the content. Thanks to Robert, Chris, Nathan for your feedback thus far.

I’ve also found myself reading more than usual – I’ve already read 3 books that serve as background on the area that I’m writing. Part of the goal on writing about this topic was to solidify my understanding so I could be a better practitioner, and part was to help teach others. I definitely feel like a better practitioner, for trying to write a book on the subject.

I’m interested to see whether the experiment works, or whether I end up with a monologue, or a series of incoherent essays, and what my colleagues think about it. Whether they think it will help them, even.

I’d be fascinated by the experience and opinions of those of you who have tried to write a book, or have successfully completed such an endeavor, and what you learnt. And indeed the comments from those who would like to, but haven’t yet.

In the meantime I’d better get on and write the next 1000 words!

The Apple Watch in the Enterprise

My Apple Watch arrived on Friday in Lime Green. The reason for purchase – to discover whether wearables will be relevant to Enterprise Software. Can this tiny screen and basic user interface do something actually useful?

First Impressions

The amazing thing about the Apple Watch is it’s an instant friend. It’s not like I had time to waste on Friday (the SAP SAPPHIRE annual conference is just 9 days out) so I threw it on my wrist, spent 2 minutes configuring it via the Apple Watch iPhone app that had automatically installed itself at some stage in the last month, and left it on my wrist to sync. Top marks to the folks at Apple for integration. You need an iPhone 5, or above, which is fine by me.

It then seemed to pick up what apps are on my iPhone, and transfer them to my watch. Some are obviously very useful (Hotels Tonight, Uber, TripIt), some are theoretically useful (the Twitter and Skype apps don’t really do much) and some are downright annoying (Whole Foods, I do NOT want you tapping on my wrist to tell me I’ve got a new reward!).

Haptic Hell

The next thing that happened is what I affectionately call Haptic Hell. All of a sudden, I’ve got my iPhone on my wrist. It seemed like every few seconds I got an email, text, Slack Message, Twitter Direct Message, Skype, or some similar message.

Now I’ve spent some years making my email quite clean. All lists, spam, ham, and other non-essential emails all find their ways automatically into folders. Despite this, I get a good few hundred emails in my inbox every day, and that means my wrist gets a tap (I soon turned off the sound) several times a minute.

Two things are for sure. First, busy people in the Enterprise will turn off a lot of notifications – I already turned a bunch off. You can’t be tortured with a miniature cattle-prod 700 times a day. Second, Apple need to get the software to be much more self-tuning with alerts. It looks like I can configure it only to show emails where I mark the sender as VIP, but then I might miss some great stuff.

Google has gone a long way with GMail to focus you on the emails you need to read now, and the Apple Watch must do this, or I will eventually get bored and turn it off.

Version 1.0

When the Apple iPhone came out in June 2007, I happened to be in the US, so I picked up a first generation device with iOS 1.0 installed. The same happened in April 2010 with the Apple iPad. Actually the same happened with the PowerBook G4 in 2001, but that’s another story.

With each of those devices we saw a similar story – the first generation device was somewhat clunky, and later generations really brought out the best in it – both in terms of hardware, operating system but also in terms of ecosystem.

As I mentioned before, most of the apps aren’t there yet. Many are missing (Viber for one), and many others are very basic (Twitter does only Timeline and Top Trends, neither of which I care about). This will come in time, as people learn how to use the screen and crown.


Usability right now is around a 5/10. Performance is much better than the early reviewers suggested – I counted 8 seconds for it to lock my location in Uber and show the “request” button.

My main pain is it doesn’t know when to turn itself on and off. Especially when I’m working on a laptop, the screen will turn itself on constantly because it thinks I’m looking at it. Other times, especially when sat on a sofa or in bed, you have to make a conscious move to turn the screen on. That’s quite painful, but no doubt it will get fixed in future revisions.

Battery life is fine, provided you know you have to charge it every day. My main gripe there is that the magnetic charger doesn’t come as a disk with a lightening port. That way I could share the cable with an iPhone. I hate cables, but no doubt someone will think of this and make one.


The security is only OK. It has a lock, and locks when you take it off, which is very nice, but it’s only locked with a code. This defaults to 4 digits but can be set to a complex passcode, and can be configured to unlock when you use the fingerprint scanner on the iPhone.

Personally I’d like to turn the passcode on the Watch off, and only unlock it using the iPhone. This would be much more secure. In the meantime, I set a complex 8-digit numeric password (00000000). Just kidding.

Enterprise Email Integration

This isn’t bad, and not great either (see a trend here?). A lot of the time it says that the message can’t be displayed on the phone (try your best!!!), and it doesn’t do essential activities like being able to automatically join conference calls on your iPhone at the right time.

Calendar appointments come through as emails which is annoying, so there’s definitely some work to do here.

What I like most is the ability to glance and see who emailed you. This way you can decide if it needs actioning right now, which can ironically avoid disturbances.

Apple Watch in the Enterprise

What I learnt is that I believe that successful Apple Watch apps will have the following characteristics:

  • Have simple micro-functions. Uber just has a “request” button, and Hotels Tonight has a list of hotels and a “Book Now” button.
  • Have full micro-functionality. Wall Street Journal gives you a teaser of news articles with no way to read the full article, which is pretty useless. They need to figure a different way.
  • Be actionable in 5-15 seconds. The sweet spot for Apple Watch activity is 5-15 seconds, or you would be better off getting your iPhone out your pocket.
  • Be necessary. Notifications must be necessary! Whole Foods Rewards is a great example of a Bad Watch App, because it bugs you about rewards that you don’t want an email about, let alone someone tapping you on the wrist.

With that in mind, I’ve started to play with ideas with Bluefin developer Brenton o’Callaghan, for pulling Enterprise data onto the wrist. Here’s a few we are toying with:

  • Workflow approvals. Not for all approvals, but managers on the move who need to urgently approve items might benefit.
  • Sales leads. Field sales folks might appreciate knowing about leads more soon.
  • Timesheets. Consultants could get a notification once a day at 6pm, offering them a list of recently used WBS elements to book that day to.
  • Real-Time Analytics. Small graphs, or percentage numbers – showing sales/revenue targets, customer support numbers, staff utilization.

With each of those ideas, we’ve tried to take into account the rules above.

Final Words

The Apple Watch has convinced me that wearables are here to stay. It is a very flawed first generation device, but it has shown me the future. I don’t advise you to buy one if you’re not an early adopter – the Apple Watch 2 will no doubt be an enormous step forward.

What’s important to note is the Apple Watch is a very personal device – it feels like a friend. A slightly awkward friend right now, but a friend. It’s a friend that tells me what’s going on, in real-time. It taps me on the wrist and tells me what’s going on in the world.

I highly recommend that Enterprise Software folks have a serious think about what this means to the future of software. It’s just as significant a move as the iPhone was in 2007. Let’s check back in 2023 and see if I was right?

The Apple Watch – time to short Apple stock?

It took Apple exactly 3 years to break the 50m iPhone barrier (it sold 74m last quarter alone), and the iPhone was a significant device: it provided a user experience that changed how phones were made, and destroyed the sales of the corporate-friendly Blackberry.

Three years later, the iPad did this in just 7 quarters, despite being a device that no one needed. That’s marked by the fact that iPad sales are down year on year in 2015, and are unlikely to recover: Apple has released the iPhone 6+, which is big enough for many people, and the new MacBook, which will wipe out both the MacBook Air, some of the MacBook Pro, and some of the iPad audience.

We will see the iPad go the way of the iPod Classic – loved by many for years to come, and then finally, with dwindling sales, being discontinued.

But all these launches were overshadowed by the hype of the Apple Watch. CEO Tim Cook has big boots to fill: the launch of the iPad was still looked over by the late Steve Jobs, and Tim has been doing an incredible job of fine-tuning the Apple products ever since. He’s a supply chain guy, and what he has done to the quality and production of Apple’s products is nothing short of incredible.

Back to the Apple Watch. Cook clearly understood a few things about the Swiss Watch market when they built the Apple Watch.

First, he understood that luxury watches are Veblen Goods – that is to say, the demand is proportional to the price. The Porsche 918 Spyder, starts at an incredible $845,000, but you can pay $49,900 for a Porsche Macan and get the same steering wheel. With the Apple Watch, the $17,000 Apple Watch Edition brings greater value to the $349 Apple Watch Sport – whilst there are enough rich A-list celebrities who will buy (or be given) the $17,000 insanity.

Second, he bet that there are enough Apple Fanboys (and girls) who will buy anything Apple peddle them. What’s more, there are enough poorly-created smart watches on the market that there is a place for Apple to come along and bring their brand: user experience and simplicity.

For me, in the Enterprise Software market, the Apple Watch has the capability to transform the way corporations work. There are many business decisions which need making on a daily basis which could be subtly displayed on a watch, and could be made more quickly. These aren’t complex things, but rather high-priority small decisions like approving an urgent purchase order on the move.

To my eye, the Apple Watch, however, looks rather like the 1st Generation iPad. It’s somehow ungainly and even – shock horror – a little ugly. But do you remember the 1st Generation iPod (those babies sell for $10k+ sealed!), and iPhone?

What’s more, the Apple Watch is missing a bunch of the features that made it interesting – pulse and blood pressure monitoring, for example. It doesn’t have wireless charging, or a self-charging mode like many Swiss Watches. It will need charging every day and that’s a real hassle.

Even worse, there’s no guarantee that your $17,000 shiny new toy will be upgradable beyond software updates, and Apple will be bringing new watches out every year. My current watch has been on my wrist for over 15 years, and it’s one thing buying a new iPhone every 2 years, but another story spending $17,000 on a watch every 2 years. That is truly for the super rich.

My prediction is that it will sell, but not anything like as well as the second generation, which will be lighter, have a good battery life and add the features that people really wanted. Let’s see whether it can get to 50m devices sold in less than 7 quarters (I predict it will before the end of 2015).

I also predict that the sales won’t meet the investors’ lofty expectations and the stock price will fall. Time to short Apple stock, then.

The Shrinking Airline Seat and Expanding Passenger Dilemma

I saw sat next to a very large person on a flight some years back. I was jammed into a seat, and the passenger next to him sat down. He splutters and coughs:

That’s disgusting. When did you last smoke! You stink!

Without skipping a beat, she responded:

When did you last eat?

He didn’t have anything else to say.

The shrinking airline carry-on

When standing waiting for a flight, airlines will measure that your luggage fits inside a metal cage. If your luggage is deemed to be oversized or overweight, they’ll ask you to pay to check the baggage, and it will go in the hold.

Airlines started to charge for checked baggage, and this led to a decrease in carry-on sizes. Airlines realize that they can derive greater revenue from more checked baggage, and also that 200 passengers with carry-ons and gate-checked baggage increases the time to board the plane. In the airline industry, time is money.

I don’t mind these rules because in the US there is a pretty clear set of rules – a carry-on is up to 22″x14″x9″ or 2700cuin, plus a personal item of 16″x14″x8″ (this depends on an airline, but it covers a handbag or laptop bag). If they run out of space, they will gate-check the bag for free. Yes, these sizes vary by airline but those sizes are a good guide to fit on any flight.

In Europe this is much rougher, with a lot of airlines offering only one item sized 19″x14″x8″ and a 16lb limit.

Either way, whether you like it or not, you know where you stand, and if you need more space, you can pay for it in the hold of the plane at agreed rates.

The Shrinking Airline Seat

Incredibly, airline seats have been shrinking over the last 10 years as they try to fit more passengers in a plane. I’m currently sat in a standard 18″ economy seat with a 32″ pitch. It’s cosy, but some international flights have 17″ or even 16.5″ wide seats.

Now the average male shoulder width is 18″. I’m a little above average and that means that my shoulders extend past the seats, which is fine, so long as I have an aisle or a window seat. In addition, the 32″ pitch is fine for my 34″ legs, so long as the person in front of me doesn’t want to recline.

But yes, many airlines have reduced the seat width now to be smaller than the average male.

The Expanding Waist Line

In parallel with the shrinking airline seat is the expanding waistline. A Gallup Poll reports that self-reported weight has increased 20lb since 1990. If you believe the CDC, Americans are 1″ taller and 25% heavier than in 1960.

This means that expanding passengers are stuffed into narrower seats that are smaller than the average person.

The seat sizes are driven by the economies of flying, as well as the fact that an increase in seat sizes would mean fewer seats, thereby dramatically driving prices up during peak periods. During quiet periods, center seats are often empty, solving the problem.

What size person is fair to sit in a seat?

If you buy a seat on a plane, you should feel entitled to have that seat. But since the seat is smaller than the average person, if you put three average, 5’9.5″, 195lb males in three adjacent seats, they will be very uncomfortable.

I’ve been in a flight wedged between two very big men and I can attest it is very miserable. There’s no room for elbows, arms, shoulders.

Should we have people size cages?

One solution to this would be to have size cages but for people. If you can fit in, then you’re on the flight. Otherwise you have to pay for a seat (or seats) that can fit the larger passenger.

Writer and director Kevin Smith was thrown off a SouthWest flight for this reason, though it’s not clear just how big he was. As an aside, he has since lost a load of weight.

Some people would argue that weight is a personal choice, and therefore if you choose to weigh more, you choose to need to buy a more expensive seat.

What about for those who are genetically taller? The average American is 5’9.5″, but there are many that are 6’3″ or even taller. Should those people who don’t have a choice on their size also have to buy a bigger seat?

Difficult ethical questions.

What about the person next to them?

As for the person next to them, they also paid for their seat and rightly feel entitled to the space they paid for. Unfortunately, since the seats are only sized for an average-sized person, any above-average size person will eat into the seat next door (or the window area or aisle).

That person probably feels understandably cheated of the space they paid for, and as friend Leonardo De Araujo said:

And what about recliners

Whilst we’re there, we should discuss recliners. British newspaper The Telegraph makes the case for banning them altogether.

I’m actually in favor of this because there’s always some poor person who has an exit row or back seat that won’t recline, and they are the ones that suffer with even less space. Since reclined airline seats are lower than when they are upright, the average number of cubic inches per passenger reduces when all the seats are reclined. And if the person in front of you reclines, you are more or less obliged to.

Free Market Economies

The capitalists amongst us would argue that in a free market, consumers will buy tickets from those airlines who provide comfortable seating, but in reality, consumers buy tickets based on a number of factors, including price, convenience and available routes, loyalty programs, overall customer satisfaction. In many cases there is no choice of carrier, and where there is a choice, there are other factors that may affect a purchase.

What should be done?

One thing is for sure – something has to change. Some advocate regulation of airline seat sizes and there is some sense in this, when a market is unable to self-regulate for the overall best interests of the customer. Others advocate that customers should pay for a whole seat and get a whole seat. This would drive passengers that don’t fit into a regular seat into obesity seating, which presumably would attract a charge, as you would get only 5 seats wide instead of 6, so would cost (at least) 20% more. Steve Rumsby put it simply with:  

In parallel with this needs to come a pragmatic seating policy from airlines. There are aways bulkhead seats available, and many airlines now offer “premium economy seating” for domestic flights which have 2-3″ of extra leg room. Why not use these seats to the best interest of the overall traveling populous?

What do you think?

Ten Best Gifts for Business Travelers 2014

I travel somewhere almost every day of the year, and I’m always amazed by the bizarre lists that online magazines put together as gifts for business travelers! Wooden iPhone speakers, really? Do these people really travel? Other lists include things like MacBook Airs and iPads, which are downright obvious.

If something is going to be added to my travel bag then there are three things it’s has to achieve: it has to let me travel better, lighter and achieve a specific purpose.

So here is a list of things that achieve this, at all budgets. If you have a traveler in your household then they may well appreciate one of these as a stocking filler this holiday season!

1) Improved 3-1-1 washroom equipment

I always carry my washroom in my laptop bag, for easy access at security and because with a little work, you can easily carry kit for 2 weeks in a 1-quart bag. The awesome GoToob containers ensure that nothing gets spilt, and are super-easy to refill! There are packs between $6.99 and $25.99 and they are worth every penny.

I have been using Ziploc bags for years and they wear out every few weeks. If you do this, make sure you use the branded Ziploc bags rather than a generic – they last much longer. If you want an upgrade then consider the Tom Bihn 3D Clear Organizer Cube. Note that whilst it is a quart in size, TSA officials can in theory ask you to move the contents into a Ziploc bag. It’s yours for $30.

2) Socks and Underwear

I can’t recommend this enough! I used to wear cotton socks for travel and they end up soggy, heavy, and difficult to wash. Switch them out for Calvin Klein Micro-Modal Trunks and you will never look back. They retail at a steep $26 a pair but you can buy them at a discount – $18 at Amazon and even less if you wait for sales.

The same works for socks – $22 for 3 pairs at retail, and $11 if you shop around.

3) Scrubba washing kit

The Scrubba is a 5oz, $55 washing machine that can wash your microfiber undies in 3 minutes flat. Make sure you fill a GoToob with a little hand wash liquid and you are set for those times when you are stuck away an extra day.

4) Travel Towel

I always carry a Sea To Summit Small Towel when I travel. It’s perfect for when you need to shower in the office after a long flight. It costs $16.95 and mine is 10 years old. I dry it on the back of a chair and wash it when I get back home. It weighs 2.2oz and packs down to nothing!

5) Noise-Canceling Headphones

I’m not the biggest fan of the Bose sound but the Bose QuietComfort 25 Headphones are mandatory for every business traveler. They pack down small, and get rid of all the noise on a plane. Just awesome, but they have a $300 price tag.

Some people asked about using these for phone calls. Honestly, I just switch out to the Apple headphones for this. They are so much better.

6) Travel Pillow and Blanket

There are many discussions on the best pillow but for me the Cabeau Evolution Pillow is by far the best. It’s super-comfy, and packs down into a small bag for transportation. It’s $37 at Amazon or $29.99 in most major airports.

At around $70, the Cocoon Silk Travelsheet is a luxury, but as you snuggle down for a good night’s sleep you won’t regret it. Buy the blue rip-stop version and get it dry-cleaned periodically.

7) Mophie Power Pack

It amazes me how many people don’t have one of these! Right now I’m writing this on an iPad, charging it with a Mophie. Pick of the draw is the Mophie powerstation plus with its built-in cables, with versions from $80 to $150. I prefer the smallest version, it’s enough for 2 full charges of an iPhone.

8) A new carry-on bag

Be very very careful when buying a new bag. Maybe even just provide a cash, because bags are very personal and many of the best are only available from the manufacturer.

For 2-3 day trips, the Tom Bihn Tri-Star is a great one-bag solution. If you are doing 5-10 day trips and want to follow the One-Bag One-World movement then consider the Red Oxx Air Boss.

If you like rollers, my favorites are the Tumi Alpha 2 International Wheeled Carry-On and the Briggs & Riley @ Baseline Luggage Baseline International Carry-On Wide-Body Upright Suitcase. Both are great for extended trips.

Either way, don’t buy a bag for someone unless you talked to them first!

9) Umbrella

We have all been caught out in the wet and bought 20 cheap umbrellas through the years that are good for a single use!

The Davek Solo is a thing of both beauty and practicality, though it is steep at $99. If that’s too much for you then the EuroSCHIRM light trek is available for around $50. It doesn’t look as businesslike, but the price is less than 10 cheap one-use umbrellas and they are both light enough to drop in a laptop bag!

10) Wallets

For everyday use, I have a small 4-card holder wallet that can slip in any pocket.

When I travel I like to split my plastic and I carry a second wallet which means if one is stolen, I’m still OK. The U.S. has drivers license and ID cards which are useful as you can put one in each. The Bellroy Travel Wallet is a nice option which also carries your passport, ticket and includes a pen and cardholders.

If you are worried about security, consider the Saddleback Leather Passport Wallet with RFiD Shield for protection against identity theft.

Final Words

There are a bunch of things notably missing from this list. In no particular order, these are things you shouldn’t buy a business traveler!

– Cameras and Torches. It’s 2014, there’s smartphones.
– Knives. You can’t carry on a knife, silly, and we don’t check bags.
– Speakers. Hotel rooms have iPod docks, and there’s always headphones.
– Tablets. Doesn’t he/she have one? If not, buy the WiFi-only Apple iPad Mini Retina.
– Laptops. We already have a work laptop, that’s enough to lug around thank you!
– Pens. We lose them routinely so better to keep a cheap plastic one in the laptop bag or use the Belroy pen.

By the way if you are buying anything, I highly recommend visiting The Wirecutter. They have original research and great no-nonsense reviews.

I hope this helps someone over this holiday season and I’m interested – what did I miss? Let me know!