It's so easy to write about tech that solves tech teams problems—thus the focus on so many blogs (including ones I've directed) on writing tools, code editors, team chat apps, and other similar things. You write what you know, and so the tools that help you with your work in the office are the most obvious things to write about.
But there's an entire other world of software that's aimed at more traditional businesses, those with brick-and-mortar stores and inventory to audit and remote locations that don't have consistent internet connections: mechanics and doctor's offices and utilities and farms and more. It's businesses like these that find it the most difficult to go paperless—and that stand to gain the most benefit from switching away from paper and clipboards.
That's what my latest app roundup at Zapier is focused on: apps that make it easy to replace paper forms and gather data remotely, even when there's no internet connection. They might not be the form apps your average tech business needs, but they're perfect to replace paper and clipboards in the rest of the businesses that keep the world running.
But the thing on the wrist is new. It is there. Strapped on. You are strapped into this new world. This future of screens in places you may not want them. And so you must embrace it. This thing on the wrist. It will not make you better. It will not change your life. Someday, perhaps. The potential is there. But not now. It is still a baby.
My first PC—a Compaq LTE laptop—was a limited little beast. It weighed a ton, had only a 75Mhz processor, and would struggle on anything beyond DOS games and SimCity. And of all the things it could have come with, it only included 2 Office apps: Word and Access '97.
And so, I made my first apps. I wanted Excel, but didn't have it, so I made little Access tools for the things I wanted: a basic schedule, a stamp collection database, a contacts book, a crude finance tool. I never did that much with it—didn't even dig into coding macros—but it was enough to make me excited about the possibilities of making software without programming (all the more exciting as I sloughed through Java textbooks).
Today, there's a lot more you can do without coding, from far more polished versions of Access and web apps that are even easier to use. I've just rounded up the best app builder tools on the Zapier blog, along with some tips on how to use your new simple tools alongside the rest of your software. It was a fun exploration for me, and hopefully will help you find the tool to jumpstart your next project.
Next time you need a tool, don't open the App Store. Fire up one of these apps instead, and see what you can make on your own. And have fun!
It's a beautiful device, the Apple Watch. Or just Watch as Apple refers to it, helping technology redefine what yet another everyday word means.
It's yet another gadget you'll want to own as soon as you touch it. Even the cheaper aluminum body and fluoroelastomer band are lovely, finely crafted futuristic-feeling products. And, once again in a decade, it's a brand new device category that has developers crowding to make the next big app for it.
It'll change the world! One can only imagine what developers will do with it!
That's the problem, though. Everyone can't quite decide what they want it to be. Is it a watch, or a tiny computer, or something totally new?
The iPod made sense. It was a better music player, and that's it. You could play any song in 3 clicks, and carry a thousand songs in your pocket. Expensive, unnecessary—people called it all those things, too. But it fit a particular need, and even the naysayers ended up buying it.
The iPhone made sense. Jobs called it 3 devices in one—a phone, a toucscreen iPod, and an internet communicator—and it was great at those three things at first. Apps came later—that first version was best when you were showing off visual voicemail or the iPod app's Cover Flow scrolling or Safari's web rendering. It was better at all those things—so much better it changed the entire industry.
So what is the Apple Watch? Check Apple.com/watch today, and it's two things: a modern timepiece, and a tiny screen filled with the apps and infinite possibilities.
Those possibilities are tantalizing, and no wonder the App Store update queue has been clogged of late with Apple Watch updates for every app imaginable. Let no app be left behind. Surely you'll want your news and social networks and photos and games and reading and so much more on your tiny wrist window into the world.
And yet, it's the former idea—that of a modern timepiece—that I find most fascinating. Just trying the Apple Watch on reminded me I liked watches, liked the ability to tell time at a glance So imagine what a better watch could be, a watch+ if you will. The best mechanical watches can tell you the time, date, moon phase, and perhaps the time in another land; the best digital watches might even include a calculator. And a smart watch? The possibilities are endless—and they could still be something instantly recognizable as a watch, by updating those "extras" in traditional watches.
Those extras beyond telling time, or complications as Apple has taught those of us who weren't already watch geeks, are to me the most tantalizing possibility of making a truly better watch, not just another smart gadget that runs the same old apps.
There are 10 complications today, as tiny extras that you can add to watchfaces (up to 5 at a time in the Modular face, 4 in most of the others, and none in some of the fancier faces like Motion). You can add your calendar, stocks, weather, and activity, say, and whenever you look at your watch face, you'll see that info at a glance.
Think about all the times you pull out your phone today, just to check the time—or perhaps the weather, or your next calendar appointment. Add the complications to your watch face, and you can in a couple seconds get all of that info at a glance. No information overload, nothing to suck you in for an accidental half-hour of browsing—it's quick info, then you go on with whatever you're doing.
Today, Apple Watch Complications are solely Apple's game, just as the iPhone's notification center widgets originally were and the Command Center still are today. There's enough to give you a taste of a smarter watch face, a device that gives you info automatically without jumping into a half-dozen apps.
For everything else on the Watch, you'll need to swipe up to see "glances", or full-screen widgets with bits of info from your apps. Or you'll need to tap the crown to see your apps, with that tantalizing full-screen potential.
I get it, why Apple opened the ability to add full-screen apps right from the start. The press would have gone crazy if there weren't full apps.
But imagine if the watch face and complications where all there were. Imagine if complications were opened to 3rd party developers, so you could have your next OmniFocus task or most recent Slack message show up in a watch face. Better yet, imagine a smart notifications system that, instead of showing the most recent notification, would figure out which are your most important notifications and would show them right at the bottom of the watch. You'd glance, see the most important info, and be able to trust there's nothing else you've got to know right now.
You'd use it a lot less time each day, but each glance would be far more valuable.
Then you could define what Apple Watch is. It's a better watch. It tells time, and your motion and activities and the other bits of info that are so necessary for modern life. You still could say that today, with the current Apple Watch, but that's not the full story, and without the focus there's no focused story to tell.
Maybe Apple Watch 2 could have full apps, then, if Apple had gone that route. Maybe they'd keep the two on the market together—here's one that just has at-a-glance info, and one that has apps.
Maybe that focus could keep the original Watch from ever slowing down—after all, a watch that's slow is useless, and every Apple Watch owner today has got to be silently hoping their Watch won't get slower over time as every other gadget inevitably does with new updates and features and apps.
Of all the "real" apps I tried in my Apple Watch demo, Maps stood out as the most uniquely useful—as one I'd actually use if I had an Apple Watch. And it, too, is based on quick glances. You start directions, then drop your wrist. It'll pulse when you need to turn, so you'll lift up your wrist, see the next step on the map, and keep going. In, out. Quick info, and you're good.
Maybe one day 3rd party apps can be that good. But for today, for the sake of battery life and our own attention spans and being a device that does something truly unique, I wish there was a bit more you could do with the watch faces and complications. Just a few more options and app integrations and smarts, so you could use the watch face and nothing else, and feel like your device was truly a valuable addition to your life.
Because if it's just another place for the same apps we're already using, we already have a Mac and iPhone and iPad to run them on. It's hard to want another device just for that.
It sounds like stuff of science fiction, building a product and working with a team that's spread across the entire globe. And yet, it works.
From the very beginning, Zapier has been built as a distributed company, with team members spread across the US and later across the globe. Along the way, our CEO Wade Foster and the rest of the team have found ways to make working remotely work for our team—and work well.
Our latest book, The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work, includes content from Foster about how to start a remote company and build a successful team that works together, and then includes further chapters from other team members and contributors about being productive while remote, overcoming time zone gaps, staying in touch, not burning out and more. And, once again, it's a free book that you can read online, or download from the Kindle and iBooks stores.
Whether you're currently working remotely, hope to work in or start a remote team, or just want some tips to help your on-site co-located team work together better, you'll find something helpful in this book. Enjoy, and if you have any tips to share, be sure to let us know!
Form builders are some of the more fascinating pieces of software since they're so versatile. You'd likely only think to reach for Wufoo or Typeform or Gravity Forms if you wanted to add a contact page or order form to your website—but there's so much more you could do with just a form, especially when you combine it with built-in integrations or Zapier connections to other apps.
From automatically saving your form data to a spreadsheet to building your own custom CRM or scheduling app from a form—complete with automated followup emails, assigned tasks, appointments and more—there's dozens of ways you could use forms. In this article on the Zapier blog, you'll find some of the best ways to put a form to work, each with examples from real companies about how they've used forms to get more done.
Ever wondered how working remotely would work when you're on the other side of the world from your team? The Zapier team's spread across the US, then with three international team members in England, Spain, and Thailand—and we've found ways to make the time difference work out, even to our advantage in some ways.
Here's some tips about how to make the most of working with a distributed team.
It's perhaps the smallest problem in the world, but it's still annoying that Twitter doesn't show Instagram previews today. It's so easy to add Twitter card support to your site, it's almost surprising today for a link to not have a preview on Twitter. And yet, your Instagram Tweets still just show up as your description text and a link.
But you can fix that today, with a simple Zapier integration. Just click through the integration below, and you can link your Instagram account to Twitter, customize your Tweet's message, and turn it on. Then, the next time you post something to Instagram, don't tap the Twitter button—just wait a few minutes, and the picture, Instagram link, and description show up on your Twitter profile.
You'll save yourself one tap each time you post something on Instagram, and your Twitter followers will see your Instagram photo without having to click through your link—just like it should have worked already.
It's little things like this—being able to add your own "features" to apps you love and finding workarounds for "bugs" that'd otherwise likely never get fixed—that makes me love automation tools like Zapier so much.
If you're just getting started with the Mac and OS X—and especially if you want to use your new Mac with Adobe Creative Cloud and other creative apps—this new video course from Tuts+ might be just what you need. It started as one of the last projects I'd work on at Tuts+, along with the Spreadsheet video course that was published last year, and is now ready for you to watch.
It'll cover everything you need to pick a Mac and set it up with external hardware, along with tips about how to use a Mac for organizing files, launching apps, keeping things backed up, and more. Then, it'll dive into more creative topics like color calibration, Adobe Creative Cloud apps, alternative creative apps, and ways to configure each of them to work great for you.
It's a great crash course to get started being creative on your Mac.