Jan 16, 2011

Smartphone interfaces for the Online Translation Manager

In recent years it seems that quite a few of my colleagues and customers have made smartphones part of their business. I'm not part of that crowd; years of being an early adapter of PDA technology (Palm devices, Sharp Wizards and a host of other long-forgotten gadgets) and other computer-related junk has made me a bit allergic to the technology, and the trauma of short-circuiting a 500 euro mobile phone by dropping it in a toilet and having another phone of the same class fall from my pocket as I ran to catch a train has made me a stubborn minimalist when it comes to phones and other electronics. Add to that the fact that I've found myself up to my hips in swamp water a few times in recent years while hunting boars, I tell myself that the last thing I need is an iPhone in my back pocket (where I once sat on and broke two Sharp Wizards).

And yet... after a friend recently showed me how to go offline with my phone the other day so I could avoid interrupted naps and sleeptalking with puzzled clients and friends, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, there could be a place in my routine for a little more gadgetry if indeed I can switch it off at those times when the 24/7 world does not interest me. Over the past year I have come to rely on the security and efficiency of the Online Translation Manager from LSP.net, which offers greater scope and scalability than any other business management tool for translation that I have seen and can fit in my budget and temperament. Now my #2 business tool (after my main squeeze, memoQ) has a rather functional interface for smartphones, and I'm very, very tempted. What the heck: I need a new digital camera, and my iPod died a horrible death a few years ago as I was backing up my translation archives onto it (how would you like to choke on a folder full of German patents?), so maybe I need to make a quick trip to the UK and get an unlocked iPhone. AFAIK the German market is still rather monopolistic. (Update: Perhaps that's not the case after all. FONIC sells the iPhone 3GS 8 MB without a contract for just under €500, which usually means it's not SIM- or net-locked. Combined with Skype for iPhone, the iPhone's WLAN capabilities and my Skype flatrates, this is starting to look very good. I've also been reminded that Apple's exclusive contract with a certain mobile service provider in Germany has expired, so the German Apple Stores sells devices with no lock. Nonetheless, I'll find an excuse to visit the UK. It's been too long.)

The iPhone screen shot here was made while the developers were showing me the new interface last week. It tells me as a project manager that there is a new quotation request (don't let the date fool you - this is on a test system where the wildest things happen), unread incoming on another project, and unread incoming e-mail and a delivery from a subcontractor on another. I can now assign tasks, respond to the mails and carry out other necessary project management activities. If this interface had been available in recent months (and I had a device to use it), a number of urgent requests from cherished clients during the busy holiday season wouldn't have gone to the dogs. (Other dogs, not mine.) For reasons I have not yet fathomed, a number of clients who used to pick up the phone to communicate an urgent request now assume that I'll be sitting in front of my screen to respond ASAP. Come to think of it, most of these send me e-mail where the footer indicates that the message was sent from a CrackBerry. OK, OK - I surrender.

Seriously, though: this is an extremely useful feature that I hope to see expanded soon to include the customer and supplier ("resource") interfaces. It makes a good business management environment even more useful and relevant.

Release update (compatibility): This feature was developed with and tested on Apple iPhones for the most part. A Blackberry interface was developed as well using a simulator from RIM, due to the wide variety of devices and the unavailability of many for testing. It seems that the display does in fact function differently between different models, so the optimized smartphone interface may not be ready for many Blackberry models; these will have to rely on browser access that is unoptimized. Other smartphones may be able to use this feature by changing the value of the user agent (in Firefox there is a plug-in for this), which usually involves some seriously nerdy settings tweaks in the browser. In summary: iPhone? Not a problem. Anything else? Maybe, but expect to work at it. I'm betting that there will eventually be a generic small device interface parallel to an optimized one for popular devices such as the iPhone. It would make sense. Even with one, however, I'll eventually join The Cult again and visit the Apple Store.


  1. "budget and temperament" made me smile.

    Did you have a look at XTRF at any point?

  2. XTRF? Yes, sort of. On the company's home page there is an animated presentation (presumably Flash or some such thing) touting its "pay per use" service for € 79 per month, implying that "there is no other price like this on the market". Actually, most of the SaaS options or similar that I have seen in recent years start at about that point per user and go up from there. I'm starting and staying at a point € 50 less per month. I have other plans for my € 600/year that are saved.

    More than the cost, though, what differentiates OTM for me is the strong focus on legal and commercial security in processes. This has been largely absent from other solutions, where developers and management have been quite cavalier about the fact that, at various points, their software was not able to create invoices that were legally valid in many jurisdictions. Rules-based payment terms (in-country corporations are easier to collect from and might be granted better terms by default than an unincorporated sole proprietor if you choose) are one example of "thinking ahead" in risk management. I simply don't see enough of this elsewhere, not at any cost that I care to pay.

  3. Thanks Kevin for the information. I'm starting to look into the solutions offered by the OTM for my project management activities. It's great to know there's an Iphone interface for the OTM. I don't own a smartphone myself and I have to say I would be scared to kill a few phones the way you did. I sometimes think this could be very useful when I don't have my laptop or any access to the web. It's amazing that most of our clients who own smartphones assume translators do too... Where's the line between making yourself available enough so that you don't miss out on important projects and becoming addicted to this type of smartphone interface?


  4. > Where's the line between making yourself available enough
    > so that you don't miss out on important projects and
    > becoming addicted to this type of smartphone interface?

    Where's the line? In a different place for everyone I suppose. My love affair with technology for its own sake is long over, but what I find interesting about the modern smartphone is that it appears to offer a really viable consolidation of functions for which I might use a number of other devices. The plague of constant, corrosive availability is not really a smartphone issue. You can be in that state with e-mail or the telephone alone.

    If your priorities are straight, I don't see a smartphone or any other communication tool as being a particular hazard. If they aren't, you're in for a rough ride in any case.

  5. Thanks Kevin, I see what you mean now. I agree with you. No matter what technology we use, wa can all become addicted to smartphones or computers. I'm not so sure I having a smartphone would be the right way to go for now as wifi networks are available almost everywhere and these very nice phones are rather expensive.


  6. Sophia, I think the main point of the smartphone in this context is to avoid lugging around a netbook or - God forbid - a full-sized laptop. And AFAIK most of the good smartphones can tap into WiFi networks and save you a connect bill (if you don't have a flatrate for surfing or you're in a location where it doesn't apply).

    I've done the math on an iPhone, and with the various functions I would pay for anyway in other devices, the cost doesn't look bad. My reluctance to go back to sophisticated gadgetry just yet has other reasons.


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