Co-working spaces let digital nomads work, rest and play

The most popular spot to get some work done at the co-living and co-working space SunDesk, Elizabeth Sharma writes on the travel blog Passport Stamps, is on the roof terrace.

There are 12 desks indoors, with endless coffee and tea, a meeting room for conference calls, and Swiss balls and standing desks for the health-conscious. But up on the roof there’s a meditative sea view, comfy throws and cushions, green plants and enticing patches of shade. It’s also where the communal breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, omelette, bread and honey is served every morning.

SunDesk was launched in November 2014 in the small Moroccan fishing village of Taghazout as a place where digital nomads, freelancers taking a working holiday and teams of colleagues could get away from the obligations and distractions of everyday life and work on professional projects in an environment that is peaceful and creatively stimulating.

There are opt-in activities organised to keep the mind and body active: yoga by the ocean, hiking in Paradise Valley, a scrub session at the local hammam and shopping trips to a souq. But guests are primarily there to work, not play.

This type of getaway, combining business and leisure, is becoming increasingly popular, thanks to a boom in the number of professionals able to work remotely via the internet from any­where in the world. A number of combined co-working and co-living spaces have sprung up in recent years with Surf Office in Gran Canaria in Spain, one of the first. It launched in 2013, and offers a bed, a desk and a lively community just steps away from a beach, for €65 (Dh261) a day for a single room. Surf Office now has a second location in Lisbon, and offers special packages for company retreats.

Co-working spaces have also sprung up in Bali, Thailand and Mexico, and there’s even a co-working and co-living space aboard a boat. Prices start at €1,180 for a seven-day catamaran tour of the Canary Islands with Coboat, which offers activities like snorkelling and dolphin watching as well as fast Wi-Fi, desk space, talks and mentoring.

For those who don’t have the type of job that enables extensive world travel, a boot camp launching in June next year called Destination: Dev can help them make the transition. For US$8,900, students will spend eight weeks learning computer coding to equip them for a job in software development, all the while living in shared accommodation and visiting local sights.

The Colombian co-founder William Duran, who says he has received dozens of inquiries from Dubai and Abu Dhabi for the first 20-student course, says he wants the programme to “encourage people to travel the world, learn the most valuable skill of this century and increase cross-cultural awareness”.

There are plans to run the boot camp elsewhere in the future, with the UAE among the countries being considered.

SunDesk, meanwhile, is the brainchild of the German entrepreneur Magdelena Hermann, who quit her hotel management job in Berlin and moved to Taghazout in 2011 to study for a business administration degree with an online university.

There she met freelancers from all over the world drawn to Morocco for similar reasons. “We all faced the same problems,” she says. “Slow internet connections, finding a quiet place to work, doing stable Skype calls and a lack of social contacts.” So she decided to create a space where travellers and digital nomads could live, eat, socialise and get work done.

Since then, she has hosted IT professionals, lawyers, translators, bloggers, journalists and others from all over the world – half of whom have jobs at home that allow them to work abroad for a month or two. The other half work remotely and are constantly on the move. The lack of distractions helps people concentrate, she says. The Mor­occan culture and mix of creative and entrepreneurial guests can be inspiring, and the culture is healthy, with fresh food and activities like surfing and yoga.

The Dubai-based business coach Murtaza Manji says that time away from the regular workplace routine can help to stimulate both personal and professional growth. “I have often begun coaching engagements with getting clients to take a weekend off,” he says. “A few days of living healthier, being more active, having stimulating discussions, brainstorming with an uncluttered mind, goal-setting while in the best of moods; these help to renew energy, remove self-doubt, and increase determination.”

But if there’s one potential hazard of regular retreats, it’s that everyday life back home may start to become less appealing. “SunDesk has become a second home for me,” says Katja Behrens, a freelance publicist and promoter from Berlin, “and every time it’s getting harder to leave.”

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Co-working retreats let digital nomads work, rest and play

The most popular spot to get some work done at the co-living and co-working space SunDesk, Elizabeth Sharma writes on the travel blog Passport Stamps, is on the roof terrace.

There are 12 desks indoors, with endless coffee and tea, a meeting room for conference calls, and Swiss balls and standing desks for the health-conscious. But up on the roof there’s a meditative sea view, comfy throws and cushions, green plants and enticing patches of shade. It’s also where the communal breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, omelette, bread and honey is served every morning.

SunDesk was launched in November 2014 in the small Moroccan fishing village of Taghazout as a place where digital nomads, freelancers taking a working holiday and teams of colleagues could get away from the obligations and distractions of everyday life and work on professional projects in an environment that is peaceful and creatively stimulating.

There are opt-in activities organised to keep the mind and body active: yoga by the ocean, hiking in Paradise Valley, a scrub session at the local hammam and shopping trips to a souq. But guests are primarily there to work, not play.

This type of getaway, combining business and leisure, is becoming increasingly popular, thanks to a boom in the number of professionals able to work remotely via the internet from any­where in the world. A number of combined co-working and co-living spaces have sprung up in recent years with Surf Office in Gran Canaria in Spain, one of the first. It launched in 2013, and offers a bed, a desk and a lively community just steps away from a beach, for €65 (Dh261) a day for a single room. Surf Office now has a second location in Lisbon, and offers special packages for company retreats.

Co-working spaces have also sprung up in Bali, Thailand and Mexico, and there’s even a co-working and co-living space aboard a boat. Prices start at €1,180 for a seven-day catamaran tour of the Canary Islands with Coboat, which offers activities like snorkelling and dolphin watching as well as fast Wi-Fi, desk space, talks and mentoring.

For those who don’t have the type of job that enables extensive world travel, a boot camp launching in June next year called Destination: Dev can help them make the transition. For US$8,900, students will spend eight weeks learning computer coding to equip them for a job in software development, all the while living in shared accommodation and visiting local sights.

The Colombian co-founder William Duran, who says he has received dozens of inquiries from Dubai and Abu Dhabi for the first 20-student course, says he wants the programme to “encourage people to travel the world, learn the most valuable skill of this century and increase cross-cultural awareness”.

There are plans to run the boot camp elsewhere in the future, with the UAE among the countries being considered.

SunDesk, meanwhile, is the brainchild of the German entrepreneur Magdelena Hermann, who quit her hotel management job in Berlin and moved to Taghazout in 2011 to study for a business administration degree with an online university.

There she met freelancers from all over the world drawn to Morocco for similar reasons. “We all faced the same problems,” she says. “Slow internet connections, finding a quiet place to work, doing stable Skype calls and a lack of social contacts.” So she decided to create a space where travellers and digital nomads could live, eat, socialise and get work done.

Since then, she has hosted IT professionals, lawyers, translators, bloggers, journalists and others from all over the world – half of whom have jobs at home that allow them to work abroad for a month or two. The other half work remotely and are constantly on the move. The lack of distractions helps people concentrate, she says. The Mor­occan culture and mix of creative and entrepreneurial guests can be inspiring, and the culture is healthy, with fresh food and activities like surfing and yoga.

The Dubai-based business coach Murtaza Manji says that time away from the regular workplace routine can help to stimulate both personal and professional growth. “I have often begun coaching engagements with getting clients to take a weekend off,” he says. “A few days of living healthier, being more active, having stimulating discussions, brainstorming with an uncluttered mind, goal-setting while in the best of moods; these help to renew energy, remove self-doubt, and increase determination.”

But if there’s one potential hazard of regular retreats, it’s that everyday life back home may start to become less appealing. “SunDesk has become a second home for me,” says Katja Behrens, a freelance publicist and promoter from Berlin, “and every time it’s getting harder to leave.”

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Executive travel: London's Claridge hotel meeting place for royal clientele

When British royalty stay at a hotel often enough for it to be referred to as an “annex to Buckingham Palace,” it’s safe to make certain assumptions about its vibe.

No, the five-star Claridge’s isn’t where you go for edgy style on your business trip, or for up-to-the minute technology; in the Mayfair suite, from £1,440 (Dh6,493), I could not find a power socket to plug my laptop into while sitting at the desk. Instead, what sets this 204-year-old Mayfair institution apart is its meticulous service and deep sense of upper-crust British tradition.

You’re greeted by top-hatted doormen on your way in, every smiling member of staff you encounter seems to know your name and the fabled afternoon tea (£58 a head) books up three months in advance. The Royal Suite, from £6,500 a night, comes with a personal butler service, airport transfer with a Mercedes-Benz S-class, a grand piano and a dining room that seats 10 guests.

My more modest Mayfair suite smelled of cigarette smoke when I entered and its decor was a little bland, but the king-size bed and oversized bathtub made up for it.

Extras included international TV channels and pay-per-view films, complimentary shoeshine, flowers, espresso, mineral water and a newspaper.

While the socket situation was not ideal for in-room work, a business lounge called the map room is open 24 hours, is the place to use the hotel’s computers and printers, sip an espresso, have an informal meeting and read the papers.

For downtime, there’s a dedicated theatre desk, and the West End is just a short walk away, as are Hyde Park and an array of London’s best shops on Oxford Street and Bond Street. Among the hotel’s in-house dining options is Simon Rogan’s Michelin-starred Fera, where an imaginative tasting menu puts the emphasis on wild, foraged foods.

There’s plenty of space for events, too, with an array of boardrooms and reception rooms on the top floor, and a spectacular ballroom, drawing room and French-style salon at ground level, complete with chandeliers and imposing fireplaces. Prices are on request.

Host a meeting here not to communicate cut-and-thrust dynamism, but to show a deep appreciation for authenticity and heritage – and to ensure your guests are treated like kings and queens.

Q&A:

How did Claridge’s become such an institution?

Founded in 1812 in a single terraced house, it expanded over the years and cemented its reputation when Empress Eugénie of France entertained Queen Victoria there in 1860. Since then it has gained Grade II-listed status and hosted royalty and stars from around the world, including Winston Churchill, Cary Grant and, more recently, Lady Gaga.

Surely it’s not all bad on the technology front?

The Wi-Fi is free and fast (60Mbps) and does not require a password, and technical staff are on hand to help with digital business presentations. And there are Bose Bluetooth speakers in the suites.

Can I get a decent workout?

There’s a small but well-equipped gym with a personal trainer-in-residence (packages start from £110 an hour) and there are plans in the works to expand this and to add a pool.

Can I get a shirt pressed superfast?

It’s £21 to dry clean or £16 to press a two-piece suit, and £12 to have a shirt laundered. This is for an eight-hour service. You can get a super-fast three-hour laundry service, but there is a 60 per cent surcharge. A rapid pressing and shining service is available within the hour in early evenings. Alternatively, an iron and an ironing board can be delivered to the room for no charge.

What about the room service?

I ordered smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (£21), which arrived in about 20 minutes. Other highlights include a set English breakfast (£35) and Claridge’s fish and chips (£28).

What kind of clientele should I expect?

Well-heeled tourists and businesspeople from around the globe, visiting aristocracy and A-list entertainers.

* The writer was a guest of the hotel.

business@thenational.ae

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When British royalty stay at a hotel often enough for it to be referred to as an “annex to Buckingham Palace,” it’s safe to make certain assumptions about its vibe.

No, the five-star Claridge’s isn’t where you go for edgy style on your business trip, or for up-to-the minute technology; in the Mayfair suite, from £1,440 (Dh6,493), I could not find a power socket to plug my laptop into while sitting at the desk. Instead, what sets this 204-year-old Mayfair institution apart is its meticulous service and deep sense of upper-crust British tradition.

You’re greeted by top-hatted doormen on your way in, every smiling member of staff you encounter seems to know your name and the fabled afternoon tea (£58 a head) books up three months in advance. The Royal Suite, from £6,500 a night, comes with a personal butler service, airport transfer with a Mercedes-Benz S-class, a grand piano and a dining room that seats ten guests.

My more modest Mayfair suite smelled of cigarette smoke when I entered and its decor was a little bland, but the king-size bed and oversized bathtub made up for it.

Extras included international TV channels and pay-per-view films, complimentary shoeshine, flowers, espresso, mineral water and a newspaper.

While the socket situation was not ideal for in-room work, a business lounge called the map room is open 24 hours, is the place to use the hotel’s computers and printers, sip an espresso, have an informal meeting and read the papers.

For downtime, there’s a dedicated theatre desk, and the West End is just a short walk away, as are Hyde Park and an array of London’s best shops on Oxford Street and Bond Street. Among the hotel’s in-house dining options is Simon Rogan’s Michelin-starred Fera, where an imaginative tasting menu puts the emphasis on wild, foraged foods.

There’s plenty of space for events, too, with an array of boardrooms and reception rooms on the top floor, and a spectacular ballroom, drawing room and French-style salon at ground level, complete with chandeliers and imposing fireplaces. Prices are on request though.

Host a meeting here not to communicate cut-and-thrust dynamism, but to show a deep appreciation for authenticity and heritage – and to ensure your guests are treated like kings and queens.

Q&A:

How did Claridge’s become such an institution?

Founded in 1812 in a single terraced house, it expanded over the years, and cemented its reputation when Empress Eugénie of France entertained Queen Victoria there in 1860. Since then it has gained Grade II listed status and hosted royalty and stars from around the world, including Winston Churchill, Cary Grant and, more recently, Lady Gaga.

Surely it’s not all bad on the technology front?

The Wi-Fi is free and fast (60Mbps) and does not require a password, and technical staff are on hand to help with digital business presentations. And there are Bose bluetooth speakers in the suites.

Can I get a decent workout?

There’s a small but well-equipped gym with a personal trainer-in-residence (packages start from £110 an hour) and there are plans in the works to expand this and to add a pool.

Can I get a shirt pressed superfast?

It’s £21 to dry-clean or £16 to press a two-piece suit, and £12 to have a shirt laundered. This is for an eight-hour service. You can get a superfast three-hour laundry service, but there is a 60 per cent surcharge. A rapid pressing and shining service is available within the hour in early evenings. Alternatively, an iron and an ironing board can be delivered to the room for no charge.

What about the room service?

I ordered smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (£21), which arrived in about 20 minutes. Other highlights include a set English breakfast (£35) and Claridge’s fish and chips (£28).

What kind of clientele should I expect?

Well-heeled tourists and businesspeople from around the globe, visiting aristocracy and A-list entertainers.

* The writer was a guest of the hotel.

business@thenational.ae

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

When British royalty stay at a hotel often enough for it to be referred to as an “annex to Buckingham Palace,” it’s safe to make certain assumptions about its vibe.

No, the five-star Claridge’s isn’t where you go for edgy style on your business trip, or for up-to-the minute technology; in the Mayfair suite, from £1,440 (Dh6,493), I could not find a power socket to plug my laptop into while sitting at the desk. Instead, what sets this 204-year-old Mayfair institution apart is its meticulous service and deep sense of upper-crust British tradition.

You’re greeted by top-hatted doormen on your way in, every smiling member of staff you encounter seems to know your name and the fabled afternoon tea (£58 a head) books up three months in advance. The Royal Suite, from £6,500 a night, comes with a personal butler service, airport transfer with a Mercedes-Benz S-class, a grand piano and a dining room that seats 10 guests.

My more modest Mayfair suite smelled of cigarette smoke when I entered and its decor was a little bland, but the king-size bed and oversized bathtub made up for it.

Extras included international TV channels and pay-per-view films, complimentary shoeshine, flowers, espresso, mineral water and a newspaper.

While the socket situation was not ideal for in-room work, a business lounge called the map room is open 24 hours, is the place to use the hotel’s computers and printers, sip an espresso, have an informal meeting and read the papers.

For downtime, there’s a dedicated theatre desk, and the West End is just a short walk away, as are Hyde Park and an array of London’s best shops on Oxford Street and Bond Street. Among the hotel’s in-house dining options is Simon Rogan’s Michelin-starred Fera, where an imaginative tasting menu puts the emphasis on wild, foraged foods.

There’s plenty of space for events, too, with an array of boardrooms and reception rooms on the top floor, and a spectacular ballroom, drawing room and French-style salon at ground level, complete with chandeliers and imposing fireplaces. Prices are on request.

Host a meeting here not to communicate cut-and-thrust dynamism, but to show a deep appreciation for authenticity and heritage – and to ensure your guests are treated like kings and queens.

Q&A:

How did Claridge’s become such an institution?

Founded in 1812 in a single terraced house, it expanded over the years and cemented its reputation when Empress Eugénie of France entertained Queen Victoria there in 1860. Since then it has gained Grade II-listed status and hosted royalty and stars from around the world, including Winston Churchill, Cary Grant and, more recently, Lady Gaga.

Surely it’s not all bad on the technology front?

The Wi-Fi is free and fast (60Mbps) and does not require a password, and technical staff are on hand to help with digital business presentations. And there are Bose Bluetooth speakers in the suites.

Can I get a decent workout?

There’s a small but well-equipped gym with a personal trainer-in-residence (packages start from £110 an hour) and there are plans in the works to expand this and to add a pool.

Can I get a shirt pressed superfast?

It’s £21 to dry clean or £16 to press a two-piece suit, and £12 to have a shirt laundered. This is for an eight-hour service. You can get a super-fast three-hour laundry service, but there is a 60 per cent surcharge. A rapid pressing and shining service is available within the hour in early evenings. Alternatively, an iron and an ironing board can be delivered to the room for no charge.

What about the room service?

I ordered smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (£21), which arrived in about 20 minutes. Other highlights include a set English breakfast (£35) and Claridge’s fish and chips (£28).

What kind of clientele should I expect?

Well-heeled tourists and businesspeople from around the globe, visiting aristocracy and A-list entertainers.

* The writer was a guest of the hotel.

business@thenational.ae

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

When British royalty stay at a hotel often enough for it to be referred to as an “annex to Buckingham Palace,” it’s safe to make certain assumptions about its vibe.

No, the five-star Claridge’s isn’t where you go for edgy style on your business trip, or for up-to-the minute technology; in the Mayfair suite, from £1,440 (Dh6,493), I could not find a power socket to plug my laptop into while sitting at the desk. Instead, what sets this 204-year-old Mayfair institution apart is its meticulous service and deep sense of upper-crust British tradition.

You’re greeted by top-hatted doormen on your way in, every smiling member of staff you encounter seems to know your name and the fabled afternoon tea (£58 a head) books up three months in advance. The Royal Suite, from £6,500 a night, comes with a personal butler service, airport transfer with a Mercedes-Benz S-class, a grand piano and a dining room that seats 10 guests.

My more modest Mayfair suite smelled of cigarette smoke when I entered and its decor was a little bland, but the king-size bed and oversized bathtub made up for it.

Extras included international TV channels and pay-per-view films, complimentary shoeshine, flowers, espresso, mineral water and a newspaper.

While the socket situation was not ideal for in-room work, a business lounge called the map room is open 24 hours, is the place to use the hotel’s computers and printers, sip an espresso, have an informal meeting and read the papers.

For downtime, there’s a dedicated theatre desk, and the West End is just a short walk away, as are Hyde Park and an array of London’s best shops on Oxford Street and Bond Street. Among the hotel’s in-house dining options is Simon Rogan’s Michelin-starred Fera, where an imaginative tasting menu puts the emphasis on wild, foraged foods.

There’s plenty of space for events, too, with an array of boardrooms and reception rooms on the top floor, and a spectacular ballroom, drawing room and French-style salon at ground level, complete with chandeliers and imposing fireplaces. Prices are on request.

Host a meeting here not to communicate cut-and-thrust dynamism, but to show a deep appreciation for authenticity and heritage – and to ensure your guests are treated like kings and queens.

Q&A:

How did Claridge’s become such an institution?

Founded in 1812 in a single terraced house, it expanded over the years and cemented its reputation when Empress Eugénie of France entertained Queen Victoria there in 1860. Since then it has gained Grade II-listed status and hosted royalty and stars from around the world, including Winston Churchill, Cary Grant and, more recently, Lady Gaga.

Surely it’s not all bad on the technology front?

The Wi-Fi is free and fast (60Mbps) and does not require a password, and technical staff are on hand to help with digital business presentations. And there are Bose Bluetooth speakers in the suites.

Can I get a decent workout?

There’s a small but well-equipped gym with a personal trainer-in-residence (packages start from £110 an hour) and there are plans in the works to expand this and to add a pool.

Can I get a shirt pressed superfast?

It’s £21 to dry clean or £16 to press a two-piece suit, and £12 to have a shirt laundered. This is for an eight-hour service. You can get a super-fast three-hour laundry service, but there is a 60 per cent surcharge. A rapid pressing and shining service is available within the hour in early evenings. Alternatively, an iron and an ironing board can be delivered to the room for no charge.

What about the room service?

I ordered smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (£21), which arrived in about 20 minutes. Other highlights include a set English breakfast (£35) and Claridge’s fish and chips (£28).

What kind of clientele should I expect?

Well-heeled tourists and businesspeople from around the globe, visiting aristocracy and A-list entertainers.

* The writer was a guest of the hotel.

business@thenational.ae

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

Review: Google Keep app helps you stay on top of things

There’s nothing complicated about Google Keep, an app for making reminders, notes and lists, especially for those already using Gmail or other Google services like Drive and Docs.

Each new note you create gets its own rectangular block, which can be moved around the screen like an index card on a cork board.

If you access the app via the webpage at keep.google.com, you can record your notes as ­either bulleted lists and standard text, and you can import images to go with them. The app’s Chrome extension allows you to save links to web pages you want to return to, although it won’t save copies of the actual pages, and the mobile app has a few extra nifty features.

For instance, it will allow you to record a memo as a voice message, which is then converted to text and also stored in audio form. It also lets you take photos of things you want to remember, and it will convert any words within the images into text. You can do this by touching the image, going into settings and selecting “grab image text”.

All this is useful, but how does Google Keep compare with Ever­note, the standard-bearer for task management platforms.

Evernote integrates handily with third-party software, and is powerful enough to use for organising every facet of your life, acting as a database for every piece of data you need to store.

Google Keep allows you to assign colours and labels to notes, but it is much more lightweight and functions best as a reminder of urgent tasks, as Post-it notes would.

The app, however, is com­pletely free, while Evernote has recently started charging for some of its most basic features.

And Google Keep is so intuitive that new users can start wrapping their heads around how it works within seconds. You can set reminders, share notes with collaborators who can view and edit content. Switching between devices as you move from place to place is seamless if you’re already a Google account holder. The app instantly makes organisation seem more manageable while requiring very little conscious thought: a feat that few productivity tools can pull off.

q&a

How do reminders work?

Reminders tie in with Google’s other services, so that you can get notifications reminding you of tasks on your phone, tablet and computer. A reminder also appears as a new email in your inbox, so there’s really no way of missing that crucial appointment. You can also stipulate that “morning” means 9am, for example, and simply hit “remind me tomorrow morning” each time you create a note that requires a timely action.

How much storage space do I get?

That depends on your Google Drive storage plan. The default is 15GB, but it can go up to 1TB for US$1.99 a month. As with Gmail, there’s an emphasis on archiving rather than deleting material that is no longer relevant.

What devices can I use it on?

It’s now available for both Android and iOS, as well as online and as a Chrome extension.

Is it powerful enough for professional use?

It’s best as a catch-all system to preserve scraps of information both at work and at home, but professional users who can’t let anything slip though the cracks might be better off with a more powerful system.

Can I rely on the app?

When Google Reader shut down in 2013, some users worried that they couldn’t place their trust in the longevity of all of Google’s products, but Keep has been going for three years now, and there are no signs of it being discontinued.

Are there any free alternatives?

One Note and Simplenote are two free alternatives that perform just as well, but Google loyalists will prefer the way that Keep integrates with the company’s other apps.

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Overcast app is a spot-on podcatcher

Marco Arment, the one-man team who founded and runs the podcatcher Overcast, really loves podcasts.

It’s this passion that makes the app so usable, with a perfect five-star user rating on the iTunes store and top billing on every “best podcast app” list I could find online.

Mr Arment is the 34-year-old American developer who cofounded Tumblr, and then went on to create Instapaper, which he sold a few years later.

He has been running his own podcasts for years, and currently hosts a weekly show called the Accidental Tech Podcast. He launched Overcast, which allows you to download and listen to podcasts, in 2014 for iOS only, to improve on the built-in podcast player for Apple’s ­iPhones.

It was originally a “free­mium” service, with a US$4.99 fee to unlock all the best features, but in 2015 he scrapped the model, and integrated all those extras into the free version, which is now funded purely by voluntary dona­tions.

What’s immediately obvious about Overcast is that the sound quality is high, especially if you turn on Voice Boost, which tweaks the audio to keep voices within a narrower range so you don’t need to keep adjusting the volume. There’s another handy feature called Smart Speed, which allows you to get through episodes at up to twice the normal pace, without distorting the sounds. Instead, momentary sil­ences are eliminated to speed things up.

While these are great features, it’s the attention to small details that also makes Overcast stand out among other podcatchers. I like being able to turn off cellular downloads with a single tap. This means if you have a limited data plan on your phone, the app won’t automatically start downloading new shows until you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

The only complaint is related to the app’s CarPlay feature, which allows users to listen to podcasts via supported car radios.

Some users have said when switching from one episode to another using this feature the car display fails to display the new podcast’s information. It’s a small flaw for an otherwise stellar product, that is now also completely free.

q&a tweaked for optimal use

Jessica Holland expands on the podcatcher app Overcast:

Has the app evolved since its first release?

As well as scrapping the price of the upgrade, many more improvements have been added since 2014. Most importantly, the initial version wouldn’t allow users to start listening to shows until the entire episode was downloaded. It’s now also possible to listen while you stream them, which saves storage space on your phone.

Any other nifty features?

I like the fact you can programme special shortcuts on headphone remotes and car controls, so that the “next track” button triggers the next podcast on a playlist, for example. Other features that show Overcast is designed by someone who listens to a lot of podcasts himself include being able to select priority podcasts to download first, and being able to filter shows by whether or not you’ve listened to them.

Does Overcast help you discover new podcasts?

Yes, there’s a few different ways to get going if you’re not sure where to start. Firstly, Overcast provides its own “Starter Kit” playlists in various categories, like tech, comedy and public radio. You can browse the dir­ectory, which pulls from the iTunes Store, and if you integrate your Twitter account, you can also see what shows your Twitter contacts enjoy.

Can you only use it on ­iPhones?

It’s now possible to download the app to iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches, but there’s still no Android version.

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Hootsuite is a useful tool for social media mavens

Social media has become a crucial tool in almost every business field, both as a way of getting messages out and as a way of listening in on what competitors and influencers are up to. And it keeps evolving.

It can be easy to set up Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, start following key accounts, and leave it there, but smart entrepreneurs are constantly updating their strategy and jumping on newer platforms with new types of content.

Hootsuite is a great way to stay on top of all this. It’s a central dashboard that connects with all the above platforms, as well as YouTube, WordPress and Google+. Individuals who want to boost their profile on three or fewer accounts can sign up for the free version of the service, which can be accessed online or through a mobile app. They can then send out messages to multiple accounts simultaneously, schedule them in advance, and monitor many different, tailored information streams from a single window. The design is a little confusing and cluttered, but once you’ve wrapped your head around it, it’s definitely a timesaver.

Teams who are serious about social-media strategy and have a budget to dedicate to it can upgrade to a US$9.99-a-month Pro account, which allows them to manage 50 social profiles and get some basic analytics reporting to track growth and engagement. For more extensive, real-time analytics, they’ll have to opt for the full Business account, which is significantly more expensive – an exact quote is available on inquiry. This upgrade also allows teams to work together, delegate tasks, approve drafts of posts, and get certified as expert users.

There are a few services operating in this space, but Hootsuite is one of the oldest, most powerful and most trusted, and it’s continuing to improve. In April this year, it became possible to manage video uploads from the dashboard, and another recent improvement is an integration with online storage services such as Dropbox and Google Drive, so that assets can be published straight from the cloud. It’s not cheap, and there isn’t much help or support unless you start paying, but it’s worth a look if you’re looking to boost your social media game.

business@thenational.ae

The Dubai entrepreneur banking on Bitcoin's success

Ola Doudin, the Jordanian founder of the Dubai-based start-up BitOasis, bought her first Bitcoin three years ago.

She was living in Amman, having quit her job in London’s finance industry in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crash.

“I was 23 or 24” when the markets collapsed, she says. At Ernst & Young, where she worked in IT risk and assurance, “a lot of people were being laid off. I couldn’t make sense any more, [of] what I was doing, why I was working”.

She decided to move back to Jordan just as the Arab Spring uprisings were sweeping the region and soon began working on entrepreneurship initiatives with Aramex founder Fadi Ghandour. It was 2013 when she picked up an issue of Business Insider that covered Bitcoin, and thought: “What is this crazy thing that everyone is talking about? This is something transformative, if it actually works”.

She spent months reading up on the digital currency in scientific journals and on Reddit and connecting with other enthusiasts on Twitter.

In Amman, however, there was no obvious way to get hold of Bitcoins at the time. Individuals around the world were selling directly to others, but Ms Doudin couldn’t find anyone in Jordan, or even in the UAE or Lebanon, to buy from. Finally, a friend connected her to a Canadian cryptocurrency fan, she sent him money via PayPal, and he deposited a Bitcoin into her digital wallet.

“This is amazing,” she says she remembers thinking. “This is the future of money. This is the future of banking, financial services. It changes how we pay online, it changes peer to peer payments, how Swift and Visa could behave. Even our concept of what a currency is.”

Ms Doudin joined Bitcoin meetup groups in Amman and Dubai, and met Daniel Robenek, a Czech software engineer. Together, they hatched a plan for a platform that would allow Middle Eastern users to safely buy and store Bitcoins online.

BitOasis was launched in Dubai in late 2014 and secured seed funding from Wamda Capital and others in 2015. Its wallet service is now available across the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, and users in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia can also use the exchange service by wiring money to a BitOasis bank account, to be changed to Bitcoins for a 1 per cent fee.

But why bother to do this? There are a couple of good reasons, Ms Doudin says. A sizeable user base in Egypt and Morocco uses Bitcoin to pay tiny amounts of money on a frequent basis for things like gaming, virtual private networks and cloud services. These payments can be prohibitively expensive via bank transfer or credit card, or completely impossible, but via Bitcoin they can cost only 10 or 20 US cents in fees to miners.

The Gulf’s expatriate communities can similarly use Bitcoin to pay bills or top up phone credit for their family back home. Then there are wealthier users in the UAE and Saudi Arabia who want to buy and hold Bitcoin as a way of diversifying their investment portfolio. Bitcoin’s value tends to rise when there are sharp drops in the value of conventional currencies and commodities.

“Bitcoin opens up whole new markets and business models,” Ms Doudin says, comparing its creation to the invention of the worldwide web. “You’d never have had Facebook or WhatsApp if you didn’t have the internet,” she says. “The next Venmos and PayPals are going to be built on Bitcoin.”

A study published by Juniper Research in June 2016 predicted the total value of Bitcoin transactions in 2016 will be three times as big as the total value in 2015.

business@thenational.ae

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