In addition to a desktop computer at work and a laptop for home and on the road, I also own an iPhone 4s and an iPad 2. I am not a Road Warrior type – I travel perhaps 20 days per year – but do need to work when I am on the road and I am constantly on the lookout for ways to improve my productivity when away from the office. When I first got the a few years back, I had high hopes that it would allow me to leave the laptop at home when making trips of just a few days. Alas, despite having experimented extensively with using my mobile devices to get my work done, I found that they could not replace the laptop for meaning ful writing, or spreadsheet work, or even for blogging. My own work habits, unfortunately, require a full-size keyboard and a mouse or trackpad in order for me to maintain efficiency and productivity.
This is not to say that I don’t travel without my iPad; in fact I am quite dependent on that slab of aluminum and glass both at home and away. Although I primarily use it for content consumption – reading the NY Times and various books, magazines, and blogs as well as for consuming music and video – I also use a number of apps for simple business related tasks such as travel planning, banking, presentations, managing social media accounts, and even customer service-related tasks. As the devices get more powerful and the apps more plentiful, I am anticipating the day when I no longer need to schlep that laptop through airport security and no longer need to make sure I have handy the ever-present array of power supplies, cables, and adaptors necessary to get full use of the thing.
My chief concern with using the tablet as a meaningful business device is the inability to write and edit documents efficiently and the absence of true file management for the hundreds (thousands?) of documents, spreadsheets, keynote presentations, and graphic files that I need to access every day. Once we get to the point where my iPad can truly handle all of these files and can give me the ability to type, copy, delete, paste, and crunch numbers I will be amongst the first to jettison my 6 lb anchor (AKA my MacBook Pro).
Here’s is a list of 10 great apps that, while they don’t yet do it all, go far to increase productivity when mobile!
1. Plan your trip. There are plenty of good travel planning and management apps, but my personal favorites are Kayak, Hipmunk, and Tripit. Kayak and Hipmunk allow you to look up flights, hotels, and rental cars in highly usable (though quite different) interfaces. Kayak is a compelling app that allows you to save numerous searches, plan complex trips between multiple cities, and to filter your searches using powerful tools. Hipmunk, with its unique interface allows for quick visual comparison of search results and allows the user to sort the results based on everything from price to time to “pain” which is Hipmunk’s own ranking based on a combination of flight duration, number of stops or plane changes, and price. Avoid the pain! Tripit allows users to keep all of their travel information in one place and automatically scans your email accounts to search for travel information and create itineraries based on those confirmation emails from the airlines, hotels, and rental car agencies. Tripit is great for quickly looking up your travel schedule of flights, rental car pickups, hotel checkins, and meetings in an easy to navigate interface. Never waste time searching your emails to find that confirmation number again!
2. Manage your email. While the native email apps that come with smartphones and tablets are fine, there are better ones out there that will allow you to move quickly and efficiently through that over-stuffed inbox. Gmail for the smartphone is a powerful and intuitive app for managing multiple email accounts; if you are a user of Gmail online, you will instantly feel comfortable with the simple and clean interface. Mailbox is a new app (get on that waiting list) that offers powerful tools for archiving, scheduling, and viewing threaded email conversations You can quickly move through that inbox, telling mailbox which emails to archive immediately, save to respond later, or deal with immediately. It is a new and surprisingly fun way to manage busy email accounts.
3. Get the bills paid. Like most of us, I juggle multiple bank accounts for work and home and often need the ability to make payments, check on their status, deposit checks,or quick budgets. Mint has a wonderful app that allows you to view multiple bank, credit card, and investment accounts all in one place; you can check you budgets set up banking alerts, and manually add new transactions to any account. Chances are also quite good that your own bank has an app that allows even more powerful access to individual accounts, allowing bill payment directly from your phone or tablet as well as the ability to deposit checks using your device’s camera. Buh-bye, ATM!
4. Access your files. One of the great challenges of being on the road (or even on the train to work) is accessing your various files on your various computers. Apps like Google Drive and Dropbox have very nicely solved this problem, and while editing those documents on your tiny smartphone screen may still be a challenge, the simple ability to quickly find and view those files is a powerful tool for business people everywhere.
5. Tweet your heart out. Because so many businesses are increasingly dependent on social media and the marketing opportunities they represent, it is critical that your devices give you quick, easy access to those accounts. Tweetdeck is a powerful app that allows you to manage multiple Twitter accounts in one simple interface. Facebook’s app is simple and fun – easy to use on both phones and tablets, and gives you quick access to your timeline and newsfeeds.
6. Find a great place for a lunch meeting (or oysters). If I have one indispensable app when I travel on business it is Yelp. When in a strange city, I am ever in need of a great place for a lunch meeting or a quick breakfast or to satisfy a craving. I love to eat, I love to explore new places, and I love to share my own finds (not to mention my pictures of restaurants I like). I also find that 90% of the restaurants I discover on Yelp are excellent asd long as I follow a few rules – the place must have at least 50 reviews and a minimum star rating of 3.75; if it meets those criteria I am rarely disappointed. BTW, if you’re in Boston anytime soon and want great fresh oysters, try this place I found on Yelp: Neptune Oyster Bar is a tiny little place that is usually packed; if you go early you can walk right in and get yourself a dozen of their fresh, local mollusks. Yum!
7. Wake up on time. I get up early and my body is not one that wakes up by itself. The alarm is typically set for 530am no matter the time zone and I prefer to wake up to national news on the radio. While plenty of hotels now provide a decent alarm clock, I still prefer having the iPad set up on the bedside table, and my alarm clock app of choice is iHome Radio, linked to my TuneIn account. I keep various favorites stations stored, from home as well as from different parts of the country, so I know I can always wake up to my local NPR station or always find a program to match my mood. iHome Radio allows you to set and save multiple alarms and the display shows the local weather as well as keeping track of your sleep stats.
8. Find your way around. Google Maps and the turn-by-turn directions combines with a windshield mount may be the greatest piece of software ever invented. I have experimented fairly extensively now and have yet to get lost or turned around, in spite of my own shortcomings as a driver and my preternatural ability to miss my exit. Public transportation as well as walking directions are also available and oh so easy to use. When I travel internationally and want to avoid those data charges, I have come to rely on Offmaps, an app that allows you to download detailed streetmaps of most major cities and view those without a data connection.
9. Make your calls. Speaking of international travel, staying in touch when out of the country can be difficult, but apps by Skype and Google+ can make phone calls and video chats easy and cheap. With a WiFi connection and Skype, you can make local, long distance, and international calls for as little as 0¢ per minute (if you’re calling another Skye user) or for pennies per minute to call any cell phone or landline. Google+ hangouts are a very simple and effective video conferencing tool which we use to hold team meetings or one-on-one video chats when traveling or when working remote from home or the local coffeeshop.
10. Hotspots to go. Every major city in the world is a thicket of WiFi signals, many of them open and available free to the public. The problem is how to find them? WiFi Finder solves the problem nicely, with built in maps of cities around the world and a database that is constantly being refreshed and updated. Nicest feature? You can actually download and view the maps when you are offline, thus avoiding the Catch-22 of needing a WiFi hotspot in order to find a WiFi hotspot.
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