For this week’s Guest Post Friday at Musings, we welcome Martha Sperry for another great tech related guest post. Martha (@advocatesstudio on Twitter) is an attorney with extensive experience in the insurance industry. Martha also maintains a research and writing practice, AdvantageAdvocates with emphasis on research and written product for professionals and web consulting. Her blog on law, research, writing and technology Advocate’s Studio. Martha also has let Musings invade the Studio today, so please check it out!
I am delighted to be here at Musings once again to reprise a post I submitted around a year ago – iPad Apps for Business Types. Much has changed in the ensuing year: the iPad has had its first birthday; a new model, the iPad 2, was released two months ago with some new features; new tablet competitors featuring Android and Blackberry operating systems are now available to challenge the iPad’s supremacy; and, we can finally lay to rest the notion that tablets are toys meant for consumers but not for serious professionals.
I want to focus here on a couple of points. First, the iPad 2 does have added functionality that should interest business users. Second, some seriously great apps have been developed for iOS and, specifically, the iPad, that make this tool a highly customizable, business machine. At a price starting at just under $500, they make tons of sense as a secondary, mobile device and may soon start to take the place of the primary desktop / laptop computer.
Why should you consider an iPad 2? Think Four C’s: cameras (front and back and video); connectivity (HDTV connection allows you to show any app up on a big, high definition screen); crunching speed (the new faster processor shows and means greater efficiencies for business-heavy multi-tasking); and, capable browsing (software enhancements make the browser better than ever.
But the real reason you should consider the iPad 2 is the apps. Picking out apps to highlight here is no easy task. With over 70,000 apps specific to iPad (and a few hundred thousand more iPhone apps that can work on the iPad), there is a veritable ocean of options.
There are several apps that consistently make the top 10 business app lists and it would be easy pickings to simply repeat them here. I thought it might be more beneficial to touch on a few apps that are not necessarily within the “usual suspects”, but nonetheless take full advantage of the iPad’s unique user interface and capabilities to promote your business interests.
So without further ado, I bring you, iPad Apps for Business Types, Part 2:
Documents and Files:
Google Docs, Mobile Version: Tricked you – it’s not an app! But it behaves like one. Just head to docs.google.com in mobile Safari and there you are. You can even put an icon directly to the web app on your home screen of your iPad by clicking the + button and selecting the “add to home screen” option. One of the cool features of the iPad and iOS is the ability of developers to create mobile websites that behave like apps using HTML5 and other space-age web languages. The mobile version of Google Docs behaves a lot like the desktop version, allowing you to create, edit and delete documents on the web from any device – no need to “save” your docs, which update automatically every few seconds. Plus, no need to worry if you lose your internet connection – this mobile web app uses an HTML5 offline storage feature to permit you to continue using the app until you have a connection again, at which time it will update your web document with your changes. It is pretty stripped down – no fancy formatting or doc sharing functions. If you want greater functionality, you can access the desktop version on your iPad for the full spectrum of tools. Currently supports editing / creation of word processing and spreadsheet style docs, hopefully presentations, web forms and drawings will show up soon.
iAnnotate: For PDF reading and annotation, I have found no better app than iAnnotate. Open documents from email, fill out forms, sign and send out contracts, enter notes for edits, sketch diagrams, copy text, and add highlights or underline with your finger (or a stylus, which I prefer when using writing tools). iAnnotate fully integrates its annotations directly into the PDF and they are available to standard PDF readers like Adobe Reader or Preview. Transfer PDFs via email, Safari, iTunes sync, and Dropbox. The file manager is great and allows for easy organization. Search full text of PDFs – the keyword search function is fantastic. Customize toolbars to include only those annotation tools you tend to use. Tabbed browsing makes it easy to work on several documents at the same time. Use text notes, highlighting, underlining, typewriting, free-form drawing, stamps, bookmarks and more. You also can convert webpages, .DOC, or PPT documents to PDF in iAnnotate. And, like Box, you can use the iPad’s VGA output to display your documents via an external projector or monitor. And, you can even “flatten” your PDFs before you send, so they cannot be modified. There is so much in this app, it might take you some time to figure out all the tricks it can perform. But I doubt you will find much lacking.
Notes Plus: I sincerely wish this technology was available to me in law school. Notes Plus offers a digital notepad on which you can scrawl your thoughts, as well as an audio recording capture that temporally links the soundtrack to those notes. Even draw recognizable shapes with an auto-detecting vector tool. Unlike some of the writing apps, this app accommodates your palm so that it scrolls naturally and a “close up writing” tool permits you to write in a more familiar way. Full foldering and encrypting of notes, and plenty of customization. Plus a clean, gorgeous interface. Makes note taking fun again.
Hipmunk: Sure, everyone talks about Kayak and TripIt, but check out Hipmunk. This app has a novel take on flight and hotel planning – it shows all the relevant flights on a timeline, helping you to visualize the right choice. You don’t necessarily see the cheapest flight first. Instead, Hipmunk sorts by “agony,” which incorporates important factors like how long you’ll be traveling and how many stops you’ll make. Booking is easy and doesn’t require you to enter a credit card into the app. When you figure out your flight, you can email the link or finish booking on your desktop on the related Hipmunk website via code generated on your device
Word Lens: Fumbling with your foreign language dictionary is clumsy. Pointing your brand spanking new iPad 2 camera at a sign in another language and having the translation pop up on your screen is most decidedly not. Right now, the app supports English to Spanish and Spanish to English, but more language pairs are on the way. It does not require a network or internet connection to work. You also have the option of typing the phrase in to get your translation. If using your iPad video camera to translate another language isn’t space age, I don’t know what is.
vTok: One of the nice new features on the iPad 2 is the front facing video camera. Make the most of it by video chatting with your Google Video Chat and Voice Chat contacts, as well as other vTok users, with this app. Both the app itself and the calls you make are free. The calls work over WiFi and 3G, so you should be able to initiate and maintain a video call most anywhere. Your colleagues don’t have an iPad 2? Never fear – anyone can load the vTok browser plugin on their computer and conference from there with you. You really can’t beat the function for the price.
Fuze Meeting HD: Run online, HD quality, group video meetings from your iPad? Yes you can! While the app is free, Fuze Meetings does come with paid plans that offer more functionality. If you register for a free account, you can access online meetings and audio conferencing with no credit card required, start and schedule meetings on the device using contacts from your address book, send live video during a conference, add Keynote or PowePoint presentation, Word docs, PDFs, movies, images and other content from the iPad to the meeting, control muting and unmuting of participants, zoom, pan and engage other members, grant presenter status to others so they can share or mark up content, use in-meeting chat and IM to communicate during the meeting, and even upload documents to Dropbox without ending the meeting. Even unregistered users can attend a meeting by clicking the link in the email invitation. This is definitely one of those applications that is limited only by your needs and imagination.
News360: Get all the news you could ever want in a visually-appealing news stream. News360 pulls from over a 1,000 newspapers around the globe, but tailors the experience to your locale. What I really love about the app is the ability to view multiple takes on a particular news story from different sources. Of course, there are the obligatory social sharing features that send to Facebook and Twitter. You can add particular subjects you are interested in tracking in your Favorites. It is easy to stay informed with News360.
HitPad: If you don’t have a lot of time, and what attorney does, HitPad performs an excellent job of hitting the high points. It shows the news in bites within popular categories, as well as top trending news stories. Another app that takes full advantage of the iPad’s awesome interface, it is colorful, visual and very easy to navigate. The front page gives a news summary, into which you can dig deeper if you wish. Each item offers news stories, twitter mentions and related videos on the topic. You can also search for particular news items using the search box, and share to Facebook and Twitter. And, best of all, the more you use and interact with HitPad, the better it gets to know what you are interested in and your experience will be tailored accordingly. No better way to slice through news of interest quickly on the iPad.
Flipboard: I may have fibbed a bit when I said I wasn’t going to include any of the A-list apps here, but I would be sorely remiss if I didn’t mention this app, which was released a little more than six months ago. Flipboard started the iPad reading revolution by morphing Twitter and Facebook streams into an elegant, swipe-able, animated magazine on the iPad. In subsequent updates, Flipboard added the ability to pull Google Reader news and Flickr and Instagram images into the mix. Even the big media companies are onto Flipboard’s success – instead of slapping them down with intellectual property rights violations, they opted to join with their own dedicated channels – read Oprah, Rolling Stone, Wired, Elle and more within the app’s customizable magazine. Social search allows you to search across your social networks and sharing buttons allow you to send content out to your social connections as well. With faster load speeds of late and an ever-increasing collection of data to choose from, Flipboard will give you a new take on taming information overload.
Square: Payment is as easy as swiping a credit card through the free, dedicated Square reader attached to your iPad. Process the payment using the free Square app. Now anyone can accept payments for services and goods. Use the app to track sales, tips, tax and send electronic receipts. Square accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards. The app does require you to set up a Square account and a processing fee will be taken out of the transaction, but seriously. Does it get any easier to bill for services rendered and secure payment than Square?
Metrics & Presentations:
Roambi: Instantly create amazingly visual dashboards and charts from your critical business data for presentations and analysis on the go. Roambi’s visuals are created from the documents you feed into it – like Google Docs or Excel spreadsheets – and with paid subscriptions, even information from other services like SalesForce and SAP Business Objects. The Pro version is secure and hosted. See trends, organize data into different charting formats, and make a darn impressive presentation. You really need to see the results to understand why this is such a great application – like all outstanding iPad apps, this one takes full advantage of the interface and pushes the “wow” factor to the limit.
Remote Screen Utilities:
LogMeIn Ignition: When all else fails and you need your desktop or laptop but are nowhere near them, use LogMeIn on your iPad. This remote utility allows you to access and use your computer from another location. What you see on the iPad is a perfect replica of your desktop screen, with the ability to manipulate the apps and files on your iPad. The app integrates with an unlimited number of computers as long as they have the LogMeIn utility loaded. Use applications and even edit files on your desktop using the iPad’s touchscreen. Works over WiFi and 3G. Without a doubt, this application is the one that will drop people’s jaws when the see it in action. And you won’t believe how it boosts your productivity, no matter where you find yourself.
QuickShot: Use QuickShot to quickly shot and save pictures to DropBox using your iPad 2’s built-in camera? Take the photo and it is immediately uploaded automatically. Queue multiple photos, upload photos in the background, configure flash, camera quality, geotagging, and tap to set focus and exposure. Why carry multiple devices when you can carry one? QuickShot is the simple way to capture and save images for your business with your device while out in the field.
Photogene: This is my hands-down favorite photo editor for iPhone when I want to get serious about the results. So it stands to reason that its iPad version rocks as well. Whether you are shooting with your iPad 2 or editing photos you have imported with the camera kit (the touch interface on the iPad is perfect for such tasks), this app has you covered. Tons of adjustments and tons of export options make it the most flexible photo tool out there. And, with an in-app purchase, access tools that would make a professional photographer smile. Check this app out and you won’t be sorry when you see the results.
Well, that is about it for this year. I could have mentioned dozens more, but perhaps I will save them for 2012, when we all will be celebrating the iPad 3 and the untold new tricks it will hold. I am still waiting for the day I can turn to the device, tap the Replicator app icon, utter the words “Earl Gray, hot” and get a piping hot cup full of tea in my waiting hand. As always, big thanks to Chris for the opportunity to share these fun tools with Musings readers!