Must-Have Apps for the Mobile Worker

7 minute read
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Let's face it. Regardless of your preferred platform, the fact is that mobile devices are increasingly making their way -- and staying -- in the business setting. Whether you're gaining access to information en route to work, or if your work mostly involves mobility, you will be dependent on some applications to make things happen. We take a look at a few apps that help make the magic happen on your devices, whether you have an iPad, iPhone, Android smartphone or tablet, BlackBerry PlayBook, HP TouchPad or any other device.

While we would like to list down and review every application meant for mobile productivity, space -- actually, readers' attention spans -- only allows us a few items. So let's focus on a few top business-oriented categories and pick a few top mobile apps that can help you become more productive wherever you are, or at least wherever you have a decent Internet connection.

Notes, Web Clippings

What's a tablet or smartphone if you can't jot down notes whenever you need to save tidbits of information in a jiffy? But writing down something isn't enough. You have to be able to make sure your information stays safe and accessible from your multiple devices. Here's where Evernote comes into the picture. Evernote has evolved from a simple clipping application to a more sophisticated note-taking app that synchronizes your notes across computers and mobile devices.

Evernote for iPad supports rich media and interfaces with mobile web apps such as Google Maps

Evernote for iPad supports rich media and interfaces with mobile web apps

The latest versions of Evernote for iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7 give you rich-text editing features, checklists, and simple image editing within the mobile interface. Of course, Evernote is also useful in clipping information from websites you visit, for future reference.

Evernote has a free ad-supported version for the desktop, iPhone, iPad, Ipod Touch, Android smartphones and tablets, and Windows Phone 7, but this is limited to 60 MB per month of bandwidth. A premium account is available for $5 per month, which gives you 1 GB of usage monthly. Alternatives to Evernote include Simplenote and Springpad.

Cloud-based Storage

For any person who works with more than one computer or device, having multiple versions of files can be a nightmare. Saving files to a flash drive is so 2000s, and so is emailing yourself the latest copies of your documents so you can work on them from home. Mobile platforms now give you access to files on-the-go. Cloud-based storage services such as Dropbox let you sync your files across computers without extra effort, except for saving it in the right folder.

Dropbox app for iOS and Android devices comes with document and media preview

Dropbox app for iOS and Android devices comes with document and media preview

Dropbox is free up to 2 GB, and it works on multiple platforms and operating systems. For the desktop, there's a Windows, OS X and Linux version. Dropbox also supports the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android smartphones and tablets and BlackBerry. There's also a web version for access from just about anywhere. Premium accounts range from $9.99 per month for 50 GB to a customized team plan for enterprises, which can also include versioning control.

Dropbox alternatives include Box.net, SugarSync, Amazon Cloud Drive, Windows Live Mesh and SpiderOak. Aside from cloud storage, most of these services let users share files with either select individuals or the public.

Document Management: GoDocs, DataViz Docs to Go

Managing documents is probably the next most popular use for tablets and smartphones aside from email. In this area, two applications stand out: GoDocs for Google Docs, and DataViz' Documents to Go. Docs to Go deals more with traditional document management, in that it lets users view and edit Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations on mobile devices. Documents can actually be synced to the cloud via Google Docs, Dropbox and other popular cloud storage services.

GoDocs works mainly as a local client for Google Docs, which lets the user view and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations stored on Google's cloud-based Docs service.

DataViz Docs to Go comes in both premium and free versions

DataViz Docs to Go comes in both premium and free versions

GoDocs sells for $4.99 at the Apple iTunes Store. Users can, of course, access the mobile Google Docs interface, although this will not work while offline. Enterprises that use Google Apps for Domains might have to pay nominal fees per user for the use of the service. Meanwhile, Docs to Go comes in both free and premium versions for the iOS, Android, Blackberry, Symbian 60 and still supports PalmOS. The paid iPad version costs $16.99.


While mobile professionals use their smartphones and tablets mostly for email, messaging and calendar apps, some need access to desktop-bound applications. Citrix Receiver for iOS enables users to run virtual environments and applications on an iPad, iPhone, iPod touch. Citrix Receiver also has editions for Android, Windows Phone, webOS and even Chromebooks.

Citrix Receiver virtual apps.jpg

Learning Opportunities

Citrix Receiver is free, but requires your organization to run a Citrix host. If you simply need access to your desktop from mobile, alternatives include LogMeIn Ignition, Jump Desktop, RealVNC and Splashtop. While these might not provide a secure virtualized environment like Citrix Receiver, you still have access to and control of your desktop for those times when you need full computing power.

Communications: Seesmic, imo.im

Smartphones and tablets work best as mobile communicators. But with the plethora of social networks and instant messaging platforms out there, it's best to keep things simple by integrating access into one application. Seesmic comes in a desktop and web app, but also has counterparts for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and mobile web. The app gives users access to streams from Twitter, Facebook and even Chatter.

Seesmic is a social media dashboard for iOS, Android and other mobile platforms

Seesmic is a social media dashboard for iOS, Android and other mobile platforms

Meanwhile, instant messaging networks can be integrated under one roof with applications such as imo.im, which also comes in a desktop-based application. The app enables access to messenger platforms from Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Skype, Facebook, Jabber and others. The service has apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry.

Collaboration, Project Management

What is productivity without synergy? Mobile workers may not always be meeting face-to-face, but collaboration can be taken care of with a few apps. Yammer is a closed microblogging network for sharing posts, status messages and media, and has versions for the web, mobile web, iOS, Android and other devices. Yammer is free, but also has a premium package for enterprises, which includes access to technical and administrative support.

Huddle lets firms collaborate on tasks, resources and messages

Huddle lets firms collaborate on tasks, resources and messages

Meanwhile, chatting is just one aspect of collaboration. Users can also manage projects, tasks and resources along with fellow mobile professionals with applications such as Workday, Huddle and Outpost 2. These applications let users take care of business resources, including personnel, projects and tasks. Project management tools also include time-trackers, for keeping tabs on your workday.

Information Management: Cube, Thinking Space

Jotting down information using note-taking apps is one thing, but managing your thoughts and actual output is another. Cube Time & Expense Tracker is an iOS application for managing time and expenses. The application is useful for mobile individuals or professionals who bill by the hour, and those who need to keep track of work output. Cube costs $9.99 from the iTunes store, and can sync with the cloud for access from multiple devices.

Thinking Space is a mind-mapping app for Android

Thinking Space is a mind-mapping app for Android

Meanwhile, creative thinkers would need a mind-mapping application like Thinking Space. This mind-mapping application for Android smartphones and tablets enable users to organize thoughts according to free-form webs of information. Thinking Space costs $4.99 from the Android Market, although a free version is also available.

The right applications will help turn your mobile device into a productivity tool rather than something you lug around in your pocket, purse or briefcase every day. These apps are just suggestions, of course. If you have others in mind, we hope you can share.