About a decade ago, if you walked into an office, cubicle farm, or bullpen, and there would be desk after desk covered with vanilla-covered monstrosities we called monitors and the beige boxes that brought them to life. The space – and location – constraints (saying nothing of their sluggishness) seem absurd now. The mobile phone each and every one of us has in our pockets or purses possess more computer power than a block of cubicle computers chained together. Combined with always-on, high-speed internet, the iPhone and Android revolutions have utterly changed the way we work.
That’s not to say that mobile apps can do it all. For instance, if you’ve already blown past this introduction to see the apps I listed, you’ll notice a distinct lack of conventional search engine marketing apps – things like analytics and tracking. That’s because I firmly believe that analytics in our pocket are not yet at the level of a desktop app like Google Analytics. Maybe you can see a little dashboard with visitors and pageviews, but that information only cursorily scratches our ever-present itch for more data. It’s the same information you get when you check in on how many Likes or Retweets you’ve gotten, and it’s just as advanced.
No, I believe mobile apps can help you get a lot of work done, but it’s not in making pivot tables or crunching numbers. The apps I’ve gathered below (iOS-centric, though there may be Android equivalents) help you get work done on mobile just as well as you could on your laptop or desktop rig.
If you’re anything like me, you have about, oh, thirty or forty million passwords and logins for different sites and services. You probably have some FTP information stashed away. And maybe even client credit cards for PPC. You could store all this valuable information in a giant Word document or a spreadsheet. That would be silly, though. What you should be doing is saving all your logins and sensitive credentials in 1Password, the incredible app by AgileBits.
1Password can safely store passwords, FTP info, credit cards, and secure notes. You can encrypt its files so they’re uncrackable. And, best of all, you can securely share your database with the 1Password app to your mobile phone and tablet. You really should get both the desktop and mobile version of the app to get your best bang for buck (there’s even a browser extension that makes singing into multiple sites throughout the day a breeze), but even if you stuck with the mobile app, you’d be saving yourself a lot of tedious looking up and typing. It’s the first app I install on a new phone, and it lets me easily sign into all my other accounts in moments.
If you’ve used the default iOS calendar app for very long, you know there’s only one feature that recommends itself over any third-party calendars: the icon magically updates to reflect the current date. That’s it! There are a myriad of better third-party calendars, but I favor Flexibits’ Fantastical because it’s also the third-party calendar app I use on my laptop computer.
Fantasical portrays a month view more clearly than the built-in iOS calendar. You can also switch easily between month, week, and day view, which is essential for figuring out what you’ve got going on today and how your week looks. But that’s not its killer feature. What it does better than anything else on iOS (or OS X for that matter) is parse “natural language” in a powerful, simple way. What do I mean by “natural language”? Simple. Say you’ve got a meeting with The Big Boss at Panera Bread tomorrow at 10am. To create that event in iOS’s calendar, you open the app, click the + button. And then type in the title and location. Then you use a variety of whizzy sliders and dials to set the date, time, and attendees. In Fantastical, you click also click the + button, but then you simply type “meeting with The Big Boss at Panera Bread tomorrow 10am”, and the app magically knows what you mean. It creates the event. End of story. Easy peasy. That’s what makes Fantastical live up to its name. It’s fantastic.
Oh, OmniFocus. How I love you, and how I’m intimidated by you. There are probably more to-do apps in the App Store than there are stars in the sky. (I’m guesstimating here.) And honestly, a lot of them are great. I even have a couple on my iPhone’s home screen. But what sets the OmniGroup’s OmniFocus apart the formidable pack? Well, a few things.
To start, OmniFocus has an absolutely air-tight desktop app that is industry leading. (Sensing a trend here? Mobile apps that integrate with or compliment desktop apps are big winners!) You can slice and dice your day, week, month, and year using OmniFocus and David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy around which the app was developed. Aside from PhotoShop, OmniFocus is probably the most complex app I have on my computer. The mobile app takes 90% of the power of the desktop version and simplifies it about 2000%.
Quite simply, if you’re a systematic-minded thinker who’s also overwhelmed with work, then OmniFocus is for you. Even if you just need an attractive, powerful to-do app that goes slightly beyond making a plain text list, OmniFocus could be for you. If you’re interested in trying to understand your projects and fit them into bite-size chunks that you can get done efficiently and quickly, well, you’ll need to on top of your game. But OmniFocus can, as the name implies, help you focus up and get things done.
Within the wide sea of apps, making any choice will be a pretty subjective call. Picking Twitterific here is perhaps the most subjective call on this list.
If you still use the official Twitter app, well, isn’t that cute. No, no – I’m just kidding. But, really? That thing is so squishy and packed with junk I just don’t need to know. The only reason I ever open it is to keep up with what sort of ads and content decks Twitter is pushing out to users. And usually, I get to see that stuff on my friend’s blogs so I don’t have to subject myself.
Twitterific is agile and powerful. It’s also beautiful. I’m an amateur app developer (first time programmer, long time wannabe), and I’ve got the new iOS 7 installed on my phone. If you haven’t heard, iOS is going radically “flat” – that is, losing the reflections, drop shadows, and funky textures that make your phone resemble a more colorful Whitman’s Sampler. (See the image above for a little peak at iOS 7.) Now iOS has less shadow but more motion. Fewer textures and more text. Twitterific, released well before the iOS 7 beta 1 was released, uncannily predicted this design trend. Add to that its full customizability, speed, ease of use, and powerful features (muting, filters, and saveable searches), and you’ve got a class leading app for a service we’re all hopelessly addicted to. I don’t see any downside here.
For my last mobile app pick I was debated between Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Ultimately, the business-oriented aspect of my, you know, job won out. All three apps are highly used portals into some of the most important social networks of our time. But if I’m being honest, the Facebook app is probably more like 90% friends and family and 10% business, and Instagram is mostly artful shots of drinks and debauchery. LinkedIn actually offers you a powerful mobile window into your workplace world. And it’s recently received a major facelift.
Using LinkedIn should be second nature to you. Before a client meeting, you can check in and refresh yourself of their pertinent details (alma mater, recent promotions, status updates, etc.). You can connect with people more effectively than via email. You can join industry groups and keep up with your peers (and rivals!). Plus LinkedIn is pushing a hard line on content marketing by acquiring Pulse. You can actually learn something while you business network.
So those are my top five apps for mobile. This post ballooned into an epic, so you may want to save it to my Bonus Pick, Instapaper, and read it during your commute (non-drivers only!) or when you have some down time.
If you have any suggestions or picks I totally flubbed or forgot, let me know in the comments!