Tool or Toy: Your tablet is what it eats

Originally published in the Upstate Business Journal, Greenville, SC, on Jan 4, 2013

By Laura Haight

That shiny new mobile device you got for Christmas is soooo cool. The screen is so sharp and beautiful - you’ve watched The Hangover, Part 3 several times on it. And the gaming.... Wow!

But now you are back to work. Now what? Is this bright and shiny new iPad, Surface, iPhone, Android.. whatever, a toy or a tool?

That all depends on what you feed it. The device is the foundation for great things, but it’s the apps that make it.

The ones you choose will ultimately be a very personal choice. Like scanning the titles of someone’s bookshelves - you can tell a lot about someone by the apps they use.

Here’s a starter list. For experienced mobile users, I’d love to know what your favorite and most useful apps are - especially some things specific to your industry. Share them with other readers on our Facebook page.

Dropbox: Your business may already use Dropbox for cloud storage and file sharing. It is a nearly indispensable tool on the iPad (versions also available for Android, Blackberry, Nexus and a version in development for the Surface). Many apps integrate with Dropbox so it makes saving content you created or downloaded very easy. This is especially important on the iPad which has no inherent file system or external transfer -  no USB or SD card access here. There are other services but, in my experience, this is the one that nearly every app seems to integrate with. That makes it a must have.

Evernote: I have had Evernote for years, but didn’t really get it until this year. This is an great tool. You can file anything, from anywhere, including handwritten notes that are then read and indexed for later searching. Even my handwriting seems to work, which is pretty incredible since I can't read it most of the time. Evernote is everywhere: there are browser plugins so you can easily capture a web page, article or link. Evernote, like Dropbox, in integrated into a huge number of business apps. Where that’s not available you can email them to your account.

Notability: I do a lot of writing, I have a lot of meetings, I take a lot of notes. So this is one of the most important tools on my iPad. I settled on this app after trying dozens of other contenders. You can type or draw (or use handwriting). There’s a wrist-free zone that you can resize to accommodate your personal style when using handwriting. There are many features I don’t have space to go into, but my favorite and most used feature is the ability to record audio while you are taking notes - such as in client meetings or interviews - and have the text and audio synchronized. So instead of scrambling to grab a lengthy quote, I can type “great quote”, click on it in the note and the recording will jump to that spot and play. When exporting, you can get a timecoded document as well. The best 99 cents I’ve ever spent.

Trello: Project management in a bulletin board, drag and drop style. Trello has a card stack approach that is visually familiar to a lot of us. You can add stacks and move cards from one to another as jobs progress. Integration with Dropbox and Google Drive let you easily connect documents. So you can keep everything you need in one place. Team members can be invited to individual boards so they can be involved in the projects that affect them without having to see those that don’t.

Air Display: This is an iPad app that can either mirror or extend your desktop, essentially creating a second monitor. You can drag windows between from one monitor to another - say to write on one side while looking at a reference document on the other. It’s a $9.99 purchase and only for the iPad but it does work via bluetooth with either a Mac or a PC.

DocuSign Ink: You are talking to a client, you agree on a deal. What’s better: Going back to your office, finding the contract, emailing it for them to sign OR handing over your iPad and getting a signature on the dotted line right away? I thought so. DocuSign ink let’s you securely and digitally sign your own documents or request signatures from others. The app is free for all platforms; the service has a limited free level and then escalates in cost depending on how many people will use it. For many, the free level may be sufficient.

Have an appy New Year!