My customer asked me… “What are some good iPhone apps?”

“What are some good iPhone apps?”

As many of you may know, two additional cell phone carriers have acquired the rights to the iPhone in Canada. Previous to this, only Rogers customers were able to purchase the device. Given that I’m tied into a contract with Telus, I missed out. Of course, because I’m mildly obsessed with Apple products, I went out and bought an iPod Touch to make myself feel better.

The iPod Touch is a similar device, however it is missing a few key pieces: a camera, a phone and a network. You may think to yourself that the camera is non-essential. Pause that thought because I will show you in a moment what it does for the device. The fact that the phone functionality is missing is simply a nuisance, as I have to now carry two devices. In this small device market, consolidating several technologies into one has been a definite trend capturing sales. Instead of a phone, a PDA and a camera, you can simply carry the iPhone. Perhaps, the most important point of difference from the iPod Touch to the iPhone is the network. While I can receive emails, GPS my location and browse the Internet on my iPod Touch, I can only do it when I’m connected to a wireless network – impossible to do when you are in a moving car, for example.

Interestingly, the idea of the iPhone as a business tool may seem like an oxymoron to some. Most of us think Blackberry (yay Canada) when we think of professional phones. According to Gartner, three players in fact dominate the Smartphone market: Nokia, well in the lead, with RIM and Apple switching between first- and second-place depending on where you look.

Your pro-RIM reasoning makes sense because of the tremendous support RIM provides to its corporate accounts, both in the way of device and network. It’s far more likely that when you start a sales job in the printing industry, you will be handed a Blackberry rather than an iPhone. For me, getting an iPhone would be a vanity purchase. As such, I am determined to find out how I can get the most out of it (so I can feel better about being a sucker for Apple products).

From an IT perspective, there are many reasons that the iPhone is making waves. One of them is the fact that, without getting technical, anyone can create an application that does something on the iPhone. From using the phone as a level to hang a shelf to making it look like you’re drinking a pint of beer, Apple says it best: “there’s an app for that!”

As such, I thought that the best way for me to harness the utility of the device would be to research some applications that make business sense. Here’s a review of some of the top-rated applications:

1. Quickoffice Mobile Office Suite

Quickoffice Mobile SuiteThis is the number one rated application in the iTunes business category. It has won a Best Business Application award from CTIA Wireless 2009. It allows users to access and edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents. In addition, it allows you to view, email and access different types of common attachments such as PowerPoint, PDF and JPG.

In my profession, on average, one in every three emails I’m sent has some sort of attachment. The ability to see it, and even more so to edit it, while I am taking a cab, or waiting in line seems worth paying the $9.99 for this application. This is only the first example of how smartphones are replacing desktop computers.

Reading the reviews for this application, it seems that most people agree that it’s a good addition to the phone with some limitations of the device and the software. For one, the iPhone screen is small, and therefore limits the comfort of viewing. Secondly, one user stated that there is no auto correct built into the application. For those who have typed on an iPhone or iPod Touch, you know that it’s almost impossible to hit the screen keys correctly without missing a letter here and there.

However, at this price point, I would say that the advantages outweigh the drawbacks. You may also want to check out Documents To Go, which is the number four rated app on the iTunes list, offering similar functionality.

2. Business Card Reader

Business Card ReaderNumber two on the most-wanted list is an application that directly ties to the printing industry. Brand-new to the game, this app was only released in October 2009! It is one of the applications that showcases why the camera is an integral part of the iPhone’s toolbox. The app allows you to take a picture of the business card, which it then scans for content and digitizes it into your contacts. No more typing – just point and shoot.

The technology, of course, is not new. We’ve been able to digitize business cards using specialized scanners for some time. However, the iPhone makes the need to purchase such a scanner obsolete…provided it is as fast and efficient. While some users are impressed, others state that it has difficulty capturing even one word. Given that the risk to try it is an investment of $5.99, I would give it a go.

My favourite part of this application is that it allows you to also connect to LinkedIn, an online professional network. For those of you not already on LinkedIn, I suggest you check it out. In the IT profession, it is very quickly eliminating the need for business cards.

3. QuickVoice2Text Email

QuickvoiceI love the concept of this app. I often complain that students today have forgotten how to handwrite completely. The speed at which they type, however, is incredible. With this app, forget writing and forget typing, just talk! It seems ideal for those random “to do” items that run through my head all day. I would imagine that dictating “do the laundry” to my phone in public may be a bit embarrassing, but imagine the possibilities! The ability to have your phone memorize your thoughts and the speed at which you think them!

Much like the card scanner, Voice2Text is not a new software capability. In fact, phones have integrated voice-activated dialing for some time. However, I know very few people who use it because when you try to call Bob, you get mom. Likewise, the users of this app seem to be disappointed. While it costs less than a dollar, some have complained that it is slow and limited in that it only does 30 seconds at a time. My impression is that it would primarily work well as a to-do manager.

4. PDF Reader Pro

pdfreaderThe fourth app I would add, and number five on the iTunes list, is the PDF Reader Pro. This application, as you may guess allows you to open and read PDF files. Its primary advantage from my perspective is that it comes with a file directory manager to help you stay organized as well as offering improved rendering speed and the ability to view the PDF in landscape. Given the size of PDF files in our industry, this seems like a necessary tool. The screen is limiting in portrait view, and we all know that our high-resolution PDFs are a pain to render.

While an application like this is a great idea, and important to have as part of the toolbox, this particular one got very low reviews despite it’s high number of downloads. I would personally check out Good Reader, which has much higher user ratings and is specifically designed to handle large files. One user said that it had no problem opening a 1 GB file. Even my laptop would have a hard time with that!

5. Doc Scanner

docscannerThe last app I would add for productivity is the Doc Scanner. This application is meant to scan text and create a PDF or TXT file that you can review later. It doesn’t just take a picture of a page; it automatically detects the edges of letter-size sheet, fixes the geometry, removes any shadows and sharpens the image. The result seems to be a file you can actually read comfortably.

The reviews of the app are very favourable and provided it works as well as everyone thinks so, it would replace a desktop scanner for the price of $8.99. It also claims to be faster than a flatbed. A welcome change for any process!

So those are the top five business applications that are making me feel better about my vanity purchase of the iPhone. I would love to hear from our iPhone using readers about what you use to ease your gadget guilt. I suppose you could put the iPhone on your holiday wish list, and then you’re not responsible for the splurge directly.

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