One of the best tech purchases I ever made was an iPhone*. While I’m normally a bigger fan of open-source software than of anything from either Apple or Microsoft, there are a couple of reasons an iPhone works for me: I can use it as a mini-computer, it automatically notifies me when I have email, and there are thousands of free apps available for it. Because it’s also a phone, it runs off the cellular network, meaning I can access the Internet even when there’s no wifi nearby. Best of all, I can tether other devices to it – like I recently did at a convention where the hotel had outrageous access fees for their Internet – so I can use my laptop, or loan my hotspot to a friend.

Because my monthly plan is all-inclusive with a certain amount of shared data that I’m charged for whether I use it all up or not, it cost me nothing to use the phone as a mobile hotspot for four days. Having this phone has meant that I don’t have to pay for home Internet access (making the monthly phone charge more affordable), or worry about being cut off from work when I’m away.

Being able to put email from many different providers is great. I have both personal and work emails pushed to my phone every 15 minutes. But what really makes the phone useful is those aforementioned apps. There are so many great free programs designed for the business person in mind that this pocket-sized bit of tech can be the only device you need.**

Links go to more information about the app. In no particular order:

  1. WordPress – This app lets me see all of the blogs I use at once, as well as write posts, edit pages, add images, approve or reply to comments, and much more. Because I run both my business website and my professional writing blog though WordPress, this app gets used frequently. FREE.
  2. Paypal – I can check my balance, transfer funds to a bank account, send or request money, see my recent transactions and more. It doesn’t cover all of PayPal’s features, which is too bad, but it does enough that I can withdraw money, find out if a payment to a contributor went through, or see how many books were purchased from my company today. FREE.
  3. Box / Dropbox – they’re both versions of the same thing, a mobile access point to use a cloud file service. I have them both because I use both, but chances are whatever cloud service you use will have a free app to manage it. FREE.
  4. DocScan – It scans multi-page paper documents with the phone’s camera, adjusts or flattens as necessary, saves in a variety of formats (most useful? PDF) and will even email them to the intended recipient. Makes sending a copy of a contract or other information into a 30 second task, instead of having to leave what you’re doing to find a fax machine or scanner … plus it saves files to Evernote, Dropbox, Googledocs, and more. FREE, though there’s a $1.99 paid version that includes a PDF reader, which you don’t need if you have Adobe’s free Reader (see below).
  5. Adobe Reader X – Lets you read, sign, annotated, and fill out PDFs that people send you, so you can review and sign contracts (for example) via your phone, or fill out paperwork. FREE.
  6. Dragon Dictation – speech to text program that lets you dictate emails, text messages, and more. Use it to get down story ideas before you forget, or to make a to-do list while you’re walking to your next meeting, or to keep track of the ideas being tossed around at an after-work pub meeting. FREE.
  7. Instagram – I know what you’re thinking, “That’s that hipster camera app, isn’t it?” Well, yes, it is, but it has one nifty function that makes it worth having – it saves a copy of the pictures you edit with it to your phone. I can snap a photo of a stack of new books I just got, edit it into a square (cropping and cleaning up the color if I want to), and then it’s saved to my phone to be used with something else – like my WordPress app. Or you can take a picture of your boss passed out after the company holiday party and, you know, save it for later. When it might come in handy.*** FREE.
  8. Skype – voice and video chat with your colleagues wherever you are. Handy anti-shake feature makes your video easy to watch, even when you’re on the road. FREE.
  9. Evernote – I’ve said before that Evernote is a great way to organize your thoughts, notes, lists, and more. With the app you can do nearly everything that you can do via the website, and anything you save there with your iPhone will be accessible from your desktop later. FREE.
  10. Weave – When you work for yourself, doing any kind of freelancing, you often have to figure out exactly how long you spent on a project, and what extra costs were involved. Weave lets you do exactly that, tracking your hours and expenses for each project you set up. FREE.

If money’s no object, check out Tweetbot, one of the few apps I’d recommend paying for. Social media is an important part of marketing your business these days, and my favorite thing about this app is that it lets me hold multiple Twitter handles open at once. An example of why that’s awesome: I can see something on my writing persona feed, copy it, and paste it to my business feed, without having to log out of either one. Saving time, saving headaches. $2.99

One more thing: If you absolutely must create and edit documents from your iPhone, and want a full-function office suite to do it, there’s nothing free that can help you. In this one area, money must be spent. But  Quick Office Pro for iPhone at least gives you bang for your buck – for $14.99 it does everything you could want it to do, including edit a Powerpoint presentation or an Excel spreadsheet. Plus it’s now part of Google, so if your office uses Google platforms for emails or document sharing, this app will fit very well with your existing workflow.

What are your favorite work-related apps?

* Many of the apps I mention have counterparts for Blackberry or Android, though I can’t say if they’re all free. If you have a smartphone from someone other than Apple, you may want to see what’s available to you.

** Yes, really. I went out of town for a long weekend without a laptop or other computer access and still got all of my work done.

***I’m not suggesting this. I’m just saying that you can.

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