A funny thing happened with the rise of smartphones, netbooks and ultra-portable PCs: Technical performance quickly took a back seat to widespread software compatibility. While no surprise to industry pundits, who'd long argued that having to support varied hardware configurations and operating systems stifled programmers' ability to innovate, let's be real. The meteoric rise of Apple's iPhone App Store, from which 3 billion programs have now been downloaded, took even the most open-minded critics by surprise.
Credit growing public enthusiasm for "apps"--bite-sized, downloadable software applications capable of extending any supporting device's value by adding countless features that weren't included out of the box. More than 100,000 apps can currently be had for the iPhone alone, the vast majority created by a legion of bedroom coders and small entrepreneurial startups. Having clearly captured the world's imagination, apps can now be found on numerous platforms from Android to Windows 7, handsets like Google's Nexus One or Motorola's Droid, and even devices as diverse as computers, eReaders and HDTVs.
What's more, all it takes is a single glimpse to see why they enjoy such tremendous support from the business community. With a single download, you can turn your cell phone into a portable translator, download photos right to your living room television or manage all your social network updates via a single desktop client. So love them or hate them, there's no getting around it, especially for iPhone owners. Allowing one-touch access to weather and flight updates, inventory management or invoice processing systems, apps are here to stay.
Following are 10 examples of useful apps for working professionals that can help foster communications, grow customer relationships and boost productivity across the board. Consider them strictly a starting point, however. Look closely, and you'll find thousands of equally compelling choices to pick from tailored to a range of businesses and industries, with dozens more being added every day. Now that's what we call forward progress.
QuickOffice Mobile Office Suite--One of the most powerful bundles of productivity tools for the iPhone, owners gain the ability to create and edit Microsoft Word and Excel files, as well as view PowerPoint and PDF documents. The software suite also allows you to turn your iPhone into a wireless storage drive, accessible via Wi-Fi connection, or connect with cloud computing services like Dropbox, Google Docs and MobileMe for sharing creations.
Mobile Roadie--Dream of having your own iPhone app, but can't afford the time or cost required to build a custom project? Try this nifty subscription-based service, which lets you craft individually branded business apps, then populate them with status updates, photos, videos, web links, notifications about discounts and promotions, and details on upcoming appearances. Fans can comment on posts, upload photos and share their activities with other users via their Facebook and Twitter accounts, helping to grow your audience.
LinkedIn--This app allows you to access the most popular social network for business users. Using LinkedIn, you can check status updates, send messages, issue invitations and pull up contact info. Road warriors will find it a handy way to connect with peers, mentors and potential business partners.
Jott--You never know when inspiration will strike. Thankfully, the next time you've got a brilliant business idea, this handy app--which doubles as a personal stenographer--proves a ready-made way to take dictation. Capable of recording audio clips and converting them to text, Jott makes it simple to transcribe board meetings, send e-mails with a spoken command or dictate Facebook and Twitter updates.
XpenseTracker--The name says it all: From taxis to hotels and meals, this app lets you keep a running log of virtually any business expense. Owners can sort by personalized categories and payment types, plus break down costs in various currencies and track mileage reports. Once recorded, expense reports can quickly be exported into a spreadsheet or plain text document, helping speed up processing and reimbursement.
uCharge--Lets you process credit card payments from your handset or empower a sales force to charge customers from multiple devices while on the go. Just enter customer billing info and credit card details, and you can receive authorization and execute transactions in seconds, with support for major credit cards such as American Express featured.
Tweetie 2--The ultimate Twitter client, it gives power personal communicators the option to juggle multiple accounts, makes it easy to process and organize your tweets, and puts a tremendous range of functionality at one's fingertips. There's even the option to read tweets and perform actions such as responding while offline, which then synchronize once you log back in. From a slick, intuitive interface to features that make finding and communicating with contacts simpler, it's a great way to get the word out about your business.
QuickBooks Online--Balancing the books, issuing invoices and flipping through P&L statements can now be done right from your pocket. Armed with this program, you can check account balances and stay on top of outstanding payments/receipts, as well as keep track of client contact info. Consider it your portable accounting department.
Salesforce Mobile--Anyone who plans on fielding a mobile sales team should make a point of keeping this customer relationship management tool in their arsenal, which lets you stay abreast of quotes, leads and client relationships. While you'll need a salesforce.com login to access the app, it provides a superb way to stay informed on recent account activity, track outstanding RFPs and monitor breaking opportunities.
FlightTrack Pro--For road warriors, the friendly skies can prove a hazardous minefield of delayed flights and missed connections. Happily, this robust domestic and international flight tracker keeps a close eye on your itinerary, delivering updates and notices in the event of late arrivals or cancellations. Weather forecasts, live flight maps and detailed flight info (speed, arrival time, altitude, etc.) are also available.