Apple's iPhone wasn't originally conceived as a business-focused device; however, the advent of the App Store and the rapid rise in usage and adoption has really given the platform -- and the phone -- some pretty great use cases for business users. The iPhone App Store has more than 150,000 applications and separating the wheat from the chaff, especially when you have a specific goal or task in mind can be difficult. That's why I've compiled this list of some of the best applications for the iPhone for the small business user.
Access to Files and Folders
Something that really sets this generation of smartphone devices apart from devices of even five years ago is the rise in cloud computing and ubiquitous connectivity. While accessing e-mail from multiple devices with full message history intact is old-hat, that capability has now extended to many other types of files.
Using programs like FileMagnet ($4.99) and Air Sharing ($3.99 for the regular version, $9.99 for Pro) you can easily transfer PDF, Microsoft Office and iWork files to your iPhone from your Mac or PC over WiFi.
As I've pointed out in the past, services like Box.net and Dropbox can be really great tools for small business owners. Both Box.net and Dropbox have free iPhone applications that let you access your files on those clouds directly from your phone.
If you're a user of Apple's MobileMe service, there is also a free MobileMe iDisk app that lets you access those files, folders and images directly from your iPhone.
Document Viewing and Editing
Accessing files and folders is great, but what about when you want to get some serious work done? There are a number of full-fledged productivity applications that make it possible to not only view, but also edit documents, even on cloud-based services.
QuickOffice Connect Suite for the iPhone ($9.99) is a great app because it not only lets you view your Microsoft Office documents, but also edit and create those documents -- both stored locally on your phone, and on cloud services like Google Docs, MobileMe, Box.net and Dropbox.
This means you can view a file shared with you on Box.net or in your Dropbox folder, make some changes and save it back. Likewise, you can create a new document or spreadsheet and save it to a cloud service of your choice.
Documents To Go Premium ($14.99) also lets you view and edit Microsoft Office docs on your iPhone, but it only supports Google Docs right now.
If you really need to view documents more than edit, GoodReader ($0.99) is not only the best PDF viewer on the iPhone (you can view files up to 1GB in size without having issues), you can access files from WebDAV servers (including MobileMe), Box.net, Dropbox and for a $0.99 in-app purchase, you can also access GoogleDocs.
File editing is limited to text files for right now, but the viewing capabilities, the ability to transfer files over WiFi, download PDF files from a URL directly to the iPhone and support for stuff like zipping and unzipping of files make this app really fantastic. If you ever find yourself needing to deal with exceptionally large PDF files, GET THIS APP.
Scan, Fax, Print
That camera on your iPhone is for more than just quick snapshots and Facebook uploads. Believe it or not, it's also a really good document scanner. This goes double for iPhone 3GS owners, as the improved lens and built-in auto-focus and stabilization features make it a real asset for document capture.
While the iPhone camera might not displace a high-quality document or business-card scanner, you might be surprised at how well it can work, especially when paired with the right software.
JotNot Scanner ($4.99) is a solid document scanner that lets you scan multiple page PDF files and then save them to MobileMe, Evernote, Dropbox. Box.net or Google Docs. If you upload to Google Docs you can even take advantage of Google's OCR engine for better document processing. The app is really optimized for the iPhone 3GS but older iPhones can still utilize its featureset.
Scanner Pro ($6.99) is another solid scanning option. It also can upload to Box.net, Dropbox, MobileMe (or any WebDAV service). It also lets you do custom-page sizes, send scans by e-mail and if you also have the Print n Share ($6.99), seamlessly send a document to your printer.
For users who need to send faxes from the iPhone, there are a number of faxing-specific apps but most of them charge a high per-fax (and sometimes per-document) fee in addition to the price of the app itself. That's why, if you plan on doing any serious faxing, I recommend spending the $24.99 and getting the ScanR Business Center app because not only does it let you capture files as PDF and do OCR processing (with desktop web access too), you can send unlimited faxes from the app itself.
If you already have an e-mail to fax solution like eFax or Maxemail, check out Mobile Phax ($4.99) which will do document capture to PDF and easily integrate with lots of e-mail to fax programs. Of course, you can conceivably use any image to PDF app to send faxes as an attachment with your existing e-mail to fax subscription plans, Mobile Phax just makes the process a bit more seamless.
If business card scanning is what you are after, check out ScanBizCards ($5.99 or try the free Lite version).
Which are most useful to you?
Which iPhone apps do you find most useful for your small business? Tell us about your favorites in the comments, and look out for my next post, where I'll discuss the best productivity apps for the iPhone for your small business.