Communication Revolution: Do More with Apps!

What did we do before we had apps? A lot less!

Mobile-device applications let businesspeople share information, schedule events and communicate with everyone from anyplace at any time. We asked these business owners to share the apps they can’t live without: Steve Cooper, co-founder and editor in chief of Hitched (HitchedMag.com), a magazine for married couples; Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich (ArmentDietrich.com), a Chicago-based integrated online/offline marketing communication firm; and Barry Moltz (BarryMoltz.com), a small-business consultant, speaker and author. The recommended apps are free, except as noted.

Data Storage and Sharing

Google Drive. This cloud storage enables secure, easy storage and sharing of all kinds of data, from photos and videos to spreadsheets and text files. You can create documents, spreadsheets and presentations in Google Drive or upload or drag-and-drop existing files. The program syncs with all your devices so you can always access the latest version and send email notifications about the updates. “Its simplicity makes this app fantastic,” Cooper says. “The ability to share access and make items available offline makes it particularly useful if you collaborate.” For instance, let’s say you’re working at the airport with a Wi-Fi connection; files are automatically stored and saved in your Google Drive. Once you’re on the plane you can work on the current version of every file downloaded in your Drive, even without an Internet connection. Changes you made on the plane will be stored and uploaded when you connect to the Internet later.

Best if: You work with others who use Google Docs or Drive and need a simple, free collaboration solution.

Download: Google.com/drive/about.html

Mobile apps for Android and  iOS

Cost: Free for up to 15 GB of storage; business plans start at $4/month.

 

Dropbox. This cloud storage provides secure, simple storage, syncing all types of data across all your devices so you can easily access and share files from anywhere. “Eighteen months ago we gave up our server and moved everything to Dropbox,” Dietrich says. “We no longer worry about VPN [virtual private network] access or dialing into the server. I can even get to my files when I’m on a plane without Internet access.”

Best if: You want seamless, set-it-and-forget-it cloud storage.

Download: Dropbox.com

Mobile apps available for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Kindle Fire

Cost: Free for up to 18 GB storage; pro plans start at $9.99/month.

 

Hightail (formerly YouSendIt). When email attachments are unacceptably large, Hightail lets you share the files by emailing the recipient a link for access. It also provides secure online cloud storage, syncs files across devices and lets you sign documents digitally without printing or scanning them.

Best if: You need quick, one-time file sharing or need to sign documents on the go.

Download: Hightail.com/applications

Mobile apps for Android, iOS and Windows 8 devices.

Cost: Free to send files up to 50 MB and to sign five documents and store up to 2 GB; pro plans start at $15.99/month.

 

Photo Transfer App. This app is vital for owners of visually dependent businesses (interior design, graphic design, real estate, photography, etc.). Photo Transfer lets you wirelessly send and receive full-resolution photos and videos from mobile devices to other devices, including computers. “I use this app to post pictures and videos of my customers from my iPhone,” Moltz says. You can download multiple photos at once or download a ZIP (compressed) file—wirelessly.

Best if: You need to share photos or videos between locations or devices quickly.

Download: PhotoTransferApp.com

For Android, iOS, Windows 8

Cost: $1.99, Android; $2.99, iOS

 

Messaging/Voice/Conferencing

Google Hangouts. “Because our team is virtual, we do as much as we can using video technology,” Dietrich says. “Our staff meetings are done through Google Hangouts.” Hangouts work with computers and Android and iOS mobile devices to let you hold video calls with up to 10 people. Calls are recorded for future reference.

Best if: You have a small team, spend a lot of time in Google+ and want a quick video-conferencing solution.

Download: Google.com/+/learnmore/Hangouts/

Mobile apps available for Android, iOS

Cost: Free

 

Skype. This VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) solution offers a ton of communication options—including instant messaging, voice and video calls—and works on all devices, including computers, tablets, smartphones and even Skype-compatible landline phones or TVs. “I deal with writers around the world, and Skype is the simplest and easiest way to communicate, particularly internationally,” Cooper says. “Everyone has access to this tool.” Skype-to-Skype calls are free. Various paid plans let you call landlines or cellphones at reduced rates, buy minutes, or get a Skype phone number so people can call you from their regular phones.

Best if: You make lots of international  calls.

Download: Skype.com/en/

Mobile apps available for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows 8, Kindle Fire HD

Cost: Free for Skype-to-Skype calls; paid plans vary.

 

GoToMeeting. This web meeting tool, which offers audio- and video-conferencing options, is great for communicating with customers, Moltz says. As many as 25 users can join from their mobile devices or computers just by clicking a link or entering a code. You can see who’s talking, collaboratively edit on-screen, record meetings and more.

Best if: You want a more sophisticated solution than Skype for client meetings or need to go beyond audio- or video-conferencing to share screens and collaborate in real time.

Download: GoToMeeting.com

Mobile apps available for Android, iOS

Cost: Starts at $49/month.

 

Scheduling/Productivity

BusyCal. Apple’s built-in calendar application has many limitations. If you want a robust solution offering customizable views, a to-do list that issues reminders, and a simple way to create and share events, check out BusyCal. “When I switched from a PC to a Mac, I missed my task list in Outlook,” Dietrich says. “BusyCal provides that for me and also allows me to schedule meetings, share tasks and move things around as the days evolve.” BusyCal syncs with iCloud, Google Calendar, iPhones and other CalDAV (an Internet standard allowing access to scheduling information on a remote server) servers, and the new BusyCal works with Microsoft Exchange.

Best if: You want a flexible, powerful tool for your iOS devices.

Download: BusyMac.com

Available for: iOS

Cost: $29.99 (free 30-day trial)

 

Siri. Cooper and Moltz love the Siri app built into their iPhones (Siri is also embedded in newer-model iPads, iPad Minis and iPod Touch devices). “This is probably my favorite app because it feels like I have a real personal assistant,” Cooper says. Tell Siri to remind you to do something (make a call, send an email) at a certain time or, using your phone’s GPS, when you get to a certain destination, she’ll notify you at the right time. Cooper says, “If you travel a lot, telling Siri to set a reminder [for a task] when you arrive at your destination will quickly make this your favorite app, too.”

Best if: You want push audio reminders (meaning they arrive without your launching an application). It’s great for set-it-and-forget-it situations.

Available for iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPad 4th generation, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch 5th generation

Cost: Prices vary, but online we found: iPhone 4s, $99; iPhone 5, $199; 4th generation iPad, $499; iPad mini, $329; 5th generation iPod Touch, $229.

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