The right apps can turn your smartphone into a world-beating business tool. But when it comes to productivity and power, these apps stand out from the pack.
When people ask me where my office is, I have a tradition of explaining that I don't even have a home office.
"This is my office," I say, as I proudly brandish my laptop and explain that I can work anywhere, as long as I have a computer and an Internet connection.
For the sake of variety, maybe I should start alternating that routine with another one: Pulling my iPhone out of my pocket and saying that it's the place where my most important work gets done. That wouldn't be much of an exaggeration.
Thanks to the miracle of apps, my phone has become an absolutely essential business tool -- a device I use to stay informed, balance my books, wrangle documents, and manage my small company's reputation on social networks. The fact that I can also make phone calls on the thing is a bonus.
Here are half a dozen of the iPhone applications I find most useful, all of which are also available in editions for Android handsets. The price is right, too: Most of them offer professional-grade editions that carry a monthly charge, but they're all also available in free versions which are gems in their own right.
1. Expensify. My wallet is stuffed with receipts for business purchases. But it's not nearly the mess it would be if it weren't for the indispensable Expensify.
The moment I get a receipt, I snap a photo of it with my phone's camera, enter related details, and instantly save it to an online repository where it'll never get lost. Expensify has features that automate filing and paying expensing reports, although as the head of a one-person company, I use it to keep records for Uncle Sam. The basic features are free for individual users like me; larger businesses pay $5 per user per month.
2. Hipmunk. Like many people who run small companies, I am, among many other things, my own travel agent. When I book business trips, I use the Kayak search engine to check out hotel rooms. But for plane trips, I turn to Hipmunk, which is available on the Web as well as in iOS and Android form.
Hipmunk shows me flights in a simple grid -- and it sorts them by "Agony," which factors in price, layovers, and other factors to put the most appealing overall options up top. And it makes it a cakewalk to find the only kind of flights I want to take these days: Those equipped with onboard Wi-Fi.
3. HootSuite. My company is on Twitter and Facebook. I have personal accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and FourSquare. HootSuite makes it easy to manage all those accounts in one place, on iOS and Android devices as well as on the Web.
Besides pulling together all my accounts for easy reading and updating, it lets me schedule updates to be released at any time I specify -- which is useful when I want to greet followers on the East Coast with news bright and early their time while I'm still snoozing here in California. I use the free version of HootSuite; a multi-user edition with features such as support for multiple team members starts at $5.99 per user per month.
4. Box.net. I'm a fan of several services -- such as Dropbox and SugarSync -- that let me shuttle files among multiple devices, such as a phone and one or more Windows PCs and/or Macs. I've also begun dabbling with Apple's brand-new iCloud, which builds similar features right into the iPhone's new iOS 5 software.
At the moment, though, the most timely recommendation I can make in this category is Box.net. Until December 2nd, it's offering users of iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches a ridiculously generous permanent allotment of free storage: 50GB, vs. 2GB at Dropbox and 5GB at Sugarsync. (Android users are stuck with Box's standard free space of 5GB -- still enough to store a lot of business documents.) Box makes money by charging $15 per month per user for business accounts that include a lot more features, including automated syncing, file viewing, and collaborative tools. But you might find it invaluable even if you never plunk down a nickel.
Pulse is a nifty newsreader that also does an excellent job of letting me read feeds from all over. I can browse sources to find ones to add to my list -- there's a section of business-related choices -- or add my existing favorites, such as AllBusiness.com. Built-in features make it a snap to share articles via Facebook, Twitter, or email.
6. Remember the Milk. The world is full of to-do lists for PCs and phones. (Apple finally added a built-in one for the iPhone with the iOS 5 upgrade; it's called Reminders.) The task manager I keep coming back to, however, is the Australian import Remember the Milk.
Despite the silly name and simple interface, Remember the Milk is a serious productivity tool that lets me record tasks, prioritize them, and see them through to completion. One of the best things about it is that it's available just about everywhere: Not just in iPhone, iPad, Android, and Web flavors, but also for BlackBerry phones, Gmail, and Outlook, with syncing that makes all versions act as one. The basic version is free; Pro accounts with more features are $25 a year (and they're worth every penny).
I could go on ... and maybe I will in a future article. For now, though, I'm curious about the apps and services you use on your phone, whether it's an iPhone, an Android, or something else. Tell us about your picks in the comments: With so many choices out there, the chances are pretty good that you've discovered some that the rest of us could benefit from.