Top 10 iOS Apps for Small Businesses

Monday Sep 17th 2012 by James A. Martin
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We picked 10 outstanding iPhone and iPad apps that can help you keep your small business going when you're on the go.

An iPad or an iPhone still can't fully replace a laptop for running a small business. But man oh man, iOS devices are getting more powerful all the time -- just look at the new features of the iPhone 5, for starters. And with these 10 iOS apps, you can be extremely productive on the go.

1. Office-Compatible Software Suite: Office² HD for iPad

Microsoft has yet to introduce an Office suite for iOS (though rumors suggest it's coming this fall). Into that gaping void rush a number of apps that, to varying degrees, let you create, edit, share, and sync documents compatible with Office's Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but my current hero among them is Office² HD for iPad. (The app is $8; a separate app for iPhone/iPod touch, Office², costs $6). I'm partial to this app because, unlike its iOS competitors, it actually supports Word's Track Changes -- a feature upon which many writers, editors, attorneys, and others heavily rely. That aside, Office² is a powerful suite of Office-compatible apps that supports many Office features, such as the capability to freeze panes in spreadsheets and revert to any of your previous 10 Word file versions.

As with any iOS Office suite, you'll give up some features you may take for granted using Office on the desktop. Office²'s PowerPoint tools are a bit wimpy, for instance. But if you truly need the full version of Office on your iPhone or iPad, read on.

2. Office on Your iOS Device: CloudOn

There are at least three services that will run a virtualized Windows environment, complete with Office software, on your iPad: the apps CloudOn and OnLive Desktop, both free, and Nivio, which isn't an app per se and which costs upwards of $5 per month.

Among them, CloudOn gets my vote. It does a super job of delivering cloud-based versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint to your iPad -- provided you have an Internet connection, which you might be lacking on an airplane. For this reason alone, I recommend having an app like Office²' on your iPad as well.

CloudOn works well with services such as Dropbox (more on that later) and adds useful keys to your iPad's virtual keyboard, such as Ctrl, Alt and all 12 function keys, instead of making you use a different keyboard (as some virtualized Windows apps require).

3. File Syncing and Sharing: Dropbox

Steve Jobs famously dissed Dropbox as a feature, not a product. Maybe he had a point. But Dropbox is a feature I can't live without, one that no other competitor does as well.

Make no mistake: there are many options today for automatically syncing files to other computers, devices, and to the cloud: Microsoft's SkyDrive, Google Drive, and SugarSync, to name a few. But once you set it up, Dropbox and its free iOS app simply do a seamless job, with little if any effort on your part.

Dropbox integrates nicely with lots of other apps, too, such as the aforementioned Office² and CloudOn. The Dropbox app makes it extremely easy to upload photos from your iOS device. The free plan gives you 2GB of storage, which is probably sufficient for your most important files. But I sprang for the 100GB plan, which is not cheap at $99 per year, but worth it.

4. Real-Time Document Collaboration: Google Drive

Along with free cloud document storage, Google Drive and its free iOS app do something extremely cool: You can collaborate on a text document in real-time with one or more of your colleagues. The feature, just added to the iOS app, lets you see what others type into the document as you're working on it. It's a fantastic way to eliminate the old back-and-forth of sending document revisions over email -- and then, inevitably, getting confused over which version is truly the most recent.

Unfortunately, the iOS app doesn't let you view or add comments to a doc, which is a fairly significant limitation. However, logging into Google Drive using the iOS version of Safari lets you see and add comments as well as perform edits.

5. Task Management: Things

Not long ago, I'd stopped using Cultured Code's Things, which is available in an iPhone/iPod touch app ($10); an iPad version ($20); and a Mac program ($50). The reason: The only way to sync your to-do items between devices was to have them on the same Wi-Fi network. It was tedious, which meant I didn't do it a lot. Which meant I'd look up a to-do list on my iPhone and suddenly remember I'd updated it on my iPad but didn't sync the changes.

But with its most recent updates, Things has been set free from its Wi-Fi shackles. You can now automatically sync your to-do listss across devices via the Things cloud service (free). So I'm back in love with Things again -- with its sensible interface, the capability to create to-do lists for multiple projects, the easy organization it brings to all the fragmented thoughts and ideas dancing in my head. Buying into the Things ecosystem ain't cheap -- $80 for all three apps -- but you can't put a price on productivity.

6. Database: Bento 4 for iPad

Attention really small businesses: There's a database app for you, too. It's called Bento 4 for iPad. It's only $10; most database programs cost a lot more. And it's self-sufficient, meaning you don't need a desktop database counterpart to get full advantage of the iPad app.

Bento 4 for iPad comes with lots of easy-to-use database templates to get you started right away. If those aren't enough, there are plenty of free templates you can download from the online Bento template exchange.

Similar to Things, the Bento iPad app is a separate purchase from the iPhone/iPod touch app ($5) and the Mac program ($49). Also, like the previous versions of Things, you must sync Bento files between devices over a shared Wi-Fi network. That's unfortunate. But given how few good database programs are available at such a low cost, that drawback isn't enough to make me look elsewhere.

7. Social Media Dashboard: HootSuite for Twitter

Most small businesses have multiple social media accounts -- Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn being the usual suspects. If you fit that description, download the free HootSuite for Twitter app. Despite its name, the app (as well as the HootSuite website) makes it beautifully easy to simultaneously post to multiple social media channels; schedule posts for a later date (such as when you're on vacation); retweet and comment on other posts; and lots more.

The basic HootSuite service is free and serves my needs nicely. However, the $10 monthly Pro plan may be worth considering. It lets you monitor and post from an unlimited number of social media profiles (the free plan limits you to five) and integrate Google Analytics and Facebook Insights, among other features.

8. Signing PDF Documents: SignEasy

It never fails: While I'm on a trip, someone will need my signature on a document -- immediately. For these purposes, I keep a scanned image of my signature on my laptop. But since I bought an iPad, I don't always travel with my laptop.

Fortunately, there are countless apps that make it possible to sign PDFs and other documents using your finger on an iOS device touch screen. I've used and can recommend SignEasy, a free iPhone and iPad app. The app makes it simple to open documents from email or other sources, draw a signature, add a signing date, and then save the signed document.

Unfortunately, you'll need to upgrade (for $10) to a premium SignEasy account to sign unlimited documents, send them to your Dropbox account, and more. But for signing the occasional document on the road, SignEasy lives up to its name.

9. Time Tracking: Toggl Timer

I have a number of clients for whom I charge an hourly rate. But even for flat-rate projects, I track my time because I always want to know what I'm earning per hour. You've got plenty of time-tracking apps and services to choose from, but the one I like is Toggl and its iOS app, Toggl Timer (both are free).

Toggl is a Web-based service with a clock timer that makes it easy to track hours by project and client. The timer is available as a Windows, Mac, and Linux software utility as well as an iOS and Android app. Your data is synced across all your Toggl apps automatically. To generate reports of where your time went, however, you'll need to log into Toggl using your Web browser.

The basic Toggl plan is free, and it's all I require. But for $5 a month, you can also import time-tracking data into Basecamp, QuickBooks, and FreshBooks, among other features.

10. Organizing App: Springpad

There are lots of Evernote and OmniFocus fans out there, and both are terrific apps. But Springpad is my preferred app for jotting text notes, recording audio reminders, taking photos for informational purposes, and putting them all together in one easy-to-use app.

Springpad automatically syncs your stuff across its iOS and Android apps and the Springpad website. You can collaborate with colleagues on your Springpad project-related notebooks or share your clippings on Facebook. Springpad also auto-fills information, which can be helpful. Start typing the name of a movie you want to see, for instance, and Springpad fills out your note with information about the film.

The interface takes getting used to. But once you get the feel for it, you'll be capturing stuff left and right for use later -- a great way to help out your overtaxed brain.

James A. Martin is a marketing consultant specializing in SEO, social media, mobile apps, and business blogging. Follow him on Twitter.

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