I think I was one of the first to carry around a smartphone. I remember the marriage of a phone and PDA made me so excited and to see that technology in a single device…phew…love. The Treo 180 was severely limited, but it brought to the world an idea that phones were for more than phone calls. Fast forward a decade and now I can run the entire company from a smart phone. Out of all the travel gadgets I carry, my smart phone is the one most necessary. I wanted to run through my favorite apps that make it happen.
I use a few apps more than others. Those sit on my Home Screen for quick and easy access.
Talkatone: This app makes utilizing my Google Voice number abroad simple and free on wifi. The premium feature to use their compression (speex if you are curious) is well worth the 20 dollars. For an international traveler or someone watching their minutes usage it is a godsend.
BBC News: For quick easy access to the top news the BBC is hard to beat. In addition the streaming option built-in to the app lets me shower in whatever hotel room to the sound of English Speaking news.
Reeder: I use this app on my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook Air. It is my primary source for catching up on the 100′s of RSS feeds I read daily. Our business advantage at Spec Ops is the constant monitoring of whats new on the market. Reeder helps me do that by quickly downloading and caching my feeds for consumption in a taxi, metro, or airplane.
OmniFocus: With multiple customers, countries, and teams OmniFocus allows me to keep everything on target. The simple reminders app bundled with iOS is too limiting for these type of exercises. I wish the app was cheaper, but the sync for all my devices makes it worth it for the hardcore task list utilizer.
GV Connect: The Google Voice app for the iPhone stinks. GV Connect provides more options and more control of the experience. The only downfall is lack of push notifications. Sure you can make it happen, but its a tech nightmare. All that said it offers a consistent experience on the iPad and iPhone and integrates with Talkatone for true wifi integration.
VueScan: Sure AirPrint is nice, but most of the time I need to scan rather than print. VueScan does auto-discovery of many scanners via Wifi and performs well for both document feeders and flatbed. Works great for capturing that recent contract signing or bill.
DocsToGo: It is far from perfect for Office documents, but its the best I have found. It is a horrible application for production of things, but it is the only viewer I have found to correctly decipher powerpoint slides or excel spreadsheets. The Google Docs integration is great for using our central document store in the company.
Letter Opener: I hate you with every fiber of my body Outlook. Without a complex registry hack the default position of this stupid program is to include the dreaded winmail.dat file. Letter Opener takes care of those few times a week I receive these attachements from folks.
Skype: I use it for video and voice chatting with family and friends. We also use it internally to the company for PBX-like functions. The iOS version is actually a nice client compared to the desktop versions.
Projects: Merlin allows you to open Microsoft Project files on a Mac. I find its a better and easier solution than the OmniPlan product that seems so popular. I wish they didn’t nickel and dime for add-ons like mobile or web support, but I find the tool invaluable in keeping project plans updated.
WebEx: The best mobile conferencing solution for teleconferencing. The application is well integrated and upon clicking a link from a meeting invitation opens up and joins the conference. Performance over 3g is acceptable enough for talking and viewing the charts or presenters screen.
SpiderOak: People love some Dropbox, but for those of you security conscious there is no reason you should be. SpiderOak is less seamless and the sync process ugly, but once it is setup the dump files into a folder and sync mentality works fine. The mobile client just BARELY passes into usable for things, but it has saved my bacon for pulling some archived file from 4 years ago so I keep it loaded.
QuickBooks: For living in the cloud and being able to get a snapshot of your company anywhere in the world, QuickBooks is hard to beat. The reports on the mobile version are limited, but for seeing outstanding invoices, payroll, or P/L ratio from your mobile device it comes highly recommended.
E*Trade: Simple app for access to their banking and trading features. Nothing to knock your socks off.
Mint.com: Personal finance on the go is as important as the business side. Mint lets me see cash-flow and bills in my personal realm. The ability to sort expenses and see when things hit make managing my money abroad no problem. Great little app.
Expensify: How much do I love this app… Receipts tucked into your wallet is for the birds. Expensify’s mobile app lets me take a snapshot offline or online and upload it to my most recent travel report. It has changed the way our company has managed the extensive worldwide travel. Why this isn’t in use by every major company is beyond me.
USAA: Love this app more than Expensify. Insurance, banking, investments, bill payment all from a simple to use app. Being able to deposit checks anywhere in the world is icing on the cake. This app is what all banking apps should strive for. USAA checking and savings no longer requires military service so if you are considering moving banks, recommend highly you consider USAA.
Bank of America: What a difference compared to USAA. We use this for our business banking (as USAA has no business accounts) and frankly I avoid it like the plague. App is limited and ugly, hard to navigate, and really we use
TripIt: Internally to the company we use TripIt to determine where the hell everyone is at. With autoimport and the ability to simply forward things to firstname.lastname@example.org our team is able to get a view of where everyone is at. In addition the app lets you check flight status or get directions to the hotel/train/etc. Great app, but it is upsetting that paid TripIt accounts does not translate into no ads in the application.
Yelp: When you are all over the place its hard to figure out where to eat. Yelp works well enough for big European cities and the US, but falls flat in rural anywhere. All the same its good for when you grow tired of the 2 restaurants near the hotel or the ones you ate at last time you were there.
Boingo: I avoid airports without free Wifi. The idea that I have to pay 10 EURO or USD an hour to surf at limited speeds is evil. With that said there are airport hubs like Munich and Frankfurt that force it. Boingo mobile is cheaper and I can be assured that the 10 USD I spend will transfer to other places unlike T-mobile’s German wifi credits.
Navigon: Offline GPS that works! Data is too expensive to use it finding directions. Navigon at one point was cheap, but is now pretty expensive. With that said it works great and has an extensive map collection (if you shell the dollars out) that covers most of the places I go. Still can’t wrap my head around why European maps are 119.99 dollars vs. 59.99 for the much more extensive US, but oh well. It can be a little confusing for entering POI and address, but once you are over the learning curve its usable.
Kayak: Love me some Kayak! Its flexible search criteria and multiple vendors pricing makes finding the cheapest tickets easy and quick. App is perfect for finding an alternate flight when you are in Dubai and need to get home or to your next meeting.
Skype Wifi: Wifi credits for those few places that Boingo doesn’t cover. I alternate between these two Wifi apps as the Skype credits are more expensive, but also transfer to my laptop.
OpenTable: Reservations on the go. This will sound incredibly anti-social, but there are times I don’t want to talk to someone. Business meeting for a 4 booked while walking to the metro station.
XE Currency: How much is that hotel really? Is the price in Euro’s or Pounds more than the USD price? It has saved me a few bucks by helping me sanity check stores and venues. Converts quickly and allows for historical looks at exchange rates for expense reports.
Orbitz: Sometimes Kayak is tough to drill down and book a flight with. Orbitz abstracts away those problems and makes it easy to build a travel package (car, hotel, flight) without much work. Okay app, but very clunky and for lots of features just dumps you to their mobile website.
I have to seperate these apps out of the Travel folder as iOS limits the number I can place in each. The jailbreak hack to get around that seems to be buggy so I just move apps related to transportation here. When I go to other countries I will load up the France, UK, etc. versions, but for now this is what I am using.
Fahrinfo: Out of the two German train apps listed in this folder, Fahrinfo is far superior. The app is more intuitive and English friendly. This is possibly due to the fact there are more english speakers in Berlin.
Navi S-Bahn Munchen: The train system in Munich is pretty spiffy, but the schedules and announcements are not English friendly. This app helps me learn about train delays or track closures.
Railway NL: The app is pretty to look at and does its job, but you better speak Dutch. There is no translation of this app into English despite the App Store description being in English. If you are riding the train in the Netherlands this is a must have.
KLM: Meh is how I feel about this app. It works for tracking miles on my account, trips, and bookings. The app works and is at the very least makes my mad dashes through Schiphol well planned. In the end its MUCH better than the United app listed next.
United: What a cluster frack of a GUI. The app allows you to setup alerts and check-in, but heaven forbid there is a problem. The buttons are difficult to hit with a finger and the gimmicky animations just slow down what is a desired quick information dump. The merger has been unfriendly to the airline and in addition the app.
Parkmobile: I don’t carry money anymore. The idea of a pocket full of rattling coins doesn’t work for me. This app has changed the way I park in DC. With its ability to auto alert me of my soon to end parking payment I am able to skip the standard DC 25 USD ticket and just add time. The Find My Car is a neat feature too for those times you have wandered a little too far from what you know. Works in multiple US cities around the country.
Amtrak: I rarely use Amtrak due to it sucking wind, but I do like to compare fares when deciding if its going to be plane, train, or automobile. I will shy away from comparisons with the European train system (cheaper, faster, reliable, etc.) and instead say the app is pretty nice. It is well organized and easy to get to the information you need on booking a train. Still very limited for eTickets, but as I understand that feature is expanding to new sites soon.
Tunnels DC: There are tons of DC Metro apps, but this one is the nicest of the bunch. The alerts, favorite locations, and ability to see when the next few trains are due to arrive is instrumental in planning your day around the city.
SWISS: I find the app ugly in appearance, but multilingual and quick to navigate. The mobile boarding passes work as described and it allows you to receive trip and flight status updates. Nothing to write home about.
Lufthansa: Airlines need to hire whoever developed this app ASAP. It is pretty on the eyes and useable. The functions are limited (check-in and mobile passes only) but with each new release expanding.
These are apps that are not business related, but keep me sane and plugged in. Listed to round-out the list:
JetPack Joyride: Love this stinking game. The translation from iPad to iPhone is seamless.
Rdio: Limited, sucky, and to the point I am going to switch to Spotify. Works well enough, but unimpressive.
Pandora: Love the app and service.
Flight Control: Fun game that seems appropriate to play while flying. Hope the ATC in real life are better at this than me.
Facebook: Buggy and limited, but it gives you access to the majority of the functions the website does. For keeping in touch around the world its wonderful.
LinkedIn: For professional engagements and resume searching it is pretty spiffy. I am not a big fan of the UI, but for answering messages and connecting with business folks its good enough. The import of contract information into your iphone address book is a great addition.
BeejiveIM: Bought it back when IM with push was an infant on the iPhone. We utilize Jabber internally and it works well enough for that. Meta-contact support is nice for filtering multiple networks into a single line item. The offline and push support are hit or miss so don’t depend on it for anything mission critical.
Instagram: I see a lot of nifty things around the world, but take crappy pictures. Filters add a little flair that almost convinces people I have an artistic side. Like the social aspect in the app a lot too.
Twitter: Quality of this app has gone WAY WAY down in recent releases. On the prowl for something less sucky, but for now it works.
TimeTuner: Sometimes it is hard for me to shutoff the brain when I am in hotel rooms. I use TimeTuner to listen to my favorite news stations from around the world and have them shutoff in a set amount of time. The app is pretty and the dim functions are useful. I purchased this ages ago when there were few apps like it. If I was on the market today I might look elsewhere as the developer has slowed down greatly on fixes and updates.
DVPRemote: I can never find the darn remote when we are watching TV, but I always have the phone or iPad nearby. The remote is better for navigating than the one supplied with the device. If you have a Roku I consider this a much purchase. Also fun if you have a VPN to your house to change the TV when someone is watching it from Germany and freak them out :)
Netflix: This plus my home server VPN and I have netflix from any country in the world. App works well enough.
Hulu Plus: I swear there is a conspiracy on the lack of AirPlay support for this app between Hulu and Apple. Other than that as I said in the Netflix section it at least allows viewing TV shows when in foreign places.
IP Cam Viewer: I am not home a lot, but this app and the camera setup around my property allow me to keep an eye on things.
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- Nick Schmidt lives passionately in the digital world advising and advancing technology everywhere he goes. He has served in the US Air Force, been a self-employed consultant, a senior manager and chief engineer at Boeing, and now co-founding and running Spec Ops Technology. Decorated in his military and professional career you can find his work in the nations networks and across the web.