Smartphone Apps That Help You Get Faster and Smarter Online
Last week I discussed the best cloud apps for managing your contacts and business cards, but what about everything else you do while on the go? Can you use the cloud to be more productive in other areas? Of course you can! There are apps that leverage the cloud to do almost everything you do online, and they can help you do it smarter (and faster!). Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Cloud file storage
No matter what line of business you’re in, there are surely dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of files you need to manage. Wouldn’t it be great to have access to them everywhere you go? Thankfully, the prices of cloud storage are falling every year, and it’s becoming simpler than ever to point an app to your documents folder and let it sync to the cloud and across your devices.
Stop carrying around flash drives and never be caught in a meeting without access to a crucial document ever again!
If you’re a small business or entrepreneur, one great solution I like is to switch your business over to Google Drive, which provides both document storage and editing of all your docs, spreadsheets, and presentations in one place. Fully compatible with other office suites but available on every device you can think of, Drive is a great way to promote team collaboration on important documents and make sure your company has all of their important docs in one place.
But larger companies that may be more resistant to switching over to Google for all their document needs, either Dropbox or Box.net can help. You can get several gigabytes of storage on either service for free so you can try them out, and since both offer apps for every mobile device out there, you can have your documents, pictures, and more easily synced across all your devices and never be caught without a crucial file again!
Last week we talked a little about how to set up AirPlay so you can use it to play music or mirror your Mac. It’s great wireless tech that can work in a home or an office, but still has some limitations, especially if you’re not a full-on Mac and iOS user. Here are three apps that will extend AirPlay for Windows, Android, and even Mac users.
This one is for Android users. AirBubble is a free Android app that lives on your phone, but talks to AirPlay source devices so it can act as a receiver and stream music to your phone. Great if you use iTunes but are an Android user. Find AirBubble in the Google Play store.
AirFoil may be the most versatile 3rd party streaming app out there. It costs $30, but it can send audio from any music player (not just iTunes) and can even use apps running on your computer or phone, like Spotify. Multiple users can access the same network, so it’s a great way to set up a collaborative music system in an office that lets everyone take a turn playing DJ. Available for Windows and PC, AirFoil lets you stream from a computer directly to other computers, AirPort Express units, Apple TVs, iPhones and iPods Touch. Most devices will need to have software enabled to act as receivers: check out the the full list of compatible devices and software needed here. Available from Rogue Amoeba.
We hear a lot about Apple AirPlay, but it’s a fairly new technology, and still fairly confusing. So what, exactly, is AirPlay? Basically, it is a way to use a home network to be able link up Apple devices to each other, so you can access media across devices, even if it’s not stored on that device locally. That means you don’t have to keep copies of everything on every device – you can stream from one device to another.
AirPlay works over your wireless, so all of your devices must be connected via the same wireless network or over Bluetooth (though this a battery drain, and wireless is probably a better choice for most uses). You can use an Apple Airport (Apple’s wireless router), but it’s not necessary. Any wireless router will work, as long as all your devices can connect to it.
AirPlay-enabled devices should be able to recognize each other, which takes the guesswork out of which devices can stream to where. AirPlay is available on devices running iOS 4.3 or later, though not all features are available on all devices. Here’s a handy chart from Apple about the minimum requirements for each device. Generally though, you can use at least some features of AirPlay with the iPhone 4, 4S and 5, the iPad 2, 3 and 4, Airport Express, and Apple TV 2nd Generation and 3rd Generation, and any computer running iTunes 10.3 or higher.
The capabilities of each device also depend on whether you’re streaming “to” or “from” that device. One key point: you can’t use AirPlay between mobile devices (your iPad to iPhone, for example). iPhones, iPads and computers are senders only. Receivers are AirPort Express and Apple TV.
Today I’m headed back to school in my hometown of Baltimore, MD, to meet the people behind the software 1sqbox (One Square Box). 1sqbox created tablet-centric software that connects teachers, students, and even the school administration together so everyone can see what’s going on inside the school all through a single tablet interface. The software works with students of all ages from K-12, but 1sqbox also created the tablet itself so it’s an all-in-one solution! The founders have done all that, and more—they’re also taking on the responsibility of handling all of the training as well and with the business growing its becoming harder and harder to communicate with everyone they’re working with in an efficient way.
In this episode of CUBED, I visit Barb at Clapp Communications, a boutique public relations agency. Barb is having trouble communicating with a team split between two offices, one in Baltimore and the other in Charlotte, with employees constantly traveling all over the map to meet each other and to meet with clients. Does this situation sound familiar? These days, offices are much more decentralized and connecting everyone on your team regularly and reliably can be difficult.
Enter AT&T Connect. Connect is an integrated audio, web, and video conferencing solution that can help to bring your team together and help you work more efficiently when everyone can’t be in the same place at the same time. With low per-minute costs and deep integration with Outlook, AT&T connect provides conference tools no matter what platforms and devices your business uses, whether its PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, iPad or Android. But it’s more than just a Skype alternative—AT&T Connect brings in tons of features like whiteboarding, shared presentations, and file sharing to make an AT&T Connect meeting just as productive and useful as a real world one. Plus, if some colleagues or clients can’t make it to the meeting, the whole thing can be recorded and shared via email! How great is that?
Doug Sillars is a Sr. Product Development Engineer at AT&T. You can find more blog content from Doug and other experts on emerging technologies on the AT&T Networking Exchange Blog. AT&T has sponsored the following blog post.
Do You Have Enough Juice for the Big Call?
It’s going to be a big day. All you need is to get one phone call from the VP to approve the final provisions, and the deal of the year will be closed. You’re working remotely at a client site for the day, but that’s no big deal because the super-powerful, do-anything smartphone in your pocket lets you work onsite AND take the big call. But then, just as you’re tackling big issues, handling e-mails, and anticipating that important call, you notice that your battery is quickly dying… and you forgot your charger!
Will you have enough juice to take the big call? Maybe – if you stop your phone’s battery from draining. Here are the 7 biggest culprits to battery drain, and how you can reduce their impact on your phone or tablet.
1. Screen settings.
Check your screen settings to preserve your battery power.
Screen Timeout: Choose the shortest time you can stand. I use one minute on my Samsung Galaxy Note II, and my battery life suits my needs. I tried 15 seconds and 30 seconds for time out, but the timer always caught me mid-email. When my kids turned the setting on my wife’s phone to ten minutes, her battery was dead in four hours.
Brightness: I use the automatic setting – that way, I minimize power in dark rooms, and crank it only when I need it in a bright location. Sure, sometimes it takes a second to set up, but my battery life is better.
For LCD screens, color does not make a difference in power drain. So, when in doubt as to the technology of your screen, darker screens are better.
On mobile, each connection stays active for a period of time after each connection. This is to reduce latency on future connections. However, this “tail” radio time can be a significant draw on the battery.
Here is a pretty technical video, but it outlines best practices. If you are a developer, and you want to test your mobile app, check out ARO (developer.att.com) to see if there are ways you can optimize your mobile app to reduce battery drain.
If you use ActiveSync or BBM e-mail servers, you can specify how often e-mail is delivered. Depending on how much e-mail you get per hour, you can change the settings.
Push e-mail is immediate delivery. If you do not get a lot of e-mail – this is best (I use this setting for evenings and weekends)
These sneaky apps connect in the background and drain out your battery.
There is a popular news app that pings the internet for information every 3 minutes (24 hours a day). That’s 480 radio connections a day (as much as 10-20% of your battery).
If you install an app, and notice a degradation in battery life soon after – try uninstalling that app.
For active usage – Wi-Fi is usually more efficient than cellular (sometimes even to cellular, rarely worse).
Turn off LTE. LTE uses more power than 3G.
Turn off data or go into Airplane mode for ultimate savings.
Everyone knows that GPS consumes a lot of energy. Here are some tips to minimize the drain:
When you are finished with an app that uses GPS (like Google Maps), make sure you quit the app (the back button on Android), and don’t send it to the background. If the app is still running in the background, it may still continue to ping the GPS radio to get your location.
GPS on standby DOES use a small amount of power. If you are not using GPS, just turn it off. This is not a big savings – it won’t add hours to your battery life, but it will save minutes… and it could be enough to make a difference in catching that important call!
Switching between Wi-Fi and a mobile network requires energy, too.
If you are not using Wi-Fi, the Wi-Fi radio will continuously ping for a new network that it might join. This can use up a lot of power.
If you are associated to a Wi-Fi network, it is not as big a drain. Just stay associated with it to avoid #1.
If you are not planning on using Wi-Fi for a long period of time, just turn it off.
Some games or bigger apps use a lot of processor power (the CPU or GPU). Just know if you play “Bad Piggies” for an hour, you will use up a lot of battery.
There is a power drain here, too, and the solution is simple: If you are not using a Bluetooth accessory, turn off Bluetooth.
Bonus:More random thoughts.
Here are a few more ideas to help you conserve battery power.
In general, different chargers should not make a difference. If you use a higher amp charger you COULD damage your battery.
Watching video or listening to music generally means that the screen is on, the radio is on, and the processors are running. Guess what – lots of battery drain potential. Some streaming services are more efficient than others, so if you have issues with one service, try another, and it may last longer.
Ads in the app are being sent down by the radio, so they do incur battery drain. If it becomes an issue for you, buy the no-ad version.
Do you have some additional tips for extending your phone battery life? Please share your ideas with us so we can all be ready to take that important call when it comes!
The Mac calendar app, iCal, is fine. But it’s only fine: it could be a lot better. I actually prefer Outlook, but it’s not worth the trade-off to me to have to work on a PC. Fantastical is actually better than both.
Fantastical’s real advantage is in something they call the “natural language engine.” What that means from a practical perspective is that it can parse the general info entered into an event. In other words, you type in the basics of the event (Lunch with Mario at 53 Front Street at noon) into the main input area. Fantastical will use that info to complete the rest of the event’s fields, like date and time. It can even invite people from your contact list if you include them in the general info.
Other highlights include that you can incorporate all your calendars into one spot: Google, iCal, etc. It also lives conveniently in your menu bar for easy access. And it almost goes without saying, but of course there’s an iPhone app that goes with it.
I especially like that the app feels familiar, but the design aesthetic is nicer than iCal. There’s something about iCal that, in addition to being slightly counterintuitive, is also just kind of ugly. It feels dated. Fantastical is just better designed.
This is Mac desktop app, which means you can download it from the Mac app store. It’ll set you back $20, but you can try it free for two weeks. That should be enough time to figure out if Fantastical is right for you!
The idea behind the new Office 365 is that there are two key needs for small businesses these days: mobile accessibility and streamlined IT. After all, time spent dealing with tech headaches is time you’re not actually working on your business. Office365 seeks to streamline your tech by providing all your productivity apps through one cloud-based service, and can include the Microsoft Office Suite so many of us have come to rely on.
Exchange email is probably not a new idea for you. The trouble is, running an exchange server for email is complicated and not cheap. Microsoft has figured out how to have exchange email live online, so you can sync and manage email, calendars and contacts across devices. There are even shared calendars, just like the real (now old-fashioned) deal.
One of the questions we get asked most often is about how to use Microsoft Word and Excel on tablets and smartphones. And while we love using iPads and other tablets to work whenever and wherever, but until now there hasn’t been a great native solution for those devices. Instead we’ve been using Android and iOS apps to try to recreate the laptop or desktop experience.
Maybe your phone’s dead, or you just haven’t had the heart to upgrade to the unlimited text message plan from your wireless provider. Or maybe cell service is down, and you still need to get in touch with someone asap. Google Talk has been helpful for making phone calls for years, but recently Google launched a service to let you send free text messages too.
The first thing to do is enable SMS. Once you’re logged into Gmail, go to the gear symbol at the top right and select “settings.” From there, choose the “Labs” tab toward the righthand side. The Labs apps should be displayed alphabetically, so scroll down to “SMS,” or just search for SMS in the search bar. Change the radio button to enable, and then scroll down and save your changes. Google’s design sense is a little lacking here, so the save changes button isn’t obvious, but don’t forget it!