There's no shortage of incredible software on the market today that aims to make our work easier and ourselves more productive. If there's a task to be done, there's an app that will help you do it faster, cheaper, or more efficiently.
From plugins for the desktop version of Microsoft Outlook to services that save research citations, productivity apps aim to do it all - or at least, aim to help you do it all. Of all the thousands of products we test and review each year, productivity software is the nearest and dearest to my heart. Sure, I can appreciate the inventiveness of a device or app that sets out to do something no one has ever imagined before, but productivity tools try to solve hard problems that people already face. Some look toward efficiency, aiming to take an existing product, such as email, and make it easier to use so we waste less time messing with it. Others seek to silence the noise of the net, bolster collaboration, or unite disparate data.
These mobile apps are among our favourites for helping anyone be more productive. It's by no means a comprehensive list, but we hope it lets you explore your options among the truly necessary productivity tools, as well as introduce you to some hidden gems that you might have missed while you were busy getting things done. If you know of some great productivity apps we missed here, tell us about it in the comments section below.
Keeping your business and personal life in order can prove a true challenge, but FileMaker's Bento for iPad aims to solve the problem. The iPad app makes it simple for anyone - even novices - to create attractive databases for keeping their lives and work in order. Thanks to 25 pre-designed templates, a flexible editing system, and a clean, intuitive interface, you can get your work on track in minutes. Bento can be used as a standalone iPad app, or in conjunction with the new Bento 4 for Mac OS X.
For LinkedIn members, CardMunch connects with a transcription team to accurately transform business cards into contacts on your iPhone. Contact info includes full LinkedIn profile data, when available. It provides much more accurate and better results than any mobile OCR scanning app. As soon as you've installed the app, just point it at a business card, line up and focus the image, and snap a photo. If it's legible, upload it; if not, retake it. After that, it's a waiting game, since actual humans at LinkedIn handle the transcription. I've gotten results within an hour, and certainly never had to wait more than overnight. You do need a LinkedIn account in order to use CardMunch, but LinkedIn membership is free. Sorry, Android fans; CardMunch only works on devices running iOS 4.0 or later.
With Apple's iWork for iPad suite of office applications - Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets, and Keynote for presentations - you can do real work on an iPad. The tablet version of Apple's office suite offers only a basic subset of features and functions compared to the high-powered OS X version of iWork. The iPad's cramped on-screen keyboard can slow down productivity, so you're serious about using the iPad for work, pick up the Apple iPad Keyboard Dock, too.
Fast, flexible, and friendly, Penultimate is a first-rate handwriting app (sans keyboard) for the iPad that aims to replace your favourite pen with your index finger. Using the app is second nature because it's nearly the same as doodling in a paper notebook. When paired with a touch stylus like the Kensington Virtuoso, Penultimate can scale to the professional demands of engineers, architects, and industrial designers. At less than a buck, Penultimate is a bargain.
If you need a free iPad note-taking app that lets you talk whatever you want to write down, PaperPort Notes is the best option. PaperPort also syncs with Dropbox or Box.net. If you're already comfortable using dictation software, the app is a breeze to use. Moreover, it doesn't contain a single advertisement. It's not quite picture-perfect, with a few interface idiosyncrasies, but among free note-taking apps, it's one that can really boost your productivity.
Smartr Contacts for Android (free), formerly called Xobni for Android, creates a comprehensive picture of your contacts. Xobni is the company that makes the app, and it has been a relatively big name in contact management. The free app, which requires a Xobni account (also free) gathers your contacts from Gmail or Outlook, and finds additional information about them, including headshots, from LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and meetings or text messages. For keeping up with email from your Android phone, Smartr Contacts can increase your productivity by removing a lot of the legwork that can sometimes be involved in keeping in touch. It orders your connections by how often you communicate, rather than alphabetically. And it handily merges multiple emails for a single person into one entry, so if you have an outdated email address for someone, but she has uploaded the most recent one to another platform, Smartr can find it.
Android users looking for a way to make their files and photos available from anywhere should definitely check out Sugar Sync. It's similar to Dropbox, but you get more space, 5GB, with a free account (Dropbox gives you 2GB). When your files are available to you from everywhere and automatically synchronized, you never waste time trying to sort out which version of what file you put where. Some of SugarSync's goodies are hard to find, and others are hard to use, but for Android users looking for a more full-featured alternative to DropBox, SugarSync is a pretty sweet deal.