Letting you play music, movies, and games, the iPhone and the iPod touch could be two of the best time-wasters ever built. But with the right third-party applications installed, they can also give you a whole new mobile workspace. No, they can’t replace a laptop when it comes to real productivity. But you can use them to stay in touch with your Mac back at the office, update your to-do list when you’re away from iCal, and more. Here are nine applications that can help your iPhone and (in some cases) iPod touch make you more productive, not less.
Software vendor Avatron claims that 10 percent of all iPhone users have downloaded its $8.99 Air Sharing. If you aren’t one of them, you should be: Air Sharing lets you mount your iPhone or iPod touch as if it were a wireless thumb drive, accessible from any Mac, Windows, or Linux computer. Let’s say you’re headed to a meeting. Before you go, you drag and drop files onto your iPhone. At the meeting, to share one of your files, you activate Air Sharing’s built-in file server (which works over a local wireless network); your iPhone can then be mounted like any other network volume. Air Sharing handles scads of document types (including Microsoft Office, iWork, and PDF) and offers extensive built-in help.
If you’ve used Leopard’s screen-sharing feature or Back to My Mac, you’ll get what’s so cool about Jugaari’s $29.99 Jaadu VNC iPhone app: it gives you screen control over any computer (Mac or PC) that has Virtual Network Computing (VNC) enabled. You can use Jaadu VNC to control any application from your phone—you could, for example, run Keynote or PowerPoint presentations using your iPhone as a clicker. The program includes a rich set of combo keystrokes, so you can do almost anything from your iPhone that you could from your computer keyboard.
Dial Zero [US only]
If you need to quickly find a customer service number for your (fill in whatever mission-critical piece of business equipment is on the fritz), the free Dial Zero will do it for you. This simple database from Next Mobile Web contains customer service numbers for more than 600 companies (even Apple). Best of all, these aren’t numbers that’ll dump you into some interminable voice-mail hell; they take you directly to a live person.
Jott for iPhone
Jott is a service that lets you dial a toll-free number and leave yourself a voice memo; the service then transcribes that memo into text and sends it to you via e-mail. The free Jott for iPhone app extends that service to the iPhone. After you dictate whatever you want into your iPhone (15 seconds max), your voice note is sent to Jott’s server, where it’s converted to text; that text is then synced back to your iPhone. (If you need to receive the text on your Mac, this isn’t the solution for you; if you want to get your note via e-mail and don’t need it transcribed first, see Note2Self below.) The basic Jott service is free, with two upgrade plans: $US4 ($A6) per month lets you send e-mail and text messages from any phone; the $US13 ($A19.90)-per-month Pro plan lets you record 30 seconds at a time. [Ed. -- Jott's toll-free dial-in number is for US customers, although it should work for Australians as well; the iPhone app should work independently of this, however]
Mobile News Network
If your job requires that you know what’s going on in the world, you need the free iPhone version of the Associated Press’s great Web app. It gives you easy-to-read screens of news in all sorts of categories—including finance, politics, and sports. And it’s not like browsing a news site with the iPhone’s version of Safari: the screens are specifically optimised for viewing on the iPhone and are easy to read even if you’re in a hurry. It’s a great way to stay informed when you’re on the move.
Note2Self Audio Recorder
While the free Jott for iPhone (below) transcribes your voice memos, Web Information Solutions’ $1.19 Note2Self does not. So why would you want pay $1.19 for it? Because once you’ve recorded your voice memo, Note2Self will automatically send it to any e-mail address you specify; the free Jott doesn’t offer the e-mail part. Also, you can record without pressing any buttons; the software uses the iPhone’s accelerometer and proximity sensor to begin recording when you lift the iPhone to your ear (or simply shake it). It also automatically tags messages by location.
SpeechCloud Voice Dialer
Voice-activated dialing usually requires that you train the phone to respond to certain names before you can dial them hands-free. Adela Group’s $1.19 SpeechCloud Voice Dialer does voice dialing one better: if a name is in your address book, you can dial it by simply speaking the name after touching the app’s icon. This is great not only if you’re too busy to dial, but also if you want to keep your hands free—for, say, typing on your laptop.
SugarSync makes it easy to bring documents with you
Apple’s MobileMe is supposed to keep current copies of your files, calendars, and contacts in a “cloud,” accessible from any of your Macs or iPhones. But in practice, it doesn’t always work so well. That’s why we still need an app like Sharpcast’s free SugarSync and the service that goes with it. SugarSync has both Mac and iPhone components: drop a file on the Mac app to upload it to Sharpcast’s servers, and a pointer to it will then show up on your phone. You can view the file or (without waiting for it to download to your phone) e-mail it to others. SugarSync works with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF files as well as photos, and it’s a great way to share documents with others when you’re on the road.
WhitePages Mobile [US numbers only]
If you’re visiting the US on business or pleasure, this one may be indispensable. Dialing directory assistance seems so 20th century (not to mention wasteful). Instead, you can look up any of 180 million U.S. phone numbers using WhitePages.com’s free WhitePages Mobile app. It also lets you populate your call log with real names.
Bill Wiecking regularly speaks on mobility and wireless topics; he will be appearing at Macworld Expo in January 2009. He lives in Hawaii.