Update: Since this posting Google has made QuickOffice available for free. See Google’s QuickOffice Help.
In The Ultimate Guide To Setting Up Your Mobile Office part 1 I showed some of the hardware I carry when traveling to be ready for any of the usual situations you might encounter. But hardware is only one part of a complete mobile office; you also need software to get you through. Apps for editing documents, software to help you get around as well as finding food and wi-fi are all requirements for a mobile office. For the sake of this article, I’m going to concentrate on iOS apps and will not be mentioning OS X apps since I’ve found, at least for shorter trips, I can get by without a laptop.
Editing MS Office Documents
There’s no getting around the fact that Microsoft Office is the de facto business standard for sharing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Ignoring the obvious answer of hauling along a laptop with MS Office for Mac or having iWorks’ Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, what options are there for viewing MS Office documents on an iPad or iPhone. I’ve heard people claim you can’t do this and I’ve also heard of users being told by “Apple Geniuses” that it’s not possible and that simply isn’t true Here’s what I use.
A great app for editing MS Office documents is CloudOn. It looks almost exactly like Office and is available for both iOS and Android. I use the iPad app for viewing documents but not necessarily for heavy editing of documents. However with the help of an external keyboard this can be done.
The ability to link your Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive is a plus as is their built-in viewer which handles most common file types (PDF, JPG, PNG, GIF, etc.). Best of all it’s free and is a tool that’s on all my devices.
Another app that I use as well for this purpose is QuickOffice Pro for iPad. The main issue I have with it is it is not a universal application and you have to pay separately for an iPhone and an iPad version which just seems greedy to me especially at the relatively steep price of $19.99 for the iPad version and an additional $14.99 if you want the iPhone version as well. Ouch! Google purchased them some time ago and there is a free version that only works for Google App Business subscribers.
Another option is Smart Office 2 for $9.99 but I wasn’t as fond of its interface and even Microsoft has recently released their official app (see the Ars Technica article under related articles at the end of this post).
Everyone has had the experience of getting a phone call from a client or a co-worker who needs some document immediate but it’s on your laptop and you don’t have Internet access. Wi-fi Finder allows you to find the nearest free or even paid Internet hotspot so you can go and make the connection and send the document. This is becoming less of an issue now that you can get access to documents in the cloud via your iPhone or iPad (if you have a cellular plan) and send it from there. This is another reason I try to keep documents I might need on a given trip in a folder in Dropbox.
Evernote is one of my favorites apps and I use it every day. It functions as sort of an electronic junk drawer to store any useful information. I have various notebooks for various projects and use tags as well to help find the information later. This can be anything from websites, blogs, or other information I may find on the Internet. One folder I always use is a temp folder which contains all travel documents I might need for my current trip; flight confirmation, hotel and rental car information, etc.. Then it available all in one place and after the trip I can either delete the documents or store them in some other folder. Another use for Evernote is for taking photos of hand-written whiteboards from brainstorming sessions or explanations during a presentation. Evernote actually makes that information searchable and works on some handwriting that I thought it would never be able to recognize. Great way to grab that information and store it for later reference.
I love having all my email from multiple accounts searchable and all in one place. This is the primary reason I use Gmail. I have six primary email accounts and Gmail allows me to see these in one single place. I will admit that I only use the app occasionally and depend primarily on the mail client built into iOS. I mainly use it when I want to perform more complicated searches.
Pocket is my reading list. I love it because I can add articles to it from a variety of devices and sources and it’s available even if I don’t have Internet access. It also integrates with other services I use. For more on using Pocket in conjunction with Buffer to post to social networks then read my article Posting Consistently to Social Networks Without Wasting a Bunch of Time
Make sure this is installed and set up on ALL your devices before leaving home. This will work not only for your iPhone but also for your iPad and MacBook laptop. Traveling and being out of your usual routines means that at some point it is highly likely you’re going to walk off and leave your iPhone at Starbucks or some other location and not remember where. As long as you have Internet access, you can log into your iCloud account and find out where you left it. For an interesting article demonstrating the usefulness of this app, read this article about recovering iPhones while on vacation at Disney World.
Another useful app for finding things is Find My Friends. It works when your friends opt-in to allowing you to see where they are (more accurately, where their iPhone or iPad is). I find this useful with my kids and spouse when traveling. My wife had an irregular work schedule and Find My Friends allows me to see if she’s at work or at home.
One of the things I find most difficult when in a new city is finding food. All my other travel needs are planned ahead of time except for that. I also try to sample any special regional offerings that may exist as well as preferring smaller locally owned restaurants as opposed to chains (with the exception Starbucks). Yelp and Urbanspoon are my go to apps for finding good food in a strange city. I’ve always had good luck with them and while I tend to use Urbanspoon more often, I find the reviews on Yelp to be very helpful and sometimes more recent than the ones on Urbanspoon. I also like Urbanspoon for the ability to lock in a locale and type of food I’m in the mood food and seeing what is nearby.
SignNow is a useful app which allows you to sign PDFs from your mobile devices. Inevitably while your on the road, some document needs your signature and with SignNow you can sign a pdf quickly and easily. There are other options out there that perform this same function, but I have found SignNow meets my needs and I’ve not had a reason to look for any alternatives.
Backups are important and it’s not a question of if you will experience a failure but a matter of when. I always recommend to everyone they use two types of backup; a local backup to an external drive as well as some offsite backup. Local backup is great if you experience a hard drive failure but if it is a natural disaster such as a tornado or hurricane a local backup doesn’t do you any good. That’s why I tell everyone to use some cloud service for backup as well. With the advent of cloud storage it’s never been cheaper or easier to have offsite backup. I use CrashPlan because when I signed up they had an excellent deal for covering all the computers in my household but there are many options out there. Another one that I recommend is Carbonite but I’ve not actually used their service but know others who have and it works well for them.
Even when traveling, attending meetings is sometimes required. For those occasions, I keep both GoToMeeting and WebEx on my devices. The vast majority of online meetings use one or the other of these. Just keep in mind that with both of these you can only attend meetings but not be a presenter.
Special Travel apps
Here are some of the more specialized traveling apps I use.
For finding food in a city I use either Urbanspoon or Yelp but what to do when you have a lay over at an airport? There’s an app for that. I personally like Gate Guru. It provides you with information on food and services nearest to you as well as telling you which gate the food or service is near making it easy to find. Gate Guru has recently added other features such as flight information and the ability to check in to Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.
While Gate Guru does include some flight information, I prefer to use FlightBoard. It is very useful in situations where your flight is delayed. I’ve actually gotten information from FlightBoard before the airline makes an announcement of the change to the flight at the gate. You can also quickly share any changes to your flight with your spouse, co-workers or others who need to know your itinerary. You can share by mail, message or Twitter as well as Facebook.
I’ve used TripIt for a long time even before I had an iPad or iPhone. It keeps all your travel information together and I like that you can give it permission to access your Gmail account and it will automatically find them within your email and add it to your TripIt account. While my travel info is in TripIt, I don’t trust it to just TripIt. As I mentioned before Evernote is another place I put all my travel documents.
Passbook comes with iOS 6 and I highly recommend it. It makes it easy to take along your boarding pass electronically giving you on less piece of paper to keep track of. Just make sure your airline is set up to accept electronic boarding passes. I use United and at the Portland airport they are set up for this. One tip is to make sure your screen is as bright as possible otherwise the readers sometimes have trouble reading the electronic boarding pass.
Unfortunately, Passbook is only available on the iPhone and not for the iPad.
Everyone has to keep track of expenses while on the road and I’ll bet you’ve experienced not getting reimbursed for some expense because you’ve lost the receipt. Your iPhone is a great tools to eliminate this. I use OneReceipt to capture all my receipts so I don’t have to worry about saving the paper receipt just make sure your company will accept this. They should as I’ve been told by my accountant that this is acceptable to the IRS for tax purposes. I also like the ability to quickly find the merchant within OneReceipt using Foursquare as well as being able to add notes and tags. I like that at the beginning of the month, OneReceipt will send you a report of all the expenses by category for the previous month.
While this is not all the apps I use while traveling, these are the major ones. Hopefully you can use these on your next trip and it will allow you to concentrate on your job and leave the details to the software. If you have any comments on any of these or other apps you enjoy using that I’ve not mentioned, please leave a comment below.