As a Staff Development Trainer and e-Learning Developer specialising in digital capabilities, I’m endlessly trying out new apps as well as nosing around asking other colleagues which apps they use and why. I’m always on the look out for great examples of how apps are being used effectively in real life – both at work and at home.
Due to this enthusiasm and perceived expertise by my fellow colleagues (!), I always get asked the question “So what do you think are the best apps?”.
I often reply with the frustrating “Well, it really depends what you’re after.. for example are you interested in apps for learning and teaching or is it general productivity apps?”.
Even if you look at general productivity apps, there’s a mass of sub-topics to further delve into. For example apps for team communication, or for tasks and to-do lists, for creating shared documents and other files, for note-taking, for presenting information, for recording and embedding video, screen sharing, etc etc – there are just so many!
If i’m not pressed for an answer regarding apps within a particular area, there are however some apps that I’d always recommend to others and advise for them to check out and see if they help.
The list below
The below list features a few of such apps that I’d always recommend, but also a few of my own personal favourites. There’s no particular order to the below and no particular topic that I’ve focused on either. For example some apps are professional and for use at work, whilst others are more fun and for use outside of work – so related to games and music etc.
There’s probably loads missing from here too – in which case that’s great – please tell me what’s missing and why. What I think is an OK app I may be using in the wrong way or just simply failing to see the benefits properly. It may even be that I’ve never heard of that app. It’s only my opinion too which is subjective. It’s all up for debate.
SwiftKey (Android, iOS), Swype (Android, iOS) or Fleksy (Android, iOS) all offer silky-smooth, responsive swipe typing, as well as accurate predictive typing systems that quickly learn your personal typing habits and vocabulary quirks.
These together really push boundaries for how quickly you can type when writing text messages, emails, or WhatsApp messages – or in any other example where you type text using a keyboard on your mobile phone or tablet.
Evernote (Android, iOS, PC, Mac, browser-based) is king of the cross-platform note-taking services, allowing users to take and upload notes, attachments, pictures, audio and video snippets and organise them using categories and tags within notebooks that are synced across all devices.
Loaded with powerful organisation, formatting and sharing options, Evernote is king even with stiff competition from OneNote and Google Keep.
Use it for writing notes during meetings, for sharing to-do lists, for clipping content from the web and making notes all over it (Pocket is great for saving web content too in a slightly different way).
See the post Evernote ideas and tips for using it effectively at work for more details and ideas. This goes into detail regarding how you could use this very useful app.
Google Docs (and Google Drive too)
If there’s one App that has grown more and more on me it’s Google Docs. Instead of simply using Microsoft Word and sending a document as an attachment via email, I’ve learnt that this great app can offer so many more usable benefits (using the correct and most up to date document version, co-creating documents, sharing documents, transporting documents and so on).
The collaboration tools within Google Docs are fantastic – not only can you edit the same document together in real time, you can also easily track and approve each other’s changes, or even use the chat pane available alongside the document to aid its co-creation.
Although it certainly won’t replace the use of Word in all instances, the ability to access, edit, share, store & sync files across all your devices will often make this the best tool to use more often than you think!
There is discussion online regarding Google Drive privacy concerns so if you have any concerns please see a list of credible alternatives to Google Drive that respect your privacy.
Wunderlist (or Trello)
Wunderlist is ideal for tracking either entire projects, or simply individual tasks or even sub-tasks within tasks. It allows an ideal way to keep a running list of to-dos, accessible from any device. If you wish it can remind you via notifications as to when you need to do them.
You can delegate tasks to others and check in on team progress. Add comments, keep notes, share and jointly work on files and documents – all helping you and your team to manage tasks and responsibilities for getting work done.
- Wunderlist is great if you prefer a tick-list format.
- Trello is another great alternative and better for progress in a more visual way by using a Kanban board style interface.
Office Lens (Android, iOS) is a free app that’s like having a scanner in your pocket. You can use it to take pictures of things like printed documents, business cards, restaurant menus, notes on whiteboards or blackboards — anything you want to keep a record of.
Office Lens trims, enhances and makes pictures readable. Odd angles are straightened, shadows are cleaned up and the images are automatically synced to OneDrive which you can access on any linked device including your desktop computer.
When your picture includes printed text, such as a print out of any document, poster or business card, Office Lens recognises the text with optical character recognition (OCR) so you can then edit the text within Word, or copy and paste it into apps like email and documents.
It’s especially great for use on projects allowing project team members to collaborate and jointly work on documents or content, like group presentations or co-owned project documents.
Slack is a communication and files sharing app aimed at teams rather than individuals. Slack offers persistent chat rooms or ‘channels’ organised by topic, as well as private groups and direct messaging to users inside Slack. You can control notifications on a per-channel basis or disable notifications entirely.
Its clear interface features emoticons which can be added to messages, making the application as a whole vibrant, colourful and fun to use.
All content inside Slack is searchable, including files, comments, conversations, notes and people. You can view summaries of your recent mentions, star items such as messages and files for easy access.
Slack also integrates with a large number of third-party apps like Dropbox, Google Docs, Twitter and many others. Meaning you can share files and collaborate and jointly work on Google docs inside Slack.
You can browse books across a wide selection of topics including Personal Transformation, Economics and Politics, Science, Current Affairs, Communication and Social skills, Psychology, Productivity and Time Management and more.
The reader itself is uncluttered, with a pleasing progress bar as you swipe between chapters of the book (each chapter is usually condensed into text equivalent to that on an A4 piece of paper).
There’s an audio feature so you can listen to books. You can highlight and save snippets within books – and sync them to Evernote. Your account is synced across all devices and you can even see what your friends have been up to.
The app has a free trial for 3 days, then it’s approx. £4 a month afterwards.
Unroll.me (browser based) combines all your daily emails into ONE easily-scannable email, helping to massively cut down the time spent trawling through loads of emails and deleting them individually from personal inboxes (you couldn’t use it in your work inbox). It’s a brilliant tool to be aware of.
It also provides the ability to easily unsubscribe from newsletters or from unwanted junk.
In fact I’ve found that as the ‘daily digest’ provides a mini preview/thumbnail of each email, I’m actually more likely to read interesting stuff and not delete it straight away (something far too easy to do if you want to get a large inbox under control). You can click on thumbnails to see the full version of that email. Or search through and visit previous daily digests.
Via their website you link whatever email service you use. This then searches through all the emails you receive and allows you to unsubscribe from them. All the others you leave are then rolled-up into one email that you receive each day. This roll up is very easy to scan through. So easy!
Are you bored with but still hopelessly addicted to Candy Crush? Do you find board games like Risk or Monopoly a bit naff on the phone? Do you want something simple and fun to play but that has a tactical / intellectual element? Then look no further than the brilliant ‘Catan’.
This is by far one of the best board game to phone game conversions. The Settlers of Catan is an award winning game that mixes together expansionist building, sneaky tactics and social wheeler-dealing in a fun engaging way.
It costs money to buy and to purchase additional add-ons but the many hours you’ll get from playing it and working through the scenarios is well worth it.
For years I’ve always kept a paper diary – jotting down interesting things that I’ve done with the kids etc – but found recently that I keep forgetting to update it.
By moving to an online diary, I’ve found I can search through it easily, add photos (far more interesting to look at in future), write notes, plus attach links to interesting news that happened on that date and lots more.
There’s a few diary apps out there to use but I’ve found this one is the best. The only problem that I’ve found is the Journey (Diary, Journal) Chrome extension can get accounts confused easily – I have two Google accounts and I cannot get it to settle on my personal account rather than work one. If this worked you could easily clip online content to your journal from a PC. However please try it still as it may well work for you.
Flipboard (iOS, Android, Desktop) is an award winning news aggregation program that takes material you like to read, such as blogs, websites, your social media news feeds, and more, and aggregates them into a sleek, magazine-like format that allows you to view the material you like in one neat package. Perfect for following all that you need to in one place.
WhatsApp Messenger (iOS, Android) is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. It was bought in 2014 by Facebook for $19bn!
You can either talk to individuals, or create groups and send unlimited texts, images, video and audio media messages. You can also call users via the app now too.
It is a brilliant app for easily staying in touch with people, family, your team, other colleagues and customers. FREE too!
You can even view What’s App messages via your computer web browser – see web.whatsapp.com for details. So it doesn’t just have to be for use on your smartphone.
In a nutshell:
- You can find and listen to virtually any music you could possibly think of.
- You can save albums or songs to your own playlists, add these to folders etc.
- You can use it for free but you get ads and can’t listen to music away from a wi-fi zone. If you pay a bit more (£5-10 a month) you can download content easily to your phone and via Bluetooth could connect to your car stereo and easily listen to music on the way to and from work or on holiday etc.
- You can browse bands, see back ground information, see all music they’ve released and also see similar related bands – so you can be introduced to similar bands that you may also like.
- You can follow other users and see what they’re listening to. Even the actual bands or artists themselves, if they’re on spotify, can be followed and you can see what they like and listen to.
If you’re like me, you probably take far too may photos whilst on holiday and your phone memory may quickly clog up.
With the Google Photos app it auto-saves anything to the cloud so that you can then easily delete photos on your phone without worrying about losing anything.
The app can also handily auto-generate new content, such as stitching together photos to make panoramas or arty shots. It can further create slide shows, plus all the standard things like creating photo albums, shareable links to photos and more.
Want more ideas?
- See the Google Plus community for more tips and ideas for using a variety of apps!
- Or please see the comments below. Leave your own comments too on any great apps that you want to share with others.