App Overload

You own a smartphone or tablet and you’re getting more work done on the go.

Looking to do even more? Check out the apps in this article, many of which extend the features of systems you already use to your mobile device. (Note: not all apps are available for all mobile platforms.)

Apps for infrastructure industry professionals

Sheena Sharp, a principal with Coolearth Architecture Inc., is considering Architactile Inception to automate the initial architectural programming process. “It prepares bubble diagrams” to help with this process, she says.

Consider Freeance to extend the reach of your GIS to contractors and employees. The app relays known field conditions and the location of field crews, so they can reduce service response times and eliminate the need to call the office.

The Construction Punchlist app lets you annotate plans onsite without lugging reams of paper. Once done, you can electronically send marked-up documents to project owners and team members.

Municipalities are helping citizens report non-emergency infrastructure issues using SeeClickFix. And the app lets municipalities publicly report successful issue resolutions.

Sharp downloaded a “one-off” app for the AIA conference she recently attended, “just to find my way around. That conference is huge! There’s so much stuff there, and this app organized it for me.”

Meanwhile, savvy urbanites are learning about and sharing city-enhancing technologies using the MESH Cities Map app.

Not to be outdone, Autodesk lets you take many previously PC-bound tasks on the road more easily thanks to its catalogue of mobile apps.

View, edit and share AutoCAD files from your mobile device using AutoCAD WS. The ForceEffect and ForceEffect Motion apps lets engineers more easily simulate design concepts in the field. Bluestreak Mobile helps project leaders track activities and collaborate right from a mobile device.

Various flavours of SketchBook provide drawing tools on screen. Owners of camera-equipped tablets can turn images into 3D models using 123D Catch.

Learning tip

Autodesk, like many other software developers, helps people learn about apps by posting videos of its apps in action on both its website and its YouTube channel.

Navigation

Dave Thompson, director of Sustainable Communities for Sustainable Prosperity, relies on several apps to get around, including Google Maps and Google Latitude.

He finds the Wikitude “augmented reality” app gives him a better sense of what’s in the vicinity. “You hold the phone up in front of you and it shows you what’s behind (the things you see),” Thompson explains. “If you aim it down a street, it will tell you what restaurants are down that street.”

Personal information management

Smartphones and tablets ship with prepackaged PIM apps like calendars,  contacts and task lists. Third-party apps augment, and in some cases supersede, these default apps.

Consider Cardmunch and World Card Mobile, each of which turn photos of business cards into address book entries.

Default ask list apps may be the weakest features on mobile devices. That helps explain the popularity of task list apps that let you manage projects, delegate tasks and synchronize with other computers. Popular task list systems that feature mobile apps include Remember the Milk and 2do.

Thompson uses ACC-ALF Mobile Lite to access his Alfresco enterprise content space, which he likens to Basecamp. (Basecamp itself doesn’t publish an app, but it does maintain a mobile-friendly web interface.)

Mac-driven businesses may want to try Daylite, a Microsoft Outlook/Exchange alternative for small businesses, and its mobile apps.

Online file organization and sharing

Certain systems let you keep and access documents online, share those documents with other people on your project team, send download links for large files, and more. As a bonus, the online files act as backups should other copies be lost.

This popular category of apps includes DropBox, the more tersely named Box, SugarSync and Google Drive.

Document creation, editing and management

Tablets and smartphones aren’t just for content consumption any more. Create and edit documents using productivity suites like Docs To Go and Kingston Office. iPad users will want to check out Apple’s Pages and Numbers apps for word processing and spreadsheets.

Sharp swears by Goodreader, which she uses to bring PDFs of documents to meetings. She mentions the small firm’s commitment to get everybody in the office an iPad. The iPad replaces a whole stack of product literature,” she says. “We’re making a conscious effort to not collect pieces of paper at trade shows, only information.”

If you need to annotate PDFs, try PDF Expert.

Time tracking and invoicing

Thompson uses Harvest to enter time and track expenses. Freshbooks and Billings are Canadian alternatives.

Messaging

Individual platforms feature their own proprietary messaging platforms. Feel free to use BlackBerry Messenger if yours is a RIM shop, or iMessage if everybody works on Apple products.

Decreasing loyalty to specific brands means a mixture of mobile platforms in many work environments. If this describes your situation, check out cross-platform messaging apps like Whatsapp Messenger and Skype.

Note-taking

Sharp’s iPad has replaced “the notebook that every architect carries around everywhere,” she says. She uses the Notes app that comes with the iPad, both to take meeting notes and to put her notes in a proper record of meeting format.

She also uses the Penultimate handwriting app. “I often draw things, the relationships between things, ideas about how something might be configured,” she explains.

If you’re looking for more advanced note-taking and collection capabilities, consider Microsoft OneNote.

Thompson switched from a BlackBerry to an Android phone, which he finds easier to use for online research, so he now collects his findings using EverNote. “I end up with a lot of materials that I can put into Evernote and transfer to my laptop,” he says.

Social networking

If your organization participates in social networks, stay connected more easily using your mobile devices. Each major network publishes its own mobile app, so you can easily access LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and the rest of your favourites.

“I’m the president of the OAA, and we recently started a Twitter campaign,” Sharp says. “I follow people who I am interested in, from ministers of infrastructure to other construction-related organizations.”

Sharp finds articles using what she describes as a “stream of information going under my nose” that she frequently forward to clients, something she might not do if she had to lug a computer.

If you handle multiple social network accounts and want to broadcast the same message to each one, try a social media dashboard like Hootsuite.

Travel

GPS is built into many of today’s smartphones and tablets, and it integrates with the map applications that ship with these devices. Google Maps may be the best known of the bunch. BlackBerry users who commute note the usefulness of BlackBerry Traffic.

When travel takes you further afield, try apps from carriers like Air Canada or platform-specific apps like BlackBerry Travel.

Security

You need to keep your information confidential, so password-protect your device using its pre-packaged password protection tools.

Looking for more security? Thompson uses the password management application LastPass. Other choices include Keeper and 1Password.

Entertainment

Everybody needs some downtime. Sharp spends hers watching enlightening presentations on the TED Talks app and reading magazines using the Zinio app. Thompson reads news from periodicals around the world using their phone apps.

This article originally published in ReNew Canada. For a PDF of this article, click here.

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