Dec 31, 2010

Best Creative Purchase of 2010: The iPad and My Top Apps for Creativity, Productivity, Communication and Entertainment

When the iPad came out this year I was pretty much underwhelmed. At first glance, I took it to be just a really large version of the iPhone. I honestly couldn't see how this device would fit into my personal or professional life.

Get in Line
I saw a lot of my buddies in my "Parker's Pals" Twitter list shouting it's praises. I trust this particular feed with a lot, but in this case I was still a hold out. I hadn't actually had the opportunity to use one, or even see one in person for that matter. I'm also not a jump-on-the-band-wagon type. When I see folks getting in line, I usually take steps to purposely avoid it until I've had time to make an educated decision. I'm also not really what I would call a hardcore Mac or Apple loyalist. I like many of their products, but I don't get stars in my eyes when I see an Apple logo, or one of their super slick ads.

Trust the Techies
Shortly after the iPad was released, my friends over at E2E Tech had a post on the subject at their Tech Attack blog. "Once you see one in person, you begin thinking of how the iPad will work in your life," they said. I trust these folks when it comes to tech tips and gadgetry. I still couldn't see it, but I had a hunch that these simple words by our local techies were going to be spot on.

iPad Envy
So, about 6 weeks ago a few things happened that accelerated my decision to add the iPad to my creative arsenal. I had a meeting with a client one afternoon at a local coffee shop where we were to discuss several outdoor designs I had submitted for a new campaign. I pulled out my notebook to begin taking down his comments, and started to pull out my laptop to bring up the proofs. Before I could unlatch my case, my client pulled out his iPad and brought the proofs up on the screen. Being in the business of visual communication, this simple act immediately impressed me. I looked at my notebook and unopened laptop case and immediately felt outdated. Not only that, but I saw the potential for this device as an incredibly convenient way to acquire and share creative content. Still, I didn't take the plunge.

A few days later, while meeting with a new client whose primary business offering was built around iPad integration, I again realized this device was replacing many of the tools I typically carried around  to meetings, adding the bonus of access to information and software that I would normally have to wait to use back at my office. I was mentally sold, but still no purchase.

A Child is Born
My wife and I were expecting a son in November, and I knew that I would be out of the office for several weeks. I wanted to have access to my files, email, and the internet, but I didn't want to lug around my laptop. I first thought that my iPhone would suffice, and to be honest it probably would have, but the images of  my clients using the device combined with my imagination created a strong dose of iPad envy. I made the purchase and I'm really glad I did.
I immediately put the device to use at the hospital during our stay with my son. There were complication during the pregnancy and my son was immediately rushed into the infant ICU. My wife, who had worked hard all day long, wasn't able to see her new baby. While it was necessary, it was definitely heart breaking. Eventually he was stabilized and they allowed me to go into the ICU to see him. I was able to take photos and video from my iPhone and share them with my wife back in her room, on the iPad via DropBox. It's weird to think about it now, but the first time my wife was able to see her our Son was through video on this device. We sat in the room together, tired but happy that we were able to see our new addition, even if it was only through the iPad screen.

When we finally returned home I made a decision to further explore how I could but the iPad and it's apps to use in creative, productive and entertaining ways. Every professional has their set of favorite iPad apps. I'm still experimenting with my magic mix, but so far the iPad has replaced my laptop and traditional notebook in many ways. It's allowed me to be truly mobile, and it's puts my projects, tools and files right in front of me whenever I need them.

The Parker Brand's "Magic Mix" of iPad Apps
for Creativity, Productivity, Communication and Entertainment

1) DropBox

Need I say more about this app? I adopted DropBox when it was in Beta, and I've been singing it's praises ever since. I recently upgraded to the 50g version, and I'm glad I did. I can now access all of my projects, proposals, invoices, and proofs from any of my workstations, or mobile devices. It give me instant access to my press-ready files, which can be rather large, allowing me to send instant download links to my clients. Need to make quick changes to a proof? Make them on your work station then head out for the meeting. Your updated proof will be in your hands, ready for presentation, before you turn the key in your car. These are just a few of the ways I'm using this fantastic cloud service. It's at the top of my list because it's definitely a service that I'd miss if it went away tomorrow.

Get DropBox >>

2) 2Do

I've always had a knack for looking into a project and breaking it down into it's easy pieces. I've been using Google Cal to do this for a number of years, creating an elaborate series of calendars to keep track of the various stages of my projects. I searched for several iPad apps that I could use to accomplish the same thing in a more streamlined way. 2Do does just that. It allows me to sync and share my projects across all of my devices and workstations via Toodledo and Google Cal, which I'm already using anyway. Projects, or tasks are organized as lists, tasks, or projects and can all be placed in custom categories. You can get as detailed as you want with this app, attaching notes or images to each task, or sub-task. It's the first thing I check before I start my work day, and I've seen my level of productivity increase since I've integrated it into my workflow.

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3) Evernote

I started fooling around with Evernote when it was first released for the iPhone, using it more for personal notes and info. It was a great way to capture quick information from the web via screenshot, instantly putting images, notes and research within reach. Now I use it to record audio from creative meetings, append notes to those meetings, attach images, and then review them when it's time to get a project organized. This app is like that catch-all drawer in the kitchen. You'll find the thing you need, but you have to organize regularly to get the most use out of it.

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4) Noteshelf

Noteshelf has replaced my paper notebooks 100%. I really wasn't sure if this was going to be possible, but the more I use it the more comfortable I get with the app. It provides you with a variety of paper styles and notebook formats to suit almost any purpose. I'm able to pull proofs directly from DropBox to my iPad, then upload them to my notes page. I can make quick notes about edits the client may have, then send that particular page directly to DropBox or Evernote, making it instantly available at my workstation. You're able to search individual pages within each notebook, and create as many notebooks as you like. I prefer to keep separate notebooks for each client; some for individual projects. If I had tried to accomplish that with a traditional notebook system I'd fill many, many shelves and waste a ton of paper. BONUS! Wrist protection. I'm going to be much more aware of this offering when I purchase writing or drawing apps in the future.

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5) Sketchbook Pro

This one was a no brainer for me. I watched several videos and leaned on the expertise of the creative folks in my Twitter lists. Sketchbook Pro was the most recommended app in it's category. I believe that to get the most use out of this app you'll definitely need to purchase a stylus, but that's a good tool to have on hand anyway. I can't make a recommendation on various types, but I like the stylus I purchased. This app has it all; brushes, colors, layers, and total control over them all. It's worked out great for doing thumbnail sketches, or just illustration in general. The soft tip of the iPad stylus takes some getting used to, but once you get a feel for it the control over the app starts to emerge. This is another app that has really freed up space in my mail bag. Notebooks? Gone. Sketchbooks? Gone... at least when I'm going into a meeting.

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6) Notemaster

I adopted Google Docs several years ago as my primary word processing tool. It was at that point I realized that mobility would be key for me in the years to come. I adopted Notemaster on the iPhone as my primary copy writing app because it allowed me to sync and edit my already healthy Google Docs files. Recently Notemaster released it's iPad version and it includes all of the features I loved on the iPhone app. This app is great for writing copy when I'm on the move, and making edits to existing copy in my Google cloud as well. It has a clean and responsive interface and does exactly what it says it will do. Recently, Google added document editing in Docs on mobile devices. I've given it a try, but I still prefer using the Notemaster app for the heavy hitting and I'm not sure that's going to change any time soon.

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7) Palettes Pro

Palettes Pro is one of the most used apps in my creative list. It's come in handy more times than I can count. It's great for color-storming, which always helps me get a creative project moving. Many times I'll meet with a client and we'll begin discussing color right there. If I can find a photo reference then we can drop that image into Palettes Pro and begin forming a palette on the spot. Even better, you can email the palettes to yourself, or your client, in a variety of formats which are ready to use with the Adobe Creative Suite.

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8) Adobe Ideas

And speaking of Adobe, what a great little app we have in Adobe Ideas! This was one of the first creative apps that was recommended to me when I got my iPad, and I've thoroughly enjoyed using it. It has a very clean interface, reminiscent of the Adobe Air apps. It combines many of the features that you find in Noteshelf and Palette's Pro, which is great when you don't have time to jump between apps. It offers layers, various pen sizes, and a great smoothing feature which keeps your doodles, notes, and specs nice and clean. I recently had a discussion with many of the individuals behind Adobe Ideas and I believe that we're about to see some great new things emerge. This app has a great future, so I'd advise getting comfortable with it now.

Get Adobe Ideas >>

9) Logo Bible

When you're in the business of logos, why not have a logo reference on hand at all times? This isn't an overly complicated app. It's simply a catalogue of great, searchable logos. Just type in a key word and get instant access to a variety of quality images to stimulate your thinking. See what others have done, avoid duplication, send a few of them to your clients to get them thinking. The logos in the catalogue are updated from time to time, so you always have an influx of fresh, new images to view. I really dig flipping through when I have some down time. It gives me those "why didn't I think of that" moments.

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10) MultiG

Here I go, singing more Google praises. I'm a Google Apps user, and that includes my email. I switched over to Google when Gmail first came out, and upgraded to Google Apps a couple of years ago. While I love the mail interface on the iPad, there are times when I need to access my personal Gmail and my Google Apps account through the standard Google interface. MultiG lets me get right into both accounts, utilizing the Google interface that I'm used to using, all from one app. Doesn't sound like much, but it beats opening up the Google app, or visiting the web. I tap, and I'm there, searching through my mail with the same ease and search power I'm accustomed to.

Get MultiG >>

11) Boxcar

Boxcar is another app that I use on both the iPhone and iPad. It's an app with a really simple purpose; to alert you when people are trying to communicate with you. This is my primary alert service, customized to let me know when I get email, Google Voice messages, Twitter mentions and direct messages, or Facebook message and comments. You can set your level of involvement at what ever level you like, and many times I can respond to a message right from the app itself. I'd say I'm pretty heavily involved in the online social networks I participate in. Boxcar allows me to keep an ear out for activity in my feed without having to keep my eyes glued to the screen.

Get Boxcar >>

12) Deliveries

Deliveries is a slick and simple app that allows you keep track of packages and orders that you may be receiving, or that you have shipped. Simple, simple, simple. Just plug in your tracking numbers and shipping service and your done. The app will alert you when your packages have arrived, or you can see the distance between the package and it's destination. It syncs across devices, so this is a great app to have on the iPhone as well. Indispensable if you have products that have been shipped out and are on deadline. The more you know, and all that jazz.

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13) Expensify

If you're in business and you're mobile then you know how important it is to keep track of every dime you spend. Expensify makes this easy, and helps cut down on that shoebox full of expense receipts. This is an app that works best when paired with your iPhone. Taking a client to lunch? Just snap a shot of the receipt with your iPhone and ditch the paper. Add the receipt and tag the expense to the proper client or project, then you're done. When you're ready just output your expense report. Your book keeper will love you, and you'll start to discover the small cash leaks that your business might have.

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14) TDF Tracker

I make my living by quantifying the hours worked on creative projects, then billing for those hours. Whether I'm working on a flat contract for a set number of hours, or if the project is open ended, I need to be able to record and account for my time spent. After downloading many, many apps that claimed to be the best at this sort of thing, I finally discovered TDF Tracker. I'll put my neck out and say that if you need to track your time, then export that time into a comprehensive report, then don't waste your time time with other apps. This is the one. I wasted a lot of money on apps that just didn't do it in a way that was efficient. I love the ease of use that this app provides, and my clients love the reports. BONUS! You can use TDF Tracker to keep track of your mileage as well. A great bonus if you're a mobile madman.

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15) Mobile Mouse

Mobile Mouse is tops, especially if you need to control your computer from across the room. Mobile Mouse is great if you're doing a workshop, or presentation and need to access your laptop, or workstation. I've used this to give tutorials, presentations, or just for entertainment purposes. Mobile Mouse does it's job well, and it's another app that I'd miss if it just went away.

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16) Reeder

Another great Google product I use is Google Reader. I'm a pretty heavy blog reader. I get a lot out of it, and I've got all of my feeds organized to suit my needs. I tried several apps on my iPhone that claimed to handle my Google Reader account better than Google, but none has been better than Reeder. When I got my iPad, Reeder was one of the first apps I downloaded. Before my iPad, I used to sit in the kitchen at my computer with a cup of coffee every morning. With Reeder I can sit outside on the porch, or take my show on the road. Sure, I could just visit Google's mobile version of Google Reader, but Reeder actually is much easier on the eyes. I love the way it handles everything. BONUS! If I find something interesting I can share it right from the app with a variety of networks, which I do often. Reeder is one app that gets zero complaints from me. I love it.

Get Reeder >>

17) Flipboard

Flipboard was recommended to me early on. I downloaded it and WOW do I love it. It basically pulls in your social feeds from facebook and twitter, allowing you to bring in individual lists. You can also pull in your Google Reader feed. Now, I still prefer Reeder for my blog feeds, but what makes Flipboard special is it's layout. It breaks your feeds down into a very clean, print publication layout, giving each post breathing room which makes for a more enjoyable read. It's not the primary tool I use to access my feeds and networks, but when I want to pop in for a bit and see what's going on this is the app I open. I'm hoping to see more local newspapers develop apps like this. This is me crossing my fingers.

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18) Instapaper

A lot of times I'll stumble on an article that has more content in it than I can read on the fly. I usually don't have the time during the day to commit to those articles, but I definitely want to read it later. That's where Instapaper comes in. Most of my favorite news apps, like Reeder, offer the option to send an article to Instapaper, which is perfect for me. When my day is over and I have time to relax with a longer article I pop open Instapaper and there it is. Instapaper strips out the junk, giving each of the articles a nice and clean format which is easier on the eyes. If you like to read, and want a place to save the good stuff, then Instapaper is king.

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19) HootSuite

I can't live without my Owl. That may sound pretty extreme, but it's kind of true. I started using HootSuite when it was first developed and I immediately took to it. I find a great deal of value in the relationships I've developed online through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other networks, and HootSuite let's me access them all in one place. The iPhone and iPad apps give me access to the same information I have on my desktop. There are some great Twitter and Facebook apps out there that do what they do really well, but when it comes to one stop social media management HootSuite gets my vote every time. I recently upgraded to the professional version of HootSuite which gives me access to more information about my activity, and my clients' as well. The interface is clean, and all of your feed columns can be organized into tabs for easy access. This is a very important tool when you're accessing the number of feeds that I do. Even if HootSuite isn't your primary app for any individual network, it's definitely worth keeping on hand.

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20) Friendly

So, I got the iPad and went to download the Facebook app and guess what? There's no Facebook app. I thought that was strange, and there are several articles on the web about the subject. So, I opted to give Friendly a try as a stand-in until Facebook changed their tune. Friendly does such a good job in the way that it handles Facebook that I don't imagine I'll be beating down the door to get an official Facebook app, if one ever emerges. It's got a nice interface that does everything your iPhone Facebook can do. I've found no problems with this app, and I find that it does the job when I want to see what's going on in our local Facebook stream.

Get Friendly >>

21) Twitter

Back in the day the Twitter app was only for the iPhone and it was originally called Tweetie. I remember that Tweetie was one of the first apps I ever purchased, and I loved it. It just handled Twitter in a different way that was simple, intuitive, and beautiful. Twitter eventually acquired this app and it became Twitter for the iPhone. Same great app. Fast forward to the iPad and you've got Twitter for the iPad and it's obvious that it's got all of the original DNA from Tweetie and then some. This is a beautiful, well thought out app for the iPad. When you want to sit with your Twitter feed this is the place to go. With each small update they make the app gets more enjoyable to use. If you're on the iPad and on Twitter, but not using this app you need to stop what you're doing and download it right now.

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22) Kindle

I almost bought a Kindle. In fact, thoughts about buying a Kindle were kind of the gateway to my eventual purchase of the iPad. I was already buying Kindle books and reading them on my laptop, or on my iPhone. I was sitting next to a gentelman who was reading a book on his iPad and we struck up a conversation on the subject. He said that he almost bought a Kindle, but figured he would eventually buy and iPad anyway, so why have two devices? This sounded like my sort of logic, and I'm glad I ended up making the same decision. Still, I've not purchased a single book from the Apple bookstore. I'm still liking the service I've received from Amazon, and I'm very happy with the Kindle app. So, I may not have a Kindle, but I'm still sold on the Kindle brand.

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23) Comics by Comixology

I love my paper comics. I really, really do, and I don't want to see my local comic book shop suffer because I'm buying comics on the iPad. Still, Comics by Comixology does a great job at puttying a paper comic on the screen. I can browse comics online, and download them right to the device. I like the way it handles pages, giving you a full view, then focusing in on the action and dialogue, guiding you from panel to panel. I hate to get moral about something like this, but I've set a rule for myself about this particular app. When it comes to the mainstream books that come out week to week, that I know my local shop carries, I choose to buy those books there. However, for books that I know they won't carry, or that I'd have to track down and order, I choose to get those on the Comics by Comixology app. I feel the same way about comics that I do about all printed publications; how long before traditional print is just gone? Will it happen in my lifetime? I think about it quite a bit, and I'm still not sure where I'm at on the subject.

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24) Netflix

The Netflix app does everything that someone with a Netflix account could ask for. This is great app for putting a movie on when your traveling, or killing time between meetings. There's a huge archive of B, C, and D list movies on Netflix, which make for great background noise when you're working on an all night creative project. What else can I say about it? If you have a Netflix account, and you have an iPad, then you need this app.

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What Say You?
Well, that sums up my 2010 iPad list. If you've recently purchased an iPad, or are considering adding one to your set of creative tools, then I hope this post was helpful.

There are a lot of great apps out there, and everyone has their own list of favorites. My biggest frustration is having to pay for apps only to find out that they don't function the way they are supposed to. I wish that every app had a lite version you could download for free to use for a limited time. It would definitely cut out some of the lower end apps floating in the market.

I'd love hear your thoughts about this list. Have you tried any of these apps? What are some of your favorites? Are there any that you just can't live without? I'm always looking for new ones that will help me be more creative and productive, so I'm open to recommendations.

Watch this space on January 16th for a special Parker Brand update!
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