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Transforming Your Smartphone or Tablet into a Small-Business Machine

Mobile devices tend to see more Angry Birds playtime than business use. Learn how to transform your smartphone or tablet into a small-business dynamo.

Smartphones and tablets have some limitations as business tools: small keypads and touch-screen keyboards prevent many people from using mobile devices as anything more than high-tech calendars. People are more likely to play Angry Birds on their smartphones than conduct business. And that’s a shame, because with a few carefully chosen apps, you can turn your smartphone into a tiny business powerhouse. We’ve come up with a few suggestions to make your mobile use more about productivity and less about recreation.

Staying Organized

Staying organized can be difficult when you’re constantly switching between a PC, smartphone and tablet. You need to be able to quickly synchronize your contact list, schedule and to-do lists.

While your mobile device probably includes at least some synchronizing abilities, those features may not be sufficient for business use. You may want to consider a more powerful app, such as Any Time Organizer Deluxe.

A business-level, to-do organizer, Any Time syncs between PCs and mobile devices through Google and Outlook, and it includes over 2,500 templates for to-do lists and calendars. One of the app’s most helpful features is the ability to send text reminders directly to your mobile device.

Phone Scanners in Small Businesses

A business trip requires you to collect and organize reams of small, easy-to-lose paper documents, such as receipts for travel expenses, notes, business cards and agreements.

You can purchase pocket-sized scanners to record these items, or you can simply install a scanner app on your smartphone. Scanner apps use the phone's camera to make copies of documents, which can then be organized, tagged, emailed and uploaded to cloud storage. Some scanner apps can also merge information scanned from business cards with your existing contacts list.

Business-Class Video Conferencing

A tablet with a front-facing camera can double as a take-anywhere video conferencing device through services such as Google Talk for Android tablets. Business travel increasingly requires people be in two places at once: with video conferencing, you can take part in your weekly board meeting in Boston from a hotel room in California.

Multi-Person Texting in the Office

Watch a teenager text on a cell phone, her fingers a blur as they move across the tiny keyboard. Today’s youth consider texting as important a means of communication as speech, and much more effective than ‘old-fashioned’ emails. As today’s text-centric college students move into the business world, they’re going to continue to use texts as a primary form of communication.

Like it or not, a forward-looking businessperson should acknowledge that texting will become an integral part of business life in the near future. While you may not be able to match a teenager’s text-typing speed, you can at least use apps to make texting less laborious. TextPlus, for instance, allows you to send texts to up to 20 different people simultaneously.

Personal Projectors

Tablets are all about audio-visual experiences: You play  games on them, watch movies, and listen to streaming music. Harness those same graphics to turn your tablet into a presentation powerhouse. Real-estate agents were quick to grasp this possibility — a tablet allows an agent to make an intimate presentation to one or two people over coffee.

Tablets can also give presentations to larger groups by connecting to computers, televisions or hand-held mobile projectors. You not only have the ability to quickly set up multi-person presentations with tablets, you also send a strong message that you (and by extension, your company) are comfortable and proficient with the latest technology.

The Smartphone as Document Reader

Your smartphone can double as an e-reader, as can your tablet. Applications such as Documents to Go and Quick Office Pro support Microsoft Office and Apple iWork, allowing you to read and edit documents directly from your mobile device.

You can stay up to date on your business journals through mobile devices as well, by signing up for newsreader apps offered by publications such as the Wall Street Journal. Given the small screen size of a smartphone, you might consider setting the phone to block images and only display text.

Remote PC Desktop Apps

It’s Murphy's Law. You're meeting with a client, and she asks a question that you could answer easily, but the file you need is on your office computer. Delaying answering such questions slows the business process, and, frankly, makes you look bad. It’s embarrassing to admit you don’t have the information at your fingertips.

With a remote desktop app for your smartphone, however, that’s exactly where your office computer files are — your fingertips. The app, such as LogMeIn, connects your phone to your office computer, allowing you to access files from a distance.

Cloud Computing Services and Your Tablet

Like remote desktop apps, cloud services allow you immediate access to vital documents, no matter where you are. Instead of documents residing on your own computer network,  they are stored remotely.

Cloud storage offers advantages for the smartphone-equipped businessperson. Mobile devices can access cloud documents as needed. This adds a layer of security to business trips: You don’t need to travel with sensitive documents on your mobile devices. Should a thief make off with your smartphone, cloud storage reduces the risk of security breaches.

Cloud services also allow for collaboration on documents from multiple users in different locations. You can read, edit and comment on documents from wherever you are.

Dictation Applications

Most smartphones and tablets come with a microphone, and offer at least some audio recording capabilities. You can take those abilities to the next level with dictation apps. A standard dictation app like Dragonspeak allows you to record notes, organize them, and email them to recipients.

Ultimately, how effectively you use mobile devices for business depends on you. For many  businesspeople, a tablet will remain nothing more than a pleasant, time-passing device. Businesses that learn to capitalize on mobile devices, however, uncover a hidden world of productivity.

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