Topic overview

Apps and online tools

Apps and online tools

Thanks to the explosion of smartphones apps, it's easier than ever to stay productive while you're out of the office.

You can do nearly anything on your smartphone, from checking emails and arranging meetings to updating several social media platforms at once and working on documents.

The range of apps available to you will depend on what kind of mobile device you have. However, most popular apps are available for Apple iPhones and iPads, as well as Android phones and tablets.

If you use a Microsoft Windows Phone, you may find that you have a smaller selection of apps from which to choose.

Which are the best apps for businesses?

There are apps for every conceivable business task. You'll find tools to help you organise your task lists and prompt you with reminders and there are apps to help you remember your passwords. There's also plenty of choices when it comes to storing and sharing files securely on the cloud. You can even organise your thoughts with mind-mapping apps.

Social networking apps allow you to keep up with the conversations on Twitter and manage your activity on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks.

There are also many location-based apps. These use GPS technology to guide you to an intended destination (always forgetting where you parked? Some apps even allow you to tag the exact spot!), but also to show potential customers where your business is located.

Can I develop my own app?

Many businesses have developed their own apps. However, think carefully before you create one for yourself or your customers.

If you want to build an app for you and your staff to use, there's an excellent chance that an app already exists to do what you need. If you haven't found it yet, it might just be that you haven't looked hard enough.

Alternatively, a mobile app can be a good way to build a closer relationship with your customers, but only if it delivers something they want and can't get elsewhere.

With over 1.5m apps available for Apple devices alone, yours has to be really special to stand out. It's easy to spend a lot of money on an app that attracts very few users, so think carefully and do plenty of research before going ahead.

How we developed our own app

Coming up with a unique idea for an app is the trickiest part - and even when you have one, turning it into reality can be daunting.

That was the challenge facing Andrew Jardine, founder of Atlantic Trampolines. Andrew's company sells trampolines and accessories via a hard-working website that uses pay-per-click advertising and SEO to keep it at the top of the search rankings.

"I had been looking at apps for a while," he says. "I had discovered that the iPhone has an in-built accelerometer that can measure velocity. I realised that we could get the iPhone to measure the number of bounces someone made on a trampoline. And I thought that we could develop it into an app."

After further investigation, Andrew found that there was only one app out there that came close to this concept and it simply plotted the height of trampoline bounces on a graph. Andrew was planning a more sophisticated app.

"We wanted to measure height, count bounces and then link that to calories lost," he explained.

Finding an app developer

The next step was to find a developer who could build the app.

"I spoke to a number of app developers but the cost was too high," says Andrew. It looked like the project had stalled until a friend introduced Andrew to his son - Michael Terry.

"Michael was doing his A-levels, including computer science," says Andrew. "He needed to do a project as part of his coursework and he was confident he could build an app for us."

By then the concept for the app had been fine-tuned. It would count bounces and also measure height by plotting bounces against images of tall structures including the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, a London bus and Mount Everest. And, by inputting your weight, you could find out how many calories you had burned while bouncing and this is turn would be compared to the calorific values of certain foods - such as pizza or ice cream.

The iTrampoline app was born. "As an app it's really good, especially for children," says Andrew. "It also works as an incentive to exercise and it's more exciting than just counting the number of times you bounce.

"We were so fortunate that Michael could do it," continues Andrew. "He's very intelligent and, as well as computer science, he's also studying maths and physics so he had all the skills."

The only area where Andrew had to bring in outside expertise was the look of the app. "We had to employ a graphic design agency to make sure the branding was consistent with our own branding. That cost a few hundred pounds."

Registering the app

The final hurdle was registering the app to get it on the iTunes app store. This process was more complicated and long-winded than Andrew had anticipated but it is crucial to its success. "Watching The Apprentice, I did learn about the importance of having a good description for your app on the App Store," says Andrew.

So what is Andrew hoping this free app will do for his business?

"This app is useful whether you have got one of our trampolines or not and it should bring more traffic to our website and hopefully boost sales," says Andrew. The app has three ways for users to link to Atlantic Trampolines - via a web link, an email address and a freephone number.

"It's about making our company stand out," Andrew says. "I am always looking for ways to differentiate ourselves from our competitors."

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