Friday Five: iOS Productivity Apps for Teams of All Sizes

Slack app iconIt’s the end of the week, but that doesn’t mean an end to learning more about your favorite Apple devices. Each week, the Friday Five takes a quick look at a Mac OS X or iOS app to point out five things you may have overlooked before.

Whether you’re a member of a small work team or part of a huge multinational corporation, there are iOS apps that are can make your team productive and connected even when they’re not in the office. Today’s Friday Five takes a look at five iOS apps that should be on every iPhone and iPad your company uses.

Slack
Slack is an app that has become such a part of my work life that I honestly don’t know what I did before I started using it. In its most basic use case, Slack is a powerful team communication tool, allowing people to communicate in an informal “chat room” environment. Both public and private chats are available, so whether you want to announce a new lucrative contract to everyone on the team or do some in-office gossip about the horrible new haircut the boss just got, Slack can keep you in touch complete with emoticons and GIFs.

Have different departments or projects that need separate teams? Slack creates channels that you can invite only certain people to, and each channel can be set up with a different focus.

Slack

Next, getting documents to everyone on a team can always be a challenge, especially if they’re too large to send via email. With Slack, files can be sent individually or to the group with a few taps. Frankly, file sharing is a bit easier with the desktop app for OS X, but it can still be done on iOS devices.

The biggest unsung feature of Slack is its ability to be integrated with literally hundreds of other applications found in the Slack App Directory. Whether you want to be able to do face-to-face video chats in Slack (Skype, QuickChat), order a ride (Lyft), do collaborative hiring (Breezy HR, Lever), be notified when someone arrives at the office (Envoy), work together on a virtual whiteboard (Sketchboard, Limnu), launch an IFTTT action, keep track of team vacations or report time (JustReply, absence.io), do accounting (ZipBooks), or a thousand other tasks, they can all be done without leaving Slack.

Slack is free for small teams that have fewer needs, reasonably priced for more functionality and storage, and enterprise plans are coming this year. It is fully compatible with iOS 9.2 and works great in Split View on iPad.

Airtable
When you think of the term “relational database”, you might think of doing data entry into a complex data storage and analysis system developed by a highly trained team of database administrators. With Airtable (free, up to $24 per user per month for more storage, with enterprise plans coming soon), databases are a lot less daunting.

Airtable databases (or “bases” as they’re called in the app) just look like fast and flexible spreadsheets. But each cell in the spreadsheet can store just about anything, integrate with Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive or other cloud storage services, or perform simple or complex calculations.

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Airtable is designed for easy usage on iPhone or iPad, so you can view, enter or crunch data from anywhere. But Mac and PC users aren’t left out, as all they need to do is log into the Airtable website from a web browser for full access.

Searching or filtering data in an Airtable base is likewise simple. If you’re working with a team on capturing or assigning sales leads, following up on project status, or other collaborative tasks, you’re in luck because Airtable is also designed for collaboration.

Airtable makes it very simple to get started in creating new bases by offering a variety of templates that you can either use as-is or customize to your needs. Whether you want to use Airtable to manage products, keep inventory, plan a nonprofit event, manage a softball team, or act as a team customer relationship management (CRM) tool, it can do it and there’s probably a template ready to use.

Remember Slack’s integrations? There’s an integration with Airtable, meaning that you can enter or access information right from Slack. Airtable 3.0 is fully compatible with iOS 9.2, and it works great side-by-side with Slack (or any other updated app) on your iPad Pro.

Skype
Chances are very good that you already use Skype for iPhone or iPad to have face-to-face video chats with friends and family, but did you know that it also makes a great team collaboration tool?

The free app and service (charges for making landline calls) can now be used to add up to 25 people to a video call, perfect for a small company or workgroup. And yes, you can do this right from your Slack channel…see how this is all coming together?

Skype (left) and Safari split screen

Skype (left) and Safari split screen

Skype runs on just about every platform, and it works well on iOS devices (I’ve personally joined video chats from my iPhone and iPad a huge number of times). It’s been updated for full compatibility with iOS 9.2, and that Split View capability is great for staying in a video chat and grabbing facts and figures for discussion at the same time (see image above).

Scanbot
As much as all of us would love to live in a paperless world, we still need to handle tons of the stuff — reports, receipts, invoices, bills, you name it. One iOS app that can help you tame the paper beast is Scanbot (free with in-app purchases ).

The app replaces those cantankerous scanners that always want to jam. Just point your iPhone or iPad camera at a document — big or small, single or multiple pages — and it discerns the edges, snaps a photo, straightens the document, and can even perform text recognition on the contents.

Every document you scan can be uploaded to a number of cloud services, including iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Evernote, Box, and about a dozen others. And guess what? It’s integrated with Slack, so your team can do things like scan receipts and share them directly with your accountants, or scan purchase orders for immediate fulfillment by a sales group.

All documents can be annotated with highlights, notes, or signatures, and stored with a variety of tags for quick searches. Scanbot has helped me personally reduce the number of documents I keep paper copies of to a handful, and it’s indispensable for the company that would like to progress towards a paperless office.

If you have an iPad Pro running iOS 9.2, you’ll be happy to know that you can use Split View to multitask with Scanbot and other compatible apps, like Google Drive (see image below).

Scanbot (left) and Google Drive

Scanbot (left) and Google Drive

Google Drive
Finally, your team is going to need a common place to store documents and collaborate on, and there’s probably no bigger, badder cloud service than Google Drive. The iOS app is free, and Google Drive provides access to view, create, organize or update any document you’ve created with Google Sheets (spreadsheet), Google Docs (documents), or Google Slides (presentations). Teams can share documents and work on them together as well, but note that each device will need to have the separate free iOS apps for Sheets, Docs and Slides installed as well.

Google does charge for large amounts of storage, so if your team generates a lot of content and/or wants to store a lot of Scanbot scans in the cloud, you’re probably going to want to look at an enterprise storage plan from the company.

The app, like all of them I’ve mentioned today, is fully compatible with iOS 9.2 and works great on iPhone and iPad. By this point, I don’t think you’ll be surprised to find out that Google Drive has an integration with Slack.


Those are my five picks for iOS team productivity apps that companies large and small can use to keep employees happy and productive, wherever they may be. If you have any suggestions for other team apps that can help mobile employees work more productively, let us know in the comments section below.


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  • I am confused.I have purchased many products from OWC and am a satisfied customer. However, the App Scanbot is not listed on the Apple app store and a review at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/scanner-qr-code-reader-app/id834854351?mt=8 says scanbot is a spy app. Please advise.




    • Hi, Rick —

      I’m a bit surprised by that one review; Scanbot has been around for about 3 – 4 years now and — as you can see from the rest of the reviews — it is highly rated on the App Store. Rest assured that I have used the app myself for scanning documents since it was pre-release software, and it is definitely not spyware.

      To be honest with you, the reviewer who left that post appears to have a personal grudge against the app and an almost paranoid obsession with privacy. The privacy policy he refers to is here: https://scanbot.io/en/privacy.html and is quite normal and even benign compared to some I’ve seen. Basically, most app developers and websites do use Google or other analytics to find out how often their apps are used, where, and by whom. It’s standard policy, not “spying”.

      Don’t let the paranoid rantings of one person turn you off from using what is a top-notch app for scanning and storing documents.

      Steve