5 free iPhone apps for academics

When the iPad came out, many people immediately recognized the benefit this device offers researchers and university students, and latest since its Education Event last week Apple has made clear that the education sector is an important playing field for their iPad ambitions. Even before the iPad came out, the Mac was widely popular in academia, and it continues to be so.

The iPhone, on the other hand, does not carry the same image of being an important device in academia. Don’t get me wrong: it is not that academics do not use iPhones as an easy-to-use mobile communication device (in fact, iPhones are quite easy to spot on campus). It is just that, for most people, the iPad and the Mac are more strongly associated with education than the iPhone is. Even for Apple, the iPhone (and iPod touch) is seen as their “third device” in education.

However, there are a couple of apps that can turn the iPhone into a powerful tool for university professors and college students alike. I am listing five of my favorite iPhone apps in this post.


Dropbox: Accessing your files in the cloud

Dropbox (free) is a cloud service that allows you to access your files from everywhere you have a data connection. A basic 2GB account is free, but you have to pay a monthly fee of $10 (or higher) if you need more space. Dropbox integrates with your Mac or PC and also has a web-app, an iPad app and apps for Android and Blackberry phones.

You can deal with basic file types (text, spread sheets, presentations, photos, music, movies, and webpages) right inside the dropbox app, but you can also send the file to another app on your iPhone. You can also download files onto your iPhone for offline use by adding it to your favorites (tabbing a star).

Dropbox is widely used as a cloud solution for many other apps, so it is definitely worth having an account if you don’t have one already. If you want to sign up with a fresh account, please do me a favor and use this link (I get a little bit of extra space for that).


Evernote: Grow yourself an elephant brain

Evernote (free) is another cloud service that is widely known, but this one isn’t for files but rather for bits and pieces of information. Think of Evernote as your notebook in the cloud. Evernote is also available for Mac/PC, web, iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows 7 phones, and it is integrated with a host of different services on the web and on your phone (check out their “Trunk”). The iPhone app allows you to access your existing notes and to add new text notes, snapshots and audio comments. You can sort these notes into specific notebooks and you can assign tags to each note.

One of my favorite uses for Evernote is to store photos of my handwritten notes on the web. Thanks to the magic that happens on Evernotes servers, my handwritten notes (and of course photos of typed text) are even made searchable! Evernote is a tremendous service that is free in its basic form, but for $45 per year you can increase your size limits and get priority status and even more functionality.


Sprinpad: Your library and shopping assistant

Springpad (free) is yet another online service that in some ways overlaps with Evernote, yet it is different. It also offers you to take notes (alongside managing tasks and contacts), but it is more centred around “stuff”. Specifically, Springpad is a convenient place to collect books, movies, and products you want to read/watch/buy at some later point in time. Springpad is available on the web, iPad, iPhone and Android phones, and it is free.

My main use for Springpad is to treat it as a virtual bookshelf. Whenever I see a book I want to read, I scan the barcode of the book with my iPhone in order to add this book to my Springpad account. Springpad looks up the data from amazon and allows you to add tags, notes, audio, and reminders to the entry. It will even notify you if the book is discounted at a major retailer.

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Wunderlist: Always have your todos at hand

Wunderlist is a free task manager / todo list that convinces through its simplicistic and elegant design. You can find a more detailed report here, but in short, Wunderlist is awesome. Okay, in a little less short, Wunderlist lets you manage your tasks across all your devices and the web.



TED: Your daily dose of jawdropping on-the-go

TED is easily one of the most awesome things that ever happened on the internet. In case you have lived under a stone for the last 5 or 6 years, TED is a network of conferences that broadcasts its best talks and performances over the net in order to spread ideas. The TED app (free) gives you access to TED’s archive of over 1000 talks. You can just pick one of the featured talks, get inspired by a random talk, or you can explore the archive by themes, tags, and ratings. The videos are available both through wifi and 3G connection, and you can even download talks onto your device for offline viewing.

One particular feature that I like is the TEDRadio function, which lets you tune in to a continuous stream of talks. The radio is audio only, which is easier on your data plan, and therefore a great way to spend the walk or drive to uni.

Note: When downloading the app, be careful to download “TED by TED Conferences”, not “TED Mobile by .willflow limited”. The latter one is an inofficial app that you had to use before TED brought out its iPhone app.


Five awesome apps to make you an even more awesome academic

Obviously, these apps are not made specifically for the higher education sector. However, I find they are among the best apps for researchers and students, and they are all among the apps that I am using most often on my iPhone.

The basic free plans for Dropbox and Evernote are also very generously sized, so that you probably don’t have to upgrade to a paid plan unless you become a power user of their services.

Of course, there are other apps that are also useful for academics, and some of them are free as well (Twitter comes to mind). Please feel free to add your own favorites to the comments section.

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  1. Laurissa says:

    If nothing else, I’m thrilled to hear that TED has it’s own app. But on the other hand, my productivity level will probably take a nose-dive…

    Perhaps using Wunderlist would help me stay on task from all the TED stalking I plan on doing this weekend… But to be honest with you, I’ve had a REALLY difficult time using electronic task management software.

    iCal makes sure I’m where I’m where I’m supposed to be and when, but I keep turning to my fall-back of pen and paper for my to-do list. I can’t break away from the gratification of physically CROSSING something off a list. Tapping or swiping a touch screen just doesn’t have the same psychological effect!

    Good list of resources, nonetheless! I’d be totally lost without Dropbox and EverNote.

    • Jo says:

      I totally hear you, Laurissa. If some things work better for you on pen and paper, then go for that. I can’t ditch my paper notebook in which I am sketching out my research projects, because of the haptic aspects of holding a pen, manipulating paper, and so on. But that is another post… 😉

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