11 Essential Apps for your Next Conference Trip

ipad apps for conferenceConference time is one of the best parts of academia! It is a time to meet old friends, make new ones, and challenge our thinking with stimulating discussions and talks.

It is also a time for your iPad to shine: these hand-picked 11 apps will help you in all aspects of the conference – from getting there, to giving your talk, to getting in and out of bed.


In the air

You can tell me what you want, but for me the travelling is a time to relax and to get excited about the days ahead. The only problem is: air travel is a pain in the back! And if your funding isn’t getting you anywhere close to business class travel, the next best thing you can do is to create your personal serenity bubble that shelters you from all the chaos around you. I am talking about Games and Meditation apps, my friend!


Relax melodiesRelax Melodies (free) is a relaxation and sleep assistant, and it is honestly the first app I open after having boarded a plane. Just pick your own combination of relaxing sounds (try Fire Camp together with Rainstorm!), put on your headphones, close your eyes, and ignore everything until a flight attendant tips you on the shoulder to prepare for take-off.


Osmos HDIf you like to be more active, try out Osmos HD ($5). Osmos is part physics-based eat-’em-up, part ambient, cosmic simulator, and part Darwinistic game of survival. Your task is to navigate a spheric lifeform through space so that it can grow by eating up all other matter around. Sounds strage? Yes, but the graphics and ambient soundtrack of this game will keep you busy until you are halfway over the ocean.


By the way, these apps (and air travel in general) only make sense with noise cancelling earphones. I am using Klipsch IMAGE S4 in-ear earphones and love them, but any good noise isolating headphones will do.


Catan HDFor the rest of your flight, you can keep yourself entertained with Catan HD ($5), the iPad variant of the über-popular Setters of Catan board game. You can either play against the computer, or you can make a friend in the seat next to you :-)



If you rather want to catch up on your writing projects while being away from students, colleagues and emails, I recommend to check out this posts on how a keyboard case can transform your iPad into a serious writing machine. A keyboard case is not only handy for the limited space available in the air, but also for the rest of the conference trip.


During the Conference

There are a ton of useful little apps for keeping up with everything that happens during the confernce. Maybe you are giving a talk and want to do some last touches on your presentation, you are charing a session, you want to take notes for when you are back home, or you just want to know what session you are going to attend next?



KeynoteKeynote ($10) is… yeah you know what it is. It is a great app for making last touches and reviewing your talk; however, especially if you use a lot of graphics in your presentations, I prefer doing the main work on the Mac before hand.




Presentation ClockPresentation Clock ($1) is your secret weapon for chairing a conference session. How often do we see session chairs holding up “3 minutes” signs to the presenter, just to be ignored? Presentation Clock gives you the time-keeping authority you deserve. It is a countdown timer that changes its colour from green to yellow to red. When the time is up, the colors invert (black numbers on red background) and the clock starts counting up.

This app is about as subtle as a construction side next to your office, and it works! I have seen how speakers who never end on time suddenly start to panic when the clock turns red. This is a great app and I recommended it highly – not only for conferences, but also to give student presentations in your class a little bit of TED flair.


Note taking

If you are not presenting, you probably are taking notes. For sure, the iPad comes with its own Notes app, but organizing your notes in this app is almost impossible, because it always displays the last edited page on top of the list. Here are a couple of better solutions for serious conference goers:

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MacJournalMacJournal ($6) is intended as a journaling app, but it works as much for organizing your conference notes. Every session (as well as meetings, projects, and so on) can have its own folder, or you can organize your notes through tags. And best: you can sync your data with the MacJournal for Mac (and Windows) desktop apps, so you can review your conference notes on your computer at home.


MindNodeIf you want to take your notes in a more free-flowing mode, MindNode ($10) is a great idea. MindNode is a mindmapping app that is available both for iPad and Mac. You can read a more detailed review of MindNode for iPad here.




PenultimatePenultimate ($1) is a good app for drawing quick sketches of anything that you can’t easily fit into a text-based or mindmap-based note taking app. I am not going to pretend that Penultimate is the best free-hand notebook out there (hint: there is no best one), since it does not give you a lot of room to sketch out your ideas. What Penultimate has going for it though is its smooth ink technology which esily justifies the one dollar price tag.


Hardware tip: I use an Adonit Jot stylus when working with Penultimate or other drawing apps. The styli of the Jot family are a good match for academics, as they feature a ball-point tip which is optimized for handwriting and sketching out ideas. (us amazon link)

PDF notes freePDF-notes free is the cheapest way of reading the conference programme. It allows you to do some basic free-hand annotations, but if you are interested in a more powerful annotation app, your best bet is to check out academiPad’s guide to annotating PDFs on the iPad.



In the hotel – Getting in and out of bed

When you travel to a conference outside your home country, you might have troubles accessing certain webpages (e.g., Skype, Facebook) or your music and video subscription services (e.g., Rdio, Netflix) won’t let you stream content.


VPN ExpressVPN Express (first 300 MB free) lets you trick out these geographical restriction by using a US-based Virtual Private Network (VPN). In non-nerd English: the internets will think that you are sitting somewhere in Los Angeles, when in fact you are lying in a hotel bed half across the world watching a movie on Netflix.

Installing this free app is super easy: just download the app, register for a free account, and choose VPN Auto Setup. Once you have completed the procedure, your iPad Settings will have a new VPN item in the list (right below Wi-Fi settings). From there you can switch the VPN on or off.

If you don’t mind, please insert my VPN account name (public@joachimscholz.eu) in the “Referee” line when setting up your free account. We both win: You will get in between 100 MB and 1 GB extra free data by providing a valid referee, and I will get a little bit of extra data as well.

Talking about data: the free 300 MB will be gone soon, especially if you are planning on watching Netflix over VPN. However, buying extra quotas to watch a movie in bed is waaaaay cheaper than using the conference hotel’s pay-per-view service. For example, you can buy 10GB of data for $4, which is enough to watch movies and shows all night, every night.


Progressive Alarm ClockAfter all that late night movie watching (or bar cruising), Progressive Alarm Clock ($2) gets you out of bed in a much more charming way than any wake up call service of the best 5 star hotel could ever do. It wakes you up gently and gradually using sounds of Tibetan singing bowls, and a sure wake mode will guarantee that you won’t miss the Sunday 8:30 presentation.


This is it, my personal “survival kit” for every conference trip. All what is left to say is: Enjoy your conference!!

But before I let you go, what apps are in your conference toolkit? Please share your favourites in the comments below.

Disclaimer: All images by respective app developers. Links for earphones and stylus are affiliate links. All recommendations are based on personal experience.

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  2. Thanks for putting the list of conference apps together. In my opinion all of the mentioned app are useful during the conference. I just read an article about a new app coming up called airmatch (www.airmatch.net) that shows you the best matches with people of similar interests. I think you can make appointments with them without revealing your private contact data. That might be a great app, too. Once again, thanks for your recommendations.

  3. Parker says:

    This is a great list! I can’t wait to try out MacJournal and Penultimate. They look perfect for me. I’ve also used that Progressive Alarm Clock, and to great effect; I normally sleep like a stone but this worked like a charm. As much as I love to travel, for business or pleasure, the one thing that always bothers me is the waiting; at the airport, on the plane, layovers, delays, in the hotel; all of it drives me nuts! I used to just sit and fume but now that technology has caught up to my natural sense of outrage, I’ve calmed myself considerably with the help of things like Angry Birds and the Kindle app. My favorite though has to be this remote access app I picked up through my job at Dish. With it I can pull live or recorded shows off my home receiver and watch them on my iPad, and I do it anywhere in the world as long as I’m someplace with wifi or 3G connection.

  4. Nature Boy says:

    Nice post. I will try some of your suggestions!

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