Top 15 Android Business Apps

By Jeff Vance

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I recently asked a Google spokesperson about how Android stacks up in the enterprise. She insisted that the Android is a consumer device – for now. “We plan to support more enterprise applications and features on top of our existing structure in the future, but we don’t have anything specific to share at this time,” she said.

However, just because Google is focused on the consumer doesn’t mean that Android developers are. Plenty of business- and enterprise-specific apps have already launched for the Android. Here’s a look at 15 of the most compelling ones, all currently available in the Android Marketplace.

1. TripIt Having used TripIt to stay organized during several trips over the past few months, I can vouch for its effectiveness. You simply forward your travel confirmation emails (airline, hotel, rental car, restaurant reservations, etc.) to TripIt and it will create a master itinerary for you. TripIt synchs with your calendar and social networking sites, emails alerts to colleagues, provides maps and route details and sets alarms so you don’t forget to arrive at the airport with enough time to suffer through the security line. The Pro version will track your frequent flier miles and rewards points, alert you of such nuisances as gate changes or delays, and help you find an alternate flight in the event that yours has been cancelled.

Cost: Basic: free. Pro: $69/year.

2. Gist Gist is another social networking for business app. However, unlike most of these me-too apps, which I actively avoid, I’ve actually downloaded and started using Gist. The Gist Android app gives users “complete business profiles for their contacts including updates from social networks like Facebook and Twitter, mentions in the news, and email correspondences across multiple inboxes. Presented in context around an upcoming meeting or recent status update, Gist puts the most important information about contacts at a user’s fingertips.”

Gist isn’t perfect, especially if the signal-to-noise ratio in your inbox is low. I get dozens of pitches from dozens of companies each day, and Gist only does a so-so job, initially anyway, of figuring out which connections are of high value and which are not. You can tweak this, but it takes some doing. That said, this is a beta release, so it should improve.

Polished or not, how on earth did LinkedIn (and to a lesser extent Xobni) let an up-and-comer beat them to the punch?

Cost: Free, with a premium version in the works.

3. Locale Are you one of those annoying people whose phone is always ringing during meetings, movies and presentations? Do yourself (and everyone around you) a favor and get Locale. This app immediately transforms you from a boor into someone Miss Manners would be proud of. Based on time of day and GPS coordinates, Locale will do such things as switch off your ringer, turn down the screen brightness when your battery is low, and even save you from that sexual harassment lawsuit by switching away from your porn wallpaper when you’re at work.

Cost: $9.99.

4. Lookout. You can’t have a list of essential business apps without addressing security. Lookout provides mobile antivirus protection, while also backing up your important data. Lookout also helps you locate your phone in the event it is lost or stolen. If you think the phone is simply, say, hidden beneath your couch cushions (or you want to drive whoever stole your phone crazy), you can activate a screeching alarm. Otherwise, you can view the phone’s GPS coordinates in any browser.

Cost: Free.

5. TouchDown For those of you who, like me, use Gmail as your preferred method for synching Outlook to your phone, TouchDown offers an alternative with plenty of enterprise-grade features, such as remote wiping and PIN enforcement.

Brian A. Schar, Esq., Director of Intellectual Property for Cardica emailed me to nominate TouchDown. “It is an easy-to-set-up and easy-to-use solution for syncing my Exchange email. I find it invaluable. Google should buy this company and bundle TouchDown standard with the Android system. TouchDown is well worth the license fee,” he said.

Cost: $19.99.

6. Intuit GoPayment This app lets you accept credit card payments via your Android. It’s billed as a way for service people to get “paid on the spot,” but I could see plenty of mom-and-pop stores ditching their credit card readers and using this instead. After payment is approved, the app lets you quickly email or text message a receipt to the customer.

Cost: $12.95/month + transaction fees.

7. Gmote Turn your Android into a remote control for your computer’s multimedia, such as music and video, and – getting to why this is a business-related app – presentations. Now you can stretch your legs and walk around the room during your next PowerPoint presentation while your audience is trapped in their chairs.

Thanks to Petri R.J. Darby, Director of Brand Marketing & Digital Strategy for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, for nominating GoPayment and Gmote.

Cost: Free.

8. Alarm.com For security-minded organizations – physical security-minded, that is – the Alarm.com app gives you the ability to monitor your security system via your phone. You can monitor video, remotely arm or disarm your system and access a searchable history of events. You can also set up the Alarm.com app to alert you anytime an alarm sounds or a motion sensor is activated.

For this roundup, I’ve focused on stand-alone apps and avoided those that require big on-premise investments. Alarm.com is an exception here, since it is only useful if you have a security system in place, obviously. However, anyone so worried about security that they view security feeds on their phone will clearly have no qualms about investing in a physical security system. Thus, I’ll give Alarm.com a pass.

Cost: Free (free for the app; however you must have an Alarm.com security system deployed).

9. GDocs When you use Android, you end up being subtly pushed towards Google Apps. I never had a Gmail account, nor did I want one, until I learned the hard way that the HTC Sync program is terrible, and the easiest way for me to sync Outlook with my phone is through Gmail.

Start with Gmail, and soon you’ll be dabbling with Docs, Blogger and Buzz. Several people emailed me to suggest various Office synching programs. While I included one in this roundup (TouchDown), I personally think that for most people it’s easier to use Google, which converts documents quickly and without much fuss and gives you plentiful, free online storage.

GDocs is a word-processing beachhead on the Anroid. GDocs lets you view, create and edit documents and spreadsheets from your Google Docs account. Of course, since Google lets you store Office documents in Google Docs, GDocs works for Word too. As a test, I wrote this entry on my Android and had no trouble, other than the less-than-ideal onscreen keyboard.

Cost: Free.

10. aTrackDog Patch management and software updates are a major IT headache. How long until this problem migrates from the desktop to the smartphone?

aTrackDog will help you get ahead of this issue, keeping track of all of your applications and informing you of updates. Without aTrackDog, this is a manual app-by-app chore. With aTrackDog, it’s a centralized task completed in a couple of minutes.

Cost: Free.

11. ASTRO File Manager This app is the easiest, most popular way to manage files and folders on your Android. Having troubling locating music on your SD card? Tap over to ASTRO and you’ll find it instantly. The only downside of ASTRO – and this is not ASTRO’s fault – is that you cannot uninstall annoying preloaded apps (on Sprint it’s nuisances like the NASCAR app) with ASTRO. Unfortunately, you have to root your phone to do that. Of course, readers of an IT pub like CIO Update should have no qualms about rooting their phone. I’m not as tech savvy as most of you, and I found it to be a relatively painless process.

Cost: Free.

12. PdaNet Say you’re traveling, you have all-you-can-eat data through your Android, yet you’d rather be working on your laptop without shelling out for a separate mobile broadband card and plan. You should be able to tether your laptop to your phone, right? Wrong. Carriers frown on this and have made sure it’s not easy to do on their phones.

Search the web and you’ll find plenty of ways to root your phone to enable tethering. And easier method is to simply install PdaNet, which makes tethering a breeze. Simply install it on your phone and laptop, connect the two via USB or Bluetooth, and you’re all set.

Cost: Basic: Free. Full version, which includes support of secure websites: $18.95.

13. gPanel Mobile for Google Apps Continuing with the premise that Android woos you further into Google’s realm, for organizations that have ditched Office in favor of Google Apps, it’d be nice to have a way to remotely administer those apps, wouldn’t it?

Enter gPanel Mobile for Google Apps. Aaron Gumz, Managing Partner of Promevo, which developed gPanel, explains the app’s value through a couple of worst-case scenarios. “You’re at a conference and your CIO calls you and says you need to suspend a user’s account immediately because that person went rogue and is blasting out derogatory emails. With gPanel Mobile you can suspend a user’s access in seconds” right from your Android.

Or: “It’s 11 PM and you’re out on the town. Your CIO calls you because he can’t access his Google Apps email. His password is not working. With gPanel Mobile you can reset his password in seconds without having to boot up your netbook or laptop, or worse, run home to do it.”

Cost: $50/year.

14. Google Goggles Zigurd Mednieks, co-author of Android Application Development, wrote to me to recommend Google Goggles as a business app.

Google Goggles lets you use your phone’s camera in order to perform picture-based searches of the web. Sounds like a consumer app, right? Not if you use it to read business cards and turn them into contacts. You can also use Google Goggles to identify landmarks, get instant wine reviews, retrieve book summaries and translate foreign text.

Cost: Free.

15. Layar The utility of augmented reality in the business world is sketchy at best – for now. However, with behemoths like Cisco believing augmented reality is the “future of shopping” and BMW considering it the “future of car repair,” it’s just a matter of time until augmented reality catches on in the enterprise.

Layar is an “augmented reality browser” that uses your phone’s camera, compass and GPS to serve up real-time digital information that is layered over your camera’s view. For instance, National Geographic is using Layar to serve up AR travel guides. The first one will be released soon for Washington, D.C.

Cost: Free.