Apps for the Mobile Creative: Part 1
Creative professionals are on the go, working in parks, coffee shops, airplanes, and Mom's house over "vacation". Using laptops or even netbooks isn't always ideal--you may lack the room (airplanes) or time (booting up a laptop just to confirm file receipt). Even the idea generation and quick sketching process, once the sole domain of Moleskins and cocktail napkins, has moved to cell phones and tablets.
Fortunately, there are tools to serve virtually every creative need on the go, regardless of the device. Part 1 of this series covers apps for sketching/designing, business management, and inspiration.
Sketch and Design on the Go
Get your ideas down fast no matter where you are, whether at the lunch table or conference table.
Autodesk Sketchbook Mobile (Sketchbook Pro for the iPad) has features you'd expect in painting applications on your desktop computer, including large image canvases; image layers; multiple levels of undo and redo; image transformations for rotate and scale; zooms up to 2,500%; pressure-sensitive brush tips; and paintbrush, pencil, marker, felt pen, and texture brush tools.
If Autodesk Sketchbook Mobile isn't your cup of tea, or you'd rather have sketching application that's (mostly) free in exchange for a little less creative power, look to Adobe Ideas. It includes many useful features, including variable size brushes tips (though only one style), an eraser, opacity control slider, and multiple undo (but no redo).
Adobe Ideas focuses more on productivity than similar apps, enabling you to duplicate designs to create revisions and versions, and it integrates with Kuler for creating and re-using color palettes across projects. Adobe Ideas does do layers--sort of. The basic app lets you have two layers, one for your drawing and one for an optional background photo pulled from your device's photo gallery. If you want to use multiple layers--up to 10--like Photoshop, you'll need to purchase that ability within Adobe Ideas itself for $4.99.
Adobe Ideas isn't available for Android or BlackBerry at press time, but with the company-wide zeal of supporting the mobile world across all devices, it shouldn't be long before Adobe brings this sketching application to Android and BlackBerry tablets and phones, too. In the meantime, Android owners can check out Woo: Sketch (currently free), while BlackBerry owners might like Draw and Save ($2.99).
• iPad, $9.99
iMockups is an excellent tool to wireframe websites and app designs for the iPhone and iPad. With its intuitive interface, designing in iMockups is as easy as drag-and-drop. The side panels are loaded with such common components as browser "chrome," tabbed panel sets, images, video boxes, navigation bars, form elements, headings, and just about everything else you could need to rapidly wireframe a Web design. The iPhone and iPad side panels present similar user interface elements for quickly prototyping a mobile app's user interface. The ability to manage, export, and share multiple projects and several pages within each project, along with Undo and Redo, complete an extraordinarily useful design application.
If you have a smartphone, you have a camera. If the phone is fairly new, that camera may even have optics and megapixels to rival point-and-shoots. What phones lack, however, are built-in tools for improving those on-the-fly take-and-share photos. That's where Photoshop Express for iOS and Android devices comes in handy.
You can crop, rotate, flip, and straighten any image in your device. But that's only the beginning. Photoshop Express also includes the ability to apply borders, edges, and vignettes to photos, to apply various effects including a vintage style, and color correct the common problems with images using exposure, saturation, tint, and contrast controls. It even helps you share images to Facebook and Photoshop.com.
Manage Your Design Business on the Go
As a designer--particularly if you're a freelance designer--you are your business. When you aren't at your computer, your business isn't being managed. Armed with an e-mail client and Web browser, these apps will help you stay on top of your business no matter where you go.
FileMaker is the Mac's best-of-breed database application. Even on Windows, the easy-to-use FileMaker is popular for managing customer and vendor records; inventory management systems; invoicing and estimating systems; and much more. And now with FileMaker Go you can access and manage all your FileMaker databases in iPhones and iPads.
Unfortunately, FileMaker Go isn't available for Android devices. A workaround does exist, however. The Wireless Database Viewer Plus (free) enables your Android-powered phone or tablet to connect to Access, Excel, Oracle, SQL, and other ODBC-enabled databases. FileMaker, running on Windows, is ODBC-enabled, so with a few minutes' configuration, you can connect to your FileMaker database on Android-based devices with the Wireless Database Viewer Plus app. One caveat: The database management is more basic (and less graphical) than what you'll enjoy with FileMaker Go.
If you're a freelancer who isn't using FreshBooks, you're almost certainly working too hard when you track your time, send estimates and invoices, and manage your receivables. FreshBooks, which comes in free and paid account levels, improves and streamlines billing and accounting tasks. As a Web-based application, FreshBooks lets you manage your clients, estimates, invoices, time-tracked tasks, and more from any browser on any computer. But, for managing your business on the go, the mobile versions trump a Web browser any day.
Although FreshBooks once had a native iPhone app, the company has let it slide, preferring to let third-party developers create iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry apps with differing levels of FreshBooks integration.
First there's the iPhone app MiniBooks for Freshbooks, which does everything FreshBooks.com can do, except track expenses, in a native iOS user interface. Right from your iPhone (or iPad using the iPhone app), you can manage clients; create and send invoices; enter payments remitted for your invoices; and start, stop, and send to an invoice several task timers.
ReportAway for FreshBooks is the BlackBerry's equivalent of MiniBooks, with identical abilities and features.
The offering for Android devices isn't as feature-rich and isn't a single app. TimeDroid Pro for FreshBooks is a task timer that lets you record billable activities such as meetings, on-site work, and other events that take you away from your computer. The times may then be submitted to your FreshBooks account and incorporated into invoices. ExpenseBooks for FreshBooks allows you to do something the iPhone counterparts can't: record your mileage, receipts, and other expenses and send them to FreshBooks for easy billing back to the client.
The hugely popular Bump app is exactly what it sounds like: Bump your phone against someone else's phone to exchange contact information, photos, even apps. Just install and open Bump on your phone and make the other person has done the same. Then select what kind of content you want to send to your colleague. When you two gently bump your phones together, that data will jump from one phone to the other. Once the other person confirms the transfer (to prevent accidental Bump exchange), the transfer is complete. Data can be exchanged Android to iPhone, iPhone to Android, iPhone to iPhone, and Android to Android.
Who can get by without lists? We have to-do lists, shopping lists, project task lists, team task lists, even geographically sensitive lists. Remember the Milk, a popular Web service, helps you handle lists simple and complex, and keeps your lists handy and in sync wherever you are. Remember the Milk has apps for any smartphone. (iPad users are encouraged to use the Web interface rather than a dedicated app.) The apps automatically synchronize with RemembertheMilk.com, keeping your individual or shared lists up to date at all times. Remember the Milk is free, though a $25 a year Pro account gives you access to additional tools, including a Pro edition app for iPhone and MilkSync for Outlook, which synchronizes Remember the Milk with Outlook's Tasks. A Pro account is required to use the BlackBerry app beyond a 15-day trial.
Get paid. Pay someone else. Split a bill. Check your PayPal account balance. All that and more is possible on your mobile, be it iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry, with the PayPal app.
If you're new to PayPal or think it's only a payment processor for eBay, you might be surprised to discover that PayPal can--and very often does--take the place of a credit card merchant account for freelancers and small studios. Through PayPal, clients can pay you using any major credit or debit card, an e-check, a bank account direct debit transfer, or their own PayPal accounts. PayPal is a secure, respected payment gateway on par with any merchant account provider. The per-transaction fees charged by PayPal are often less than those charged by standard credit card merchant accounts, and without the monthly fee of merchant accounts. The PayPal app for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry devices lets you request funds on the spot from clients--no more waiting until you get back to the office for billing--and even conduct transactions via a bump between devices.
Even if you don't have money in your PayPal account, you can link your free PayPal account to your regular bank account such that, when PayPal reaches a $0 balance, funds will be withdrawn from that other source. Thus you can use the PayPal app for purchases and bill sharing without actively storing funds in the account.
Go to page 2 for the "Inspiration on the Go" section, which includes an app that lets you paint in words.
Inspiration on the Go
When you've hit a creative block, take a moment to relax and recharge. Finger paint your creativity back by doodling in unique media, or lose yourself in paintings by the masters.
TypeDrawing by Hansol Huh is an exceptionally creative drawing medium. Rather than painting with lines or shapes, this app lets you paint in words. Enter a phrase, pick a font, choose a color, and swipe your finger as you would a paintbrush. Type will flow along the path you've drawn. The thickness of the "stroke" is determined by the speed with which you draw. So popular is TypeDrawing on both iPhone and iPad that it has spawned drawing contests and a thriving Flickr gallery with nearly 500 members. Not only is TypeDrawing an excellent means of doodling your way out of a creative funk but you may even want to use the results in your design work. You can email completed images from within the app or find them saved among your device's photos.
Regrettably, there is no Android or BlackBerry equivalent at press time.
Steamy Window for Android phones fogs up your display with simulated condensation. Swipe your finger across the steamy face of your phone to clear a path--complete with accumulated and running drips of water that obey the laws of gravity, even as you rotate the phone. Draw anything you like in the steam, then blow gently into your phone's microphone to frost over the display again. Upgrade to the Pro version of Steamy for $1.36 to set your own background image and draw in sand and frost as well as steam.
iFog Delux, the iPhone equivalent of Steamy Window, doesn't have a free version. What it does have, however, are background images that can be used in place of your own photos, five different steam colors, and the ability to write secret messages in the steam.
Nothing soothes jangled nerves or replenishes empty creative reservoirs like browsing classic and contemporary paintings by the masters. Whether the original hangs in the Louvre or the Met, the artworks are in your pocket, but a swipe and pinch away. The Android and iPhone apps include dozens of masterpieces for less than the price of a cup of coffee. If, however, you have an iPad, the higher price--three cups of chain barista coffee--is more than justified for Art Authority. It's a complete virtual art museum with more than 50,000 paintings and sculptures, browsable by style, period, or artist.
Virtual koi ponds may be more popular than the real thing. You can passively observe the fish, or you can touch the iOS and Android device screens and interact with your piscine pals. You can even build your own pond, choosing fish, flora, and fluids.
Stay tuned for Apps for the Mobile Creative: Part 2, coming in February!