Apps for the Mobile Creative: Part 2
"Have apps, will travel" is becoming the new mantra of creative professionals. Whether kicking back in a coffee shop, waiting at the airport for the snow to stop falling, or squished into a subway car, designers—particularly freelance designers—must stay connected and productive. A mobile phone or tablet device is a creative professional's lifeline, not just for telephone calls and text messages, e-mail and Web access, but also for actual work. This series is about building the toolbox inside phones and tablets to keep you connected, productive, and competitive in this fast-paced, create-from-anywhere world.
Part 1 of the series covered mobile apps for sketching and drawing, managing a design business, and design inspiration. Part 2 dives into apps for viewing and creating color palettes, photography, and keeping mobile devices safe and secure.
Design Companions on the Go
Exploring and assembling colors is fundamental to most creative work. There are top-notch Web-based tools to help you mix colors and build harmonious multi-color palettes (COLOURLovers, Adobe's Kuler), but there are also apps built specifically for mobile devices. ColorPal for Android, ColorSchemer for iPhone, and Colormixer for iPad are among the best. Each lets you mix colors in a variety of ways, saving and often sharing individual colors or multi-color palettes built manually or automatically based on the first color. If you're looking to stay within the predictable, color-accurate world of PANTONE, there's even an app for that—at least for iOS. Using the myPANTONE iPhone (and iPad) app, you can select and work with colors in the massive PANTONE libraries. You can also extract colors from photographs stored on the device to be used as the basis for new palettes.
iFontMaker (iPad Only)
• iPad, $7.99
Have you ever wanted to design your own typeface but were intimidated by high-end applications like Fontographer and FontLab? With iFontMaker, you can design TrueType fonts using the touch interface of the iPad. Choose a letter—capital or lowercase—or numeral to draw, and then draw the glyph with your finger or stylus. Imperfect strokes can be sized, rotated, cropped, and deleted. iFontMaker lets you create the initial 62 upper and lowercase letters and numerals of a basic font. It will then generate a Mac- and Windows-compatible TTF font you can use on your computer or even as an @font-face Web font.
There are a few drawbacks: First, you can't generate an OpenType font format, and to go beyond the basic font, adding punctuation, diacritics, and alternate letterforms, you must take your work into FontLab or another desktop font editor.
WhatTheFont (iOS Only)
• iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Free
"What is that font?" If you've ever found yourself muttering that question, you'll love the ability of the WhatTheFont app to answer it for you. Built on the tried and true WhatTheFont font identification engine at MyFonts.com, the WhatTheFont app identifies fonts in a photograph. Just take a picture with your iPhone, or open a picture saved on the device or from the Web or e-mail, and the app will examine the typeface used in the image and return possible matches. You can refine the choices and, once you find the right font, the app gives you the opportunity to buy it through MyFonts.com.
For best results when using this app, take a photo showing only text set in the typeface you're trying to identify. Also shoot portrait mode with a steady hand—blurry images can confuse WhatTheFont.
Photographer's Mobile Toolbox
Whether you're a professional shutterbug or a professional designer who occasionally needs to take a good photo, you'll want to fill your metaphoric mobile camera bag with the following apps.
Camera Genius (iPhone & iPod Touch Only)
• iPhone, $0.99
Camera Genius is a replacement for the iPhone's native Camera app. It does all the same things—takes pictures and video, enables easy sharing of photos via SMS, email, and social media—but Camera Genius goes far beyond the basic native Camera app. In addition to a user interface that makes better use of screen real estate, this inexpensive app boasts a plethora of advanced features, including a shot timer/delay; sound-activated automatic shooting; anti-shake shot stabilization; three-shot burst mode; adjustable thumbnail sizes; tips and tricks manual; composition guides; and more than 20 filters for post-processing photos on the iPhone. There's even a mode that makes the entire iPhone screen the camera button—no more hunting around for a small button!
Yes, you can use your phone as a light meter, though the exact capabilities depend on the model. The iPhone version measures reflected light and returns compensatory calculations. The Android version does that and also calculates filter compensations and depth of field.
Depth of field finders help you determine the distance or size of a subject relative to the camera lens, and thus what camera f/stop and focal length are best for keeping the subject in focus.
Lighting Studio (Android Only)
• Android, Free
Typically, photographers and videographers plan camera and lighting placement on paper or a white board. This handy-dandy app helps you get greener (and more accurate) by moving the task onto your Android-powered device. You can place and position cameras, strobes, backdrops, flashes, ambient light sources, and models. It's so useful that you might even be able to forgive the fact that the app's icon is a blatant knockoff of Lightroom's. If you can't forgive, check out Photo Studio Buddy ($4.99). I prefer Lighting Studio's sleeker interface, but functionally, Photo Studio Buddy is pretty close—and it has different types of models pre-configured.
There's a lot more involved in outdoor photography than some people realize. To get that perfect shot, against the right background, with ideal sunlight or moonlight, outdoor photographers must time shoots using accurate sun and moon positioning schedules. This type of information is collected in a table or chart called an ephemeris. A digital ephemeris is phenomenally useful—and cost-effective. By providing up-to-the-second sun and moon positioning, angle, and phase information accurate to any particular three-meter area on Earth, a digital ephemeris can replace handfuls of notebooks and reference books and GPS devices costing thousands of dollars.
An Android version of the Photographer's Ephemeris is planned, but when it will be available is anyone's guess. But there is a workaround: Because Android-powered phones and tablets can use Adobe Flash and AIR technologies, and because the desktop version of the Photographer's Ephemeris is built in Adobe AIR, you can use the desktop version on an Android device. Bonus: It has even more information than is available in the native iOS version! First, download Adobe AIR (free) to your Android device, and then install the Photographer's Ephemeris AIR application.
Go to page 2 for the apps you won't want to live without.
I understand that one person's "essential" is another's "take it or leave it," but the following apps are, for me at least, genuine essentials for mobile professionals. They can either save you time, or save your mobile device itself.
Find Your Lost or Stolen Device
• iPhone (Find My Phone), Free
• iPad (Find My Phone), Free
• Android (Lookout Mobile Security), Free/$2.99
• BlackBerry (Lookout Mobile Security), Free/$2.99
Cell phones fall out of pockets and get left on counters. Tablets are targets of determined thieves. If you somehow lost your phone or tablet, how would it affect your life? You'd have to buy a new device, of course, which could be anywhere from $99 to $899 out of your pocket. And there are provider expenses at issue, too—disconnect and reconnect fees, for instance. There's the cost of the time you aren't reachable, that you have to spend getting a replacement device back up to work-ready. But what about the data on your device? Is your credit card and banking information on there? How about your clients' financial data? The cost of losing a mobile device, whether through accident or theft, can be astronomical.
Spend a few minutes installing one of these free device locator apps and rest easy that, should you misplace your device, all you need is a computer to find it again—or direct the police to it. Some apps, including LookOut (with the $2.99 a month premium service), can protect the data stored on your phone by locking down, wiping out, or even bricking a stolen device.
Whether it's your e-mail addresses, usernames, and passwords, or common texting and e-mail phrases or signatures, any road warrior finds herself typing the same things over and over again.
Snippet-managing apps can save you that time and trouble. Enter your reusuable text into the app once, and thereafter it's just a press-to-copy and press-to-paste operation to pick up the text from the app and paste it into any other app, e-mail, or Web form. You can even set CopiPe, the Android app with the weird name, to live in your apps bar; access to your categorized text snippets couldn't be easier.
Dropbox, the popular file sharing and synchronization service, is available on your mobile devices as well. Why would you use it on a phone or tablet? To share Word, Excel, PDF, text, image, and other documents; to keep the WEP-key for your secured WiFi network in easy copy-and-paste reach on every device you might want to connect with it; to have your favorite music available to all your devices; to keep boilerplate or standard forms and documents such as model release forms, W-9s, price lists, client questionnaires, and more within easy reach to attach to e-mails sent from any device… I could go and on.
Dropbox on mobile devices works the same as Dropbox on the Web or a desktop or laptop computer. Your files are there, organized into folders, and you can use, edit, or delete them.
If you don't already have a Dropbox account, sign up at this link.
As the name implies, LastPass might be the last password you ever need. This free service takes over desktop and mobile browser password management, freeing you from having to remember individual website usernames and passwords. Moreover, it synchronizes automatically between your desktop and laptop computers and all your mobile devices: Use your iPad to create a new account on SomeSite.org, and LastPass can automatically log you into that site at any point in the future from your PC, Mac, DROID Incredible, Palm Pixi, or any mobile device running a LastPass client. You can also access your "password vault" online through the secure LastPass Website.
Getting LastPass on your computer is simple and free. Just download and install the LastPass client software for Windows, Mac, or UNIX. You can then have it automatically integrate with all the major Web browsers. You can even get portable versions of LastPass, with software and encrypted databases you can carry around on a USB thumb drive.
LastPass installation varies with each mobile device but is always easy. What doesn't vary is the cost: Desktop and Web LastPass clients, as well as the LastPass service itself, are free. To use it on a mobile device, however, you'll need to pay for LastPass Premium, which is a whopping $1 per month (paid annually, so $12 a year). Once you're a Premium member, you'll have access to all the extra features; you don't have to pay separate memberships for iPhone and Android apps.
If you want LastPass on an iOS device, you must realize that Mobile Safari wasn't built to be as extendable as the desktop version of Safari. Thus, LastPass isn't able to plug into Mobile Safari on iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. Instead, if you want the significant time- and brain-saving features of LastPass, you'll need to make the slight tradeoff of using Safari for LastPass's own Tab Browser. I gladly made that tradeoff myself, and (almost) never looked back. Once in a while, Tab Browser freezes and I have to reboot my device to clear it out, but that's rare.
LastPass on BlackBerry and Android also require replacing the default browser. On BlackBerry, the browser is automatically installed with the LastPass app. On Android devices, you'll need to use the excellent Dolphin HD tabbed browser, into which LastPass has been integrated. The link above leads to the Dolphin HD Browser (with LastPass) download page.
You can also install LastPass for Mobile Firefox and other mobile devices and software from the official site.