No more paperwork
Most companies have yet to adopt the paperless office. Thanks, however, to powerful PCs, tablets and smartphones, we're getting much closer to reaching that dream. And in many ways, this is just a matter of modern businesses embracing tools that already exist. Carting around important papers in a briefcase is downright retro when you can now find pretty much every document-handling tool you need on a tablet.
These tablet-optimized apps bring your business one step closer to going tree-free and totally mobile. With them, you can store critical documents in the cloud; get them signed, sealed, and delivered; and get rid of every loose leaf in your carry-on.
Evernote is the quintessential paperless app. It helps you get rid of unnecessary pieces of paper such as receipts, lists, and napkin-contracts. Take notes, make lists, photograph receipts, clip Web pages, and save pictures to your account using your tablet. Evernote syncs all this data across multiple devices for access anywhere. It even reads your handwriting and converts it to plain text. Pair it with a Livescribe smartpen to save paper notes to the cloud, and you can recycle the original notebook. Coming soon: Evernote is building intelligence into its apps so that it can recognize the types of documents you're storing there.
If you use Microsoft services every day, chances are SkyDrive is already a part of your workflow. The new Office applications save your documents to SkyDrive's servers by default. You can store photos, videos, and more there, too. From a SkyDrive app, you can launch the Office Web Apps in a browser to work on projects away from Word, Excel, or PowerPoint on your PC. Pay $10 to add 25GB, $25 for 50GB, or $50 for 100GB per year to your free 7GB of storage. SkyDrive and Office are also a powerful combination if you use a Windows phone.
Google Drive is an essential cloud storage app if you use Google's productivity services, including Gmail, Docs, and Spreadsheets. You can not only store and sync important files across devices, but you can also create documents and spreadsheets from your tablet. Plus, you can share files easily with team members, who can edit the same document with you at the same time. No more passing printed drafts back and forth. On Windows 8? Access Google Drive in a browser.
If you just need to keep personal and professional documents at your fingertips, Dropbox eliminates the need for a filing cabinet. It doesn’t come with extra services (such as the Office Web Apps, the Google Docs suite, or Evernote's note-taking features), but it’s dead-simple for uploading and syncing up to 2GB of files across multiple devices for free. Share files and folders with other users, and if you let it sync files and videos automatically from your tablet, you get an extra 3GB. Up that to 100GB for $9.99/month, or check out Dropbox for Teams, starting at $795 for 5 users, offering 1TB per person. If Dropbox loyalists aren't already on your team, check out its worthy competitor, Box.
You'll never have to take a baseball bat to a fax machine again. Use the iFax app to scan documents via your tablet’s camera, then fax them directly to real fax numbers. This is similar to a document-scanning app, but you can send to fax machines rather than going through email. iFax is free to download, but powered by in-app payments: 99 cents for five pages, $1.99 for 10 pages, $2.99 for 15 pages, up to $17.99 for a one-month subscription. You can also receive faxes via iFax, though that costs $27.99/month.
This app offers more reason to kill the fax machine. Back in the days before storage giants like Google Drive and Dropbox, or using email attachments, YouSendIt was the go-to tool for sharing large documents with other people. It's very handy for one-off sharing of big files, especially with someone who's not yet hip to other cloud services. You can stash 2GB of files on its servers and get 50GB of transfers for free, or pay $14.99/month for additional storage and security.
Let Grandma keep clipping newspaper stories. You, on the other hand, should try Pocket, formerly known as Read It Later. Save articles, Web pages, and videos offline to view later. Once content is saved, it syncs to the cloud. This is great for road trips and commutes when you're offline; instead of spending hours surfing cool stories at work, just “pocket” what looks interesting and read them on the way home. Using a Windows 8 tablet? Pocket runs in the browser, or you can try an alternative like InstaFetch.
It’s pretty obvious that an easy way to get rid of paper is to get rid of printed books. Instead of lugging around textbooks, research materials, and airplane fodder, download the Amazon Kindle app. Sure, your tablet may not be an easy-on-the eyes e-Ink e-reader, but it’s easy enough for quick business reading on a cross-country flight. The Kindle app lets you access Kindle books (including library books), and has several nice features including different backgrounds, a built-in dictionary, and adjustable text size.
Keeping track of business cards is almost impossible without a Rolodex—and really, who’s got a Rolodex these days? CamCard is like a virtual Rolodex on your tablet. This app, available for iOS and Android (there’s even an iPad-specific HD version), is an advanced business card reader. Just snap a photo of a business card, and the app extracts relevant details, such as company name, job title, and phone number, then adds them to your contact list. CamCard is fairly effective at reading cards and converting text, but you can also edit fields and add notes manually. (If you're on a Windows 8 tablet, we couldn't find an excellent, similar app, so stash your business cards in Evernote.)
Adobe’s e-signature app lets you sign documents, send documents for signatures, get documents signed in person, or sign documents for other EchoSign users. Upload documents from your SkyDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box account. You can also upload photos from your tablet (for example, if you happened to take a photo of the document that needs to be signed). The first five contracts you sign per month on EchoSign are free. After that, you’ll need a subscription (between $14.95/month and $399/month).
If you deal with a lot of PDF documents, you should get Adobe’s touch-optimized Reader app. View, search, and comment on PDF documents. You can even annotate and comment on a PDF—add text, draw freehand or add sticky notes with comments. This app ties in with Adobe’s EchoSign, to let you sign legally binding documents using your finger.
SketchBook Pro is billed as an artist’s app, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be effectively used for business. For just $5, this app is pretty full-featured—it even includes multiple layers, brushes, and tools, as well as extra-large canvases. It’s great for tablet artists, but it’s also useful for creative types in business. SketchBook Pro can be used for anything from creating mind maps or product renderings to taking notes (or doodling) in a boring meeting. The iOS-only Paper app also gets high marks from designers and doodlers. For Windows 8 tablets, check out Fresh Paint.
Handy Scanner Pro/Tiny Scan Pro
Stand-alone scanners are so 20th century. Turn your tablet into a document scanner using apps such as Handy Scanner Pro (pictured) for Android tablets, or Tiny Scan Pro for iOS. These apps let you use your tablet’s rear-facing camera to "scan" documents by taking photos of them and applying filters to maximize readability. Then you save the scanned documents as PDF or JPG files.
What's better than recycling receipts? Not producing them in the first place. The Square Register mobile app works with a miniature credit card reader that plugs into your tablet’s headphone jack and lets you accept credit-card payments on the go. The app and card reader are free, but Square does charge 2.75 percent per swipe for Visa, American Express, MasterCard, and Discover cards. To accept a payment, just swipe your customer’s card through the Square card reader, and ask them to sign on your tablet’s screen. If desired, they'll get a receipt emailed to them. Square is a great alternative to a traditional merchant account, especially if your business isn’t primarily retail—there’s no monthly fee or need to purchase a pricey point-of-sale device.
Expense report time is when even the most progressive companies revert to the stone age, taping receipts to a sheet of paper and filling out a printed form. Expensify strives to make expense reports less painful. Take photos of receipts, then upload them to your account. The app scans the receipt and extracts key details, such as the date, name of venue, and total spent, so you can add it to an expense report. It lets you track timed expenses (just enter hours and rates), mileage, and trips. You'll get itineraries for flights and hotel check-in times, if you forward them to an Expensify email address. For Windows 8 users, Invoice 360 does much the same.