Chrome apps are growing up, moving beyond geeky curiosities to products that people could use to get stuff done in the real world. But as with any app store, you have plenty of chaff to wade through in the Chrome Store to get to the good stuff, particularly if you want something that will make you more productive or help you run your business.
Look no further: Here are nine incredibly useful Chrome apps for working with data, clients, projects, and more.
Google Drive is the centerpiece of Chrome, and undoubtedly the centerpiece of any Chromebook setup too.
Google Drive should be familiar to even the most casual Web user, as it’s one of the most useful Web services around. You can store files online (15GB is free, then you’re urged to upgrade to one of Google’s paid plans), or you can create and edit documents right in the same interface. The service supports word processing files, spreadsheets, presentations, and even drawings.
If that’s not enough, you can connect additional apps to Google Drive, including AutoCAD tools, photo and video editors, Gantt charts, and more.
While Google Drive lets you store your documents, Evernote Webexcels at keeping everything organized. Create Notebooks based on subject or task, and then fill them up with Notes. Your Notes can be anything, including written missives, images, PDFs, and webpages.
Best of all, Evernote gives you numerous ways to put Notes into the tool. An Evernote plug-in lets you add links directly from your browser, and a custom email address allows you to forward messages to Evernote from whichever device or email client you’re using. It’s free for the basic service, and $5 a month for Premium.
Creating flowcharts, diagrams, and other data visualizations often means making an investment of nearly $600 in a copy of Microsoft Visio, for what can ultimately turn out to be relatively simple design work.
Lucidchart covers all the diagramming basics for free, and for just a few bucks a month you can access extra features such as mind maps, mobile app wireframing tools, and version history (as well as additional users and more storage space). You can collaborate with other users on complex charts, and share the finished product on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.
Although Evernote is great for keeping your eye on the big picture, the free, little-known Google Keep is perfect for dealing with all the little things, the kind of stuff that you’d otherwise scribble on Post-It Notes and then promptly lose amidst the clutter on your desk.
The service offers color coding, permits you to create simple text notes or checklists, allows you to embed images in notes, and even lets you attach reminders to your scribbles. There isn’t a whole lot more to Google Keep, but this is one case where there doesn’t need to be.
CRM is a daunting concept, but it doesn’t have to be a monstrous undertaking.
Insightly gives you a simple and streamlined way to keep tabs on clients, current projects, and leads and opportunities. You can seed all of these entries with imported data, and then manage assignments and permissions on a user-by-user basis. Insightly also integrates with all kinds of third-party apps, including Evernote and MailChimp.
The basic version is free for up to 3 users, while $49 a month gets you up to 15 users and considerably more storage space.
Electronic-signature apps are becoming both popular and incredibly useful, and HelloSign’s integration with Chrome means you can manage your identity through your Google account instead of having to set up a separate one.
The app features the usual amenities of e-signing systems, allowing you to drag and drop documents in need of a signature, set specific locations for signature fields, and send documents to multiple users for their John Hancock. Three signatures a month are free, then it’s $12 a month per user.
Every professional spends a good portion of his or her life on conference calls, and while you can debate whether they’re a useful way to spend your time, there’s no denying that they’re a necessity.
UberConference brings a complete call-management system to Chrome, including the ability to create and manage your own conferences, integration with social media, and the option to have a visual cue of who’s talking when.
The basic service is free. A fee of $10 a month buys a larger maximum conference size, a local phone number, and even custom hold music.
Get a handle on your blogging activities by bringing all your WordPress blogs under one roof via this free Chrome app. The dashboard gives you insight into recent posts and comments, including any that might need moderation. It also aggregates all the blogs you follow and the comments you make into one place for easier feed reading.
The app streamlines the procedure for writing new posts, breaking things down into simple terms, all starting with the question “What would you like to post?” (The choices are text, photo, video, quote, or link.) Blogging doesn’t get much simpler.
Toast Invoicing and Time Tracking
Every independent business owner and freelancer knows the hassles of dealing with the back end of the business, namely tracking billing time, sending invoices, and following up on late payments. Toast makes all of this brain-dead easy. Create estimates, write up and deliver invoices, and get a bird’s-eye view of how your finances are shaping up (or down).
No learning curve is required, but you will need to upgrade to a $10 or $20 monthly plan if you have more than three clients to manage. (And be warned: Toast does not encrypt your password.)