04 Nov 2012 - Münster (by James)

How to be more productive on iOS

And so we move onto our final article in this productivity series: how to be more productive on iOS. We've looked at Android, Windows and OS X however we've missed one key platform, and that's the iPhone and iPad.

Just like I mentioned in the Mac piece, there's been a sharp rise in the number of productivity apps available for iOS devices, and app developers have been transformed from previously unheard-of companies into well-known and respected businesses. Take Evernote for example, which launched in June 2008 and reached 11 million users in July 2011. It's also making money: statistics released by the company indicate that each iPad user brings in $2.18 (around €1.70) in revenue, with the average iPhone user not far behind at $1.79 (around €1.37). In comparison, the average Android Evernote user brings in a mere $1.06 in revenue (around 81 cents).

Like my other articles, I unfortunately cannot cover absolutely every single app and productivity tip on iOS. However, I've tried my best to limit it down to the top 5 areas. Here they are.

Synchronisation is absolutely vital

You guessed it: the key to staying productive is to have your iPhone or iPad in sync with your computer and vice-versa. It may sound trivial, but you can save so much time via this method: you don't have to e-mail things back and forth and if you do any work on your iPhone or iPad, you know that the changes are there when you get back home.

And both the developers and Apple have cottoned onto this as well. iOS 6 came with a beefed-up iCloud sync offering, including iCloud sync across the iWork range, something which I absolutely love, especially for university. I can type away in a lecture on my iPad in Pages then edit it on my Mac when I get back home – no more e-mailing documents back and forth between my computer and iPad.

Developers have been trying to integrate iCloud and synchronisation services (such as Dropbox) into their applications and so far, it has been really successful. Some of my favourite and most used apps on iOS are those that synchronise with cloud-based services, so no matter where I work, everything will always be in sync. These apps include Byword (for writing Markdown – this synchronises with iCloud and Dropbox and is priced at €2.39), Drafts (for making general notes; priced at €1.59) and Day One (for writing journal thoughts – priced at €3.99).

Know the tricks in iOS 6

OK, so iOS 6 got quite a bit of bad press recently, mostly due to Apple's own Maps app. I've tested it and concluded that it's really not bad – yes, some places are missing but I do quite like the turn-by-turn navigation, as long as your city/town/village is on there in the first place. But iOS 6 also included a couple of handy tools to help you be a bit more productive.

The first is the Do Not Disturb mode, which switches off all notifications when your phone is locked, including any calls. Not only can you switch it on manually via the Settings menu but you can also set your iPhone up to automatically silence all calls and notifications between certain times (I do this between the hours of 11 PM and 7 AM, when I am usually asleep).

It helps you block out your phone if you need to concentrate on something important and, more importantly, if you need to get a good night's sleep! Something I would like to see in a future release of iOS is the possibility to add more than one custom time, because seeing as I am at university, I would like to be able to switch off notifications between 9 AM and 12 PM for morning lectures, then at night whilst I'm sleeping!

The second is the enhanced functionality of Siri, which is now available on the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 and the new iPad. When Siri first came along with the 4S back in October 2011, although it was a massive improvement on Apple's default Voice Control, it was still fairly limited in what it could do. With iOS 6, you can now tweet, launch applications, check the sports scores and read your notifications all from Siri, which is a tremendous improvement. If you've got Siri on your phone, then don't be afraid to check it out, as it really is a useful piece of kit.

The final one is Reminders, which was introduced along with iOS 5. With iOS 6, you can now prioritise and rearrange tasks and there's support for location-based reminders, something which I find incredibly useful at university. If I have to take a book back to the library or hand some work into a particular office, I set a location-based reminder telling me to do so. My iPhone pings when I'm near that area (you'll have to have Location Services switched on) ensuring I don't forget! Good news: fruux natively supports task-list synchronization and sharing.

WolframAlpha knows everything. Period.

Forget splashing out on unit converters and fancy dictionary applications. WolframAlpha is pretty much the only utility your phone will need. It can provide answers on almost any category, from really simple ones like "How many ounces are there in a pound?" (there's 16, by the way) to the flashpoint of octane (15.56°C). There are few questions that WolframAlpha can't actually answer and to give you some ideas on the kind of questions you can ask, there are a load of sample questions organised into different categories to get you started.

WolframAlpha also extends your default iPad keyboard, thereby making it easier to type specialist characters such as mathematical symbols and Greek letters. It also integrates with Siri, so if you want an answer to something quickly (like how many US dollars is 100 euros?) then just fire up Siri and ask away.

Save time with Launch Center Pro

Android users are spoilt for choice when it comes to application launchers however iPhone users really have got the short straw in this respect, mostly due to Apple's restrictive development guidelines. Since iOS 6 you can launch applications now using Siri, as we looked at above, and now there's a slightly better way to launch applications from one app, and that's Launch Center Pro.

OK, it's an app that creates shortcuts to common iPhone actions however these shortcuts can save you a lot of time in the long run. It scans the applications on your phone then provides you with a list of all the supported actions (you can view a list of all supported applications in Launch Center Pro here. So, for Skype, you can choose between the following actions:

  • Launch Skype
  • Call a particular phone number
  • Call a contact
  • Skype chat with a contact
  • Leave voicemail for a contact
  • View user info

All these shortcuts can be added to one grid square of the Launch Center Pro interface. You can also use it to send messages, dial numbers and tweet (although since the Twitter integration with Notification Center came along in iOS 6, this has been rendered pretty useless), and one of the most handy functions about it is that it turns your iPhone into a flashlight, which you can turn on and off straight from the main screen.

Unfortunately Launch Center Pro is only available for the iPhone however I feel that it works better on a smaller screen (usually, I use my iPhone a lot more than my iPad). It'll also set you back a few euros, however we all know that time is money and if you set up the right shortcuts, you'll save a huge amount of time in the long run!

Use "read it later" services

One thing that has sprung up in popularity over the past couple of years is the advent of "read it later" services for iOS. I do a majority of my Internet browsing on either my iPhone or iPad, and pages can be a bit awkward to view on the iPhone if they aren't mobile-optimised. Read it later services allow you to save that particular page to their service, where they will strip out all the crap on the page and leave you with the most important part – the text.

Best of all, once the page is saved to your account, it can be viewed from wherever you have Internet access and across all your devices. Instapaper, for example (which is one of the most popular ones), can save webpages directly to your Kindle for reading later and also features a shared bookmark feature, so if you start reading an article on one device it'll mark the position you left it off at across all your devices.

The three most popular "read it later" services are Instapaper, Pocket and Readability, although there are many others. If you don't fancy going for an external service, then remember you can also save articles for offline reading directly from Safari on iOS using the Reading List, which now syncs conveniently across all your devices (as long as you've got iOS 6 installed!).

That's it!

So, with this article that concludes our series on how to be productive across all your devices. I hope that they have been useful to you and if you've got any questions, comments or suggestions for new applications, then please e-mail me: james [at] fruux [dot] com.

Remember, fruux supports all iOS devices natively and setting up your device to work with our services to keep your contacts, calendars and reminders all in sync is really easy. If you haven't done so, just log in to your fruux account, click on Set up Syncing and follow the instructions from there.

About James

Nothing pleases James more than the smell of the countryside and the atmosphere of his university city of Birmingham. Follow him on Twitter.

fruux is a free service that looks after your contacts, calendars and tasks so you don't have to. It makes sure that they are always in sync, no matter which device or operating system you're using. If you've not tried it yet, then why not check us out and let us know what you think! And if you're already using fruux, then we'd love to hear your thoughts and comments. You can also suggest a feature for any upcoming releases or tweet us: @fruux.