Back when I was growing up, science fiction was full of wonders that seemed impossible at the time. One that fascinated me was the “personal communicator,” like those used by Captain Kirk on Star Trek.
These amazing devices would allow you to communicate wirelessly with other people and retrieve information from a vast compendium located, well, somewhere else.
Just a dream? The promise of the mobile communicator had to wait until the advent of the cell phone. Even then, and even though the Motorola flip phones of a few years ago looked suspiciously like the communicator carried by Captain Kirk and his crewmates, it still wasn’t enough.
We really entered the era of robust mobile communication with the arrival of the iPhone a few years ago. Now, whether you use Apple or Android, the smartphone in your purse or pocket has gone way beyond the imagination of the Star Trek writers of 40 years ago.
I was reminded of this because, as the smartphone—in my case, the iPhone—has become more widespread and more matter-of-fact, it has also found a home with lots of different kinds of people besides the early adopters, tech heads and business users who usually make up the early audience for a lot of technology.
As a writer, I’ve found the smartphone becoming a more and more important tool for my work.
Here are 10 ways I’m using my “mobile communicator” to help with my writing, blogging and other creative tasks. Each of these has become part of my daily work life. Maybe they’ll work for you, too.
(In this list I’ve included only functions you can get from the free apps that come with your phone, or with apps that are free, so if you already own an iPhone, these won’t cost you a cent.)
Use Voice memo recorder:
- Capture ideas while in transit, even where you can’t write anything down.
How many ideas have you lost because you had them while you were on your way somewhere and simply couldn’t write them down? I know this happens to me all the time, especially with ideas for blog posts. There I am, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge when a great premise for a post pops into my head. By the time I get home I’ve thought about 200 other subjects and the idea is long gone.
That’s where the voice recorder comes in. Just talk your idea into your phone, retrieve it later.
- Capture information from sources by simply identifying them and asking them to speak into the phone
Talking to someone at a party when they tell you they’ve found a piece of information you’ve been looking for? You can’t get out your notepad without looking a bit dorky, can you? Just get out your phone instead and have the person talk to it. You’ll have all the information you need when you get home.
- Organize text notes, audio files, photos, screenshots, images of documents, and just about anything else into searchable, sharable databases that stay synchronized across all platforms.
I don’t think it’s possible to explore all the ways Evernote can be used. If you’re working on a project with collaborators, set up a shared folder and just drop your files, notes, expenses, maps or whatever else you can think of for use by everyone with access to the same folder. I’m quite sure I use Evernote more than any single application and I just keep finding new ways to make use of this incredible tool.
- Grab photos of scenes for research projects
This happens to me all the time, and has been the genesis of many blog posts. Out for a Sunday stroll, I happened on lots of casewrap books, a type of binding I had been wanting to write about. Took lots of photos and ended up using them in a subsequent article.
- Photograph documents, artifacts, or other objects you need a record of later
This is handy for remembering stuff later. I’ve photographed fonts found on menus, design ideas from store displays, interesting ways of dealing with bar codes by taking snaps of the backs of books in bookstores, landscapes that I wanted to describe later… you get the idea.
- Video interview subjects on site
If you’ve used the iPhone’s camera for video, you know it’s a capable performer once you get used to it. Last year, researching a blog post, I interviewed a series of young self-publishers at an event at their school. With a little editing, these short videos worked just fine. But you can also interview people you are researching, and nothing will refresh your memory better than a video, even if it’s only a minute or two long.
- Maintain folders for writing and research that you can access from any connected device, including phone
Dropbox brought the idea of cloud storage to lots of people for the first time with its incredible ease of use. You can install the program on your iPhone, iPad and desktop computers. Even better, many programs are now explicitly support Dropbox, allowing you simple access to your files from within the application. I use this for my iA Writer and MindJet MindManager files, making sure I always have backups and can access them from any connected device.
- Share selected documents with others on your research or publishing team
Like Evernote, Dropbox allows you to set some folders as shared, and use them for collaboration with fellow team members. For instance, when entries come in for our monthly eBook Cover Design Awards, all the images and entry text is stored in a shared Dropbox folder so they are available to both of us who work on the posts. If a file is replaced, all folders are automatically updated. Don’t you love that?
- Get details on locations anywhere in the world
This is an awesome research tool, right in your pocket or purse. Sure, there are great apps for world facts and travel info, but even with the Maps app that came with your phone you can find out the location of the Hotel Mercure in downtown Budapest, Hungary, or that the name of that street that runs behind the Eiffel Tower in Paris is the Av. Gustave Eiffel.
- Track multiple time zones for overseas contacts and business operations
I don’t know about you, but it’s become a habit to always ask contacts what time zone they’re in, since our online connections are so seamless and fluid we can forget that others may be thousands of miles away. Especially when setting up phone calls, Skype sessions, interviews and other time-sensitive appointments, having a handy way to find out what time it is in Sydney, Australia, for instance, has never been easier. In fact, it used to be hard to figure out what day it was in Sydney until I got my iPhone. Now, it’s set up as a preset in the World Clock section of the Clock App, 2 clicks away.
Each of these 10 ways to use your smartphone can make you a more efficient researcher, a more organized writer and a more flexible blogger. And they only use the apps already on your phone or apps free for the download.
Do you have any tips that really help you as a writer you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them, so leave a note in the comments.