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October 2013

20 Must-Download Apps for Event Professionals

By Katie Kervin, Assistant Editor

Sometimes, technology actually does make our lives less complicated. We’ve rounded up a collection of apps that promise to make your work life a little simpler to navigate.

Want to be shamed into working out through automatic messages posted to your social-media accounts? Become an ordained minister? Well, “There’s an app for that.” Coined by Apple for a commercial in 2009 and trademarked in 2010, that phrase is even more apt today. As of late August, according to VentureBeat — a website that covers entrepreneurial ventures and disruptive technologies — more than 1.2 million mobile apps were available for download for iPhone, Android, and Windows (although not all of them have been updated recently) via their various online marketplaces. On average, VentureBeat reports, 2,371 additional apps are published every day.

Thousands of these mobile and web-based apps are specifically designed for our work lives — including a wide range targeted to meeting professionals. Planners now have options for handling event registration, site visits, coat-check logistics, and speaker management through apps developed by companies focused solely on this industry. And a large number of organizations are migrating toward mobile apps that are created exclusively for their meetings — whether they’re developed in-house or by an outside vendor — in order to cut back on or do away with printed programs, quickly communicate scheduling changes to attendees, and generally make it easier to navigate the meeting and explore the meeting destination.

But what about apps that help meeting professionals in their day-to-day work — outside of their on-site conferences? While planners face unique challenges in the workplace that make industry-specific apps a welcome development, they also benefit by downloading apps not designed solely with the meetings industry in mind. But wading through hundreds of thousands of available downloads in the iTunes App Store or Google Play (for Android devices) to find those apps can be daunting, to say the least. To help sort through some of the clutter (Candy Crush, anyone?), Convene spoke with several meetings-technology experts about the apps that they think are most valuable for planners. Their go-to apps span a number of categories and uses, but in general all of them can help planners lead more productive and organized — and maybe even less stressful — professional lives.

Travel Smart

Frequent travel “is something that everyone in this industry has to deal with,” said Meeting U founder (and former planner) James Spellos. There are a number of apps out there that can help relieve travel headaches — from booking trips to airport delays.

Hipmunk (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android) is a travel search tool that calculates what the traveler’s “agony” factor — number of flight layovers, time of day, and, of course, price —might be. “Our main philosophy,” Steve Huffman, Hipmunk’s co-founder, said in an interview with Forbes magazine, “is that we want you to spend as little time on our site as possible with the least amount of pain.” Hipmunk does not handle direct booking like many other aggregators do, leaving that to the hotels’ or airlines’ sites themselves.

FlightBoard ($3.99; iPhone/iPadAndroid) turns your mobile phone or device into a reader board like those you find in airports. It provides real-time flight arrival and departure information for more than 3,000 airports worldwide, with updates every five minutes — helping users stay on top of potential delays. “It’s a great app for trying to figure out whether you’ll be able to make your connection,” Spellos said.

Waze (Free; iPhone/iPadAndroid) was recently acquired by Google, ostensibly to improve its ability to give drivers Google Maps directions based on real-time traffic on their mobile device. Waze, which already provides traffic data for Apple’s own map service, is a community-based navigation application that relies on current drivers to report accidents, traffic delays, police action, and even the cheapest gas stations — in addition to providing voice-guided navigation. “[Google Maps] has always had the traffic in there,” Spellos said, “but it’s always been a little less accurate than you want it to be.”

Thanks to downloading FlightTrack ($4.99; iPhone/iPad, Android, WindowsBlackBerry), Paul Paone, founder and director of Meetings Technology Expo, said he’ll “never circle the airport pickup area again.” The app, from the makers of FlightBoard, features information from more than 3,000 airports with real-time flight tracking, baggage-claim information, the ability to sync with the user’s phone calendar, weather forecasts for arrival and departure cities, and many more features. Paone uses the app specifically for “knowing precisely when my VIP attendees, friends, or relatives are about to arrive at the airport.” FlightTrack also offers a free version, but online reviewers seem to agree that the paid version is the way to go for road warriors.

Curate Information

By the end of 2010, more Americans got their news from the Internet than from newspapers, according to Mashable. And while a majority of people surveyed in a Gallup poll released in July said that television was their main source for news, 21 percent said it was the Internet. Although it’s easy to get lost in the Internet’s information vortex, clicking through successive links, many planners find they don’t have time to consume all the news or content that they’d like.

For keeping up with industry-specific content and news, Spellos recommends Zite (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows), which he describes as the place “where news meets Pandora.” Users input their interests and Zite goes to work, pulling in items from around the web that it “thinks” might be appealing. “It learns what I like,” Spellos said, “and continues to give me more of the type of story that is of interest to me.”

A similar news and content aggregator, Flipboard (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android), allows users to create their own “magazines” full of content from around the web. “Their strength,” Spellos said, “comes from a change a few months ago to allow users to create their own magazines and have their members, clients, or constituents actually subscribe to their Flipboard publication.” A number of tech organizations are using the app this way, and Spellos said he sees great potential from a hotel’s or city’s perspective. “There’s a lot of opportunity to effectively curate without spending a lot of money doing so.”

Think of how many times while searching for something online, or scrolling through your Facebook timeline, you came across an interesting article and made a mental note to read it later — only to never think about it again. Pocket (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android) — formerly Read It Later — allows you to save those articles, pulling them from Twitter, an app like Flipboard, or a browser, even when the device isn’t connected to the Internet.

Be Productive

“We need to understand that ‘on’ is impossible without ‘off’, and that the distance between the two needs to be made closer: like the beats of a heart or the steps of a runner,” digital strategist Tom Gibson writes in a blog post on the community-writing platform Medium. Event professionals, like most professionals, are constantly striving to be their most productive, and while there must be periods of “off,” there are also tools that can help bring “on” and “off” closer together.

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