Courtesy of Apple
As toys go, few are more attractive than the iPod Touch. It’s sleeker and lighter than its big brother the iPhone, it doesn’t come with expensive AT&T handcuffs and it won’t turn into a brick when you jailbreak it then try to upgrade. But when it comes to using it as a serious work tool, the media-player-with-benefits also seems to pack a much weaker punch.
You can’t even use it to call and make appointments.
But spend a little time experimenting with apps and you’ll soon find that behind the iPod’s slender build is a pretty useful hand-held computer that can have a serious impact on both your productivity and your way of working.
If you don’t want to use Paypal to ask for money, for example, there’s paper-free billing (in more than one flavor); Stafftool to help non-profits and churches keep track of their activities, and so many GTD–related list apps you might think that fanbois and music-lovers had signed up for the David Allen cult en masse.
Use the iPod to Show off your Portfolio
All that’s simple enough, but things get really clever when you start to combine the power of a computer with the mobility and big-screen of a device that can slip into any pocket.
One way to do that is to use Orb.
This is a neat little program that turns your computer into a broadcasting center beaming your media content to your iPod — or to any mobile device.
Simply download the program onto your computer for free, register with a username and password, then surf to Orb’s website using your iPod browser. Log in with Safari and you’ll be able to use your iPod to play any of the media files on your computer.
As long as your home machine is on and online, you’ll be able to listen to your music collection, watch video, tune into streaming radio and — if you have a television tuner — watch the box too.
Suddenly, that 8/16/32 gigabyte limit no longer looks so limiting. You could put a small amount of content on the iPod for when you’re out of wifi range and enjoy the rest by remote control when you’re back on the Web.
For videomakers and musicians, that’s clearly going to be a boon. Meet a contact and want to show off your work, and you’re not going to be restricted by whatever you happen to have on your iPod (or yes, iPhone too). You can browse through your entire portfolio, choosing the items that best suit the client.
Designers can do exactly the same thing by making their other work folders Orb-accessible too.
The quality of the image won’t be as good as your laptop screen, you can’t zoom in and out of photos in the way you can when they’re synced, and you’ll need a pretty hefty computer to broadcast video (Orb demands 2.4ghz)… but it still massively expands the power of your iTouch.
Orb isn’t the only software offering mobile-based remote control of your computer. Files2Phones lets you look through all of your folders but costs $8.33 a month with a minimum 12-month purchase. Ewe-Software’s BeFree4iPhone does the same thing and is free. But it’s in German, requires that you play around with your router and we couldn’t get it to work.
If it Doesn’t Write, It’s Wrong
That’s a shame because BeFree4iPhone does include a productivity service that’s horrible lacking on the iPod Touch: a good text editor. (Actually, it just lets you write basic text files and send them back to your computer — but even that’s more convenient than most things out there.)
Until someone figures out a way to make Google Docs — or even Zoho — work on the iPod, the Touch is always going to full short of its potential as a work device. At the moment, the best alternatives include gOffice, MobileWebDocs or Web Notes (for early buyers who didn’t want to shell out $20 for the upgrade.)
Zoho has promised that it will deliver something if the next upgrade from Apple doesn’t allow in-browser text editing, but surely it’s only a matter of time before it’s possible to write complete documents on your music player… while listening to your entire song collection and showing off the work you left at home.
Of course, none of this means the iPod is going to replace the iMac. But with the right apps, it can be a very neat — and good-looking — extension of it.