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The iPod Touch for Work and Productivity

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 GTDrelated 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.


  1. Jake Lockley Says:

    Try buying an Archos instead. They've been around longer, won't get dropped when Steve Jobs finds a better way to exploit the tech-stupid, and exceeds the capabilities and capacity of an iTouch at a much lower cost. You can even use it as a DVR connected to your television.

  2. Gary Brine Says:

    I would like to be able to access my entire music and video collection stored on my (WD worldbook) network HDD to my ipod touch without a computer in the mix (Orb is good but this would be better). This would make the storage capacity of the ipod touch irrelevant.

    I would like to use a GPS module and Google maps (without constant wifi contact) to turn the ipod touch into a moving map GPS device.

    I would like to be able to make Skype phone calls with the ipod touch.

    I would like to be able to make quick notes on the ipod touch and have them synced with MS office.

  3. Andi Pandi Says:

    Please. The Archos is about as clunky as a very clunky thing. The iPod just works and works well.

  4. didi mikes Says:

    The Archos comment must be a joke.
    I still don't understand why zoho and google docs haven't stepped up to the plate. Other web pages can do in browser text editing, so Zoho is being disingenuous.
    of course all of this is possible for the iPhone, not just the iPhone mini.

  5. didi mikes Says:

    ps. Basecamp works very well with iPhone/touch.

  6. greg Says:

    kinda hard to make skype calls w/o a built-in microphone. unless someone figures out a way to make the dock connector hook up to a microphone (which i don't think apple will license), you're SOL on that one.

  7. ev Says:

    please mention FTP as an option to stream your media from. It is free and easy, and is accesible from safari. Also you should check out webshell - it's remote shell control for your itouch/iPhone. In other words. Remote control your computer with your iPod

  8. kancept Says:

    someone does make a mic for the dock connector and has software to make calls too.

    I just justified getting 32 gb touches for my it staff as I vnc'd into my office with mine.

  9. Grafxguy Says:

    I'm just curious is there any software that you can actually download onto your Ipod Touch and that you can use WITHOUT an internet (WiFi) connection???

  10. hlcno Says:

    Orb is great, you combine that with uXM and you can stream your XM to your iphone, which is hot.

  11. David Says:

    Just added TiddlyWiki to my Touch - now I have local html access to all my notes/numbers tech walkthroughs offline http://shared.snapgrid.com/index.html

  12. Mike Says:

    David - how did you get TiddlyWiki working offline on a touch? Is there a way to save the file locally??

  13. Havoc Says:

    Comment for all,

    go to youtube, search for jailbreak with Ziphone. Follow all the instructions and you can have apps galore. You can use skypeforiPhone.com with the Touch. I bought a monster Isplitter for $10 and use my computer headset to make calls on both SIP severs and Skype. There is a fee for using IM+Skype. I think it is like 5 bucks or something. For the SIP providers go to touchmods.net They are also the first ones to make a microphone and headset for the touch. They are also the first ones to make a call on the touch. Hope you enjoy! I do! hehe!

  14. Laptop Bags Australia Says:

    I installed Orb last night. It's fantastic. Now I have access to hundreds of Internet radio stations as well as my media files. I can lie in bed and watch any iPhone friendly movie.

  15. iRate Says:

    Is this not a bit of a pointless review? The iPod Touch is not used for 'Work and Productivity'. It is evolved from an mp3 player, and is designed primarily for fun and entertainment. You said so yourself when you wrote 'As toys go, few are more attractive than the iPod Touch.' A lovely sentence that I agree with. So why are you reviewing it as some kind of work gadget? '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.' That's like saying a satsuma is really tasty, but when it comes it comes to sound recording, it is blown out of the water by it's competition.

    'You can’t even use it to call and make appointments.' Not surprising, seeing as it isn't a phone.

  16. Gyffes Says:

    Well, I'm not sure what you're talking about, iRate, when you say the iPT cannot be a work tool:

    It's a terrific work tool.

    In addition to email/IM and some basic note-taking capability, you have document review and access on the spot to web-based data in the event you're at a "no laptops" meeting.

    Further, there are several good RDP/remote login programs to allow sys admins to tend their servers without needing to leave ... where ever they are. While I'm not sure I could justify having an entire IT department outfitted with 32gb'ers, 8s would not be out of the question.

    Yes, I play games on my iPod and I actually do use it for music, though that's probably the least of its uses for me. But I check mail on it constantly. I IM with members of my group and can track document changes made to group files on Zoho. I take notes in a couple of different apps (notebooks, ToFU editor) and can access those from other computers via wifi and can get files off those machines the same way. It's my calendar-in-pocket. It makes available most of my Evernote notes. Hell, I successfully remotely logged into my iMac and worked there, although it's hard to navigate a 20" screen on a 3 inch one.

    My one wish for my iPT? That it had bluetooth so I could use an external pop-out keyboard like the one I used to use with my Clie': then we'd truly have a leetle computer residing in the pocket. Until then, it's still an insanely useful addition to my working day.

    It IS a wonder gadget if you're not blinded by self-loathing and general whingingness.

  17. Jesse T Says:

    I recently attended the CTN Expo in Burbank and I bought an iPod touch the day before to do two things - be able to show my demo reel to employers on site, and store portfolio examples in a navigable form according to genre and specialty.

    It accomplished various things - traditionally animators like myself would bring dvd's or vhs tapes years ago to show on the floors of Siggraph or now shows like CTN. It's cumbersome - laptops sometimes barf after playing different dvd's all day - Wifi service in the hotels drops in and out and it just makes carrying dvd's around problematic.

    Portfolios are the same way - art directors like to see that you have made a portfolio targetted to their needs and don't want to see you environment designs if they are looking for a character artist. Carrying or manipulating your samples in front of someone just looks bad - and it's a good way to make a big mess of your samples.

    Enter devices like the iPod Touch - I loaded my demo reel and various albums of artwork onto the device and went to the expo - I managed to show my demo reel to three very large studios, my portfolio to the other publishers and fellow artists and without fail this particular field benefits from the high quality presentation of material regardless of it's size. These are professional and technically savvy people and I felt every one of them truly appreciate the simplicity and manageability the iPod presented them.

    Now this was definitely a tech savvy crowd - there were gadgets everywhere, iPads galore, laptops, Modbooks and Cintiqs flooded this place - it's a given to them and I think that every piece of technology ultimately finds uses for which its creators had no intention. I will definitely be making this device a "go-to" for being able to quickly and easily interact with someone who is interested in my work.

    I am by no means an Apple fan either - the only product I have ever purchased from apple has been Quicktime Pro up until this point and many animators an effects artists purchase it as well as one of the many standards in media and entertainment delivery. But the iPod Touch and the iPad have been finding a myriad of uses for professionals in the entertainment media industry which I do not think the mainstream media has quite caught onto yet.

  18. Melissa Sarajo Says:

    Thank you for sharing!
    Short list of pros and cons about the iPod touch
    -Slick,small and light device
    -Great touch screen
    -The BEST web browser on a portable device
    -Amazing video/music playback
    -App Store (Too many cool applications for Free)
    -Display screen is clear and bright
    -No bugs and annoying stuff a very reliable hardware
    -64GB Flash based mp3 player

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