Apple iPhones, iPads, and Macs are capable devices right out of the box. But if you add a handful of business applications, the devices quickly become powerful productivity tools. Here are the five best business apps professionals should ensure are loaded and configured on all new iOS and OS X devices.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.

1: iWork suite

Apple’s iWork suite (Figure A) delivers a solid collection of programs for creating professional documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Whether you’re working on an iPhone or iPad, Apple’s iWork suite is designed to make it easier to perform common tasks intuitively when working on a smaller mobile screen.

Figure A

Attractive templates are included, making it easier to design winning reports, letters, resumes, charts, spreadsheets, slideshows, and similar material. And Apple’s integrated iCloud service simplifies sharing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations between multiple devices, including iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

2: Mail

Email — possibly the most important application in business — works very well on both iOS and OS X devices. Apple’s Mail program (Figure B) simplifies the process of connecting to a mailbox, whether the email account is powered by an Exchange server, POP3, IMAP, or even the favorite for many cost-conscious organizations: Gmail.

Figure B

Even on the iPhone’s smaller screen, using Mail is a pleasant experience, as the application has been streamlined to focus on the information and tasks most users need perform daily. Because messages adjust to the smaller display, emails remain crisp, clean, and easy to read.

The Mail application itself within OS X offers complex functionality (multiple email account support, multiple preconfigured signatures, support for auto-processing rules, Smart Mailboxes that can automatically alert users to critical messages, customizable views, etc.) within an easy-to-navigate interface. By default, the interface is limited to just a few menu bar items, so reading, composing, and responding to email messages becomes the focus.

3: WriteRoom

Business users today are harried multitasking professionals pressured to manage many functions simultaneously. Of course, such multitasking isn’t always efficient, especially when you have to complete a task or process that requires concentration.

Hog Bay Software’s WriteRoom (Figure C) has long been one of my favorite OS X applications. Run in full screen mode, it blocks out distractions, email alerts, and other notifications that disrupt concentration and tempt procrastination.

Figure C

When you need to draft a sensitive email, write a complicated memo, prepare report text, or record notes and similar information, you can turn to WriteRoom as an inexpensive ($9.99) method of blocking distractions and focusing on the task at hand. Whereas other word processing and note-taking applications can be frustrating and unwieldy due to the hundreds of additional, often superfluous features (such as equation editing, mail merge operation, and table of contents and footnote creation), WriteRoom tackles the basics well.

4: Scapple

The problem with brainstorming, and with the process of quickly collecting complex, often fleeting thoughts, is that there’s always a temptation to capture such information elegantly. Brainstorming doesn’t work that way. When digging through complicated concepts, thought patterns, or even seemingly stream-of-consciousness ideas, you need a way to easily record such information without letting that process adversely affect the brainstorming itself.

That’s why white boards are popular: They enable capturing ideas swiftly. But distributing white board sketches to others requires expensive electronic white boards or taking cheesy photos with an iPhone. And editing white board sketches? Essentially you can forget about that unless you want to erase everything and start over, adding the edits as you go.

Scapple (Figure D) is a low-cost OS X-based brainstorming application that helps Apple users quickly list elements, intuitively specify relationships between those elements, and then capture the results for distribution to others as a PDF.

Figure D

Scapple lets you change note shapes, font colors, and backgrounds. Using a handy right-click menu, you can add or edit arrows to indicate the relationship between items and elements. Anytime you’re struggling to understand or refine a process, hierarchy, or complex relationships, Scapple is a handy tool for recording thoughts and ideas and making easily reversed changes — a critical action when performing brainstorming activities.

5: OmniGraffle

Word processing programs, spreadsheet applications, and slideshow software are essential tools in business — but professionals often need to create organizational charts, diagrams, wireframes, and workflows, too. Common business applications don’t lend themselves well to such tasks. That’s where OmniGraffle (Figure E) comes into play. The graphic document program is a powerful tool for creating arresting diagrams and workflows.

Figure E

Many users are stuck in a rut with the linear document, spreadsheet, and presentation programs they’re used to. Using the graphic capabilities of a tool such as OmniGraffle can help them develop more free-form thinking. Roger von Oech, in his seminal book A Whack on the Side of the Head, noted the importance of breaking out of mental blocks. OmniGraffle provides business professionals with a tool for doing just that.

Missing from the list?

Do you have a favorite business app not mentioned here? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.

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