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.
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/iPad, Android) 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/iPad, Android) 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, Windows, BlackBerry), 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.
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.
“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.
“So many planners coordinate with their clients using Google Docs, so this is a great way to stay connected on the go,” Liz King, event-tech evangelist and founder of Liz King Events, said of Google Drive (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android). This cloud-based application stores documents, spreadsheets, and presentations — anything you might need to collaborate on within a team or with outside clients. Google Docs are often accessed from within a Gmail account, but users can share or make documents available to anyone, or keep them completely private.
Dropbox (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android) “is probably the most commonly used non-meetings-industry app used by people in the meetings industry,” Spellos said. The cloud-based storage system is used to house and share documents, photos, and videos, which are easily accessible to multiple users. Users can access files from their computers, smartphones, or tablets, and receive up to two megabytes of storage free. Upgrading to pro or Dropbox for Business increases the amount of storage as well as provides advanced security and support options.
TurboScan ($1.99; iPhone/iPad) allows the user to take a photo of a document, receipt, note, and so on, turning it into a copier-quality image that can be emailed; saved as a PDF, JPG, or PNG; or uploaded to another app like Evernote. “It’s great on the go when I need to send in a signed contract and I’m traveling,” said Lauren Riordan, manager of programs and events for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA). TurboScan boasts a processing time of less than four seconds per page and offers file naming and storage within the app itself, without requiring an Internet connection.
Asana (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android) is a task-management app — the latest version of which can be fully integrated with Dropbox. “I will tell you that I have gone through so many of these and have not liked anything,” said Jessica Levin, CMP, CAE, president and chief connector at Seven Degrees Communication. “[Asana] has been life-changing in terms of project management.” Created by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and former Facebook employee Justin Rosenstein, Asana prides itself on organizing projects around tasks rather than emails — grouping conversations and assignments together so that users can easily follow the progress of a project.
Hootsuite (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android) is most likely the leading app for the easy management of multiple social-media accounts, offering a dashboard where users can input streams from Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and more; schedule messages to go out via their profiles; and generally keep track of social-media messaging or campaigns. “I find that a lot of planners are struggling to manage social media — they think because they have these big teams — [so] that’s what we put all our clients on,” Levin said. Upgrading to a pro account (starting at $8.99 per month) allows access to analytics reports and enhanced technical support.
If you were to create a top-10 (or top-three) list of skills successful planners need, being organized would undoubtedly make the cut. But the best tools to keep track of everything you or your team has to do on site aren’t necessarily going to be the same systems you use on a day-to-day basis.
Cardmunch (Free; iPhone) allows iPhone users to take a snapshot of business cards they collect at an event, automatically adding the information to the phone’s contacts. The difference between this and other card-reader apps is that CardMunch employs actual humans (rather than character-recognition software) to input information, ensuring that everything’s correct. “You can also double-check the info and even make notes,” King said. “And, it is able to read most business-card formats, so it’s incredibly easy to use.”
Capsule (Free; iPhone, Android, BlackBerry) is the program King uses as her business’ client-relationship management system. “We then use the app to take all our information on the go,” King said. “It’s a great way to pull up info you need about a client or other relationship.” Capsule has options for organizing contacts by tags, the ability to track bids and proposals, and links to emails from clients in the system.
“Probably on everyone’s list,” Riordan said, is Evernote (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows). She uses the app to take notes while at conferences and load schedules for her own shows. Levin agreed, but pointed out that “it requires some discipline” to use the product, which captures notes, audio, photos, and web clippings. “You really need to spend some time getting organized with it,” Levin said, “creating categories and tags for yourself to make sure that you can use it effectively.” With users’ accounts accessible from all their platforms — smartphone, tablet, computer — you can organize notes and information and then find them again quickly through a tagging system that groups items together.
“A lot of times you connect with someone … and you didn’t necessarily exchange business cards,” Levin said, “or if you did, you didn’t enter their phone or email right into your own contacts.” LinkedIn Contacts (Free; iPhone/iPad) integrates with the user’s email and mobile address book and calendar to pull together all of a contact’s information — including email exchanges — as well as his or her LinkedIn profile. The app will remind users about contacts’ birthdays and job changes (much like LinkedIn does), and it is also possible to set up reminders to reach out to certain contacts that you don’t want to lose touch with. “It’s tremendously helpful,” Levin said.
Take Care of Yourself
With everything else on your plate, your own physical well-being can become a low priority. “When you think about the life of a planner, whether you’re on site or traveling to site visits,” Levin said, “eating healthy is so difficult.” Enter MyFitnessPal (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android), a calorie-counting and fitness-journal app where users can input their daily food choices and workout routines in order to track weight-loss (or maintenance) progress. The app has a database of more than one million food items, making it simple to calculate the number of calories and nutritional value in a meal or snack. MyFitnessPal also features a community forum for users to discuss their progress and strategies, which is one of its best features, according to Levin. “It really has good social integration,” she said.
Seamless (Free; iPhone/iPad, Android, BlackBerry) is a restaurant delivery and takeout web app that allows users to access menus and quickly order food in more than 600 U.S. cities. “Meeting professionals also march on their stomachs,” Paone said, “so my team’s go-to app for food is Seamless.” Seamless often sends out discount codes via email and stores users’ delivery-address and credit-card information for easy ordering if they so choose. “Getting discounts always helps the budget,” Paone said, “but finding the food to fit your at-the-moment appetite is awesome.”
Convene Senior Editor Barbara Palmer relied on an app called Deep Sleep With Andrew Johnson ($2.99; iPhone/iPad, Android, or on CD) when she traveled to Beijing for the China Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition (CIBTM). The guided audio meditation sessions led by Johnson, a clinical hypnotist, can be set to play for hundreds of minutes, and are designed to lull the listener into a deep, restful sleep. “The time change made it hard to sleep,” Palmer said. “But Johnson’s voice is so relaxing that even when I didn’t fall asleep, I stopped worrying about it.”
Lastly, for planners who have young children and need help balancing work and home, well, there’s an app for that, too: Disney Junior (Free; iPhone/iPad). “I have two young daughters under two years old,” Paone said. “So [it’s] my go-to app when I need to get things done at home.”
Native or Not?
Just as U.S. drivers moved from trucks to cars as America became more urban, late Apple CEO Steve Jobs predicted that future consumers would transition from desktop and laptop computers to tablets. “PCs are going to be like trucks,” he said at AllThingsD’s D8 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., in 2010. “They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by one out of X people.”
Forbes recently reported that PC shipments are expected to drop 9.7 percent this year, according to market research firm IDC, and so the debate still rages about whether the best apps are native — developed for use on a specific device, like an iPhone or tablet, and downloaded directly to that device — or web-based, using HTML5 coding and housed on the web, able to be accessed by a variety of devices.
While HTML5 is the next “language” of the Internet, web-based apps still face problems in terms of being optimized for a variety of browsers. It’s important for an app to provide the same experience across platforms, which is why native apps are often perceived as more user-friendly Additionally, said Meeting U founder James Spellos, “while the web-based app helps give the app a wider distribution of smart devices, it still hangs on the requirement of connectivity to make it work.”
For planners, this should be one of the bigger concerns when it comes to web-based apps for their meetings. “Too many hotels still aren’t providing adequate (and consistent) connectivity throughout their property, which is the Achilles heel of any web-based app,” Spellos said. “Hopefully in the near future this won’t be an issue, but right now it is, and is why I lean toward the native app.”
For more information about the future of mobile-app development, view a slide deck from BI Intelligence, a research and analysis company focused on mobile and Internet.
Hotels Get In On the App
Several years ago, Jon Summersfield, president and co-owner of The Global Event Team, found himself expressing his frustrations about the meeting-planning process with a group of convention-services and meeting-planner professionals.
So he came up with the idea for an app called getplanning, which is powered by hotel-marketing agency Cendyn — and now used in 60 Hilton properties in the Americas. “In this day and age, there’s no reason for us to be printing out reams of paper that then become redundant as soon as there’s a change made” to things like hotel contracts, Summersfield said. As an industry tool, getplanning has a number of document categories specific to the materials that are exchanged during the planning process — from contracts to BEOs to floor plans — where both the planner and hotel representatives can upload documents.
Planners can use the app as a repository for materials or to communicate with staff, whether the venue uses it or not, but “obviously it works best when it’s collaborative,” Summersfield said.
What about on site? How many times have you wished you could snap your fingers and make more coffee appear in a session room? With its Red Coat Direct app (channeling the red coats that Marriott staff members wear), it actually is that simple at hundreds of Marriott hotel properties in the United States. Using the app — which Marriott expects to have available in 500 properties worldwide by the end of 2014, and which is available for Internet-enabled iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, and laptops — planners can ask for any number of changes directly from the meeting room — more coffee, a temperature change, an extra few chairs, an earlier lunch time — and the request will be routed to the hotel’s on-site event manager.
“The turnaround time, from the time you made the request … literally within two minutes, somebody was in that [meeting] room taking care of it,” said Carrie White, senior meeting planner with AEGIS Insurance Services Inc., which held its 1,100-person Annual Policyholders’ Conference in early August at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront.
The app has a built-in response system, so White knew whether a request was handled without ever having to go to the room to check. “[The request] goes right to staff, and they text back and say, ‘We’re on it,’ and then it will say, ‘Completed.’”
Once you finish reading this CMP Series article, read the following:
- “Addicted to Apps,” a New York Times article on why app users are so willing to share much of their personal information
- Another New York Times piece on the way our work habits shape the apps we need, “New Habits Transform Software,”
- A forbes.com article on just what makes for a successful mobile experience for users, “Eight Tips for a Successful App”
To earn one hour of CEU credit, visit pcma.org/convenecmp to answer questions about the information contained in this CMP Series article and the additional material.
The Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) is a registered trademark of the Convention Industry Council.