Remember 15 years ago when you got a new desktop computer for your kitchen and bath firm? It was state-of-the-art and as fast as a cheetah. You could run a program like Quickbooks and be on the Internet at the same time.
Over the years, the power and refinement in desktop computers has been amazing. That cheetah of a machine you once had has now been relegated to a doorstop, and your new machine is a laser-guided cheetah with a jetpack attached, wearing cool sunglasses.
Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are also changing the way kitchen and bath designers work. Before smartphones, designers would do a lot of data collection in the field: Things like field measurements, customer information and pictures were things we did with pen, paper and a digital camera.
Likewise, whatever spec books, portfolios and brochures we wanted to bring with us had to fit in our bags.
This is where apps come in. As a kitchen and bath designer and proud geek, I use a ton of apps to get my job done. The more I can do on my smartphone or tablet to keep myself light and efficient, the more productive I am. This month, I’ll share a few of what I consider to be the best apps out there.
Goodreader for iPad
When I first got my iPad, after an intense Angry Birds session, I started thinking of ways I could use it at work. It has a 10" screen and weighs less than two pounds, so I thought, “If I could put my spec books in here, this would save me from having to haul them all over the place.” I have several shelves of spec books and binders, not to mention the large library of shared spec books that most places have in their showrooms. A lot of printed books come in PDF format, too.
I started going on manufacturer Web sites and found that many of my vendors had their spec books as PDFs. I downloaded as many as I could. After that, I started combing the App Store for the perfect PDF reader. After testing nearly 20 apps, I decided that Goodreader was the best.
What this app allows you to do is put all of your PDFs in one place. You can organize them into folders. You can write notes on them, email them, print them and even sign contracts right on the screen. Currently, I am up to 50 spec books. It’s a very rare occasion that I actually have to use a paper spec book anymore. There’s even a way that you can have multiple iPads synchronized to the same list of PDF files, so that everyone in your dealership can stay up to date. This one app alone has made the iPad an integral part of my workday.
If I had the power to hand out an award for the best app in the entire world, I’d give it to Evernote. This is the single best app I have ever used. Evernote works on any computer, any smartphone and any tablet. It’s a centralized place that you can store notes, pictures, voice memos, Web sites and files. You name it, you can “Evernote it.”
Let’s say you’re working on a project for a client and you’re researching some Web sites. As you find Web sites, you can clip them into a notebook in Evernote. I usually make notebooks for each job or client. After you’ve clipped a few Web sites, you leave your computer and head out to the showroom for some design inspiration, and you spot a nice piece of hardware that you think your client would like. Just pull out your smartphone, fire up Evernote, and snap a picture. You can drop that picture right into that notebook you created for that project.
Days later, you head to the site and start taking pictures, which you can save right to that same notebook. You can even share that notebook with others. This can be great for collaborating on a project. No matter what device you use, everything is automatically synced to every device.
I’m not the best at remembering to save receipts. Evernote has solved that for me. Whenever I get a receipt, I just snap a picture of it with my phone, and put it in my Evernote folder called “receipts.” Evernote remembers when, and where, I took pictures of my receipts, so I can actually look on a map to see where I got the receipt! This is great for remembering why you got gas out in the middle of nowhere last year…
And one more thing: Evernote can scan pictures you take and identify the words and numbers on the images, so those receipts are actually searchable!
MyMeasures is a fantastic app that allows you to place measurements on actual pictures. This may look like some fantastic virtual reality trick, but it’s actually quite simple to use. You just use your favorite device to take a picture of a space, use your trusty tape measure to measure out any dimensions that you need, and then simply draw them on the image with your fingers. With just a little practice, this image can be created in a matter of minutes.
Taking pictures of a space is always a great idea, and this app takes it one giant step forward. How many times have you been on the phone with the office, an installer or a contractor and struggled to describe something involving dimensions? Often it’s so hard to explain where you’re measuring from. With this app, you can snap a picture, put some dimensions on, and text or email the picture right from your phone or tablet. And did I mention that you can send your measures right to Evernote, too?
As any kitchen designer knows, you take a lot of notes. Many of these notes are on the back of napkins, scraps of paper or even pieces of wood at a job site. These notes can be the most important part of a job. In my quest to become paperless and mobile, I knew there had to be a way to make use of my nice iPad screen to take notes.
I started trolling through the App Store to find a sketching app that would suit my needs. There are hundreds of drawing apps, some great, some not.
The first task I wanted to accomplish was doing field dimensions on the iPad. Aside from using MyMeasures, sometimes you just need to sketch out a room. Adobe Ideas accomplishes this so well because it allows a drawing canvas that is larger than the iPad screen. You use two fingers to flick it around. This makes it easy to sketch out large spaces and to draw in little details.
I use this app for taking meeting notes. It works just like a lined notepad. The speed at which it reacts to your finger or stylus is amazing. It really feels like you’re writing on actual paper.
This app can even tell the difference between your wrist and where you are writing, a must if you don’t want errant lines all over your notes. A flick of your fingers will get you to the next blank page.
Paper by FiftyThree Inc.
This is a fantastic app for those of us who are artistic with a pen and paper. This app allows you to create some really artistic hand renderings of projects. The app is simple, fast and fun to use.
For those of you who are more serious artists, you may want to try AutoDesk’s SketchBook. If Paper was the Leatherman of drawing apps, SketchBook would be the dream garage for the artist.
This is a pretty innovative app from AutoDesk. It works on the computer, Web, tablet and smartphone. It allows AutoCAD drawings to be viewed on any of the aforementioned devices. All you do is simply upload an AutoCad drawing to the app.
Once it’s there, it’s stored in the cloud and you can view it on any of your devices. You can even add simple notes and edits to a drawing. Most kitchen designers don’t have the full version of AutoCAD because of the price, but almost every architect does have it. It’s hard when they send you a file and you can’t open it. Well, now you can, and you don’t need to know how to use AutoCAD. Since all of the drawings are stored in the cloud by AutoDesk themselves, you’ll always be able to open any file. Best of all, this app is the low, low price of free!
The big reset button has been pushed on computing over the last few years. For the first time in a long time, developers have had the opportunity to start from scratch and come up with some truly innovative apps. None of these apps would have been possible if it weren’t for this new generation of smartphones and tablets.
Many of us already have smartphones and tablets, and if you aren’t making great use of them, you should be. They are fantastic devices, and represent the beginning of the next revolution in computing.