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2011 mobile app roundup: a guide to retail's most popular mobile apps this year.

This month, our editors were tasked with narrowing down thousands of the hottest mobile applications downloaded in 2011 into a best-of-the-best directory to serve as a guide for retailers. With Market Research Company Nielsen forecasting that 50 percent of all Americans will have a smartphone by Christmas, more retailers and consumers are integrating these tools as part of their daily lives.

IN FACT, MOBILE APPLICATIONS (APPS) are already being integrated throughout the industry. Just take distributors like Orgill and Ace, for example. These companies have both launched special dealer market navigation apps to make it easier and more convenient for mobile wielding market attendees to navigate their shows. On the manufacturing side, companies like Benjamin Moore and Bonide have created their own apps to help consumers get more from their products.

So, after weeks of sifting through the most popular and highest-rated apps available within the marketplace, polling home improvement retailers, test driving countless apps ourselves and reading forums on each app, we're ready to unveil 2011's best retail-focused mobile applications. The following apps are available across the most popular mobile formats, iPhone and Android, unless specifically stated, and apps suggested directly by home improvement retailers are indicated by a "retailer approved" stamp.

While it is true that every app has potential pitfalls like service interruptions and availability across phone platforms, this list can serve as a resource to start your research and get on your way to transforming your smartphone into a retail resource center. After glancing through our editors' favorite apps, be sure to inquire with your vendors and distribution partners for any tools they may be offering customers for use on mobile devices.

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Cam Card turns a physical business card into a vcard (electronic contact information) using your camera's phone. CamCard allows you to save contact information from a business card to your phonebook, the app database, your email account or share it via text. You can even generate QR codes of your contacts for easy reference.

Great for: Dealer markets, networking events, business meetings or vendor visits.

Drawback: Only 10 scans are allowed per week under the free app.

Others like it: ScanBizCards, WorldCard Mobile

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Dropbox is what techies call "Internet-based file syncing." Essentially Dropbox lets you carry all your files including documents, photos, invoices, etc. on your mobile device. Through Dropbox, you can save your files to any connected Wi-Fi-enabled machines or Dropbox server.

Great for: travel, safeguarding goods, retailers with multiple stores.

Drawback: Only 2 GB of free space; everything you upload to the folder is uploaded to the Internet; some reviews complain of slow upload speeds.

Others like it: icloud, SugarSync, Evernote

BillMinder allows you to easily track your bills and schedule payments from your smartphone. Track recurring bills, mark bills paid or unpaid, manage information about the bill's collector so you can easily contact them, and see totals for your monthly spending on an easy-to-view calendar.

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Great for:. Keeping up with accounts payable, paying vendor invoices, paying utilities, keeping track of and sorting multi-store operations; keeping track of accounts receivable.

Drawbacks: There are no longer any more updates to BillMinder original, but you can purchase the new version BillMinder 3 for $1.99; most banks offer this kind of technology through their websites or mobile apps.

Others Like it: BillTracker, Mint.com, Pageonce Personal Assistant

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Scan is one of easiest QR scanners our editors reviewed. There are no advertisements and each QR scan is legged in a list containing the users scan history. Scan limits the bells and whistles that weigh down other QR apps.

Great for: Getting more information from products that feature QR codes; testing your own QR codes to use for in-store promotion.

Drawback: In order to use Scan, your device must have a built-in camera; like any QR scanner, when scanning codes that redirect to online content, such as websites, you will need Internet connectivity.

Others Like it: Red Laser, i-nigma, Mobiletag, QuickMark

Vlingo utilizes voice-to-text technology, so you can speak to your phone and it will respond with an appropriate action. Tell your phone to type a text, call a number, update your social media status, or look up the answer to a question.

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Great for: Using your phone while your hands are full or dirty from being out in the yard; great alternative for texting and driving.

Drawback: While the app is supposed to "learn and improve" as you use it, the voice-recognition feature is known to misinterpret frequently.

Others Like it" Dragon, Dragon Dictation, Genius Button

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Square is a POS system that utilizes your phone. The company sends you a free credit card reader (small box you attach directly to phone), you scan the customer's credit card directly on your phone and the app completes the transaction. Square also has a built-in analytic feature that allows users to track sales, collect tips and tax, and send electronic receipts via email or text message. You can even create your own inventory to make adding items to the bill faster. Funds are deposited into your bank account the next day.

Great for: Special events where proximity to stationary POS systems are limited

Drawbacks: Fees. For swiped transactions there is a flat 2.75 percent taken out and for manual entries it is a flat 3.5 percent plus $0.15 per transaction; users have complained that they often have to swipe cards several times to activate; security concerns continue to raise concerns.

Others Like it: GoPayment, ROAMpay, Credit Card Terminal, PAYware Mobile

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Pocket Cloud allows users to access their computer files and desktop securely from their mobile devices.

In fact, PCWorld named PocketCloud the best mobile cloud app for Android tablets. Make an important presentation, grab a forgotten report, lose the extra bags or edit and email a spreadsheet.

Great for: Consolidation of records, easily accessing files anywhere.

Drawbacks: Many users complain the app consumes way too much bandwidth.

Others Like it: Jump Desktop, Remote Desktop 3, Splashtop Remote Desktop, LogMeInIgnition, WinAdmin

Tiger Text allows text messages to be deleted from both the sender's and the receiver's phones after user-issued expiration date. The messages cannot be saved, copied or forwarded by recipients.

Great for: Sending confidential information.

Drawbacks: The drawback is that both the sender and receiver must use application and your texts are stored on Tiger Text's database, so while ideally you'd want to be able to casually pass confidential information, we suggest being careful. Furthermore, although the app is free, the actual service isn't, The first 100 messages sent over 15 days are free, however users will be charged $1.49 for every 250 messages per month, or they can pay a flat rate of $2.49 per month for unlimited texts.

Others Like it: History Eraser

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iHandy Level is a free application that turns a smartphone into a carpenter's level. Users can hold the device either horizontally or vertically, next to the edge of the device on the surface they want to test, and iHandy Level's simulated bubble will tell you whether the surface is perfectly plumb or slightly sloped. We loved the wood-and-metal finish buttons for holding a measurement and calibration.

Great for: Helping customers with projects; setting up displays or signage.

Drawbacks: Sensors can vary slightly from device to device so calibration has been known to be off. We suggest calibrating regularly to avoid inaccuracies.

Others Like it: Handy Level, Spirit Level, Bubble Level

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Convert 4 Me is a simple to use conversion tool. Covert 4 Me converts any unit into all other units of that type in real time. Whether they're trying to convert distance, speed, frequency, etc., users simply enter a measurement in the text field for one unit and all other text fields update to display the same measurement in other units.

Great for: Quick and accurate conversions on the salesfloor.

Drawbacks: Very Basic app; no bells or whistles.

Others Like it: Converter, Units, Converticious

Inventory Droid is a mobile inventory management system for Android-based devices and phones. Inventory Droid helps users itemize their goods for inventory, asset management or insurance purposes. Inventory Droid can also be used as a receipt, document, bills filer and manager.

Great for: Keeping track of inventory levels.

Drawback: Currently only available on droid, although other platforms have similar apps; most retailers' POS systems offer some kind of inventory management options.

Others Like it: inflow, People Soft Mobile, Mobile Manager

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Shop Savvy lets users search for products via barcode scan (all UPC, EAN and QH formats) or keywords and compare prices with other locations in the area. Shop Savvy is community-powered, so users can add a barcode to the system if it's missing. Users can organize their searches in lists, compare prices and find the lowest online or local price. Users can even purchase the product on the Internet directly through the app. Shop Savvy also provides shipping promos, coupon codes, rebates, weekend sales and other promotions from the retailer.

Great for: Retailers who take advantage of promos and coupons to get customers into the store; price shopping your competition.

Drawbacks: Makes price shopping easier for consumers; consumers can purchase products online while in your store.

Others Like it: PriceGrabber, NexTag, Slifter, TheFind, pic2shop

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Grocery IQ creates lists by voice. One retailer told us that when she sees an empty tag or SKU problem on the floor, she uses Grocery IQ to make a list to review when she gets to the back room.

Most products can be added by scanning their barcodes and users can customize the arrangement of categories within their list and check off items.

Great for: Organization on the salesfloor.

Drawbacks: Voice-recognition on app is sensitive and sometimes inaccurate; several barcodes are not available.

Others Like it: ReQall, Remember The Milk, TaDa List, ListaGato

By Jaime Koch, jkoch@nrha.org @NRHAJaime
COPYRIGHT 2011 National Retail Hardware Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:TECHNOLOGY
Author:Koch, Jaime
Publication:Hardware Retailing
Date:Oct 1, 2011
Words:1657
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