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Apps: The New Four-Letter Word

Apps: The New Four-Letter Word

By Ryan C. McKay

Not all that long ago, I saw my first Blue Tooth while waiting to board a plane. I can’t remember if it was in Philly, or Denver, or Memphis. What I DO remember, though, was the effect that it had on me. One part awe, two parts confusion, and one part revulsion.

Just what the world needed — one more way for uppity morons to identify themselves to the rest of the world! I mean, just look at this guy … sitting in a hot airport … fancy Italian suit, comically over-sized energy drink in one hand, the latest copy of GQ in the other, and all the while he’s loudly holding up one side of what appeared to be a very one-sided conversation. The only clue available that he wasn’t speaking to dead relatives, invisible gremlins, or some sort of deity, was the black eraser-shaped piece of plastic dangling off of his ear like a business-world version of “Something About Mary.”

“I’d rather die …” I muttered to myself self righteously as I went back to browsing the free copy of USA Today that the good folks at the SpringHill Suites had laid outside my door that morning.

That was, of course, then. This? This is now, just a few crow-eating years later.

The Blue Tooth? Oh yeah … I have one … somewhere. I went through that stage (I didn’t choose to die instead, by the way) and have since moved on to the newest tech toys. You’ll know me when you see me … I’m the guy at the airport gate with his little white I-Pod headphones hanging from his head, laptop on his lap, Smart phone in one hand, and Droid tablet in the other. Oh, and the over-sized energy drink? Yeah, that’s mine to. Just one more way for this uppity moron to identify himself to the rest of the world.

That’s sort of the world we live in now, though, isn’t it? I can’t remember the last time I was able to travel without dragging along 35 adapters and plugs to keep all of the little gadgets powered up. Well, I’m happy to say, it’s all changing again. I’m finally able to simplify, and yet maintain (heck, even improve) my productivity … and I have four little letters to thank for it — APPS.

I recently purchased a Samsung Galaxy tablet. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the huge tablet craze, the Reader’s Digest version is this: Tablets fill the world between the “smart phone” and the “laptop.” A rapidly expanding industry originally set into motion by the launch of the I-Pad, tablet computers are quickly becoming the must-have productivity tool for every self-respecting business person, techie, or coffee shop hipster. I tend to fall — in some part — into all three categories, so of course I had to have one, and I can truly say it’s changed the way I do things. If you do trade shows and/or live events, you should have a tablet computer too.

With one small devise, usually about the size of a steno pad, you can harness the power of a laptop, a cell phone, a media player, a camera, a video recorder, an audio recorder, and a pad-n’-pen. What’s more, by using the right apps (small downloadable pieces of software readily available, and often for free), you can make your tablet do things you always wished you could but never had the tech to. Bump into a potential new client but don’t have your business card, literature, or a pen on you? No problem! Push a button to scan his/her card into your address book using your camera. Push another button to beam (send through the air) your newest literature to their tablet/phone/email. Push another button and dictate your follow-up to your tablet like a digital recorder.

Like I said, having a tablet computer has changed the way that business is being done, so for those of you who already have one, and all the rest of you that are GOING to get one (that should be the rest of you by the way), here are my top five picks for apps (Apple and Android compatible) you MUST have before attending or exhibiting at your next event:

  1. Square — If you plan on taking orders at your show, this is a great way to save some money. Square allows you to accept and process credit cards directly on your tablet or smart phone. They will even send you (for free) a small square device (about 2 inches squared) that you can use to swipe cards. There is a small fee per transaction, but it’s inline with what most processors are charging, and, better yet, you don’t have to pay for a secure line and terminal to be run to your booth!
  2. DropBox — Drop box is a program that you install on your tab/smart phone as well as on your computers. It then allows you to drag-n-drop files into your “Drop Box.” Once there, you can access that file or document from any of your other computers/smartphones/tabs. Before I go to any event, I make sure that my most updated literature is in my drop box, as are any order forms or spec sheets that I might end up needing. It’s saved me quite a few last-minute trips to the office!
  3. FourSquare — People are pretty divided over FourSquare. This is an app that lets you “check in” at various places. When you “check in,” the app updates your Facebook/Twitter accounts to show that you are wherever you checked in at. A lot of people don’t use the app because they say it invites burglars to rob you while you aren’t home ( which would require burglars to stalk you online to find this info, but regardless …). Now, I’ve never been robbed because of an APP, but I have picked up new business because of one. To best use FourSquare at a show/event, go to your booth space and launch the app. From the “Places” menu, simply choose “Add A Place.” FourSquare will ask you to name the place. Then you just pop in your company name, show name and booth number, and hit save. This will allow other FourSquare users to find you and your booth. Even better, “check in” to the show venue itself. This will allow you to see what other FourSquare users are already in the venue with you, and give you a great opening to start a conversation — and invite them to you booth!
  4. News and Weather — This is one of those apps that people completely overlook to their own detriment. On the surface, it’s simply what it sounds like — a news and weather forecast delivery app. Upon closer view however, you’ll notice that be playing with the settings, you can choose what KIND of news it delivers. For instance, going to the upcoming ConExpo in Las Vegas? Add “ConExpo” to your custom topics list. Do you sell widgets? Add “Widgets” to your custom topics list. Want to see what the world really thinks about YOU? Type your company name in as a custom topic. Every time you hit “refresh,” the the News and Weather app will send you the most recent news articles, collected from every corner of the web!
  5. EverNote — This is one of those Apps that is going to be huge. I’m going on record now — I was there first. EverNote is an app that is meant to help you keep track of all the information that you come across on a typical busy day. Whether that means typing in an idea when it hits you, adding a photo of something that inspires you, or clipping an article to read later, EverNote is a great way to collect all the pertinent information that you don’t have time to process right this moment. Even better, you can sort all of these items by custom tags you add to them, and organize them by notebooks. It’s great for being on the road as you can build a notebook for each trip, and then add receipts, itineraries, notes, photos, videos, lists … really, anything!

There are, of course, dozens of other apps that are available which can help you make the most out of your time on the show floor, but these five are the ones that have the quickest learning curve-to-benefit ratio, and all are (to a degree) free programs.

If you don’t have a tablet yet, look into getting one. Get a GOOD one. Do your homework, and make sure that you know what it is you want from your purchase. We might not always like how fast technology is moving, but our only two options are to keep up, or fall behind.

Ryan C. McKay is a senior account manager and director of operations with Ohio Displays Inc./ODI Works. He can be reached at (216) 961-5600 and His blog, “Ramblings From a Traveling Trade Show Professional,” can be read at

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