Five more phone apps for researchers



Recently I retired my old Android phone and bought an iphone.

Apparently owning Apple products is a sign you are middle aged, at least according to some of my friends. All the kids on campus seem to be carrying those extra large screen Android things that are half way between a tablet and a phone, so maybe my friends are right. Anyway, I am middle aged, so there’s nothing to worry about really.

To celebrate my new phone I thought it was time to revisit my list of top five phone apps for researchers, which I wrote about a year ago. On that list I included a PDF reader, Evernote, Book catalogue app and ‘Loot’ for managing your money. Many more apps have appeared since then. I now wonder how I ever lived without this little computer in my pocket.

So here’s a list of my current five favourite research related apps. These are unashamedly iPhone apps – but I’m sure there are Android equivalents out there. Perhaps you might tell us about them in the comments?


One of the undisputed pleasures of being a researcher is lurking amongst library shelfs. Recently I found myself in the stacks at the University of Melbourne, reading books about medieval universities, when I discovered my caval card was out of date. This was a bit of disaster because it meant I couldn’t take any books home with me. While at the shelf I asked on Twitter if there were apps to solve this problem and I was sent 5 options within minutes (loving the Twitter Brain).

I flicked through the reviews and downloaded ‘Camscanner free’ (thanks @orientalhotel). All I had to do was lay the books flat on the table and take a picture of the pages I wanted. The app converted the pictures to PDF and even offered me a range of basic correction tools so they didn’t look fuzzy and wonky. It then neatly compiled single pages into one PDF and gave me a range of options for what to do with them, including sending them to my google drive. Later I loaded the PDFs into my ‘Papers 2′ reference manager and found them to be quite readable.

Seriously – how good is that? We really do live in the future.


I have a habit of sticking post it notes around my monitor to remind me of stuff, but I’ve never been much of a list person. I tend to use my email as a ‘to-do’ list, which drives me a bit nuts because it’s to-do list created for me by other people. I mentioned that I had yet to find a good list app during a presentation and a clever PhD student recommended Producteev.

Producteev has a simple interface which enables you to create tasks, give them due dates, tag them for later reference and even delegate them to other users. What makes this app truly great is the way it reduces the ‘transaction costs’ of making lists and managing them. You can enter tasks directly on any device, email them to the app or even open up a chat session and tell it to add stuff to your lists. You can then set the app to nag you by sending alerts to your phone or by email. Brilliantly annoying.

Buffer App

I’m a big advocate for academics getting onto social media. Like Joyce Seitzinger and others, I think we have a role there as knowledge curators; reading and critically assessing material on the internet in order to share it with others. However many overworked academics and students point out there is not enough time in their day to attend to social media in this way.

I have this problem too, but I solve it with Bufferapp, a tool which my friend and colleague @jasondowns shared with me a while back. Once installed, buffer lurks in your browser. Every time you see a link you like you hit the button and it pops up a window which allows you to craft a status update around it which is stored in the cloud somewhere. By default, entirely for free, it will send stored status updates to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin – or all three at once – four times a day.

Bufferapp enables you to create a constant ‘dribble’ of information to a world wide audience who might be asleep while you are awake. Oh – and there’s an app on the iphone, so I do most of this curating on the train to and from work. Mischief managed.

Google currents

Keeping up with reading is a constant problem for academics. I often simply forget to visit my favourite blogs and journals. Some time ago those clever geeks solved this problem by inventing RSS feeds (really simple syndication), which alert you to any changes that are made to a site. Most academic databases have RSS feeds which will alert you to any changes in the table of contents.

A simple RSS reader like Google currents or Flipboard will grab these articles and display them as magazine like pages, which you can read on your phone anytime you want. No more boring waits for trains!


@Markmmithers alerted me to this app, which is still in development. You may have heard of Pinterest, which enables users to make digital corkboards, Learnist does the same, but for learning. The app allows you to take photos or links and add them to a ‘board’ which sequences them into steps.

I am still playing around with it, but I can imagine this being really useful for you science types. For example, many scientists tell me that keeping track of all the steps in an experiment can be a pain. With Learnist you could record the experiment in such a way that makes it easy to reproduce later – or share with others. Or you could use it in labs to record simple ‘how tos’ for using lab equipment. Or you could use it to remind you of things you have learned … with a bit of imagination and this versatile tool could become a PhD essential.

I might use it to help teach Thesis Whisperer Jr how to cook

So that’s my top five apps – have you tried any of them? Do you think there are some even better ones I haven’t discovered yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.