Berkshire Business Outlook

Apps accompany today's young workers all hours of day

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When David C. Hall drives around Pittsfield, he sometimes gets a nudge about an errand he meant to run. Not from a passenger.

From an app called Errands.

Hall's phone sends him a text message that he's passing the hardware store on his to-do list, or the place that does his laundry. "It's quicker to turn around than to go home and go all the way back," said Hall, president of the IT firm CompuWorks, which is based in Pittsfield.

Hall is a proud member of what might be called App Nation, whose inhabitants use their smartphones both to be more productive on and off the clock.

The app economy continues to surge, with one expert noting that as of 2014, the $10 billion the Apple platform alone paid to developers rivaled Hollywood's yearly box-office revenues.

More than two million apps are available in the leading online outlets. Tens of thousands of new ones hit the market every month.

APP WORLD

On a recent Friday morning, The Eagle joined a staff meeting at CompuWorks' 1 Fenn St. offices. On the conference table in front of nearly all the nine employees gathered sat a key tool of the trade: their smartphones.

Since Dec. 1, all have used an app called ClockShark to track their time. It allows staffers on the road to clock in without a needless trip to the home office.

"It meets our needs for the most part," said crew member Dana Johnson. "You will forget your wallet before you forget your phone."

Brian Cogswell recently installed the AirPrint app on a client's phone, enabling that person to print documents from that device, not just a desktop computer. The phone has to be on a company's wifi and integrated with the network.

"They thought it was pretty cool and were impressed," Cogswell said. "Cat and dog pictures all over the place."

Across the region, it's becoming more and more common for businesses, particularly in health care, to pass customers iPads rather than clipboards to fill out forms.

Roger Burr likes the Evernote app on his phone, using it to log things that might have otherwise been written down only on paper.

"Just as a place to dump my notes," he said.

One of his CompuWorks colleagues, Frank Manzella, is among the many at the company making increased use of Google's suite of tools, including its calendar.

"I put all my notes in my calendar," Manzella said, using shorthand of his own design as needed to speed the process. By using a field in his calendar program, the notes stay with related business events. "That's where I keep all my notes."

David Scott tends to stick to Google docs for that sort of thing.

"Being able to edit a document on the fly," Scott said. "I can edit that on my phone and keep it synced."

FAMILY LIFE

When off the clock, folks in this workforce find convenience with other apps. Particularly when it comes to shopping.

Scott likes the SCAN IT! app from Stop & Shop, which allows shoppers to scan and bag their purchases as they go, then speed through the self-checkout aisle. He's also a fan of Target Cartwheel. The Cartwheel app provides online coupons and even alerts users to special in-store sales.

Melissa Perrea like the SCAN IT! App, which can be installed on smartphones, or used in devices provided by participating Stop & Shop stores.

It helps her get through the checkout line with her sanity intact.

"When I have the kids, I use it," Perrea said.

Like other parents, Perrea also uses the IXL app in use at the Robert T. Capeless Elementary School, which her 8-year-old son attends. "They help with his English and his math."

Her 2-year-old isn't far behind on the app front, using a Kindle, for which Perrea can still set the terms. "On the Kindle, I can limit the time on each app," she said.

Some here are also using the Remind app that enables schools to communicate with families. "It's a direct link between parents and school," said Scott.

Not all apps make the grade. There were laughs around the table at the memory of Bump, an iPhone app that enabled users to exchange information by tapping devices together. It wasn't as handy as hoped.

That wasn't the only time an app has laid an egg here. "We'll hear about something and scrutinize it and realize it's stupid," said Cogswell.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass. 


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