This is a tip for anyone who wants to get any web working done while you’re traveling and/or in transit for any reason. If you’re going to be in areas of questionable network access, you’d better have the ability to get work done offline at your disposal, and you should also be ready to dig in for extended periods of time without a connection.
For some tasks, you absolutely need network access, but for others, a rich and varied stock of offline-accessible information and research resources should provide plenty of fodder for getting things done. Your iPhone or iPod touch can be a great supplemental resource for exactly this kind of thing. Here’s how to turn your device into an offline road warrior.
Instapaper or Read It Later
These apps are great because when you do have connectivity (if you get a signal briefly, for example), you can quickly save articles for reading in extended blackout zones of little or no coverage. Both these apps allow you to capture and store web content as offline pages. What’s more, integration with both of these apps is often baked into other iPhone gems, like Tweetie, the popular Twitter client that recently got a brand new version with lots of extra bells and whistles.
Instapaper comes in two flavors: a Free version, and a Pro version for $4.99. The more expensive app allows for Folders, article recommendations, background updates, and more, and really is worth it if you’re an avid Instapaper user. Read It Later also comes in Free and Pro flavors, with the Pro costing only $2.99. It features full-screen reading, sharing, and the ability to send articles to other iPhone apps.
Dictionary.com or WordBook
Despite having impeccable spelling skills (quiet, Simon), even I can see the value in a dictionary app. For instance, I often have an overwhelming urge to look up the origins of words. Not necessarily of tremendous professional value, but still. And of course, I’m kidding about the spelling thing. I often need to double-check words, especially ones for which I seem to have a mental block like “aesthetics.”
Both Dictionary.com (Free) and WordBook ($1.99) offer offline access to more than 200,000 definitions. My personal preference of the two is WordBook because of the UI, but both provide a thesaurus, word of the day, audio pronunciation guides, and more.
Wikipedia is a great on-the-spot reference for background and contextual information on new and unfamiliar terms and concepts. Which is fine when you have an active network connection, but doesn’t help much when you’re on a train in a 3G dead zone and you’re looking to provide a quick overview of the USB 3.0 standard for a client report.
Enter Encyclopedia ($8.99, iTunes link), an iPhone/iPod touch app that stores a complete full-text offline version of Wikipedia on your device. All internal links function, and you can navigate your history and backtrack when you need to. Beware, references are excluded in the interest of usability, and it will take up a full 2GB of your device’s storage space, but it’s much simpler and more convenient than the alternative.
Web designers, and people who just take an interest in the finished look of their documents and web work, will truly appreciate the usefulness of the recently released myPANTONE app. The app gives you access to Pantone’s color libraries, and allows you create color schemes on the go. You can even use colors from photos taken with your device to find matching Pantone hues. Even if you’re not a professional print designer, this app can still be very helpful in coming up with pleasing color combinations for documents, personal websites and more.
It’s a little on the pricey side at $9.99, but it does let you do really cool things like GPS tagging, and voice/text annotation of palettes you create. If color is important to the work that you do in any way, there might be no better way to spend otherwise unproductive time out of network range.
The Pocket Reference Re-imagined
Imagine how crazy the idea of having an encyclopedia in your pocket would’ve seemed 20 years ago? Plenty crazy, I’d say. Thanks to the versatile platform Apple developed for its mobile devices, you can now have multiple encyclopedias on hand in a package slimmer than most people’s wallets. And it doesn’t end where I’ve stopped here. There are plenty of very specialized reference apps available via the iTunes App Store, for little or no money.
What reference apps do you carry with you?