Time to smarten up your old phone

A new breed of gadgets is able to do everything a secretary once did, but on the move, writes Frank Dillon

Managers of a certain generation will recall a time when secretaries dialled phones for their bosses, scheduled meetings, updated their diaries and screened unwanted callers. These days, executives do all of the these things for themselves and much more with the help of the latest range of gadgets.

Central to the armoury of the self respecting executive these days is a smartphone, a device that allows you to replicate many of the things that you can do with your desktop while you are on the move.

So should employers be ensuring their executives are getting smart? With email central to the working lives of many, having easy access to it while on the road is vital, so BlackBerrys, the device favoured by President Barack Obama, and iPhones are increasingly the gadgets of choice.

Krishna De, a marketing consultant and social media expert, uses both. "I've been a BlackBerry user for many years as I can't be without email on the go," she said. "I also like the key pad as I find it easier to type on than the one on the iPhone.

"The iPhone is a brilliant device for connection to the web and keeping up with social networks. The camera on the iPhone is excellent, as is the quality of the audio so it's great for recording interviews and making videos to upload to websites".

Those who don't want to invest in a smartphone - or who want something easier to type longer documents on - could benefit from the increasing range of netbooks, which are essentially cut-down mini laptops that allow users to surf the net wherever they have internet access.

Their compact size makes them ideal for working in tight spaces, perfect for resting on the tray-top of an aeroplane, for example.

However, smartphones appear to be devices of choice at the moment, led by high profile summer launches such as iPhone 4.De says that the intergration of smartphones with other business and social media applications is one of the reasons why they are proving so popular.

With smartphones no longer being simply devices to make phone calls with a few added extras, executives can now respond to client queries much faster or can update blogs while waiting to catch a plane, for example. "There is a sense of liberation in being able to do so much away from our desks and this fits with the lives of busy and more mobile executive", she said.

There are also a string of iPhone applications, or apps, for professionals including Interview Prep Questions or HR at Your Fingertips. TimeTracker is an app that allows executives to track how much time they are spending on projects and bill customers accordingly.

Txtajob.ie launched in May what it says is Ireland's first job app. A number have followed suit including Vantage Resources, which allows users to create and manage their profile to tailor what information they want to receive from the agency.

For many executives, the range of apps is what makes devices such as iPhones so attractive. Ciaran Conroy, commerical manager of Leopardstown racecourse in Dublin and a fervent iPhone fan, subscribes to a range of racing-related apps that keep him up to speed on developments in his industry.

Getting access to news on the progress of horses that may be running at the course is vital through blogs and other news feeds, he says.

He also uses it to download podcasts of programmes that he may have missed. "The iPhone is a very intuitive device and really easy for a non-techincal user", he said. "Navigation is so simple and the growing range of apps available is amazing".

David Kerr of Bonkers.ie, a price comparison website, is another fan of iPhone apps, having made the switch from BlackBerry. A long time Apple fan, he uses it alongside his MacBook Pro laptop.

While Kerr uses applications such as email and the web browser for surfing, he gets personal benefits by using apps such as Nike+.

This application, a sophisticated form of pedometer, synchronises or "syncs" with a device in the heel of Nike training shoes to provide a personalised workout that can show, for example, how many calories you have burnt in an exercise session. Typically users listen to music on the iPod that is integrated into the iPhone while exercising.

Having a technical background, Kerr has gone one step further than most users and has performed what is known as a jailbreak on his iPhone. This allows him to use applications other than those supported by Apple.

"It's not illegal to jailbreak according to a ruling of the Librarian of Congress but it does void your warranty with Apple, and they have turned away customers looking for repairs and technical support if they have done it," he said.

"The iPhone is closing in on BlackBerry for business users as it allows them to manage their personal as well as business lives because of its apps and the ease of access to multiple email accounts", said Stephen Ebbett of protectyourbubble.com, a UK online insurance provider that specialises in insuring gadgets.

Ebbett also says the iPad is expected to take a large slice of the travelling professional market as a replacement for netbooks because of its weight and its ease when it comes to presenting information.

Moreover, it's perceived to be a very cool gadget - an increasingly important issue for many executives. "Employers who provide their executives with out-dated or substandard mobile equipment are perceived as penny pinching and not embracing the latest technological opportunities available," he says.

David Girvan, founder of website reassureme.com, a socially-led venture that provides an online tool to protect children while they surf, likes his gadgets too but is not an Apple fan, preferring the Android operating system for his phone instead. He uses popular business applications on his smartphone and is toying between a HTC or Samsung model for his latest upgrade.

Gadgets are certainly making the lives of executives easier, but knowing when to turn them off is a problem for some, blurring the lines between work and home.

Attractive devices such as the iPhone, however, have one built-in advantage in this regard. Put them out of your line of sight for a moment and your spouse or child will happily walk away with them.

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