The Best and Worst Small Biz BlackBerry Apps

I was at my daughter's swim team banquet the other night and my BlackBerry saved my life.

No, I didn't receive any important client e-mails or text messages. I wasn't working on a last-minute estimate for that client who wants us to upgrade their computer system next week. There were no emergency service calls.

I played BrickBreaker on my BlackBerry. For three solid hours. It got me through the coach's endless speeches, the multiple awards designed not to let anyone feel left out, and the excruciatingly unfunny "gag" gifts given by students to their teammates. I'll never have that Sunday night back. But I did make it to level 25 and a personal all-time-high points total. So the evening wasn't a total loss.

That night, BrickBreaker was my killer BlackBerry app. But most of the time I'm using my Research In Motion (RIMM) BlackBerry for work. It's been a pretty amazing tool that helps me run my small business. There are other great BlackBerry apps—aside from BrickBreaker—that I think most small business owners should be using. And like many of the meaningless awards given out at the banquet ("Best Attitude?" Really?), there are some useless apps for the BlackBerry that small business owners should, like a high school sports banquet, avoid if possible.

For example, I don't find minioffice apps such as the eOffice Mobile Suite or Documents To Go productive at all. It's not that they don't work as advertised. They do. But I've never been successful thumbing my way through a Word doc or Excel analysis on a two-inch screen. In fact, the editor for this column asked me if I know of anyone who actually uses and/or likes these applications. I can honestly say no. (Go ahead: Prove me wrong in the comments below.) I've downloaded these programs and used them maybe once or twice over the past couple of years before giving up. Those docs can wait until I'm on a normal-sized machine.

Who really needs Caffeine Finder?

However, I really like Google's (GOOG) mobile apps for my BlackBerry. Gmail works great. I especially like Google Latitude. With this service, I can track my employees via GPS to see who's goofing off and who's actually at the client that they're billing me for. (It works great for finding out where your kids are on a Saturday night, too.) I rely on Google Maps to give me driving instructions. I can also sync contacts and calendars from Google to my phone. All of these apps from Google are great, but the best is still its searching capabilities.

While we're on the topic of searching, why would a business owner download stupid applications such as Caffeine Finder or Fast Food Finder? Are we so in need of caffeine that we have to have a separate application on our phone to find a cup of coffee? Is there not a Starbucks (SBUX) or McDonalds (MCD) within 10 feet, wherever we are?

Want another useless BlackBerry app for a business owner? How about the ones that let you do invoices and accept payments on your device, such as EZ Bill Maker or BlackCharge, or eBay's (EBAY) Paypal? Again, I have no issue with the software, which works fine. I'm not going to have my guys do invoices, let alone collect payments, on their BlackBerrys. They'll find some way to screw it up. And the last thing I need is for my customers' credit card numbers to be floating around on our devices. The invoicing can wait until the paperwork gets back to the office so it can be done by people who know what they're doing.

Besides, if we all wait a few years, the process of paying and invoicing and giving receipts to customers will be getting a lot easier. There are some cool technologies just hitting the market now to make this happen. I like the guys at Blingnation. They partner with banks so that the banks' customers can put a little RFID sticker on the back of their device and then just tap it on a Blingnation reader at the local deli or gas station. Payment is made. Invoicing is done. Receipt is e-mailed. This is the future of our mobile devices.

Fuze Meeting's phone videoconference

The only way I communicate with my kids is through text messaging. I believe the only way I'll be paid by my customers in the future will be through the same devices.

Communication tools for small companies have a good place on the BlackBerry, too. I'm not talking about Facebook and Twitter apps that we all download and never use, except to keep up on that guy I hardly knew from high school who insists on telling me his latest Mafia Wars activities. I'm talking video. Fuze Meeting is a great app that lets users videoconference right on their phone. For some businesses, particularly those providing medical services, surveying construction sites, or demonstrating a piece of equipment, it can be a very big deal.

Some other advice for small business BlackBerry users: Don't use the browser that comes standard in your BlackBerry. Download Opera or Bolt. You'll get a lot more productivity out of your browsing. Oh, I almost forgot. Instead of punching out the drywall the next time you hear that a customer has stiffed you, download Pandora or Slacker and cool yourself down with some free music.

See? It's not so hard for a business owner to be productive on a BlackBerry. What's that? My son's squash banquet is next Sunday night? Ugh! Anyone got a few good games to recommend?