Apps for the biomedical academic

A month (or so) into the new iPad, I have found many sites that detail academics’ favourite apps (Steven Krause, Janet Temos, Colleen Greene and others; MIT Library have a particularly useful collection) but many of these are out of date, refer to apps that have been superseded etc. It might be relevant to know that I am no Apple fanboy – I own an aging iPod and now and iPad. All my computers at work and home are PCs and I have an Android phone. Seamless integration with my Android Phone and Widows PC are key features for the multi-platform apps.

There isn’t much that is discipline specific here and for me it is really just a case of clogging up the Internet with my list in case it is useful to anyone.

So here is my May 2011 version….

If you can’t be bothered to scroll down, just get Dropbox, Flipboard, Tripit and Bamboo Paper.



I am now using this in pace of my own hard drive for loads of content. They use widely publicised policies of increasing the amount of space you have for the number of others that you get to sign up. I use this on my PC as well as my iPad seamless integration between the two. Works great with my Android phone too where I have it set to auto-upload every photo I take to Dropbox.

For PDFs of research papers and reviews I have an organized folder (with subfolders) on Dropbox where I name the files periodically with Author, Journal, Year, Short title). It is annoying that I can’t do this on the iPad itself but I actually download more from the PC to read later so it isn’t that big an issue for me. I have tried Mendeley – it wants to store the entire library on the iPad and won’t work with Dropbox so no thanks. I trialled Papers by Mekentosj on my PC and found it a little buggy and realistically a sledgehammer to crack a walnut for me. I haven’t bought the iPad app – as I understand it I would have to buy both the PC and iPad versions separately and even then they don’t sync (yet). I might revisit it when the two do sync. I use EndNote when writing papers on my laptop as we have a site license and I have used it for years. Not aware of an iPad app for this but also don’t want/need one. My manuscripts will still be written on my laptop (for now).


Allows me to jot quick notes, save docs and PDFs into notebooks (meeting schedules etc). Basically, I use it like Dropbox but for when I need to jot things down on the fly, take notes, etc. I don’t use it much but it covers a few bases that other things don’t.

Adobe Acrobat

There are other PDF readers and many that let you do full annotation. I am not an “annotator” but can imagine that if you were you would be better off with one of the other apps like iAnnotatePDF or PDFExpert. Acrobat gives me a nice reading experience in terms of page transitions, layout etc without any fuss.

Pocket (Read it Later)

Useful for clipping stuff from the web to read offline later. Plays nicely with Tweetbot too (see below).


I am a bit late to this having read about it many times. Simply amazing. Grabs itineraries from your designated email account and forms them into a series of reminders etc. Works seamlessly between iPad, phone etc i.e. any platform. Haven’t dug into to how much of my email it is reading but then it is not linked to my work email account.


Has some great stuff on – for me, all of Randy Schekman’s cell biology lectures from Berkeley!

Paper and Bamboo Paper

These both do largely the same thing – allow you to scribble notes, pictures etc. My first impressions are that Paper (by FiftyThree) looks nicer but Bamboo paper (by Wacom) has more immediate functionality. I have yet to “buy” the full version of either but the free versions seem very good anyway.

With Bamboo paper I can quickly draw a schematic in multi colours, drop an image in the corner etc very easily, It can then all be saved and shared as a PNG file to drop into a presentation, document etc. I can see a real value in this for retaining notes, sketches that one draws out in a meeting with a collaborator, student etc.


See my earlier post on getting PowerPoint with embedded movies on to this. As of today (4th May) I have yet t be brave enough to try to use it for presentations. Great for showing someone our work – e.g. a visitor coming by for a chat for 30 mins (such as a visiting speaker). I’ll also use this I am sure at meetings to show people more depth of our work around out posters etc.

I haven’t yet needed to buy the word processor or spreadsheet options for this. The ability to write things into Evernote has meant no need for a Word equivalent. Problems I am aware of are that Pages (The Apple version of Word) doesn’t link to Dropbox. I am more likely to use something like QuickOffice HD but the limitations of this and me typing on the iPad lead me to think I am unlikely to really need it.

Social networking


The best simple Twitter client I have found, Worth the £2 cost


Simply amazing interface for Twitter. Makes reading tweets a genuine pleasure – turns it from a noise stream into a magazine. Integration with Wired UK, The Guardian etc makes this an amazing app for me.


Allows me to connect to my RAID box at home which has all my photos, music etc backed up. Also allows me to connect over the University network direct to my lab fileservers. Some setups are not accommodated for complex technical reasons. There is a free version called … which doesn’t let you do much but basically, Stratospherix say if you can connect with that then you can connect with Filebrowser.


BBC iPlayer, 4OD, etc

(other channels are available in the UK – I just rarely watch them!). Obvious really. They do the same as the web versions, those on my TV, BluRay player etc. Same for Lovefilm, Netflix etc. Good use for the iPad but only very occasional for me. A great addition is TVCatchUp which allows streaming of all TV channels that one normally has access to. Sky have similar systems through which you can gain access to your subscribed content depending on how much you give to the Murdoch empire each month. Can’t comment on those – don’t use them.

TVCatchUp and the BBC iPlayer in particular are great for catching up on the latest BBC science stuff.

Journals and funder apps

Nature, Science, Journal of Cell Biology

Journal apps that lead you direct to content but in very different ways.

JCB is quite simple but is a neat way of linking to all ther content including the Biobytes podcasts and Biosights videos). It also seems to seamlessly pick up our institutional subscription either through Eduroam or the VPN.
Nature’s app doesn’t link immediately to our institutional subscription.
Science also wants a separate login.
It is difficult to see the added value of the apps over the website sometimes, the additional content on JCB is one reason


A funder newsletter as it should be on the iPad ( but it really needs upscaling for the new retina display). I never used to read the HHMI newsletter on the web but now I do because it is very well setup for the iPad.



Elementary computer programming in game form. Stumps me every time. I am rubbish at this but know I need to get better! Compelling.


I have no affiliation with any of the apps, I don’t know the developers, get anything from the companies, I just hope you get some benefit and maybe come across something you weren’t aware of or that lets you work in a more productive way. It is the apps that make the iPad as good as it is of course, not the hardware.

I have installed a few others such as the Zeiss light lab or Life Technologies Cell Imaging HD but just don’t use them (yet?).

Please do add a comment to share your own favourite apps.

UPDATE I have just also found the PNAS app. I have to confess to not reading many papers in PNAS but the app is great and works fine from home over the University VPN. Good job PNAS.


3 thoughts on “Apps for the biomedical academic

  1. I’d add:

    google docs – collaborative writing/data management
    citeulike – literature bookmarking
    delicious – bookmarking everything else
    doodle – schedule meetings
    remember the milk – to do list manager
    google calander – cloud calander (syncs well with iCal)
    pastor – password management
    google reader – RSS reader
    tweetdeck – twitter interface
    papers – pdf storage
    wordpress – lab website / blogging platform
    textwrangler – text editor

  2. Thanks for this list Casey but these are not solely iPad as far as I can see (I was restrictive in that). I use Doodle at work a lot. Tweet deck on pc and android is good it I do refer tweetbot for a variety of reasons. I am writing this on WordPress but prefer the website to the app. Papers (also highlighted by a few others) is discussed in the original post.
    Dropbox for me seems to circumvent the need for Google docs.

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