8 AI-powered apps that’ll actually save you time

July 01, 2024
chatpdf summarizing a pdf

You can’t open your eyes these days without seeing something about generative AI and all the reasons it’s, like, totally gonna revolutionize the way you work.

And yet, call me surly, but most of the AI tools out there at this point seem far less impressive in practice than they do on paper. By and large, it’s the same sort of subpar stuff squeezed into slightly different places, with little in the way of concern around quality or reliability.

Yes, we get it: We can now summon answers of questionable accuracy, generate text of questionable quality and originality, and create images of — well, questionable quality and originality. Do we really need those functions in every possible surface?

Beneath all the hype, though, the generative AI systems at the heart of this movement genuinely do have some practical value. You’ve just gotta dig to get past the underwhelming also-rans and uncover the truly thoughtful, carefully conceived places where the technology is being put to good use.

But hey, you don’t have to get your hands dirty. I’ve had my metaphorical shovel out for months now as I’ve sifted through the rubble to find the buried diamonds — the standout AI-infused apps that actually enhance your workday productivity and add meaningful value into your life.

Here are eight such treasures you probably haven’t heard of that are well worth your while to try.

Part I: Documents and presentations

1. ChatPDF

The next time someone sends you a sprawling document that looks about as interesting to read as a tax return, remember the website ChatPDF.

ChatPDF — which notably is a strictly web-based tool and not the same as any mobile apps that share its moniker — does exactly what its name suggests: It lets you upload any PDF or even DOC/DOCX file and then ask questions about the file to get quick ‘n’ simple information.

You can ask for a simple summary, or you can dive into super-specific questions about the material within. You can even upload multiple documents together and then ask questions that pertain to all of them at the same time. However you go about it, it’s a fast and easy way to get the info you need without having to read pages upon pages of monotonous material.

JR Raphael / IDG

ChatPDF claims to be able to summarize documents in any language and chat in any language worldwide. The service is free for up to two documents a day, with each being as much as 120 pages and up to 10MB in size — a generous limit that’ll probably be plenty for most casual purposes. If you do need more than that, the service offers a premium plan that gives you unlimited uploads with up to 2,000 pages and 32MB per document for $140 a year.

ChatPDF promises that all data is stored securely, easy to delete upon request, and never shared in any way with anyone — but even so, it might be wise to avoid uploading any especially sensitive company-related documents and to use the service only for more casual, non-confidential-material-involving purposes. Better safe than sorry, right?

2. Beautiful.ai

When it comes to professional presentation creation, it simply doesn’t get any better than Beautiful.ai.

Beautiful.ai takes the typically painful process of building a presentation and makes it not only easy but also almost enjoyable. The web-based app relies on artificial intelligence to help you format and design slides and make ’em look polished and professional without any real effort — and with any specific parameters or company brand guidelines you have in mind.

You can claim as much control over the look of your slides as you want, but the best part of Beautiful.ai is how it just intelligently adapts the design for you as you go and makes it look good, no matter what you might be doing. It’s “design AI,” in a sense, and it’s shockingly impressive.

Beautiful.ai does also offer some more typical generative AI elements. You can ask the service to create a specific type of presentation for you, and it’ll not only format and design the thing but also pull in publicly available data and do all the heavy lifting. And while the result likely won’t be exactly what you need (and will require thorough fact-checking along with a fair amount of rewriting), its initial output could eliminate a lot of legwork and give you a time-saving head start for refining.

JR Raphael / IDG

All in all, it’s a recipe that changes the way you think about presentations and will absolutely spoil you for all other such software.

Beautiful.ai costs $144 a year for individuals or $480 per user per year on a collaborative team plan. It also has a $45-per-project a la carte option.

Part II: Email

3. Superhuman

If there’s one AI-oriented tool that’s really struck a chord with me, personally, it’s the newly launched Ask AI feature within the Superhuman email app. No exaggeration: My jaw literally dropped the first few times I tried it and saw what it was capable of accomplishing and how much of a difference it’d make in my own email-centric workflow.

Superhuman, if you aren’t aware, is a cross-platform app that gives you a highly optimized, efficiency-oriented interface for interacting with your email. It’s designed for people who spend tons of time in their inboxes and wade through oceans of email every day.

And its Ask AI feature fits brilliantly within that framing. While using any of the service’s desktop apps — the native Windows or Mac programs or the web-based browser version — you can simply hit the question mark key from anywhere to pull up the new Ask AI prompt.

From there, you can type out any plain-English question or command related to anything in your email. And while you could just use that as a simpler way to search and find specific messages, the real power comes from asking for actual information contained within an email or even a series of emails. It’s a massive time-saver that makes regular ol’ searching seem almost antiquated in comparison.

For example, you might ask:

  • When’s my next flight?
  • Where’s my Airbnb in San Francisco?
  • What did Val tell me about my last feature story idea?
  • How much is my last accountant invoice?
  • What’s the link for the new Computerworld WordPress site?
  • Summarize all the emails from Nvidia this month
  • Find some positive feedback about my Android Intelligence newsletter

These are all actual examples I’ve tried in my own inbox. And the results have consistently been fast, accurate, and helpful — noticeably more so than with Google’s own occasionally available Gemini-in-Gmail equivalent.

JR Raphael / IDG

The Ask AI feature is included as a part of all Superhuman subscriptions, which run $30 a month or $25 a month paid annually. The feature is in the midst of rolling out to all users on the desktop front now and is expected to expand to the service’s mobile apps sometime this summer.

Part III: Calendar

4. Dola

For all the productivity progress tech has brought us in recent years, one simple-seeming task that remains vexingly cumbersome is interacting with your calendar.

Dola does wonders for making that chore easy. In short, it’s an AI chatbot that integrates with your choice of four standard messaging platforms — WhatsApp, Telegram, Line, and Apple Messages (a.k.a. iMessage) — and then connects directly to Google Calendar, Apple Calendar, or any other calendar that supports the CalDAV protocol. (Microsoft Outlook, unfortunately, doesn’t make this easy, though you can use a third-party plugin like the favorably reviewed Caldavsynchronizer to bridge the gap.)

If you aren’t already using one of those messaging services, you can simply fire up a free account explicitly for this purpose. That’s what I did, with Telegram.

Then, once you add Dola into the service and connect it to your calendar, you can send Dola messages right within the regular chat app to accomplish everything from creating new events to canceling or moving existing appointments and also asking conversational questions about anything on your agenda.

dola creating calendar event from chat message

Dola lets you interact with your calendar via simple commands in messaging apps you’re already using.

JR Raphael / IDG

Dola can also generate all sorts of information for you and add it into your calendar events — things like lists of popular lunch spots in a specific area or even ideas for company slogans.

Dola is free to use for now, during the service’s early access phase. Its founders say there’ll eventually be some manner of paid, premium option.

Part IV: Notes and transcriptions

5. Fathom

I think we can all agree that Zoom meetings — along with Google Meet meetings, Microsoft Teams meetings, and all other kinds of virtual meetings — are objectively the worst.

And while AI can’t (yet) keep you from having to sit through those virtual torture sessions, an app called Fathom can make ’em much more tolerable.

Fathom runs quietly in the background on your computer and then automatically records, transcribes, and summarizes all of your video calls. You can search through or share its summaries and even sync ’em directly into other productivity tools such as Slack or Asana if you want.

But even if you just stick with the basics, the app lets you relax and stop worrying about taking notes or missing something important — because you know it’s listening along with you and jotting down every last word along with a simple summary of the high points.

fathom app creating action items in video meeting

Using Fathom is like having a super-focused personal assistant in all of your virtual meetings.

JR Raphael / IDG

Fathom requires a Windows or Mac computer for its local software, and it currently supports English, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, and German. You can either activate its recording manually in each meeting or opt to connect it to your Google or Microsoft calendar and allow it to automatically record any Zoom, Meet, or Teams call on your agenda.

Data is encrypted in transit and at rest, and Fathom says it does not train AI models on customer data. (See more details about the company’s security and compliance practices in its Trust Center.)

Best of all? The service is completely free to use for those core features, with absolutely no limitations around the number or length of calls it’ll record and then store. The company makes its money by selling an optional premium subscription that adds in features like advanced AI summaries, AI-generated action items and follow-up emails, systems for team management, and integrations with HubSpot, Salesforce, Close, and Zapier.

6. Whisper Web

Transcribing a video call is fine and dandy — but what about when you want to turn a regular phone call, an in-person meeting, or an already-recorded conversation into text for simple searching and future referencing?

An open-source web app called Whisper Web is the answer. Whisper Web relies on OpenAI’s Whisper AI system to offer on-demand, real-time transcription right in your browser. It actually downloads the associated generative AI model and runs it right on your own device, which means your data never leaves that computer, phone, or tablet or gets sent to a remote server for processing.

whisper web transcribing audio

Whisper Web works swiftly and efficiently right on your own device — and right inside your browser.

JR Raphael / IDG

Whisper Web can record audio live from your microphone or import audio from an existing file you already have ready. Its creators say it’s trained on multilingual data and able to support on-the-fly translation from other languages into English, too. And it’s completely free to use, without the need for any accounts or sign-ins.

7. Summarize.tech

When you’ve got YouTube on your to-do list and you have neither the time nor the patience to sit and watch an entire work-related video — say, a presentation of some sort, a marathon company keynote, or maybe a boring-as-can-be board meeting — a splendid site called Summarize.tech will make your life instantly easier.

Summarize.tech takes any YouTube link you feed it and generates an on-demand transcript of the entire clip in seconds. It breaks the video down into broadly summarized sections and lets you click on any section to expand it and dive into deeper, more specific summaries within. It can even take videos in other languages, including Spanish and French, and translate and then summarize them in English for you.

JR Raphael / IDG

Summarize.tech is free for “a few” videos per day. For anything more than that, the service offers a $10-a-month premium plan that raises the limit to 200 videos a month.

8. AudioPen

Last but not least, if you take lots of notes on the go, an AI-infused app called AudioPen is a tough tool to beat.

AudioPen is kind of like a dumping ground for any and all of your passing thoughts. Whenever something occurs to you — an idea for a client proposal, a potential project for your company’s upcoming quarter, or anything else imaginable — you just hit the record button within the service and yammer away.

AudioPen stores a complete audio recording of your ramblings and also cooks up near-instant plain-text summaries of everything you say, automatically editing out filler words and repetition. Each individual recording then becomes a note in your virtual notebook. You can search through the text, translate it into another language, and interact with it in all sorts of potentially useful ways from there.

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AudioPen transforms any manner of rambling into concise, organized notes for ongoing reference.

JR Raphael / IDG

Like many of the other tools in this collection, AudioPen is completely web-based — which means it works on any device, be it a phone, tablet, or computer, and it doesn’t require any downloads or installations. You can, however, opt to install it as a progressive web app if you want a more native-feeling app-like experience.

AudioPen is free for recordings up to three minutes in length and with up to 10 stored notes at a time. An optional $99-a-year (or $159-for-two-years) premium plan eliminates those limitations and adds in a slew of extra features, including customizable styles for your summaries, summaries across multiple notes, and a simple system for sharing any notes you want to make public.

Source:: Computer World

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