Over the past few months several colleagues have approached me after they had bought an iPad. Having just shelled out for their shiny new toy, they were in ‘what now’ territory, that electronic no-man’s land between cupertino packaging and a fully customised device. Some had seen me use outliners and project management software (Merlin 2) and they were keen to start using their new acquisition in the work environment. But what to buy; and how to find good stuff on that seemingly bloated app store?
Everyone’s needs are different (truism alert, ozengo), but the following apps would provide a good start for many users who are keen to use an iPad in the workplace. Please note that I am just an ordinary user, not an expert, and that I cannot accept any liability for any adverse consequences resulting from people using any of the apps listed below (such as the IMF accidentally switching to the drachma, or worse).
- Dropbox. An online file management system. Key documents uploaded to Dropbox are available across all your nominated computers and devices. Fast, reliable and free (up to 2Gb, with the option of paying for more storage). The most efficient way of getting files on and off your iPad – a must-have.
- Evernote. Write notes or capture them in a variety of ways (photo, email, audio, web-clipping). Your notes can be tagged, organised by category and shared across devices. Excellent search function. This incredibly robust and versatile app is another must-have on every iPad and desktop. The basic version is free.
- Pages. Apple’s word-processing software, beautifully adapted for the iPad. Use Dropbox and/or email to transfer files back to your desktop. This app handles basic Word documents and costs around $10 – check the iTunes app store for details. A cheaper alternative is PlainText, a beautifully designed free app.
- Numbers. Apple’s spreadsheet software, again beautifully adapted for the iPad. The app handles Excel documents (at least the basic flat files that I use) and costs around $10 – check the app store for details.
- Keynote. An excellent presentation package. I use it to draft and edit swish-looking presentations (which I sometimes, reluctantly, have to convert to the drab corporate look). Like the other apps from the iWork suite this one costs around $10 – see the app store for details – and it handles PowerPoint files.
- iBooks. This excellent reader, which can be downloaded free from the app store, divides its ‘collections’ into books and pdfs. By going into your iTunes app and selecting ‘add to library’ from the file menu you can upload all sorts of pdfs onto your iPad. My iBooks pdf collection contains manuals, org charts and even a complete Act of Parliament. A favourite trick of mine is to upload my copy of meeting papers as a pdf. More often than not the papers are no longer required after the meeting and I can just delete them, helping to minimise my carbon footprint. If you need the capacity to annotate pdfs, you may want to consider iannotate ($10.49).
- You may need a task management app. I recommend Omnifocus (see previous post) if you are a Mac user or happy to use just the iPad and iPhone versions; GQueues if you need a browser-based app alongside your mobile devices or work in a Windows environment. Both apps are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.
- I use iThougthsHD ($10.49) as mind mapping/brainstorming software. Nice graphics, powerful yet easy to use and synchronises with Dropbox.
- Calling Soulver ($6.49) a calculator does not do justice to this multi-faceted app. It doubles as a currency converter and does all sorts of magical maths stuff that goes far beyond my needs and understanding. However, the most compelling feature for me is its customised buttons for percentage work (such as % of, % off, as a % of and others). You can also save the steps in your reasoning and calculations as neat little files that can be accessed from the navigation pane.
- Finally, every working boy or gal needs a good listing app, if only to combat listlessness in the workplace (groan – sorry). I use my checklists to keep track of committee members, meeting papers, recurrent processes, stuff to pack for conferences or site visits and the like. My favourites are Zenbe ($5.49) and CarbonFin ($5.49). CarbonFin is much more than a list program. It is a powerful outliner that can be used as a simple task manager, including basic project management tasks. It synchronises with a desktop version. In spite of this, I tend to use Zenbe more and it is always on my home page. I love them both.
Using the above apps (and MS-Project/Merlin 2) I manage to do all the work associated with three-day site visits for major review projects that I undertake as part of my job, leaving the laptop at home. I do chuck the wireless keyboard in my backpack if I expect to do a lot of word processing.
Update (21 October 2012)
Just a quick note to let you know that Zenbe appears to have gone out of business and that the app is no longer supported.