Padding your work – the iPad in the office

iPad © by Yagan Kiely
I recently added an iPad to my technology arsenal. I’ve been using a MacBook Air for several years now and I really like the size & weight, but compared to the iPad it’s enormous and has a short battery life. I get a lot of use out of my iPhone, so I know what the iPad can do. Some continue to insist the iPad is just a toy.

For me, the big question mark is the keyboard. If I’m carrying an iPad and a notebook while traveling, it seems a bit ridiculous. If I carry an iPad and a keyboard, isn’t that just a notebook? Is there any real advantage to such a thing? Well I decided to give it a try and see what happens.

I travel a lot, so based on things like email, eBooks, and in-flight entertainment the iPad was a no-brainer, it can do them all very well. But I was wondering how useful I can actually make it in a software company.

If you’re going to try to use the iPad as a replacement device, there are a few categories of apps you’re going to be interested. I’ve broken out a few of these categories and selected some basic apps to see how well they will work. I’ll go into more detail on each after I’ve got some real use.

I checked out a list of 30 Business Apps and while it has some interesting ideas, it didn’t cover some specific software development needs. I’m purposely ignoring the entertainment category such as music, video and games, as it’s well covered in many other places.

Office Tools

I bought a couple of office suites for comparison purposes. I know, this sounds crazy, but it’s still less than the price for Microsoft Office on a desktop. My basic needs are typical word-processing, simple spreadsheet, and presentations. I also have some apps for note-taking and planning.

I happen to be a fan of the Mac office suite with Numbers, Pages, and Keynote. Especially Keynote is a great improvement over PowerPoint. So I bought each of those apps. I had already purchased a Keynote remote app for my iPhone that I haven’t had the chance to tryout yet.

However, our office and clients remain largely Microsoft (MSFT) based, so I bought the QuickOffice apps as well. After initially giving it a pass, I decided to get DocsToGo as well. There are one or two other major office suites for the iPad as well, I may try them at some point, but probably only if I’m missing something. I’ll be shaking them all down as much as I can in the coming weeks and I’ll give the long and short of it here.

There are a few other tools I use frequently in the office, such as a voice recorder to take dictation for creating presentations, training materials, whitepapers, articles, etc. At the moment this is centered heavily around the built-in memo recorder on the iPhone, and possibly Siri will help but I don’t know yet. I’ve also got Dragon Dictation but mostly it’s something I record and then later work from manually. I’ve got a few other audio recording apps as well. I’ll give a full shakedown in the near future.

Another useful office tool is having some kind of scanner software based on using the camera in the iPad. OCR on top of that is really the icing on the cake. I’ve got a couple of these installed, at the moment GeniusScan and JotNot Pro. I’ll see if I can figure out which is best.

For note taking I’ve frequently used simple text editors or a blank page in the word processor. While both work, neither is well-suited to the task. Ideally I should be able to type, write with my finger or stylus, and draw simple things to help illustrate the topic at hand. I should be able to save, edit, and share the document created. With that in mind, I’ve got a few note-takers installed like PenUltimate, but the noe I have high hopes for is Note Taker HD.

I’ve also got an app that lets me try to study/plan/organize based on putting 3×5 cards on a cork-board. It looks really great, but I’m not yet convinced it’s actually useful or sustainable.

Travel Tools

This is a category that some office users won’t need. If you’re an iPad in the office and at home kind of person, you can probably skip this set. My initial set includes the apps for the airlines I use, just in case I need them. I also have the TSA app for airport information. The bulk of my travel information comes from TripIt which I have found very useful on the iPhone.

I also take a GPS on the road with me via my iPhone, so I haven’t listed it as a necessary item for the iPad, even though the bigger screen makes for easy mapping.

File transfer

I also already have some file sharing apps to transfer files on and off my device. Mostly I use iDisk since I have MobileMe but long-term I will be doing something else. I’ve installed Box.net since they have the free 50GB offer running right now. I may get a small DropBox for comparison with that. And my Latest favorite in this area is FileBrowser which let’s me do normal file system browsing on remote computers, such as my desktop.

I’ve got a few others as well, some of which have already been deleted for lack of usefulness.

Development tools

For software development I have a decent Bugzilla client called iBzilla, and nice SVN source control client called CodeViewer 2, and I bought a few code editors I will be trying out, including Textastic, Koder, and of course what computer is complete without VI?

Database

One could argue that database is part of the development tools category, but I think it’s big enough to warrant separate treatment. I do a lot of database work, so again I already had iPhone apps for connection to various DBs such as Oracle and MySQL. I updated them to iPad versions. Mostly I use Navicat. I’ll discuss this in a separate post, but if anyone has suggestions for good DB apps I’d be happy to check them out.

I also have Bento for quick and dirty db stuff, but I currently don’t use it much. If I find a way to leverage it for work I’ll let you know.

Social / Web stuff

For social and web stuff I have the usual suspects, Twitter, WordPress, Polldaddy, LinkedIn, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Instant messengers, etc. This covers blogging, posting info, messaging, as well as video conferencing.

Geek stuff (SysAdmin)

And I had the usual array of geek utilities like DNS tools such as nslookup, VNC for remote login, and a terminal client that includes SSH support. There is some overlap between these so I’ll try to narrow it down to what you actually need with what’s good and bad about each.

Other iPad stuff

There are a few other things that are interesting. For example, I am making more use of the Kindle application now for books. I do have a Kindle and there are times I prefer it, but that’s normally for when I am not carrying the iPad.

I find the Kindle device great for reading, but the larger iPad better for reference books. One other benefit is that most technical manuals are much cheaper on Kindle than in print, and it’s very convenient to have them with you when you need them.

I’m going to assume that at least conceptually all of the ideas here are equally useful for other tablets. This will depend of course on having the apps you need available on the platform of your choice.

I could certainly borrow a tablet from a friend and do a similar experiment, but it’s something that takes time to do in depth, so we’ll see. If any of you are interested in a similar idea, let’s talk.

Updates on real world experience will be coming in the near future as I shake down each category.

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