In my initial post reviewing the iPad, I mentioned my struggle with deciding if I would use it for home or work. This was a surprise, because I did envision it being anything but a home media device. In the first 48 hours, I was surprised to see my thoughts on this changing. However, that introduced a new problem; to allow my family to use the iPad, I really needed to not have it syncing with my business Exchange account. I do not want to risk unwanted messages being accidentally sent from that account or, even worse, data being deleted. After 3 weeks of using the iPad, this post will cover what I have learned and how I plan to use it for work.
First, I never undock my laptop to carry it around for meetings anymore. It stays at my desk and my iPad goes to meetings. It has hundreds of pages of project documents stored on it, and can access SharePoint to gather more if needed. Add in a bluetooth keyboard and this is a great portable platform.
When I am away from the office, I will either use just my iPad and iPhone to connect to WebEx meetings, or I will use the iPad to reference materials while I use my laptop for the WebEx or Live Meeting session (I wish Live Meeting worked with iPad).
In general, the iPad has not replaced my laptop. I am a “power user”, and simply have too many utilities to abandon a laptop at this point. However, it has replaced a large portion of what I used to rely on my laptop for, and it actually does a better job at most of those tasks. In truly fit the bill of being better than a laptop at some things, and better than an iPhone at some things. Convenience, UI, battery life and simple geek points aside, it is largely the apps that have moved this from a home media device to a work device, so let’s look at the apps I am using:
Let’s start with the native apps; Notes, Mail, Contacts and Calendar. You can find a lot of reviews on these apps, so I will be brief. The layout and usability of each of these apps is a huge improvement over the iPhone version. Notes was very easy to use, and I found myself using it to store all kinds of thoughts. The biggest drawback…no folders. To use it extensively, I would need to be able to better organize my notes into folders. Calendar is probably my favorite’ with it’s landscape format providing a complete view of my daily and weekly schedule. I found myself often leaving this open in landscape mode at my desk. As nice as the contacts/calendar/mail apps are, I am very used to these apps on my phone and will likely end up disabling them to make my iPad more family friendly. At the most, I may leave the calendar sync in place. However, if you use multiple email accounts on either the iPad or iPhone, I recommend iSignature to manage multiple email signatures.
Next, I will look at the apps that Apple should have included (and I imagine they will put back in future releases). I installed Pcalc Lite to make up for the missing calculator. I also installed Voice Memos to replace the missing voice recorder. These are not critical apps, but still very useful. I am hoping that the native versions of these apps were left off to allow time for Apple to retool them in a manner similar to the email and calendar apps. I would have preferred a simple native version up front, with improvements alter, but the makers of Pcalc Lite and Voice Memos picked up the ball (thank you).
As for Apple’s paid apps, iWorks was well worth the money. For those unfamiliar with iWorks, Pages is a word processor, Numbers is a spreadsheet app and Keynote is a presentation app. I can use Safari to connect to our corporate SharePoint server and open documents, then I get the “Open in…” dialogue in the upper right corner that will allow me to open word/excel/powerpoint documents for editing on my iPad. This same dialogue also exists for email and calendar attachments. This is a very nice interface, and I think the Numbers interface is very nice. In just a few minutes, I was able to use it to create a spreadsheet that took VMware cluster stats and calculated capacity based on an equation (may be a session at VMworld, but that’s another story). Though I have only used Keynote to view a few PowerPoint files, I have really enjoyed using Pages and Numbers. The iWorks suite was an immediate purchase for me, and may be what initially made me begin to see the iPad as much more than just a media device.
For me, the next apps that I added were the WordPress and Analytics Lite applications that I had used on the iPhone to manage my blog and check my Goggle stats. Analytics Lite is still an upscaled iPhone app, but the WordPress app was rewritten for the iPad. I wrote my initial iPad review on this app, and am writing this on it right now. I maintain multiple blogs, and this app allows me to easily manage my pages, posts and comments on all of these sites.
Another useful app that got a nice redesign was the YouTube application. Anyone at fails to see this as a business tool needs to seriously reconsider their definition of a business application. Companies like VMware have their own channels on YouTube, and provide a lot of educational videos to give in depth information on their products and services and to give insights into their technology direction. I have found this to be extremely valuable.
On the topic of social media, I have also found TweetDeck to be an extremely valuable app. This may also challenge your definition of a business tool, but I only use twitter for professional communications. The information I have learned from the people that I follow on Twitter has been invaluable at work. I have also been able to reach out for advice and get a range of quick responses to provide me with good input as I look to narrow down targets for further research. I would say this app is up and running on my iPad at work even more than the calendar app.
The next category is totally job specific, a set or tools I use in IT. This includes VNC Lite for connecting to my iMac and RDP Lite for connecting to workstations and servers. I also use Touch Term for establishing ssh sessions to my iMac or to other unix/Linux devices. And for personal connections (family and friends tech support calls), I use the LogMeIn app. As you can tell by the many “Lite” apps that I have already mentioned, I am adverse to paying much for apps. However, I did cough up the $29 for the LogMeIn app on the iPhone. This app had saved me several house calls, and I was very pleased to see it updated for the iPad. Not only was the iPad version free (an extension of the iPhone app I already owned, and not an entirely new app), but it also had some significant improvements to take advantage of the iPad improved screen size.
Two other IT tools that I find useful for quick data lookups are DNS Lookups and Net Utility. Where the purpose of the DNS Lookups app should be pert obvious, the Net Utility allows me to perform network pings, port scans and whois lookups. Both of these are iPhone apps that upscale for the iPad, but these apps are not really visual anyway.
I have also found the improvements to the WebEx application to be very useful. This has allowed to multi-task and watch several presentations from other meetings (don’t tell my project managers). Even when at my desk, this allows me to put the meeting presentation on my iPad and free my computer screen up for…well, multi-tasking again.
Finally, I have saved my two most valuable apps for last. iSaveweb and GoodReader have not only provided business value, but they have eased my back pain. I removed a pile of papers and files from my backpack that was over 3 inches tall. This was several hundred pages, and is now all on my iPad for easy retrieval. I used iSaveweb to capture all of my web pages for offline reading. These were mostly articles that I wanted to read, though I had been carrying some of them over over a year. All of my documents and PDF files were placed in GoodReader. GoodReader not only organizes everything into folders and interfaces with my DropBox account, but it also indexes everything for searching. Both iSaveweb and GoodReader also provide interfaces for easily exposing their files shares on your network to upload and download files, though GoodReader can also share files in a number of other ways. If it’s web interface was a little nicer, it may replace iSaveweb altogether. Not only is GoodReader free, but it is likely the single most valuable business app for the iPad.
Before GoodReader, I was carrying this three ring binder home every night and to most of my meetings during the day. I also had a stack of several hundred documents and articles in my backpack…all in GoodReader now.
I am still looking for a good app to take and organize notes in. GoodReader can take notes, but I am not blown away by that part of the app.
Overall, I hope is will give you a little information on the many ways that an iPad can provide you with business value. For the price, the many non-business uses, the long battery life and the amazing interface, finding these many business uses for the iPad was a pleasant surprise. In fact, I know several initial iPad purchasers that are seeing this value as well, and it may just drive some of us to buy a second iPad.