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Alan Zisman on the Mac

iPad Apps Are Getting Down to Business

- 2010.07.26 - Tip Jar

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In June, this column proclaimed "Alan Zisman gets an iPad". At the time, I found the iPad neat but not yet ready for business.

Apple's touchscreen tablet is not going to function as your only computer. Too many things - getting documents on and off, as well as connecting to printers, scanners, projectors, etc. - are at best limited compared with even a low-end laptop or netbook.

But don't despair. You can still justify an iPad as a business expense. Here are several software add-ons - apps - that let you use an iPad for more than surfing the Web or watching downloaded video.

Typically, you'll get documents in or out of these programs using Apple's free iTunes app on your computer (PC or Mac). With the iPad connected, open iTunes, click on the iPad icon on the left, then click on the apps tab in the main window. Scroll down to a list of "file sharing" apps, clicking on each to upload, download, and delete documents for that app.

Office Suite

Apple offers a trio of productivity apps, iPad versions of the programs in its (Mac-only) iWork suite: Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet, and Keynote presentation program ($10 each). All let you create, view, and edit their respective types of documents and import files in the corresponding Microsoft Office formats (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint respectively).

You can export or email saved work as PDFs or in iWork formats. Pages also supports Microsoft .doc file exports, but Keynote can't export presentations in Microsoft's popular .ppt format.

For work with Microsoft Office documents, a better choice might be DataViz' Documents to Go ($10 for the standard edition and $15 for the premium edition). The company has versions for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, and more.

While the program started out as a way to view documents on a PDA or smartphone, it's grown in abilities and can now be used to edit documents. The iPad version makes good use of that device's large screen.

Instead of iTunes' file sharing feature, DocsToGo users need to download and install a free Mac or Windows utility to transfer documents. Optionally, it lets you set folders on your computer to automatically sync with the iPad.

Alternatively, DocsToGo supports multiple online file sharing repositories, including Dropbox, Google Docs, and Apple's Mobile Me. Like Apple's apps, you can also email documents directly from the program, and you can set it to automatically open email attachments received in the iPad's Mail app.

Also nice: If you already have a copy on an iPhone or iPod touch, the more capable iPad version is free. (And it includes a word-count feature - a must-have for things like this column.)

eReaders

While an update to Apple's free iBooks now works with PDFs, I find GoodReader (99¢ - also available for iPhone) a better tool for viewing those and a variety of other file types - PDFs, text files, Microsoft Office documents, photos, and sound files.

Like DocsToGo, it can import files stored online at Dropbox, Google Docs, et al, and can read email attachments. It can also read PDFs online or stored on local servers (via a WiFi connection).

When viewing a long document, it can be set to move directly to, say, page 128. (As a musician, I find it handy to jump around fat e-books of sheet music). Maybe Apple's iBooks can do that too, but I haven't found out how!

Running Your Computer from Your iPad

Mocha VNC Lite is free and lets me connect to a Mac (with Apple's screen sharing enabled) or Windows or Linux PC (with any of a large number of programs making use of the free VNC protocol installed); doing so gives me my computer screen on the iPad and lets me pop up a keyboard to control the remote computer.

Finger movements on the iPad screen translate to the mouse on the other computer awkwardly, but with practise, it's possible to run programs remotely that lack iPad equivalents. LEM

First published in Business in Vancouver, July 27 - August 2, 2010, issue #1083.

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, www.zisman.ca. If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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