I owned an iPad for a while but never really used it properly. I now believe that this was due to not having the right software tools on it. By investing a small amount of funds you can turn an iPad from a toy to a productivity tool. I know there are many “Top lists of apps for the IPad” but here is mine with some reasons behind them.
One of the apps that I use the most is Notability. Notability is a note taking program that supports semi-structured documents to be created (with headings, sub heading etc.). It also supports drawing of pictures both with virtual pencils which are good for scribbling and as more formal MacDraw style structured documents. Your notes can be organised into categories which effectively partition notes into folder like structures. Synchronisation is somewhat limited – the app supports Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and WebDav, none of which I use due to paranoia about security. It would be nice if it had an ssh conduit for synchronising with arbitrary file systems but currently it does not. To get around this problem I use PDFExpert described below.
Reading documents and synchronisation
PDFExpert is very badly named and is one of the best iPad apps in my opinion. It provides the ability to read a wide variety of file types including acrobat, word, excel and text files (and I am sure more). PDF files can be annotated by highlighting text and with a number of different styles of pens (different colours, thicknesses etc.). There are couple of twists that turn this to more than a pdf annotation tool. The first is that, provided you have PDF convertor (described below) you can turn any file type into a pdf and then annotate it. Secondly, the tool has a really nice network synchronisation mechanism. This permits files that reside on a server to automatically synchronised with the server. Annotations etc. can be pushed back onto a server and changes on the server can be pulled onto the iPad. The synchronisation feature supports SFTP access to server thus avoiding the need to use cloud servers which might put confidential docs into the public domain. It does of course support all the usual suspects such as WebDav, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive etc. for those who like that kind of thing. Lastly it features a HTTP server which allows the iPad to serve document on the iPad to other machines (a feature I do not use due to security concerns).
PDF convertor permits documents on the iPad to be converted to PDF. It can be used from a variety of apps – I use it primarily with PDFExpert and Notability. In recent improvements to one of these apps (I am not sure which), documents can be converted in place. For example a document in PDFExpert can be converted in PDF convertor and then automatically imported back into PDFExpert and then synchronised with the server.
Documents also from Readdle (like the two above) provides a nice remote file browser of remote file systems. It also permits files to be uploaded from the file server onto the iPad. It is not clear to me the exact differences between it and PDFExpert (it may be a true subset) but I use it occasionally for remote browsing of server files due to the simple interface it provides.
Alfresco is an open source Enterprise Content Management System. It provides a server (or cloud) content manager which (according to Wikipedia) “may be used to track and store electronic documents. It is usually also capable of keeping track of the different versions modified by different users (history tracking).” The power of such systems comes when they may be accessed from mobile devices such as the iPad. This app does exactly that providing enterprise level access and control to Alfresco servers provided by individuals, enterprises or in the cloud. If you share documents using e-mail it is time to invest in some of this!
Getting things done (GTD)
There are a number of getting things done tools for the iPad (i.e. fancy to do list managers). The one that I used until recently is called remember the milk. It has a clean user interface and is very easy to use. It is also free! The down side is that it is really a web app and to keep coherent up-to-date copies of your task lists on multiple devices requires you to upgrade to pro which costs a few pounds – (£17.49 per year at the time of writing). Given that this is a web app you would not want to keep anything really private in it. Remember the Milk strangely has no desktop support on the Mac – there is an Adobe Air app called “App for the Milk” that works quite well (provided that you have gone pro).
An alternative to Remember the Milk is Omni Focus. However, for my money this app is too complex (although the iPad version is, in my opinion, easier to use than the Mac Desktop version. There is no windows support for this app at the time of writing.
Trello (trello.com) has recently released an iPad App. It is the GTD application par excellence and is actually a web app. I run it on my Mac using a Web wrapper called fluid (which is worth a mention in its own right).
Trello supports the concepts of Boards and Lists. Lists contain cards which can be flagged with tags, due dates etc. and contain textual items, pictures, links, checklists etc. How many boards, lists and cards you have is up to you. You can also share your boards with team members making it a powerful team organisational tool.
1Password is a fantastic password management tool. It runs on the iPhone, iPad, PC and Mac with plugins for most common Web browsers and is capable of securely storing all your passwords, bank details etc. One of the really nice things about it is that it uses Dropbox as storage for your encrypted passwords and provides automatic synchronisation with your other devices. I would be totally lost without this piece of software.
Reading documents off line
My choice for off line reading is an app called Pocket. Like remember the milk (RTM), it is free and synchronises with the cloud. Therefore like RTM it cannot be used for secret stuff – then again it is not designed for that – it is designed for permitting you to read web content later even when you are offline – great for plane trips etc. This app comes with a bunch of plug ins for common browsers making it easy to mark articles for later reading. These are a little clunky on the iPad but they do the job. In addition to being able to mark
What is the cost?
At the time of writing (14-3-2013) the cost of the above apps is as follows:
PDF Convertor £4.99
Remember the Milk Free
Total cost to get tooled up = £26.46
As usual, if you find this useful please consider giving a few quid to Oxfam. If you have any other handy apps please let me know!