This is Part 1 of a continuing series.
As I noted on iPaday, one of the things I am focusing on is the best and most efficient way to insert my iPad into my work flow. As a full fledged member of the rat race, who works in a corporate environment run on Microsoft Office and Exchange, this is not the easiest thing to do.
A Brief Rant
Let me get a major gripe out of the way and then we’ll move on. Apple, seriously, there’s no good reason why our documents have to be kidnapped from the bowels of our iPads by third party apps. The iPad is plenty powerful enough to support some sort of file system that allows us to access, manipulate and save documents directly. If for some incomprehensible reason this is not the case, then give me 8 hours of battery life instead on 10. Or 6. The other 2-4 hours are wasted trying to get around these needless limitations anyway.
iPads need a vastly improved system for managing documents.
Apple claims to seek acceptance in the corporate arena, but unless document management becomes a lot easier, it simply will not happen. This, along with the absence of a camera or two, is the best hope for the forthcoming HP Slate.
But since Apple makes it hard, let’s do it the hard way.
Email via Exchange works great on the iPad, right out of the box. I, for one, am really glad Apple did not implement the universal inbox. Those of us with real jobs don’t want to blend our work and personal email. If Apple does implement a universal inbox, I deeply hope it does so as an option only.
Receiving corporate email on an iPad, even with attachments, is easy and pleasing. Sending email with attachments is needlessly burdensome, however, since there is no way to attach a document from within the email application. You have to start from within Pages or whatever app holds the attachment you want to send. Again, why?
Once you get an email with a Word document attached, it’s a little awkward, but manageable, to open the attachment in Pages, edit it, and then export it as a Word document and email it back. Tracked changes do not appear on the imported document, and there is no similar feature in Pages. Apple really needs to figure out a way to view and create tracked changes (or the equivalent) in order to ensure that corporate users think of the iPad as more Word-like and less Google Docs (ugh) like.
Accessing documents is a common annoyance on the iPad. There is no sane way to move documents to and from your iPad, so you have to patch together a group of apps to end-run around Apple’s insanity.
Here are the ones I’m using, which taken together, work pretty well.
Windows on an iPad?
The first app in my arsenal is Desktop Connect. It is an elegant and easy to configure app that allows you to access and use your Windows desktop via your iPad.
See Live Writer, right there on my iPad. Cool, huh?
Desktop Connect is surprisingly snappy and very useable. One way I have used it is to view Word documents with tracked changes, by opening Word and then the document I want to review.
Seeding and Seeing the Cloud
While Desktop Connect is handy for running desktop apps and viewing documents that reside on your desktop, it it not a solution for moving documents between your desktop, the cloud and your iPad.
The next app I rely on, for both document access and general backup, is SugarSync. I’ve been pretty carefree about backing up my data, and so I decided to solve two problems with one good app. I now have most of my documents, photos and MP3s backed up to SugarSync, which seems to have the best price ($150 a year for 100 GB; $250 a year for 250 GB) and the best iPad app.
Via the SugarSync iPad app, I can access, view and manage my files on my iPad. The access part works perfectly. To get a document from SugarSync onto your iPad requires that you email it to yourself (again there is no reason it has to be that hard). You can email documents natively from within the SugarSync app, however, so this is not quite as burdensome as it sounds.
Here’s the way a folder looks in the SugarSync app. Very nicely done
For retrieving documents from my email accounts and my Dropbox and Google Docs accounts, I use GoodReader, which is a very useful app and one of the few, at a very reasonable 99 cents, that isn’t overpriced.
You can easily configure GoodReader to connect to your various accounts, as well as to your desktop via WiFi, after which it is simple to move documents to your iPad, as needed. Getting them back is another unnecessarily roundabout journey. Essentially you have to email the revised document to yourself and then get it back to its original location from there.
See how nicely GoodReader shows the attachments to emails in my Gmail inbox? Downloading them to my iPad is a one-click process.
Paging all Tech Gurus
GoodReader is preconfigured to work with many email and cloud services, including Dropbox, Mobile.me and Box.net. I have not yet figured out, but badly need to know, how to configure GoodReader to connect with and access my SugarSync files. Anybody want to help a brother with this?
Virtual Flash Drive
Finally, I use Air Sharing HD as a alternate way to move files to and from my desktop. Ultimately, I may resort to a single app for this and cloud access, but for now I’m still experimenting like a Freshman at college.
Here’s the way my iPad looks in Windows Explorer via Air Sharing HD. It’s simple to drag files back and forth.
It’s a patchwork solution to a problem that, frankly, shouldn’t exist. But these are some well designed apps, that make the iPad much more useful in a business environment.
I’ll have more later. In the meantime, what other apps and advice do you have for the business user?