Many of my friends have iPad’s at work but only use them to browse the Internet and open emails. One of them told me “the only problem is that when I open a PowerPoint presentation, the format is all messed up” and I wondered “how can it be?”… Yes, after 6 years, a lot of people still don’t realize that you can do most tasks at work with an iPad – and that it is simpler than a desktop or laptop, to the point of being almost liberating!
And so I thought I’d help everyone in the same place as my friends and create a short guide on how to do business work with an iPad. This article is that Guide. However, this is not a User Guide; it is only a framework to guide you on how to set up your iPad for work. You will still have to do the work of trying it out, explore and find all the buttons yourself.
An iPad can do 95% of what 95% of people need
(In this article, I am focusing particularly in tasks having to do with production of documents. I am intentionally leaving out the usage of Enterprise Systems, like Oracle or SAP ERP’s. For that, you’ll need to talk to your IT department – mention to them a little jewel called Citrix. It works reasonably well on an iPad)
If you have to produce documents, spreadsheets and especially presentations, you can do it with an iPad. The machine is great as well at creating drawings and diagrams, trimming pictures and icons to insert into text or presentations and simply amazing at notes and commenting and marking up PDF’s. Of course, if you are an avid consumer of News, you can’t beat an iPad for near-real-time access to News from many sources for Free or at a very low cost.
You exceed the current capabilities of iPad-available Apps when you have to work with Pivot tables in Excel or if you work with spreadsheets that are very long, in which case moving up to the 13″ iPad Pro will help.
What I recommend, though, is that you set yourself up with an iPad Air 2 for the majority of your work and for those cases where you have to deal with complex spreadsheets, have a laptop on a desk somewhere for those exceptional cases. But most people won’t even need this latter element.
A Few Starting Points
Forget the Windows paradigm
In my opinion and having done this now since the first iPad in 2010, working with an iPad is easier and more fun than working with a Laptop (let alone a Desktop – yuck!). But you must open your mind and try not to do ‘mind mapping’, i.e. look for the things you are used to in a Windows desktop. A lot of people try to approximate the iPad to a Windows paradigm and fail – they also miss the point completely. The Windows/cursor/mouse paradigm is ancient – 30 years old! The iPad is a screen you work with – keyboard, mouse, cursor are all unnecessary or incidental. So:
- Liberate yourself of the need for a mouse and a cursor;
- Liberate yourself from the need for multiple windows;
- Forget the desktop itself – you know, where you usually have a ton of clutter – files, icons, etc.;
You won’t need any of these things. The iPad world is infinitely simpler. It takes a few days to get used to everything but the reward is tremendous – you will be totally mobile and be able to do all your work literally anywhere.
How much capacity do you need?
At the time of this writing, I recommend you get an iPad Air 2 (unless you prefer to go up to one of the iPad Pro models). The 2 has 2 GB of memory and is a pretty fast machine. In a few months, it’s possible that Apple announces a new set of models and the equivalent of the 2 today will be something else. So, you should get an iPad that has good performance at a reasonable price.
As for storage capacity: iPad’s are not meant to store your documents, photos, videos and other files – you keep most of that in the Cloud (through a Cloud service as described a bit later). And you really want to keep your content in the Cloud so that you have the freedom of using more than one machine (for instance, an iPad, an iPhone and a Mac) without worrying about moving files around; and so that you are invulnerable to losing or having your iPad stolen.
Thus, the main reason for storage is Apps. For most people, I suggest the 64Gb models, although many could do with 32Gb.
The Share button
When navigating through an iPad and its Apps, there is one ubiquitous button that appears everywhere and is probably the most important tool to move documents around. It is the Share button and it is a button you will use very often.
This button is generally used to move or copy content to another App. If you have a document in front of you, clicking the Share button will pop a ribbon of various Apps; you select the App you want that document to ‘go to’ and what happens is that you get to that App with that document. (Sometimes, you need to press an additional button – “More” or “Open In…” to see the App you’re looking for.)
For instance, if you are in the Mail App and you open a PowerPoint attachment, you can then click the Share button and select the Keynote App; this will open the file in the Keynote App. It can work the other way around: if you are in the Box App, through the Share button you can copy a file to the Mail App – which, essentially, opens an email with that file attached thereto. If you have a file – say, in Pages or Keynote, and you want a copy to be stored in a Box repository, you can select the file; click Share; select Box – and that will copy the document to the Box App where you can select the directory where you want to store the file.
Where do we keep our documents?
When I first started to use the iPad for office work, the question that intrigued me the most was – where do the documents go? On a Windows environment, documents are managed separately and explicitly – you have some sort of file manager where you can find them, move them around, etc. Also, when you edit a document, you then save it – saving is a separate, explicit action and it allows you to choose where the document goes.
The iPad is, first and foremost, a machine and an environment of simplicity. You don’t save things, they are always being updated as you work on them. But as far as where they get stored, there are two ways of doing it – one is simple, the other more complex.
Documents go in the Cloud – we already said that. But “the Cloud” isn’t an abstract concept. “Cloud” means that the servers storing the documents are in some data centre provided as a service by one of various possible sources, accessible through the Internet. You can choose to go with iCloud from Apple or go with Google Drive, Dropbox or Box. The latter 3 (and others like them) are pretty similar in terms of the way they work. iCloud is different.
I find the iCloud approach to be the simplest even though it takes time to get used to it (if you come from a desktop world). When you use iCloud, documents are stored and are found within an App and therefore you don’t have to worry about where they are or about finding them. For instance, if you use Pages for word processing, when you open Pages you will find Pages documents in the App. You don’t have to go to a separate place, find the document, then go to Pages from there for editing. It’s a much simpler approach and it’s used by any App that uses iCloud to store content. iCloud just works, you don’t need to treat it separately and explicitly. Apps like Notability, Awesome Note or Pixelmator use iCloud and work the same way as Pages: you don’t worry about the Cloud. You work with documents within Apps and the Cloud ‘thing’ is being done for you behind the scenes.
With iCloud, Apple leaves the most recent content in your device and old content appears as an icon or thumbnail. This prevents your capacity from being exceeded quickly and is the reason why I said that even 32Gb of storage may be sufficient.
With the other services, you are aware of the repository of documents explicitly and you manipulate them explicitly. It may appear more familiar but it is definitely more complex than using the iCloud approach.
Essentially, then, you have two choices: either use iCloud-supported Apps and you never worry about the Cloud; or you go old fashion, in which case I recommend that you use Box. Box is a very robust platform that has evolved to cater to the requirements of Enterprises.
The simplest iPad set-up
The image at the start of this document shows the icons of the Apps I recommend in the simplest set-up to do work on an iPad. I will describe them here.
Pages, Numbers and Keynote
These 3 Apps encompass what is called iWorks – essentially, the Apple equivalent of Microsoft Office. iWorks came to the iPad a couple of years before Office and teye had time to evolve to the point where they are sufficiently functionality rich to satisfy the needs of most. They are simply excellent and for the vast majority of people you will not run out of functionality.
All 3 have one thing in common – they are simple and easy to use but quite powerful. As an example, if you open Pages you won’t find a ribbon up there full of icons, as is the case with the Office Apps. There is a single button for all formatting. The same is true of Keynote and Numbers.
Keynote is infinitely easier to use than PowerPoint, more intuitive and has brilliant animation effects that you won’t find in PowerPoint. Simply a joy to work with. Make sure you try a transition effect called “Magic Move”- simply amazing how it saves you time.
Numbers is pretty powerful although it doesn’t go as far as Excel. However, for most people’s skill level with spreadsheets, it has everything you need.
Work with these apps for a few days and you will get used to them. Once you do, you won’t look back because they really are so much simpler than the Office stuff.
At most, if you are a heavy spreadsheet user, you will have to go to Excel (more on this later) but I doubt you will ever need more than what the other two provide.
How to Distribute iWorks documents
There are two ways of sending documents to others that you create with the iWorks products. Either way you use the Share button within the App but then the App gives you the choice of format to send the document in. You can choose PDF or you can choose the Office equivalent (e.g., Word for Pages).
I always distribute my documents as PDF, it makes everything easier, including for the recipient if they are using an iPad or an iPhone. I prefer that people send me comments on PDF and then I edit the source document myself, rather than fussing with multiple versions with comments.
Of course, you can always send the document as an iWorks document if the recipient has the software.
How about Notes?
iPad’s are natural machines for note taking. Having tried many, many Apps for this purpose, I always come back to Notability as the best all around App for Notes. Not only you can do text, handwriting, sketches and drawings, there a specific feature of Notability that makes it my favourite: if you receive a, iWorksdocument, an Office document or a PDF document as an attachment to an eMail, using the Share button you can open the document in Notability. The latter will convert the document into PDF form and then create a note with that PDF in it. You can then comment on the document, with text, sketches or highlights. And, of course, you can send it back, again through the Share button. Notability is iCloud compatible.
As just described, you can manipulate PDF documents with Notability. However, if you want something with more features catering to highlighting and marking up PDF documents, I recommend Liquid Text.
A great feature in this App is that once you’ve underlined or highlighted some of the text, you can collapse the document to view only highlighted text, a great facility to review long documents.
Liquid Text is iCloud compatible.
Storing documents outside Apps
As mentioned previously, the Apps recommended above all use iCloud which means that the documents they produce are kept within the App; behind the scenes, those documents are being synchronized to iCloud so you don’t have to worry about Cloud.
However, you may want to store the documents you receive through eMails from other people in their original form; and you may also want to store the PDF’s you send out, from any of the Apps recommended above.
For this purpose, we recommend Box, as already stated.
If you receive documents do the following:
- Open the document with the Mail App and then use the Share button to send it to the Box App;
- Once you get to Box, select where to store the document;
- From the Box App, use the Share button to send it to one of the Apps above.
If you send documents, do the following:
- From the source App, select sending the document in PDF form to another App, using the Share button;
- Select Box as being that App;
- Once you get to Box, select where to store the document;
- From Box itself, use the Share button again to send the PDF document by mail.
What’s the best for Diagrams?
Business work often entails creating diagrams such as flow charts and process maps. I’ve used two Apps for this purpose: Touchdraw and Graphic but I recommend the latter for its versatility and overall features. WIth Graphic, not only you can produce these ‘business’ diagrams, you can create any vector-graphic object and you can manipulate pictures quite well. Graphic is iCloud compatible as well.
Reading the News
iPad is a news source machine par excellence and of all the sources you could consider, the best in my opinion, without any hesitation, is Flipboard.
Flipboard presents you with a page with a number of squares or tiles (9 per page), each square representing a News source. The source can be single (e.g., CNN or The Guardian) or it can be curated, such as News combos created by Flipboard. When you click on a Tile, Flipboard gathers the most recent News on the Internet from those sources and displays the news articles in a composition resembling a newspaper. It’s pretty cool.
The Tiles, of course, are chosen by you. You can also select your Twitter or Facebook feeds as being the source in which case Flipboard will find all the links in your feed, open the link and present the content of all the links as a newspaper – pretty neat.
Links you collect from the Intranet
All of us browse the Internet. We may do so through a browser or we may use Flipboard. As we do this, we may want to keep an article we found for later. The best App today that I know for this purpose is called Pocket.
To store a link into Pocket, use the Share button – either from the browser or from Flipboard, and then select Pocket from the ribbon of Apps.
When you open Pocket, your links will be there, presented as thumbnails on a page, arranged as Tiles, similar to what Flipboard does.
A More Complex Route
As I prepared this article, I decided to recommend a set of Apps that represent the simplest form of desktop tools to work with an iPad. It is not the only one, but it is the simplest. It moves you away from Microsoft Office Apps but it provides you an environment where everything flows with great simplicity and where, in particular, the Cloud aspect of document storage is hidden from you (except when you use Box, which you don’t have to, anyway).
But you may have to approximate the environment you are accustomed to in Windows machines. You may be foreced to by IT departments that are still living in the past century.
In those circumstances, you may have to use Office instead of iWorks. You will then have to use explicit external Cloud services that complicate things. It’s not more complicated than what you experience in Windows but the point of an iPad is for things to be easier, to provide a new paradigm for the workplace that conforms to the vision of a Company of Tomorrow, Today, something I promote extensively.
Yes, I know how to integrate Office into the iPad work platform but I will address that question in another article. For now, I suggest you try what I presented above and learn from it… Before you jump into something more complex.
Excellent article! As usual!