The iPad Apps That Keep Me Productive
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
The iPad is often considered to be an entertainment device, the TV of the 21st century. Apple has tried hard to show with their own apps that the iPad has much more potential than that, and I believe they see the iPad as the computer of the future for many people, and expect that we’ll still be able to be creative and productive from them. I personally use an original iPad (iPad 1, shall we say?) as my full computer when I’m traveling. It’s perfect because its so easy to carry and go, and you can easily knock out a 15 minute work session in a lobby without having to wait for it to boot and connect to the ’net. Plus, an all-day battery makes searching for plugs a thing of the past. Sure, I’m working as a writer, editor, and tech support guy, but for my work, I’m able to be very productive on the iPad, with the on-screen keyboard or an external Apple Bluetooth keyboard.
So, here’s the apps I use to keep me productive on my iPad. Each of them are great, in my opinion, and many of them are nicer than their respective counterparts on any other computing platform. Seriously.
- iA Writer ($0.99) - My favorite native writing app on the iPad and Mac. iCloud and Dropbox integration, a beautiful monospaced font, and extra buttons to make navigation easier seal the deal.
- Pages, Keynote, and Numbers ($9.99 each) - If you need Office on your iPad, then the iWork apps are actually what you need. Don’t even try out other office apps; none others are worth it, and I’ve tried them all. Pages is the app I’ve used the most of the 3, and have written dozens of essays for college that were “required” to be written in Word. Worked perfectly. I use Keynote regularly for giving presentations along with my teaching, and it puts PowerPoint to shame. Numbers … well, you just never know when having a spreadsheet around is handy. Budgets, comparison pricing, stats, you name it, it works great. Simplest spreadsheet you’ve ever touched. Wait: perhaps the only spreadsheet you’ve actually touched.
- 1Password Pro ($14.99) - Keeping all of your passwords and account info everywhere makes working on the go much easier. Best used, of course, in conjunction with iPassword for Mac or Windows on your computer, but if your iPad’s your only computer, it’s still great for storing secure data on your iPad and syncing it with Dropbox. And yes, I said that: for many people, an iPad really could be your only computer.
- iCab Mobile ($1.99) - The best alternate iPad browser, iCab Mobile lets you change your useragent to get desktop sites and web apps, and even lets you upload files and sync downloads with Dropbox. I still use Safari for most browsing, but iCab is where online work gets done, and is easily worth its price just by letting you upload files. That let me use my iPad 100% for college: write essays in Pages, export in Word format or PDF, and then upload to my college’s site via iCab Mobile. Perfect.
- WordPress (Free) - The WordPress app isn’t perfect, but it does make managing WordPress sites on the go much easier. You can only edit posts in HTML mode, but that’s how I prefer to edit posts anyhow. I’ll write in iA Writer, and copy/paste the post into the WordPress app. For more full-featured blogging, check out Blogsy ($4.99).
- OneEdit ($2.99) - If you need to bulk-edit images, such as rotate and resize images for blog posts, this app is indispensable. Before iOS 5 started taking screenshots in the correct orientation always, I used it all the time for bulk-rotating screenshots, and still use it to get them in the size I want for articles.
- Simplenote (Free) - I keep all of my plain text notes in Simplenote, using their web and mobile apps, as well as nvALT on my Mac. Simple, and works perfect.
- Dropbox (free) - Does this even need mentioned? Dropbox is Finder on my iPad, and the only way I could possibly keep up with all of my files on all of my devices so easily. It’s the cloud storage service you should be using. Seriously.
- PDF Expert ($9.99) - It’s my favorite app for reading PDFs, but the PDF editing features are what make it really worth its price. Once you’ve filled out a form, signed it on your iPad, and emailed it to your boss/accountant/whoever, you’ll realize that your iPad just made printing/signing/scanning/shredding an obsolete process. Plus, you can use PDF Expert to access FTP servers, Google Docs, Box.net, Dropbox, and more, so its a great way to access any files, not just PDFs, on your other storage services. That’s just a little extra bonus.
- OmniOutliner ($19.99) - The Omni Group makes some of the best iOS apps, period. They’re most famous for Omnifocus (which their iPad app is easily their best version … but I personally can’t get away from making plain txt todos in iA Writer, and then managing group projects in Basecamp and Flow for my respective work teams.), but it actually all originally started with OmniOutliner. Suffice it to say, if you need to make outlines or check-off lists, there’s no better way to do it. Actually, since it can add in columns, it might be the best basic spreadsheet-type app for most normal people. OmniOutliner is beautiful and a joy to use. I use it to keep attendance charts for my classes, make outlines for lessons, and keep simple budgets of, among other things, the iOS apps I buy. It’s great.
- Screens ($19.99) - Ever need the power of your Mac or PC, but only want to use your iPad? Screens is an absolutely great VNC app, and using my Mac over VNC from screens feels almost as fast as using it directly. It even supports Lion’s multitouch gestures for switching apps and more. Plus, it’s rather fun to prank people with: let them use your Mac, then go in the other room and use it at the same time from Screens. Oh yeah.
- Kindle (Free) - I often joke that my iOS devices are the best Kindles, since they’re useful for so many other things. I’ve never owned a Kindle device, but only ever purchase eBooks from the Kindle store (unless they’re DRM free, like the A Book Apart books). Here’s why: you can read your books anywhere, so the DRM doesn’t even feel restrictive. And it is productive too: I have more books on writing, business, and InDesign (which I’m trying to learn) than I do just-for-fun books. For DRM free ePub and PDF eBooks, I use iBooks as well. My A Book Apart library looks rather nice in it.
- Instapaper ($4.99) - So, perhaps Instapaper isn’t the most productive app in the world, because you can’t use it to create anything new. But, it’s easily one of the top 10 reasons you should own an iOS device. The Instapaper service does keep me more productive, since I save links I come across online to Instapaper to read later, so I can get on with what I’m working on. And then, the app itself is so great for reading, and I do use it for articles I want to reference in my own writing, so that makes it a bit productive. Plus, since when is reading high quality writing a bad idea?
- Bible+ (Free) - As a Christian, and a missionary in Thailand, studying the Bible is one of those things I do on a daily basis. OliveTree’s Bible+ is the best app for searching through the Bible and other study resources, and with their new companion Mac and PC apps, it might be the best Christian resource on any OS. For just reading the Bible, though, and not in-depth searching and studying, I still like YouVersion’s Bible app better. Plus, it has almost every language you could think of, including Thai, which is crucially important for me!
Then, there’s a few more apps that make up more of my iPad’s time: the built-in Mail and Calendar apps, which are definitely productivity tools, Tweetbot and Facebook for social networking, which is definitely not productive, and Reeder for RSS feeds, which like all news apps straddles the dangerous line of non-productivity that feels productive. Oh, and Calcbot, because you never know when you’ll need a calculator.
That’s the apps I use regularly on my iPad, and really, most of my iPad time is productive (other than reading, which can go both ways). If I had an iPad 2 or the new iPad, I’d use videochat in Skype as well, but without that, Skype isn’t nearly as useful for me on the iPad. As a writer, perhaps the iPad can be a full computer much easier than it could for other people, but the App Store has so many apps that are great for so many industries, its hard to believe that writers are the only ones who could find the iPad to be a great productivity tool.
Did I miss any great iPad productivity tools? If so, I’d love to hear your favorites, as I always love trying out new apps as well!