iPad iDiot
February 17, 2014 7:09 AM   Subscribe

Help me turn my iPad into a work productivity tool.

Work has given me an iPad mini (16GB). I have no idea what to do with it. While I'm normally the go-to person in my family and immediate work environment when it comes to providing assistance to other people with their computer and technical issues, this thing has me stymied.

The only support IT will provide is sync'ing up e-mail. So that has been accomplished, but the rest is up to me.

What I need are good office productivity tools--things that will allow me to create and read Word documents and Excel files, and software that will allow me to view PowerPoint presentations and PDFs.

I really, really need to be able to use it to write. So while Word-compatible files would be my first choice, some type of text file would be fine (EverNote, Notability, etc.).

But, and here's where I get stuck, I need it to work when not hooked up to the cloud. I'm not always going to be in an environment that has Wi-Fi access, so things need to be saved on the device itself.

At first I thought I'd just download the Apple office apps (Pages, etc.). After repeated tries, I finally downloaded Pages, but I just don't get it. Nothing in that application makes any sense to me. I can't figure out how to do even the basics like saving a document. Now I'm sure I can find some sort of user's guide on the Internet, and will do so if using those applications is my best option, but I thought I'd look for different solutions.

After reading a bunch of different office suite for iPad reviews, I settled on hopto. It seemed to offer all the tools I needed. So I downloaded it. But before it will let me do anything, it seems I need to create some type of cloud-based account. Is that really necessary?

So before I download anything else, I decided to ask for recommendations for good office productivity software that isn't reliant on the cloud. (I'm perfectly happy to e-mail things to myself as necessary and as I'm able to get Wi-Fi access). Of course I'm looking for free apps, as work is reluctant to pay for software.

Also, can anybody recommend a good file management/directory viewer?

And do people have suggestions for which keyboard is best?

What else do I need to add to make this a useful work tool, rather than a clunky, heavy brick in my purse?

And since I'm asking basic questions, how do I get the new applications I download to appear on the first page (with all the pre-installed and useless apps), rather than being bumped to the second page? I've already cleaned up the homepage (or whatever it's called) and put some of the icons for the pre-existing software I'm not going to use in a single bucket, so there is room for the new ones I download, but no matter what I do, I can't seem to make them reside on the main page.

I should say, along with my personal dislike for cloud-based applications, we've been getting pressure from work to avoid using Internet storage for our work data. So I really need a solution that doesn't rely upon iDrive or iCloud (or whatever Apple calls it's online storage) or Dropbox, etc.
posted by sardonyx to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For organizing the "pages" on iPads, just simply hold the icon first with your finger so that the icons all start to jiggle.

After that, take one of the app icons under your finger and move it towards either end in your screen. Just keep it going for either direction for about 2 seconds.

After that it will move to another page.
posted by xingcat at 7:14 AM on February 17, 2014

You're going to be very frustrated by the iPad. It is a round peg that it sounds very much like you're trying to figure out how to shove into the square hole of your work life.

A) You don't have a file system like you're used to. There's no 'Documents' folder that multiple apps can get to. Everything's in its own sandbox. Apps can send files to other apps, sort of. If they're registered right. It's hard to explain. You also don't have to explicitly save. Everything's working directly on it's own memory space.

A2) I really like 'goodreader' as kind of a generic file browser/opener/send to other apps tool. But honestly, I can't imagine how it works without being wired to dropbox.

B) Keyboard, the Logitech thin cover/keyboard things are nice. Work pretty well. But any bluetooth will work.
posted by DigDoug at 7:46 AM on February 17, 2014

I really need a solution that doesn't rely upon iDrive or iCloud (or whatever Apple calls it's online storage) or Dropbox, etc

Cloud storage is more or less inherent in iPad usage, given that there's no other simple way of transferring files to another device (or person). That's also why there aren't really such things as "file management" or "directory viewers" -- the device is just not intended to be used like a traditional computer. Plenty of people dislike that approach, which is a perfectly reasonable preference -- but the answer in that case is probably to use a different device; trying to force the iPad to act like a laptop kind of ends up giving you the worst of both worlds.

Like you, I found Pages to be a bit confusing at first, and was resistant to iCloud for a long time, but after using it for a while and gotten used to the new paradigm I have to admit I'm pretty sold on it. If I'm offline I can still work on a file; the next time I come in range of a wifi signal it all just magically synchs up, I don't really have to think about which device I'm using, I can switch from one machine to another and it all Just Works. But yes, it's very different, which can feel pretty weird until you get used to it. (The reason you can't find a way to save a file for example is that you don't need to save files; your changes get saved automatically.)

I've never heard of hopto, and at a glance don't see that it offers any advantage over using Apple's iWork apps.

My advice is to try the kool-aid for a while. It's an acquired taste which you may or may not learn to love. If so, great! If not, which again I emphasize is a perfectly reasonable preference, your office has given you a fine toy to hand off to your kids or to watch movies or play games on or what have you, and you can get yourself a cheap netbook or laptop for work purposes.

And do people have suggestions for which keyboard is best?

I occasionally use an apple wireless keyboard because I had a spare one lying around, but any bluetooth keyboard will work.
posted by ook at 7:48 AM on February 17, 2014

If you don't use Dropbox (or something similar), you're going to have a very frustrating time trying to get documents on or off the device.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:59 AM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

There are some relevant comments in this thread. Most apps work just fine when off wifi, and they sync up when they sense an access point. Saving is automatic and incremental; you don't need to trigger it (like in Gmail). I usually sync to a computer with iTunes on it. You can sync files there too, not just music. Most writing apps will allow you to send a file via email as well.

I would also recommend taking some time to understand the iPad's way of thinking about the world. Just as GUI and command line experiences of a desktop are different, app-based machines are different from shared-file-directories machines. It can be a good tool for you so long as you understand its strengths. If your computer is a horse, the ipad is a sheep. Both useful, but for different reasons.
posted by heatherann at 10:06 AM on February 17, 2014

Response by poster: I should have specified, small, lightweight, travel-sized/iPad-sized keyboard I can pop in my purse. The idea is to use the iPad in situations where the notebook is overkill.

As much as I'd just love to bin this thing or pass it off to a family member, it's a work tool--albeit not one I would have chosen for myself--so I'm expected to make some use of out it.

Part of my problem is that my department (which issued the device) is at odds with the overall company's IT policy which is to avoid cloud storage. I'm stuck in the middle.

So for everybody who says, saving just happens automatically, and you don't need file management systems, how do you go back, select old documents, create new ones, and cut and paste from one to the other?

DigDoug, thanks for mentioning GoodReader. I've seen a bunch of reviews for that, and it sounded like my kind of solution, but it's also not a free app. And while I'm reluctant to spend my money on a work device, I may just end up having to do so.
posted by sardonyx at 10:51 AM on February 17, 2014

So for everybody who says, saving just happens automatically, and you don't need file management systems, how do you go back, select old documents, create new ones, and cut and paste from one to the other?

You do this within the app, and apps can differ in their approach to this. GoodReader's interface looks like this. You get to files from their app, not from something like Finder or Windows Explorer. This article walks you through how this works for iBooks and GoodReader.

GoodReader is $5. Surely your work would let you expense this. It's well programmed and supported and worth investing in.

This keyboard doubles as an ipad cover and will fit into any purse big enough for the ipad itself.
posted by heatherann at 11:20 AM on February 17, 2014

Some apps support syncing documents to the iPad via iTunes.

Generally, I wouldn't really worry about IT's policy on cloud stuff, unless you work for the military or some other kind of place where you deal with top secret information. Typically they won't really find out and if they do, they'll say "don't do that".

Use good security practices, like strong passwords, a pin lock on your iPad, two factor authentication, etc.

Here's what I use my work iPad for:
- Evernote
- Dropbox
- Page / Keynote / Numbers
- lots of web browser work, primarily w/ our wiki (Confluence)
- Skitch

I find working with alternative office suites to be annoying; even google docs.
posted by reddot at 7:08 PM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

So for office documents, there isn't any app that covers the full spectrum - it really depends what you need to do: documents to go for example is the only app I know that works with track changes in word. Numbers doesn't support pivot tables, Keynote will screw up smart art.

SlideShark is decent for presenting ppt with animations.

A Remote Desktop app can be useful - I use jump desktop which works well with Bluetooth keyboards. I think Microsoft also has a free alternative.

Soulver is an interesting take on calculators.
Drafts is decent for quick notes, Notability for mixing writing and drawing.

Skitch is ok for quickly annotating images, DocScanHD for scanning paper documents like receipts or handouts.

Goodreader is great for annotating PDF, and as a general purpose file system. It can also connect to windows shares (SMB), which can be quite useful to grab files from work.

Webex, gotomeeting, skype, lync and whatnot all have dedicated apps that are OK.

If you are not using cloud system, make sure you backup regularly when connecting to iTunes.

VPN support on the ipad is decent, so you may be able to access intranet like apps while on the go too.

Oh and I use the apple Bluetooth keyboard in an origami case - it works great and remains a decent size keyboard.

I've been working with an ipad as a secondary machine for some time now - it works ok if your expectations are at the right level. The battery life is a big plus.
posted by motdiem2 at 9:59 AM on February 18, 2014

Response by poster: After reading the comments, I've created a dropbox account, and will try using that. I still don't really think it's the tool for me, but it's the tool I've been given to use, so I'll try to make the best of it (even if I am really disappointed in the quality of pictures it takes).

I was hoping for some more personal recommendations for a keyboard. I think I saw the Logitech one in the stores (I went looking before I posted the question), but I didn't have the opportunity to try it out, and was reluctant to buy a keyboard I hadn't even touched.

Thanks for all the answers.
posted by sardonyx at 8:08 PM on February 21, 2014

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