The iPad: Your Next Work Device?

When the iPad first launched back in 2010 it is safe to say that I wanted, nay needed, Apple’s revolutionary new device, pronto. At the time however, as a student, such a purchase would have been wildly excessive and rather rash for what was, in essence, an unnecessary luxury. However, as I’m sure you’re aware, the iPad has since changed into a completely different device altogether, and not just physically. The changes made to iOS and the growth of the App Store have facilitated the iPad’s metamorphosis to a legitimate creative force, and, potentially, your next work device.

Hardware & Accessories

It can be easy to dismiss the iPad as an effective writing tool given the highly tedious nature of typing anything longer than 140 characters on a touchscreen. In fact, when making the switch myself I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little daunted by the prospect, but thanks to some great accessories (and the highly efficient Bluetooth 4.0) pairing a physical keyboard to the iPad couldn’t be easier, and the results are better than you’d expect.

A simple, but effective, iPad writing setup. Featuring an Apple Wireless Keyboard & Twelve South's BookBook Vol.2 case.

A simple, but effective, iPad writing setup. Featuring an Apple Wireless Keyboard & Twelve South’s BookBook Vol.2 case.

Personally, I use a combination of the BookBook Vol. 2 case, which incorporates a hidden typing stand, the Apple Wireless Keyboard and occasionally a stylus for taking notes in Paper. But there are other options, such as the Logitech Ultra-thin Keyboard coupled with an Origami Workstation by InCase.

Typing is a fairly integral task for most professions and therefore, in order for the iPad to be a legitimate laptop replacement or work device, it needs to be at least comparable to the standard typing experience. With the wealth of keyboard shortcuts available this is certainly possible, the standard keys for cut, copy and paste are obviously useful, but for writers, text highlighting shortcuts are invaluable and make the iPad equally as efficient for writing, researching and editing as a “normal” machine. To get the best results however, the iPad requires the use of some pretty special apps, many of which will make your work that little bit easier.

Harness the Power of the App Store

As iOS has grown, so has the App Store’s quality and depth. There are now an unprecedented amount of productivity and creativity apps available for  fraction of the cost of Mac & PC software. Of course, iOS apps aren’t as feature rich as traditional programmes, but they are more than up to the job. But don’t just take my word for it, let’s explore some of the best apps out there that can help make your iPad the dominant device in your workflow.

Word Processing & Organisation

Journalist? Author? Blogger? If so, the iPad is ideally suited to your needs. Along with the hardware setup described above, there are dozens of apps available to simplify your workflow, and perhaps provide a concentration boost. Byword is my personal text editor of choice and, in my opinion, it is the best tool for writers on the iPad. With Byword you also get multi-format support, including my favourite, Markdown, allowing for quicker composition, and the ability to export HTML to WordPress.

Getting the most out of the iPad depends upon some great productivity apps.

Getting the most out of the iPad depends upon some great productivity apps. Byword, Outliner, Pages, Wunderlist, Keynote & Diet Coda to name but a few.

There are hundreds of apps available for keeping track of time, reminders and to-do lists, but my favourite is Wunderlist HD. If, like me, you like to set deadlines for your work but need reminding of them, this app is for you. Utilising push and email notifications, Wunderlist helps you keep track of projects and syncs with the iPhone to keep you on the straight and narrow, wherever you go. An honourable mention goes out to CarbonFin’s Outliner, which is a great tool for planning and researching projects, too.

Up until recently, the one think stopping me from adopting the iPad as my main computer of sorts, was the cumbersome blogging experience offered by the WordPress app. Since the iPad doesn’t have a usable file system, it wasn’t possible to use the website because there is no way to upload images; I had a reached a rather disappointing impasse. However, with a recent update the app is a lot more stable, and, at least for all the WordPressers out there, uploading photos directly from your Camera Roll and editing their size is now easy and reliable. Though I still cringe with fear when attempting to publish a long-winded blog post (complete with resized images), the improvements made have enabled me to make the switch to an iPad-only workflow.

Don’t Write For A Living? No Problem!

Admittedly, it is easier for a writer to suggest the iPad as a suitable work device given the relative lack of power required from the device compared to, say, a photographer. But that’s not to say it’s impossible. There are a vast array of productivity apps available for such professionals that can work as a great substitute to the laptop, iPhoto and  iMovie being perfect examples. But perhaps the most used photo editing app on my iPad is Snapseed. This app allows you to quickly apply enhancements and alterations to any given image, and then saves it to your camera roll. It also gives you the option to share the edited image via Email, meaning you can send it to an editor or friend with ease.

Amazingly, an area of creation the iPad is beginning to excel in is programming. There are now several full-blooded programming apps available for your coding needs, including Textastic. With another such app, Diet Coda, it is possible to type your code on a Mac or iPad and watch a live preview of the code on the other device. The iPad’s capabilities don’t end there — not even close. In brief, between Numbers, Keynote, Filemaker and Pages you can manage presentations, spreadsheets, databases and professional document creation right on your iPad.

Two More Things …

The best features of the iPad are yet to come. Seriously. First, almost every app developed for iOS now incorporates either Dropbox or iCloud, two extraordinary services. ICloud protects the contents of your iPad with daily backups, ensuring the safety of your precious documents and critical data, and thanks to cellular data, you don’t even have to think about it — unlike a laptop with no connection. Dropbox, however, is even more useful. Apps like Byword work exceptionally well with Dropbox, instantaneously updating your document as you type, meaning you can pick up where you left off on the iPad, iPhone or Mac — but that’s just the beginning.

Getting the most out of Dropbox requires the native iOS app, available for free. This gives you access to every file saved in your Dropbox folder, on Mac or PC, and therefore it can act as a substitute filing system on the iPad. You can open almost any file format in Dropbox for reading, or send the file to the likes of Evernote for editing.

Second, how many times have you found yourself pulling your hair out because of the snails-pace Wi-Fi at the local Starbucks? With the iPad as your work device you no longer need to suffer! If you’re in the US or Canada, blazing fast 4G LTE connectivity is available, giving you potentially faster speeds than over broadband — crazy, I know. Conferences via FaceTime (on iOS 6), Google+ and Skype mean you won’t miss a trick (or a memo), keeping yourself up-to-date with colleagues and your projects.

Is The iPad Up To The Task?

The short answer is yes, definitely. For Me. That’s the point I want to stress; the iPad can be what you want it to be, it is essentially a blank screen waiting to be filled with the apps you need to get things done. The tools are there to be used, but it comes down to your preferences. Personally, the iPad is my main work device because, as a writer, it performs just as I want it to. No more, no less. Having said that, I still maintain a MacBook Pro at home, acting as a hub of sorts, for watching longer videos and prolonged research (mainly out of comfort), but all my writing and editing takes place on the iPad.

The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to experiment, give the iPad a chance.