Anyone who hasn't heard about the success of the iPad has probably been living in a cave for the past six months. Despite its success, many people feel that it is only an entertainment device, and that serious business still requires a laptop. I've had mine since day one, and now that a few of the apps have had a chance to mature, and I've had a chance to bring it on the road with me a few times, I thought I'd write a post on how I use it.
As with any version one device, there were serious limitations on how the iPad could be used at launch. App developers had a few months to write some code using a simulator, but until you actually get your hands on one, it is difficult to know what will work and what won't. Even today, it has only been a little over six months since Apple revealed it to the world. All of the apps that I'll talk about have been actively developed during that time, and all are far more useful today than at their launch. If you tried one and didn't like it, give it a second chance.
As an entertainment device, the iPad is without peer. Access to the net, Netflix, ebooks, music, movies, games and comics, means that it is impossible to get bored with one of these in your lap. The interface is also simple enough that anyone can use it, no matter how old or young, or how inexperienced with technology they are. So what about business? Can you buy one and get rid of your laptop? The answer is probably.
The first thing you need to make it an indispensable business tool is Dropbox. Dropbox is a cloud storage solution that makes it simple to access and synchronize files on multiple computers at the same time. Unless your business involves large files, such as large video files, the free account works great. You get 2gig of space on their site for free. No strings attached (if you use the link above then both you and I will get an additional 250mb of space). While there is a free Dropbox app for the iPad, its power comes from the other apps that can access documents directly in your Dropbox. On the computer side of things, when you install the Dropbox client, it will create a folder that gets synchronized with their servers. Anything you put in there will be automatically uploaded to the cloud. If you have two or more computers, they can both share the same account. When a file is added or modified on one, the other downloads the changes without any prompting. Because the files are uploaded to the cloud, both computers don't have to be turned on at the same time for this to work. It also acts as a form of backup in case something happens to your computer. I started using Dropbox as a way of backing up my CAD files, and keeping them synchronized between different machines.
The first app to buy is GoodReader. Its primary job is to be a PDF reader. Early on it was the best PDF reader available, and I was happy to find it. Now it has become so much more than just a reader. First off it has support to download documents straight from your Dropbox account. This makes it easy to get files from your computer, onto the iPad. Most of the documents I need to read for the business are in PDF now. If they aren't, then I turn them into PDFs. I really don't want to carry around paper versions of the various manuals and source books I own, or the CAD drawings I use for making my pens. I carry the iPad between the office and shop and I always have my resource material. Once you have downloaded them onto the iPad, you can easily organize the documents into folders within GoodReader. I keep magazines in one folder, pen drawings in another, etc. In the most recent update, support has been added to annotate the PDF files. The ability to add editable notes to my PDFs has made GoodReader indispensable. All annotations can be saved back to the original PDF, and forwarded on via email to other people.
Next up is Elements. I spend a lot of time writing. I'm not always able to, or interested in sitting down at a computer to work on my documents. This is where Elements comes in. There is nothing fancy here; this is a no non-sense text editor. You can not format the document in any way. Just plain text. For many people this might sound like a step backward, but when writing, the ability to format the document can often distract from writing the content. If I want to write a blog post, or lecture notes, I want to get the meat of the writing done, then worry about formatting it later. The best part of Elements is that its default state is to use Dropbox to save your files. No need to import or export your document every time you move from the computer to the iPad. Now I can sit down on the couch, or at a restaurant and work on any of my projects as I feel the desire.
I originally started using CC Terminal on my iPhone. It allows me to charge customers purchases to their credit cards while on the go. Handy when someone wants to buy a pen at dinner, or while at a pen show. It also sends out an email receipt to both you and the customer, including their signature. I have mine linked to my Paypal Pro account, but other merchant accounts are available.
Portfolio is a little pricey, however, it does offer a lot of flexibility in creating product portfolios. I am often asked what I do, and handing the iPad with Portfolio running on it to someone is the next best thing to having all of my pieces with me.
Other small apps like NewsRack, Twitter and Wordpress allow me to keep up with news from around the web, as well as update my different online content.
A month after getting the iPad, I realized that I hadn't turned the laptop on once. It was sold the next day, and I haven't missed it in the months since (I certainly don't miss carrying around the additional 6lbs it weighted over the iPad.) I've also found that my daily desktop use has dropped significantly. Instead of writing email, and surfing the net sitting at my desk, I'm doing those on the couch, or in the back yard. I now use the desktop for high end CAD work and video editing. I am still searching for an app to use for inventory control. I may end up building one myself since I haven't found anything I would buy yet.