Can You Swap Your Laptop With an iPad?
2. Move Data On/Off the iPad Wisely
One of the biggest complaints about the iPad is the challenge of moving data from a PC to the iPad and vice-versa. The iPad is not an open file system; you can't copy files to it, like you can with a Flash drive.
Most people end up e-mailing files to themselves, and then opening up the file with an iPad app. This means you'll need to know in advance what files you'll be working on before heading on your business trip, as well as what iPad apps you'll need to be able to open the files and work on them. (You can also transfer files from your PC to the iPad using iTunes.)
The problem is that poor planning can result in critical files left on your PC at home. The better way to move files on and off your iPad is with cloud services, and the most popular one is called Dropbox. "Cloud storage absolutely transforms the iPad," Ihnatko says, adding that it "blurs the lines between your desktop and your iPad."
Dropbox is basically a free file folder on the Internet that appears as an app on your iPad and PC. You can access a file from any Dropbox-enabled device. Files are immediately synced to the same Dropbox account. You can also let other Dropbox account holders access your files.
3. Know the Limitations of Business iPad Apps
Getting files from your Dropbox account, though, won't do you any good unless you have an iPad app that can open them. The app also should let you work on the files. One such iPad app is QuickOffice Connect ($15), which lets you open and work on Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides. QuickOffice integrates with various cloud services, including Dropbox.
Unfortunately, iPad apps are overly simplified. They lack the richness of their desktop counterparts, which can lead to problems on the road. For instance, QuickOffice doesn't support Word's edit tracking features that my editor uses to improve my stories.
When actually working on files, you might become frustrated at the iPad's lack of overlapping windows. When working on a presentation or document, many people conduct research on the Web at the same time, switching back and forth between the file and the Web browser. But the iPad shows only one app at a time.
Ihnatko has an interesting workaround. He uses the iPad solely for Web research and sets his Bluetooth keyboard to his iPhone where he makes changes to the document. (The iPhone also has a Dropbox app, QuickOffice app, and other word processing apps such as Elements.)
Bottom Line: Can the iPad Work for You?
Perhaps the biggest challenge iPad business travelers will face concerns printing. Apple recently added AirPrint, which lets you wirelessly print everything from photos to e-mail to documents from the iPad -- but only on a new Hewlett-Packard printer. Most business centers don't have this printer yet. So if you need to print a lot of documents on your trip, then bring your laptop.
It's important to understand the iPad's limitations and planning requirements before ditching your laptop on your next business trip. Heavy computer users, workers who depend on the full range of desktop apps, and print masters need not apply.
On the other hand, Apple hardware and cloud storage services have made the iPad a real alternative to the laptop for many people. If you are one of these lucky folks, you'll zip through airport security lines (you're not required to take the iPad out of your carry-on), whip out the iPad to get some work done thanks to its instant-on capability, and, most importantly, avoid the chiropractor because you haven't been shouldering a heavy laptop all day.
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.