Productivity software

The Right Office Apps for the iPad at Work, Round 2

Should you provide a keyboard and VGA connector?

The iPad's on-screen keyboard is surprisingly easy to use, especially in landscape orientation, where it's full size. You don't get the tactile feedback of a key press, but I found I adjusted very quickly to touch tapping regardless.

Apple makes the very nice Bluetooth-enabled Apple Wireless Keyboard ($69); some other Bluetooth keyboards work with the iPad as well. You would think they make typing faster, but they don't unless you're in stenographic mode, transcribing a meeting or call as opposed to writing and editing. The reason is that there are few keyboard shortcuts available for iPad apps, so you're constantly taking your hands off the keyboard and moving them to the iPad's screen. That eliminates any speed advantage of the physical keyboard outside of pure stenographic uses.

When using the Bluetooth keyboard, there are keyboard shortcuts for copy, cut, and paste, and you can Shift-select ranges of text. There are also top-of-document and bottom-of-document shortcuts. Plus, you can enter accented characters and other special symbols using the same Option shortcuts as on a Mac. But there are no shortcuts (or keys) for Page Up and Page Down -- two extremely common editing keys -- or for formatting such as boldface, italics, underline, and paragraph alignment.

Apple also makes a VGA connector that plugs into the iPad's 30-pin connector, the $29 Apple Dock Connector to VGA Adapter. In April 2011, Apple also released the $39 Apple Dock Connector to HDMI Adapter for HDMI-based displays. Either is a worthwhile purchase if you're using Keynote to make presentations via a projector or TV. But note that most apps (unlike Keynote) on the original iPad don't support these connectors; you can't, for example, show a website demo via Safari. Also, Apple prevents the original iPad model from displaying commercial video purchased or rented from iTunes; you can't use it to hook up an iPad to a monitor as you would a laptop when you want a bigger screen for your routine work. But with the iPad 2, you can mirror your display -- and thus any app -- over a VGA or HDMI cable.

Putting it all together: The ideal office "suite"

Given that no one suite does it all well enough, what is the ideal combination? That's a tough decision, but I've concluded the best overall productivity suite is Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and GoodReader.

If Pages' lack of style-sheet retention is a deal breaker, then that recommended iPad productivity suite changes to Quickoffice Pro HD, Numbers, Keynote, and GoodReader -- basically, Quickoffice replaces Pages for text editing. I hesitate to recommend Quickoffice because the application periodically crashes when opening complex files, and once that happens it takes several attempts to reopen the program before you can work on anything else. This flaw has persisted in Quickoffice through several updates. I can't recommend DocsToGo due to its poor placement of the editing controls, where the on-screen keyboard covers them up. That renders DocsToGo too hard to use, even though it's more capable in terms of functionality than Quickoffice.

Either way, toss in AirFilesHD if you need to view Photoshop files and one of the note-taking apps (PhatPad, Notes Plus, Notability, or WaveRecorder) if you need more sophisticated notational capabilities.

Product mentioned in this article

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  • Apple iPad 2 family

    The iPad 2 remains a solid choice, thanks to its lower price and strong app choices.

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