How to Turn Your iPad into a Business Laptop
I know because my iPad is an important part of getting my job done every day. And it's critical whenever I'm on a business trip.
Right out of the box, there are several things about this device that make it good for business people (or students). The most obvious of these is its immense battery life. It can literally go all day without needing to be charged. I've worked in an airport and then all through a trans-continental flight and arrived at my destination with over a half charge left.
Unlike some laptops, the iPad doesn't get its wonderful battery life by including a bulky battery. It's amazingly thin and light, about 1.3 lbs. for the latest version. And trust me, that's something you'll appreciate when you're carrying it through your third airport in one day.
So much of what people need to do their jobs is on the Web these days, and this device comes with a good web browser. A friend of mine is a salesman on the road 8 hours every day meeting clients, and he wouldn't go anywhere without his iPad. He works for a company that sells a large array of products, each of whose price can change at any time. He used to tote a laptop everywhere, but that was overkill, as all he needs is to be able to access a security-protected company website that acts as a front-end for a product database. Apple's tablet is perfectly capable of that.
Instant on is a nice bonus, too. The time from waking up a device and being ready to work is under 2 seconds.
Plus, the iPad never, ever heats up. You can use it in your lap, or just hold in your hands, for hours and never have to worry about scalding yourself. I consider this a real bonus -- my last Windows notebook could double as a coffee warmer.
Even taking these features into account, truly turning your iPad into a business laptop requires some additional software and accessories. I've put together a list of items you'll need to get real work done with your iPad.
The on-screen keyboard is fine for typing short emails, or making a few modifications to a long document, but when you need to type for several hours you really should get an external keyboard.
I'm sure some of you are saying now, "If you're going to add an external keyboard, why not just get a full laptop?" Because with a laptop the bulky keyboard is always there. With a tablet you can take off the keyboard when you're not using it and don't have to deal with its bulk. If you want to show something to a client or co-worker, you can just hand them the display without hassling with the keyboard.
Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation Software
Surely I don't have to tell you that the business world is dominated by three apps: Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Any computer that people are going to try to use for work has to be able to edit and create all of these, and that includes the iPad.
Microsoft doesn't make any software for this device, but Apple itself offers Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, which correspond to Microsoft Office suite. Each of these sell for $10, so you can buy just the ones you need.
At least as good as Apple's own software is QuickOffice, and DataViz's DocumentsToGo is another excellent third-party option. These are less expensive than Apple's offerings, and there are others that can be found in the App Store.
Admittedly, these are "lite" versions compared to the full power of Microsoft's applications. If your job depend on macros, for example, you're not going to be able to give up the desktop apps. But they are good enough to handle what most people need on the road.
Speaking of PowerPoint, the right accessory can connect this tablet to a projector or monitor, allowing you to do presentations.
Another type of document you probably need to work with is Adobe Acrobat, probably better known as PDF. If you just need to display documents emailed to you in this format, the iPad can handle that right out of the box. But there are many, many options that will let you do much more.
GoodReader is a powerful app for storing, viewing, exchanging, and notating PDFs. It's amazingly powerful for just $1.
That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. A quick look at the App Store will show you nearly 700 other iPad apps for working with this type of file. No matter what you need you can probably find it there.
Making phone calls is all very well, but talking to co-workers and clients face-to-face is better. With the high price of airline travel, you can't always jet off to see people, but video conferencing is a close option.
Obviously, this requires an iPad 2, which has a front-facing camera put in for just this reason. And while I'm sure some can get along with Apple's own FaceTime app, which is limited to only Apple products, most people would be better off with Skype. This works well as a way for two people to have a virtual meeting, and you can't beat the price: free.
I love my iPad, but I'm aware of its limitations. There are times when I'm on the road when I want to do something that's only possible on my desktop computer back at my office. When this happens, I open a remote access app and in a short time, I have complete access to my PC, no matter where I am.
I'm a big fan of LogMeIn, and another good option is GoToMyPC. With either of these your tablet's display becomes your desktop's screen, and you can do pretty much anything you would if you were sitting in your office chair.
Whenever I'm remotely controlling my PC I wish my iPad had a mouse, but controlling Windows with a touchscreen is fine once you get accustomed to it.
If you're like me and work for a company that has employees spread around the country, you probably are familiar with GoToMeeting and similar software. These allow someone to "share" their desktop with a group so that they can more easily collaborate.
GoToMeeting doesn't require a laptop. It is available for free in the App Store. Another free option is Join.me from the company that makes LogMeIn.
You can buy an iPad with built-in wireless access, but that's not your only option. It's probably not even your best one.
If you have a smartphone made in the last year or so (this includes the iPhone), there's a very good chance it can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for other computers, like your tablet. This allows you to share your phone's internet connection, and gives you only one bill. The additional price for this is $20 - $30 a month, though.
All of the U.S. carriers offer devices designed to be portable hotspots. These come with monthly service charges, but there are advantages. If you're a T-Mobile or Sprint customer, you can get wireless access for your iPad. And if you want a 4G connection for your tablet this is your only option.
If these don't appeal to you, you should consider Boingo. This company has brought together a huge array of for-pay Wi-Fi access points under one umbrella. You pay Boingo a fee and you can be fairly sure to find a hotspot nearby where you can connect.
I'm sure I'm not the only person who has to take images in the field, modify them so they are ready to go on a website, then submit them. The iPad can handle this job just fine.
The Camera Connection Kit allows you to transfer images from a memory card or directly from your camera onto your iPad. It also allows you to manage the images on card or camera, deleting ones you don't need any more.
The editing tool I use is Adobe PhotoShop Express. While not in the same league as the desktop version, it includes the most basic features that non-graphics professionals need: crop, lighten/darken, sharpen, that sort of thing.
There are also a number of other photo-editing apps for the iPad that are more powerful.
When I want to submit the resulting file, I either email it to a co-worker or use an online service like Dropbox or Box.net. I'll confess, though, the Safari's web browser's lack of support for uploading files is one of the few genuine drawbacks of the iPad. I keep hoping Apple will add this feature in a future version.
I should mention that I've connected my iPad to a large number of Wi-Fi access points around the U.S. without a hitch. Hotels, coffee shops, airports, even airplanes, it's a breeze.
The Fun Stuff
I'm a frequent business traveler, and I understand that when you're on the road it's not all work, work, work. You need some downtime, too. When the time comes for that, the iPad is ready, willing, and able.
This device is a vastly better eBook reader than any laptop will ever be because of its minimal weight. You can lie back in bed and read to your heart's content.
There are apps that will let you watch a huge array of streaming TV shows and movies. One of the best examples of this is Netflix, but it's hardly alone. Many TV networks provide free apps with full episodes, and if you're a Comcast subscriber this cable network makes much of its On-Demand content available.
If that wasn't enough, you can buy and rent TV shows and movies from iTunes. Apple's store is also the place to get a vast array of games, music, and podcasts.
The Bottom Line
I'm not trying to ague that an iPad can do everything a laptop can do. I know it can't. What's I'm saying is that it can do enough. With some additional software and accessories, this tablet can do what most businesspeople need when on the go.
And it has some inherent advantages over a notebook. It's smaller and lighter, and even adding a keyboard doesn't add much bulk. It has a battery life that almost unbelievable. It's wickedly fast.
So the next time you're deciding what you need for your business trips, consider whether you really want to lug around a slow, heavy laptop just on the off chance that you might someday edit HD video in a hotel room, or if you would be better off with a light, nimble iPad.
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