Can you really work on an iPad?


Software September continues with a look at iPad applications for business.

Last year, I got an iPad. I didn’t choose to buy one: it was the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards prize. I wasn’t expecting to win it, and I’d only ever seen one before. The people with me that evening were ecstatic at the prize. I hadn’t even got a bag to carry it home in. I spent the journey home wondering what an iPad was really for.

Ten days later, No Starch Press offered me a copy of My New iPad by Wallace Wang. Suddenly everything was clear. I have lived with my iPad for nearly a year now…and I love it.

My business colleagues are sometimes sceptical. I travelled overseas for work recently and I took my iPad as well as a laptop. Yes, it’s another device to carry around. But I can read on the plane. I can write blog posts at the airport. I can write a project management book review without having to carry the book or a pad and pen. I haven’t tried getting my boarding pass on it, but it works on a colleague’s iPhone so I don’t see why it shouldn’t work on an iPad.

That’s all great, but how good is it for office work? I talked to Wallace to find out what else I could do with my iPad.

Business apps to get you started

One of the difficulties of using the iPad for business is that the office environment is often Windows based. You can read Word documents on the iPad, but there can be interoperability issues. “One of the most interesting apps I’ve seen is Parallels Mobile,” says Wallace Wang. “This app is free and connects over the Internet to your Macintosh. Parallels lets you run multiple operating systems so it’s possible to run Windows on your Mac and then Windows remotely from your Mac using your iPad.”

Wallace points out that many things you can do via your PC are also possible via the iPad. “Another interesting business app for the iPad is GoToMeeting,” he says. “It’s another free app that lets you attend webinars.”

If you use Kanban or make use of sticky notes for project planning, try iCardSort. The Lite version is free. “iCardSort mimics a desktop where you can place index cards,” says Wallace. You can type notes and colour code them. Now you can slide these notes around to arrange them by position or colour on the screen.” They do appear rather small, and it isn’t the same visual impact as a team Kanban board, but for personal projects and individual planning and note taking this is a good application.

iCard screen showing groups of cards
Organising sticky notes with iCard Lite

Doing what you do on a PC

“My personal favourite business productivity app is Pages,” says Wallace. “It is similar to the Pages word processor on the Mac. By using Pages and the virtual keyboard on the iPad, I can type complete documents just like using an ordinary computer.” Pages is the application I use for my documents. I used to use the Notepad, but I like Pages more.

I am also using Keynote, which is a version of the Keynote presentation tool (the equivalent to Microsoft PowerPoint) for Mac. The iPad version has been reworked to make it suitable for use on the iPad screen without a mouse. The controls take some getting used to, but the slideshows you can create are fantastic. I have also bought an iPad-to-projector cable so I can broadcast directly from my iPad during meetings.

And of course you can get email and websites. Google has just recently changed the default setting so that the Google homepage on the iPad reverts to the mobile version of the website – not a good choice in my opinion, but I am researching ways around it.


Sysop, a training firm which runs ITIL courses, provides pre-course work and training manuals pre-loaded on to an iPad which is yours to keep. I haven’t seen any project management training companies doing this yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t happen in the future.

You can annotate training manuals with your comments. You can add bookmarks to your favourite pages. You can complete worksheets and exercises on it. You can carry it around far more easily than a big fat folder. The only downside is that I doubt they will let you take it into the exam room, so it wouldn’t be any good as a solution for PRINCE2® Practitioner exams.

I’m not an early adopter of technology, but I have come to love and rely on my iPad. I’m sure with time I’ll find even more business uses for it but for now I can say that it has revolutionised the way I travel for work. What are your experiences of using an iPad at work?

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