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Can you really work on an iPad?

Software September logoSoftware 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 New iPad book

The book that explained the iPad

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

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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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. Mikogo says

    26 September, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Hi Elizabeth,
    As you may know, we recently released Mikogo Version 4 of our online meeting software. This release includes our HTML viewer so participants can join a desktop sharing session and view the presenter’s screen directly from within a web browser. No downloads of any sort required. This means people can join from any computer or mobile device, such as an iPad. Check it out here: We are also working on building actual apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.


    Andrew Donnelly
    The Mikogo Team

    • Elizabeth says

      26 September, 2011 at 7:16 pm

      Hi Andrew, thanks for telling us about this development. Software that works via a browser only is a great advancement and a good way to make use of mobile devices. I think that apps probably have a higher usage than web versions of products though, when used on mobile devices, so it will be good to see the Mikogo apps when they are released.

      • Mikogo says

        27 September, 2011 at 11:31 am

        Hi Elizabeth,
        Yes agreed. While the HTML Viewer already works nicely on mobile devices, packaging it in an app provides that extra bit of convenience and ease that users love. We are working on getting the Mikogo apps released soon for all the iPad and other mobile device lovers!

  2. Gypc_dave says

    25 September, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Hi Elizabeth,

    My laptop has a 17″ screen, so I never use it on a plane; the iPad is
    just perfect for in-flight work, and if I need to move to the recliner
    to give my back a rest, the iPad goes along.  In addition to DocsToGo for working on Word and Excel docs, I use SimpleMind+ for mind maps, SG Project Pro for Gantt charts, TouchDraw and iDesk for drawings and diagrams, and All Stuck Up for my personal Kanban.  I keep it all in sync across machines with Drop Box, and use the delivered Mail and Calendar apps synced with my Google account, which is also synced with Outlook. 

    • Elizabeth says

      26 September, 2011 at 7:43 am

      Sounds like you have productivity on the iPad all figured out! I would be keen to try Dropbox but I’ve been a bit put off by the general security concerns of hosting stuff in the cloud so I haven’t taken that step yet.

  3. Emily Foster says

    24 September, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    I had an iPad and then got the iPad 2 passing my old one onto family. love Pages and Numbers for the iPad. I also highly rate Logmein for remote access to your PC or Mac.


    • Elizabeth says

      25 September, 2011 at 9:31 am

      I also use Pages, it is great, although resizing images with my fingers was tricky at first. I have a calculator app, but haven’t gone as far as getting Numbers. Maybe I need an iPad 2 to properly compare the two devices!

  4. Stefan O. says

    21 September, 2011 at 3:03 am

    I have been using my ipad for work for about a year. I LOVE IT! Best app is Pocket Informant HD. It is a wonderful planner. I was a paper day-runner addict for about 20 years and switched cold turkey. It is based on the Getting Things Done principle made famous by David Allen. It truly helps you use your time efficiently. 

    • Elizabeth says

      22 September, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      Pocket Infomant? OK, I will look that up. I am a paper addict, but sometimes all the sticky notes and scraps of paper (especially if I spend any time in serviced meeting rooms or conference venues, where you get those note pads on the tables) get too much and I spend ages re-writing my scribbles into a consolidated to do list. I haven’t got on with electronic to do list systems in the past, but I will take a look at this one.

    • Elizabeth says

      22 September, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      iPads are the way of the future! Or tablets, at least, although I think iPads will always hold a large chunk of the tablet market due to the Apple fans out there. It’s great to see that innovative software apps like LiquidPlanner are keeping up with technology trends and delivering mobile ways for customers to access their project data from wherever they are, on any device.

  5. Ksoniat77 says

    19 September, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    It is great to hear real world results from someone you know – especially as you were skeptical to begin with.  Last time I was on a plane reading a paperback – I heavily quizzed those around me with Kindles.  One was a complete convert, the other was still getting used to it.

    • Elizabeth says

      22 September, 2011 at 3:15 pm

      The only thing you can do on a Kindle (as I understand it) is read Kindle books. I have the Kindle app on my iPad so I can read Kindle books and I also have the free iBooks application that allows me to read .pdf books (and crochet patterns). iPads are heavier and take up more space than Kindles, but they do do more, and the screen is bigger. The other downside of reading on a gadget on a plane is that the cabin crew make you turn them off during take off and landing, so you do need something else to do during that time, if, like me, you can’t sit still for more than 3 minutes without needing something to read.


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