I am admittedly and unashamedly an Apple fanboy, so you have to take this evaluation in the spirit of that devotion. When I first bought my iPad over a year ago, I couldn’t justify the need for the device… certainly I wanted it, but I couldn’t say that I needed it. That has changed. It is now so much a part of my daily life, and I rely on it for many things that I do, I can now say that I need it.
The biggest contribution to my work life comes by way of the de-cluttering of my day. I attend many meetings as part of my job, and each meeting has a set of documents: the agenda, the background documentation, the pre-reads, the data summaries, the notes page, etc. I used to have them all printed and placed in my daily folder. I’d then carry them to my meeting and shuffle through them as appropriate. Enter the iPad…
One of the first apps that I came to use on a frequent and daily basis (besides Angry Birds) was GoodReader. Mashable.com actually rated it #2 in its list of magnificent mobile apps, calling it the “Swiss Army knife of awesome”… I agree with this assessment. At its basic level, it does what its name implies… it provides a means of reading documents. But it is much more than that. It provides a great way of accessing all kinds of documents, arranging them using its own database, organizing them, searching them, bookmarking pages of important information in them, highlighting them, and of course reading them. It syncs with many other apps, such as Dropbox and Mail, so that I can access files from those apps and choose to open them in GoodReader. I can connect GoodReader to many different remote servers for WebDAV or ftp access, GoogleDocs, upload and download, and automatic sync. For example, for my personal files I sync it with my MobileMe iDisk as a way of making certain that the same files are accessible from home, desktop, iPhone or iPad.
The biggest capability for me is the PDF connection, which I use all the time. If I want to read a web page later, I create a PDF file of it (which is trivial on the Mac). Our copier creates PDFs from scanned documents, and I often merge related PDFs. I can read very large PDF files, and I can highlight and markup the files and otherwise annotate them, cut and paste from them, zoom into them to take advantage of the PDF resolution, and I can encrypt and protect them. When I save the file all of these annotations and highlights are also saved so that I can see what I did later on my desktop computer.
The key for making this an essential tool for work is connecting this app with my work files stored on our office network server, from anywhere my meeting takes me. I use a VPN connection and an app called FileBrowser to access the secure server. This gives me the assurance that I am paying attention to the security expectations that OSU has for my network usage. Once I have established my VPN connection, I access FileBrowser and all of my network servers and the files on them are available. One of the nice things about FileBrowser is that I can stream or execute files on the remote server, so I don’t necessarily need to transfer them to the iPad to view them. And, it connects cleanly with GoodReader!
No meeting would be complete without the associated notes and to-do lists. I use the Penultimate app for taking notes. This app lets me take handwritten notes, which is fabulous for the fast-typing challenged person that I am. I use a stylus (I use the Targus stylus, but there are lots of comfortable ones available) to write as if I am writing with a pen. Penultimate allows me to change the “weight” or color of the ink, and provides an erase and clear function in an easily accessible menu bar. I can draw on the page, or write, or annotate a previous document with different colored ink. Documents are organized as “notebooks”, which I can upload or send via email. (One weakness in my view is that there isn’t a clean connection with Dropbox.) My to-do lists are managed with an app called Todo, which I sync with my calendar so that additions are accessible from whatever device I am using.
The combination of Dropbox, goodReader, FileBrowser, Todo and Penultimate have really changed the way I organize, access, and use documents on a daily basis. It has reduced the use of paper significantly, in that I don’t have to print all of those hefty pre-reads for my meetings just in case someone refers to them… I can access them online. So I have created a workable file storage and organization process on our secure server, and all of the documents for my meeting are stored there.
Now, if I can only find a NEED to upgrade from my iPad to the iPad 2…