12 iPad apps that mean business

Apple's App Store has a good variety of software designed to help business people get through the day

Roambi Pro

At an annual fee of $99, MeLLmo's Roambi Pro is the most expensive app for the iPad covered in this article. But it can be essential equipment for staying on top of your company's operations or watching business trends.

The app lets you tap into your company's business intelligence data with a nicely designed interface that can show raw numbers as well as present trends in a variety of graphs.

The Pro version I looked at can work with a variety of file types, including .XLS, .CSV, .HTML and .DOC. The enterprise edition (Roambi ES3) is aimed at large companies and adds the ability to work with tools such as IBM's Cognos applications, SAP's CRM products and others; it costs $795 for a 50-seat license. There is also a free Lite version that can handle only XLS, CSV and HTML docs.

After using it for a month, I found that while Roambi provides a good variety of ways to bring raw numbers into an iPad, I couldn't just grab a spreadsheet or array of figures from an e-mail or Web site; I also couldn't work with data already open in Numbers or any other iPad app. All the data has to come through Roambi Publisher -- software that maps the data fields so that the program can understand all the different formats -- in a somewhat complicated sequence.

With a little help from Roambi's tech support, I was able to establish a data flow using several files from my Google Docs account. After that, updates were easy to make.

Roambi can perform modest analytical work using eight different graphs. On top of the usual linear, logarithmic, exponential and other graphic techniques, it has an excellent best-fit curve-smoothing routine. You can quickly try out each and see the results in a second.

At any time, you can e-mail a screenshot of any graph you're working on to a colleague or incorporate it into a presentation or report. My favorite part of the program, though, is the Cardex view, which lets you flip through a "Rolodex" filled with dozens of different data sources, like a company's business groups or sales areas. And with all this data at your fingertips, the app's bookmarking feature is a lifesaver for those with short-term memory issues.

Bottom line

Roambi Pro is expensive, but its $99-a-year price tag easily pays for itself through the work it lets you do.

Fax Print & Share Pro for iPad

One thing you won't find on an iPad is a button for printing. (Some resourceful people have actually put the iPad screen-side down on a photocopier to print what is on its display.) Ndili Technologies' $8.99 Fax Print & Share Pro for iPad (FPSP) is a better way to put it all on paper. Apple's iOS 4.2 upgrade, due in November, will add native printing, but for now, FPSP is a valuable addition.

FPSP's main menu lets you bring in new material to be printed; you can select the document you want to print, fax or e-mail to a colleague. The app works with most major file formats, including .DOC and .PDF documents and .JPG and .GIF images.

Unfortunately, printing a file can be a time-consuming process. Each file has to be imported into the program and then printed. To print a Web page, you first have to use the program's Downloader feature to capture the page, and then go back to the main program to print it. FPSP would be greatly improved if it could quickly print whatever was on the screen at the moment.

FPSP can send pages directly to any networked (wireless or wired) printer that's connected through a router. I tried it with three different printers. While it worked fine with two wireless printers -- an Epson Stylus NX510 and a Brother HL-2170W -- it couldn't print in color with an Oki Data C6050 wired printer; Ndili is revising the driver software.

The app can also send a physical letter or postcard (you'll need to buy postal units beforehand to cover the postage). I used the service to send a letter; it created an impressive-looking business document that arrived in a plain white envelope a week later.

Bottom line

While the process is rather awkward, FPSP's ability to print out your documents makes it a valuable addition to any iPad that wants a place in the business world.

Pocket Informant for iPad

Tired of being late for appointments? Always forgetting to do critical tasks? Web Information Solutions' Pocket Informant for iPad ($12.99) can help keep your business life on track. It's an electronic nag that will remind you of what you need to do when.

Pocket Informant picks up where the iPad's minimalist calendar and contacts leave off, by creating an integrated system for appointments and tasks. The program resembles a traditional day planner and can work with Franklin Covey's Getting Things Done system. Just about everything is customizable, including colors, type size and how tasks are displayed.

You can look at your information by day, week or month; you swipe the screen to move between views. My favorite features, though, are the time bars that show free and booked periods, making it easier to balance work and play, or to decide if there's time for a quick lunch.

The program also lets you plan a multistop trip by using Google Maps. If you have the 3G version of the iPad, which includes GPS, Pocket Informant can show where you are on the map.

The program can synchronize with scheduling info stored on Toodledo and Google Calendar but, unfortunately, not the Google Calendar's task list. To synchronize with Outlook, you'll need to download the Windows application WebIS Desktop Sync (which costs $5 after a two-week trial). The company is working on Outlook sync software for OS X and Exchange; it also plans to add more languages to those currently available (English, German and French).

Bottom line

Pocket Informant is a way to make sure that you're always on time.

FlightTrack Pro

Business travel is never easy, but Mobiata's FlightTrack Pro ($9.99) can help get you to the airport in time and alter your itinerary when your plans change or flights are canceled. It can track detailed travel plans along with arrivals, departures, delays and other information at 3,975 airports and for 1,462 airlines worldwide. (However, it doesn't work with multimode trips that include train, bus or car travel.) iPad apps

You start by entering your flight number and either the three-letter airport code or your destination city and picking from available airports.

If you use the TripIt service, FlightTrack Pro can automatically add all the details. The program can not only show any plane en route and the weather along the way, but will also display all the relevant info about the flight's status.

I particularly like the program's Airport Board View. It shows a facsimile of the departure board from any airport so you'll be the first to know when a flight is late or canceled.

If you're stranded with a flight that's going nowhere, FlightTrack Pro can help you find the easiest alternate flight. Any info on FlightTrack Pro can be shared via Facebook or Twitter or by a good old-fashioned e-mail with colleagues back at the office or those waiting for you at your destination.

Bottom line

If you find yourself with time to kill between flights, just shake the iPad and it will track a random flight for you, which is oddly absorbing. With all the different ways you can get from here to there and back again, FlightTrack Pro can turn any business traveler into an air traffic controller.

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Brian Nadel

Computerworld (US)
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