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
  • Brian Nadel (Computerworld (US))
  • 05 October, 2010 08:42

So far, Apple has sold more than 3 million of its iconic iPads, making it the best-selling tablet on the market. A runaway success? Absolutely.

But an out-of-the-box iPad can be a disappointment for business tasks. Its rudimentary word processor, e-mail client, contacts directory and calendar are slim pickings, especially for those who want to use the device for work on the road.

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

I looked at 12 different apps that can make your workday easier and more efficient. Some of these apps do one thing well, like Network Utility, which quickly checks out a company's networking infrastructure. Others are multifaceted, like Office² HD, which is a one-stop shop for creating and modifying business documents. And then there are those that are indispensable for road warriors, like FlightTrack Pro, which lets you keep an eye on your travel plans and react quickly to cancellations.

In short, these apps can transform an iPad into a Swiss Army knife for cutting through a workday.

Pages, Numbers and Keynote

Apple's iWork suite for the Mac includes applications for word processing (Pages), spreadsheets (Numbers) and presentations (Keynote).

All three apps work well and offer a number of features in common -- for example, they can all accommodate eight different languages and let you undo the last 200 changes. They can import the latest Word, Excel and PowerPoint file formats (although you can only save files in the Office 97 format).

However, these programs are available only individually for the iPad. Because of this, the suite has lost the integration that made each of these applications more than the sum of their parts on Mac laptops and other Apple systems. To add prewritten text to a presentation, for instance, you have to click the iPad's Home button, open Pages and copy the text. Only after hitting the Home button again and opening Keynote can you paste it in place.

Still, anybody who works on the road needs this trio of apps for reading, creating and working with all manner of documents. Despite the hassle of individually paying for, downloading and installing the three programs, it's worth the effort.


Pages ($9.99) creates documents of surprising sophistication -- documents look great, and there's a lot of flexibility in how you can present them.

The app can change formatting options like margins, type and indents, as well as adjust word wrapping around images. There's a good variety of formatting options, including 16 premade templates, and to make a simple chart or graph, you just tap in your numbers. Pages will automatically fit the document to the width of the iPad display, regardless of whether it's being held horizontally or vertically. This makes complicated documents easier to work with.

If you're working with a sophisticated document, be prepared to be patient -- it took several seconds for documents to appear when I pulled them up in Pages. Other apps, like Office² HD, don't have that problem.

Pages works with Word files and does an excellent job of font substitution when necessary. On the other hand, it lacks the ability to use Microsoft Word's Track Changes feature for facilitating group work. Documents brought into Pages include comments and notes, but only as plain text without highlighting or any indication of who made them. Pages automatically saves the document every time a change is made (as do Numbers and Keynote).

It's a snap to import an image, as well as to resize or rotate an image. And don't worry about using the app with external keyboards; Pages worked well with my wireless Matias Folding Keyboard.

The documents can be shared on Apple's iWork.com site. The site was still under development at the time of this writing but was stable enough for use. Apple recently added support for its MobileMe synchronization system.


When it comes to manipulating figures, Numbers ($9.99) is a gem. The screen can hold an active worksheet as well as tabs for five more. There are 250 functions available -- more than twice the number included with Office² HD.

Numbers can create nine different graphs at the swipe of a finger as you highlight the data and choose which format to use; you can instantly change them to a different look. The program uses the same 16 Apple templates as Pages for a consistent look. Keynote

For many business travelers, giving presentations is the reason for not being in the office in the first place. The Keynote app ($9.99) can make quick work of creating simple shows on the road, editing complicated ones or just putting on a show.

Apple Keynote

The interface may look familiar to those who use the Mac version, but Keynote was built from the ground up for the iPad, with an emphasis on using its screen to the fullest. For example, if you're having trouble placing an image exactly where you want it, you can zoom in for greater detail.

While the iPad itself is a great way to show the presentation to two or three people, a bigger venue demands a projector or monitor. You'll need to buy a VGA adapter for $29 to put Keynote on-screen. (Numbers and Pages, however, don't include the ability to send an image to an external source.)

Keynote offers 12 themes, whereas Pages and Numbers offer 16, but it adds sophisticated image and text animation. You tap on the text or images to change and resize them. It took me about five minutes to create a 10-slide presentation with just enough text animation to keep an audience's attention.

Bottom line

When there's work to be done, and when there are documents to be read, edited or created, no programs do as much for making the iPad road-ready than Pages, Numbers and Keynote. I just wish they would work together better.

Office² HD

Byte²'s Office² HD can turn any iPad into a document factory. At $7.99, it's less than a third of the cost of the trio of iWork programs but offers two-thirds of the functionality: word processing and spreadsheets.

Office² HD can handle Word .DOC and Excel .XLS files, documents created in Apple's Pages and Numbers applications, and files from the free NeoOffice suite. When I tried it out, Office² HD correctly handled a variety of formats, including PDF and Microsoft's newer .DOCX files. You can save documents as PDF files as well.

Office² HD can adjust formatting, margins, type and font size, as well as place an image in a document. You can undo up to 100 previous changes. It lacks the ability of Pages to save files after every change, but the program will autosave when it's closed.

Like Pages, Office² HD can import files that use Microsoft's Track Changes feature, but the comments are in plain text. It cannot add comments that identify the writer.

The program can work with several spreadsheets at once. You can easily adjust the row height and column width by tapping and dragging them to the size you want. I was able to switch between spreadsheets with a finger swipe, which was quite convenient.

Office² HD includes 112 spreadsheet functions, from basic math to heavy-duty statistical analysis; this is half as many as Numbers has. Office² HD can't create graphs, which could be a real negative for many users.

One nice feature: The program lets you grab files from online repositories like Google Docs, Apple's MobileMe, iDisk or Box.net without leaving the application.

Bottom line

One big disappointment with Office² HD is the inability to view and edit presentation files. Still, what it does do, it does well and inexpensively.

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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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Desktop Connect

Antecea Inc.'s Desktop Connect ($14.99) lets you view the files you need when you're away from the office. The $15 app works with Windows, Mac and Linux.

Because Desktop Connect has to take over the host computer, setup is a little complicated and takes about an hour. After that, however, the application is easy to use. The app uses password protection and 128-bit encryption to safeguard your data.

You start by configuring the host computer to run Virtual Network Computing (VNC) software, which is available for Linux, Windows and OS X; or Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which runs on all Windows versions except the Home and Starter editions of Vista and Windows 7.

I had a little trouble configuring the software -- it didn't work on the first few tries. However, with a little help from Antecea's tech support crew, I was able to connect with a Windows 7 desktop and a Mac Mini.

Once Desktop Connect is running, your entire desktop is replicated on the iPad. There's an option to automatically lower the resolution to make it fit better on the pad's screen. All it takes is tapping one button to get back to your office PC. You can't download files, but anything that can be viewed on the host can be seen and saved as a screenshot.

Bottom line

As with other remote control programs, the action is a little slow and awkward at times. After a little practice, Desktop Connect gives you a liberating feeling when you know that anything you left behind can be viewed on the road.

OmniGraphSketcher for iPad

Do you need complex graphs to make that presentations sing -- even though you have the artistic talent of a slug? The Omni Group's OmniGraphSketcher for iPad ($14.99) can turn numbers into beautiful infographics.

There's a helpful introductory tutorial and video to get you started -- however, OmniGraphSketcher's four-step interface is one of the easiest I've worked with.

You can copy and paste your numbers in place or manually add them by tapping on a blank graph. OmniGraphSketcher turns your numbers into a good-looking chart or graph using a number of formats, including a line graph, bar graph or area graph. You can add colors, labels and captions.

The program arranges its color schemes in palettes that are named for artists like Mondrian and Hokusai. You can try out a new color combination or graphing style and, if it doesn't look right, just try something else.

It took me 10 minutes to create two professional-looking sales graphs for an imaginary new product that might be used in a marketing report or sales presentation. Unfortunately, OmniGraphSketcher is limited to creating static representations of the data -- I would have loved to have been able to create an animated graph.

You can also update your data and the graph changes to reflect the new numbers -- or just drag the elements in the graph to the new shape. (Although I found the latter method an efficient way to create graphs -- sort of graphic finger painting -- it turned out to be difficult to highlight the exact areas I wanted to change, particularly when I was on a bumpy train ride.)

When you're done, the graph can be duplicated, saved as a .PDF or .JPG file and e-mailed to your co-workers or dropped into a presentation or report. At any time you can swipe through a gallery of your finished or in-progress items, making it easy to find past projects. Bottom line

By being able to create such a variety of professional-looking graphs, OmniGraphSketcher lets the numbers do the talking.

On-Core Time Master

If you're a freelancer who has to bill for your time or you need some help with time management or expense tracking, On-Core Software's On-Core Time Master can help you make the most of every minute.

Time Master is one of most customizable programs I've ever used. Getting started was quick; the app comes with explanatory videos and clear documentation.

Clients can be entered individually, from the iPad's contact app or by importing a comma-separated file. Activities can be set up by time or duration, or by punching in and out in on the fly for a single event. Tasks can be billed in a variety of ways, and the program can track multiple items by client, project or task. Payment can be based on hours, minutes or even seconds.

When you start timing a new task, a green circle starts spinning. It continues to time your work even if you're using the iPad for other things. Just tap on the rotating circle to stop or restart the timer.

Time Master lets you note whether expenses are reimbursable, whether you have a receipt and whether it's taxable. You can add expenses based on everything from how much you drive on the job to the number of pages you print for a client. Basically, anything that can be counted can be charged as an expense and sent as an e-mail or exported as a comma-separated data file.

While it can't be set to trigger an alarm when you've hit a preset monetary or time limit on a project, the app can deliver detailed reports for your own records or for attaching to an invoice.

On-Core sells add-on modules for QuickBooks ($6) and for creating professional-looking invoices ($10). You can also add the ability to synchronize with another device -- for example, with your iPhone -- for another $7.

Bottom line

Building your day around Time Master can help you make the most of your time.

Network Utility

If you need to monitor how your company's network is operating, then you'll want to download Codepacity's free app Network Utility onto your iPad. It can not only interrogate a corporate LAN but can test the network's performance and show what's going on behind the scenes.

Originally designed for the iPhone, Network Utility occupies half of the iPad's screen, but you can hit the 2X button to fill the screen. It gets a little fuzzy, and part of the main screen doesn't quite fit, but everything is readable.

The software allows an iPad to connect with a corporate LAN via a Wi-Fi link; all you have to do is type in your network's host address.

You can run a ping test, which sends a data packet to the server and times how long it takes for the round trip. Network Utility actually performs a series of four separate ping tests and displays the results. However, it stops short of averaging them, which would be a great thing to have if you were troubleshooting a problem or looking for a congested network port.

In addition, Network Utility can scan ports within a specified range to see who's using what and check on intermittent faults. It also runs a whois query to check on the domain name behind the IP address. The software can not only display the iPad's IP address, but also check on a LAN's host name and find its external address.

On the downside, one thing Network Utility can't do is run a simple broadband test to gauge the connection to the Internet. You'll have to use Ookla's free SpeedTest.net Mobile app to do that.

The best part is its price. Network Utility is a freebie, but it inserts small ads at the bottom of the screen. For 99 cents, the Pro version goes ad-free.

Bottom line

In either form, Network Utility is perfect for IT people who need to roam from facility to facility.