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Using an iPad to increase your productivity: a roundup

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It's a while since I blogged about the iPad. I thought it might be useful to pull all my tips on this handy little gadget (including some new ones) together in one post. I'm going to focus for the most part on using it to improve productivity, but there will be some thoughts at the end on using the iPad to have a little fun.  

Get yourself a keyboard and stylus

There's a lot you can do without these add-ons, but they'll dramatically increase your productivity.

There are lots of keyboards on the market — here's a nice review. I waited until the Brydge came out. The Brydge team had functionality in mind, but what sold me was the design — it makes your iPad looks (almost) as cool as the MacBook Air but gives you the advantages of the iPad.   

There are lots of styluses (or styli) on the market. The ones with a pen inside save you carrying a pen and a stylus. The iSound stylus is handy, as is the Cross Stylus Pen Combo which gives you a stylus, pencil and two-colored ballpoint pen, all in one.  

Getting your files to and from your iPad using the cloud

To get the most out of your iPad you'll want to be able to get to your files from multiple computers including your iPad. And you'll likely often want to share your files with friends and collaborators.

Dropbox allows you to upload files and access them from your desktop and iPad, and even from any online computer via the Web. You can share them with collaborators. On the iPad you can specify you want to be able to read files offline. Several iPad apps have full Dropbox integration so you can open and save files into Dropbox directly.

Google Drive also allows you to have (and edit) documents in the cloud that you can share with others. Personally, I use it much less than Dropbox.

Also worth getting is iZip Pro (h/t Arianna Legovini) which gives you the capability to work with zipped files and archives, and gives you some file management functionality (see also Quickoffice HD Pro below).        

Viewing and editing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations

SlideShark is a beautiful app for viewing and storing your library of Powerpoint presentations.

Often you'll want to do more than viewing. iAnnotate (h/t Tatiana Sviridova) allows you to use your stylus to annotate pdf files with highlights, handwritten comments and inserted notes; you can email your marked-up file.  

You're also likely to want to edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations, either working on one that's already been started, or starting one from scratch that you can work on later or share with someone else. There are rumors that Microsoft will release a version of Microsoft Office for the iPad. Until that happens, you have a couple of options.

One is to use one of the apps that allow you to edit and create an Office file. Two apps stand out:

  1. Quickoffice HD Pro allows you to work on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Two big plusses: it allows you to see tracked changes, and edit them; and it allows you use files with Dropbox and Google Drive (it even gives you some file management functionality).
  2. The Apple apps — Pages and the apps for spreadsheets and presentations — are also great. Pages has a nice feel, and has two big plusses: it allows you to enter hyperlinks; and it's great for working with tables, charts and photos. You can't access files from Dropbox within Pages (you could do that from within Dropbox), but you can upload a file to Dropbox after you're done editing. 

Your other option is to connect to a server that allows you to use the Microsoft Office suite of programs in the cloud. OnLive Desktop is an example of such an app (h/t Charlie Griffin).

Taking notes

Taking notes during meetings, talks, etc. is a big attraction of the iPad. The Notes app that comes with the iPad is fine but there are other apps that offer useful additional functionality.

Daily Notes (h/t Toomas Palu) allows you to organize your notes by date, and tag them into categories; both features make it easy to find your notes later.    

Daily Notes is fine if you're fairly passive while you're taking notes. But if you want to highlight points, insert comments of your own in a different color, or use your stylus to draw or add handwritten marginal comments, Notability is very nice. It's great if you're taking notes and trying to organize your own thoughts at the same time. Once the session is over, you can always paste your final notes into Daily Notes so you have an easily findable record.   

Keeping up with the world

With the iPad it's very easy to stay in touch with what's going on in. Many apps have a layered approach allowing you to skim headlines and the the first few lines before deciding whether you want to read the whole thing.

The traditional media companies have some great apps. The Economist has a beautiful one (subscription necessary), as has its sister publication Intelligent Life. BBC News also has a nice app. Lots of other newspapers have apps, including The New York Times and The Guardian. Factiva (h/t Jos Verbeek) is a great way to search for news stories on specific topics across a vast number of sources.

An alternative approach — which I prefer — is to use iPad apps to create your own informal "news magazine".

Flipboard is the easiest to set up, and allows you to tap into a variety of types of content, including, for example, blogs from The Economist, articles from The Guardian, and segments from The Colbert Report. You can customize the app as you want, setting up magazine sections according to your interests.

More adventurous is Feedly. This app allows you to set up a news magazine based on RSS feeds, again using sections — either Feedly's predefined ones or your own. You can include RSS feeds from traditional media outlets (e.g. a regular column from a specific newspaper columnist) but you can also branch out to get feeds from blogs and other websites that have an RSS feed (announcements from an organization for example). A lot of interesting debate nowadays takes place away from the traditional media, and the iPad makes it easy to follow these debates. You can also set up RSS feeds of tables of contents of journals, working paper and other document repositories, etc. A tip: it's easier to set up your Feedly magazine initially from a regular computer using an internet browser, and then make marginal changes from the iPad. 

Perhaps the best way of all to keep up with what's going on is via Twitter. You need to invest some time in deciding which people (or lists of people) to follow. There are a lot of generous people out there who share what they're reading with whoever's following them. You can either read your Twitter feed through the iPad Twitter app. Or else you can make your Twitter feed one of your Flipboard sections — this grabs the url of the recommended article and streams the content into Flipboard, beautifully formatted.  

Fun and travel

For a global jukebox, it's hard to beat Spotify (subscription required). Your subscription entitles you to listen to all of Spotify's huge library, or use its radio to take a magical mystery tour through a series of songs based on whatever song you pick first. You can also ask to have a playlist made available offline — useful when you're traveling in countries where Spotify isn't available. You can build playlists, and share them family, friends, and colleagues. Several online magazines — such as Intelligent Life — share music recommendations using Spotify playlists.
There are several content providers allowing you to watch movies on your iPad while you're online, including The Daily Show. A couple allow you to take movies with you and watch them offline, notably Comcast via xfinity Player and Amazon Prime via Amazon Instant Video.

Finally, if you're looking to improve the sound quality while you’re listening to music or watching a movie on your iPad in your hotel room, the iHome rechargeable mini speakers (h/t Benedict Wagstaff) is ultra-small yet generates an amazing sound.




Adam Wagstaff

Research Manager, Development Research Group, World Bank

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