February 23, 2014 11:02 pm

Developers fill gaps to enhance iPad’s appeal for business users

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When Apple launched the iPad in April 2010, it was positioned as a consumer device. There was little or no expectation among Apple’s senior executives, including the late Steve Jobs, that it would prove to be a big hit with corporate executives and senior managers.

As a result, the iPad initially lacked many of the features and productivity tools that business users might reasonably expect, including file management, access to Microsoft’s near-ubiquitous Office suite and electronic pen input.

Since then, however, Apple and third-party app developers have filled in many of the missing pieces.

For example, I use an app called Documents by Readdle, which includes a file manager, media player, photo album and document viewer and is arguably the best free file manager available for the iPad.

The app features a clean icon-based user-interface that allows you to navigate through its various sections, and includes a PDF reader that enables users to annotate and highlight text.

It connects easily to the most popular cloud-based storage services including Dropbox, Google Drive, SugarSync, Box, Office 365, and Microsoft’s OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) and supports a variety of file types.

Users can upload documents to any of the supported cloud services and manage them from within the app, and sync documents via Apple’s iCloud.

I am also a big fan of Parallels Access ($49 a year), designed to enable iPad users to run the full desktop versions of Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook), Intuit’s Quicken money management software, Adobe’s Photoshop and Apple’s own iTunes.

Access is not the first or only app to provide remote access to desktops: there are a few others, some free, that are mostly used by IT support staff and techies. But it is much easier to set up and use than any of the alternatives I have tried and, unlike other apps, it lets you run Mac and Windows applications as if they were made for your iPad.

The software also allows iPad users to harness the much greater processing power and storage capacity of most desktops rather than rely on the iPad’s relatively limited hardware.

This is important if, for example, you need to work on a complex Excel spreadsheet or manipulate large content files.

To start using Access, you need to download it from Apple’s App Store, set up an online account with Parallels and install the small client app on any desktop machines you plan to access.

The client app runs on Macs running OS X 10.8 or later, and any Windows-based machine running Windows 7 or later.

Provided you have a reasonably fast Ethernet or wireless connection, and the remote desktops are online, the Access homepage displays a list of your remote PCs.

Once you choose the desktop that you want to access, the software establishes an encrypted connection and displays an iPad-style page of icons denoting the software installed on the desktop.

Click on one of the icons and the desktop software fires up almost instantly.

I mainly use Parallels Access with my iPad to access Office documents on my home PC while travelling and have found it to be pretty reliable – provided I remember to leave my PCs powered up and online.

The Livescribe 3 smartpen

The Livescribe 3 smartpen

My last recommendation is to pair the iPad with a $150 Livescribe 3 smartpen. The Livescribe 3, which was launched late last year, instantly turns handwritten notes, drawings and doodles drawn on special paper into their digital equivalents.

These are displayed on an iPad screen via a Bluetooth LE (low energy) wireless connection.

That means I can sit in a meeting and use my Livescribe notebook to make notes, a virtual copy of which is stored in my iPad using the free Livescribe 3+ app.

This has other features, including optical character recognition, which turns handwritten notes into digital text files.

Sensibly, Livescribe has also decided to provide third party app developers with a software development kit (SDK), so they can add natural pen and paper note-taking to their own apps.

The first apps to implement the SDK are from Gorillized – Outline (free for up to 30 documents) and Outline+, costing $15. These work with Microsoft OneNote to store, organise, edit and annotate notes and were launched this month.

Outline users can create notes with pen and paper alongside content created using Outline’s iPad-based tools, while Outline+ adds the ability to use Microsoft OneDrive, Microsoft SharePoint Server, Box and Dropbox.

Interestingly, the Mac version of Outline is the only app that currently supports OneNote notebooks on Mac OS X.

This allows users to sync their notebooks from iPad to Mac and to OneNote on a Windows PC.

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This is the first in a new, regular column by the FT’s US business technology and telecoms correspondent

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