Seven 'must have' productivity apps for the iPad

Seven 'must have' productivity apps for the iPad

Summary: These are all apps that I turn to on a daily basis and they transform my iPad from a content consumption device into a piece of kit that is capable of doing real work.


'What apps have you got installed on your iPad?' That's a question I get asked almost daily from people who are overwhelmed by the 600,000 or so apps on offer at Apple's App Store and who are looking for a little help to sort out the digital wheat from the chaff.

Rather than just rattle off a whole list of apps that I use on my iPad (it would be a long list, and that would make a boring post) I thought I'd pick my top seven 'must have' productivity iPad apps and give you some insight into how I use them. These are all apps that I turn to on a daily basis and that have transformed my iPad from a content consumption device into a piece of kit that's capable of doing real work.

Oh, and I promise, this is an Angry Birds free list! They are all hardcore 'getting work done' apps that will make you more productive, not suck away your time!

Note: All prices correct at time or writing.

DocuSign Ink

'Sign this and send it back to me.' Ugh, how I hated that phrase, because it meant a multi-stage process that involved printing out the document in question, signing it, then scanning it back into digital form so it could be emailed off (or worse still, faxed ... ugh). DocuSign Ink totally removes the need for a printer and scanner and lets me sign and annotate documents directly on my iPad with a few taps.

Image credit: Apple/DocuSign

DocuSign Ink can handle a wide variety of documents, including PDFs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and even PowerPoint files. Not only does it save me time (the signing process is quick and easy), but it's also saved a few trees.

I love this app!

Price: Free | iTunes


Turn your iPad into a secondary display for your PC or Mac -- what's not to like about that? AirDisplay does just that, giving me an extra 1024x768 (or 768x1024 (it works in either landscape or portrait orientations) of screen real estate when I need it.

I already have multiple screens on my main desktop system so I don't need it there, but this app allows me to add an extra screen to my notebook whenever I want one, which really boosts productivity when I'm away from my desk or on the move.

When I'm using this app I tend to find myself settling into a specific style of working. I use the fixed screen on my notebook for input (word processor or spreadsheet, for example) and the AirDisplay screen for research and notes because this saves me from having to tile windows and switch between them.

Image credit: Apple/Avatron Software

This is an absolutely stunning app. Not only does it give you extra screen space to work with, it also allows you to interact with the screen using touch and gestures, which is a real added bonus (who needs to wait for Windows 8!).

Not a cheap app, but well worth the money.

Price: $9.99 | iTunes

Dolphin Browser for iPad

I find the default Safari web browser on the iPad to be the biggest letdown of the whole platform. It's the weakest link in the iOS chain by far. I find it to be very erratic and it has a really annoying habit of periodically deciding that it needs to reload the contents of all the tabs I have open, which really puts a crimp in my workflow.

The Dolphin Browser for iPad solves these problems, and brings with it a whole bunch of useful features, such as gestures, speed dial and a sidebar, all of which improve my browsing experience.

Image credit: Apple/MoboTap

What more can I say about this app than it's effectively replaced the Safari browser as my browser of choice on the iPad. Not only is it more robust and stable, it has a nice selection of features that make it more useful than the browser that Apple supplies.

This is the sort of browser that Apple should have shipped with the iPad in the first place.

Price: Free | iTunes

Part 2 -->

Pocket Informant HD

I've never been a big fan of the Calendar app that Apple shipped with either the iPhone or the iPad (it was just too basic for my needs), so my first mission when I made the switch to the iOS platform was to find a replacement. I needed something that would allow me to bring all my tasks, appointments, to-do lists, contact details, reminders and notes all into a single app. I also needed an app that could work seamlessly with Google Calendar and other third-party services that I used such as Toodledo.

Enter Pocket Informant HD.

Image credit: Apple/Web Information Solutions

I'm not going to lie to you, Pocket Informant HD is a very deep and detailed app. To get the most out of your investment you're going to need to read the help files and make your way through all the settings and options. Also, before you can start to use it for the first time, it will take a fair bit of setting up, but I promise you that this is time well spent as this is likely to become the hub for all your day-to-day activities.

Highly recommended!

My ZDNet blogging buddy James Kendrick has written an excellent review of Pocket Informant with an eye to getting the most out of the app.

Price: $8.99 | iTunes

iA Writer

I don't write much on Post-It Notes in real life, so I really don't want to be writing on things that look like them on my iPad. I'm also not much of a fan of the traditional word processor either because I find myself spending too much of time being distracted by all the formatting options when I should be spending the time writing. I prefer to write in an app that offers as little distraction as possible so I can concentrate on the substance as opposed to the style.

This makes iA Writer the perfect app for me.

Image credit: Apple/Information Architects

I love iA Writer because it allows me to focus on the words. In fact, one of my favorite iA Writer features is Focus Mode, a setting that blurs out everything except the current three lines of text you're working on, taking away anything that can distract you, such as spell check, toolbars and so on.

Image credit: Information Architects

Combine all that with iCloud and Dropbox integration, and I have access to my documents everywhere I go.

Note: I bought iA Writer back when it was $4.99 and felt that even at that price it offered fantastic value for money. With the recent price cut, plus the iPhone and iPad apps being combined into a single purchase now, you get a lot more app for your dollar.

Price: $0.99 | iTunes

Quickoffice Pro HD

My job means having to handle a lot of different documents, especially Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDFs, and this meant that if my iPad was to become a content creation tool, it had to be able to handle these formats.

After a lot of research (and a bit of money wasted on trying out apps - the App Store really needs a 'try before you buy' feature), I came across Quickoffice Pro HD.

Image credit: Apple/Quickoffice

Not only does Quickoffice Pro HD come with powerful document editing tools, it also features a really handy file manager that allows me to access and transfer files using all sorts of third-party services, such as Dropbox, Box, Google Docs and much more. I've never wanted to do something with a Word or Excel document when away from my desk that I couldn't do with this app.

What's better still is that this app seems to get significantly better and more feature-packed with each new update.

It's not a cheap app (in fact, it's the most expansive on this list), but it is by far the best editing suite for Microsoft Office documents that I've used on iOS. I can't think of a time when it has let me down.

Price: $19.99 | iTunes

Dragon Dictate

One of my dreams has always been to be able to dictate notes to my computer rather than use the keyboard. Over the years I've tried a lot of products but found them to be frustrating and ended up going back to the keyboard. When I first came across Dragon Dictate for the iPad I have to admit that I expected it to offer more of the same old frustration.

It didn't. In fact, this is by far the best voice-to-text tools that I've ever used. It works from the moment you install it with no configuration or setting up, and no 'training' period. It is the embodiment of the phrase 'it just works.'

Image credit: Apple/Nuance Communications

I've put in a lot of flight time with this app and I have to admit that it's eerily accurate. It does sometimes get the odd word wrong here and there (I think that this is my fault usually for mumbling) but this isn't a deal-breaker. I tend to use this for both quick note taking, replying to the odd email and dictating ideas when I'm away from my desk. I then have the text file (which I email to myself) and the recording to go back to if I want to check something.

I'll also admit that I love the simplistic HAL 9000-like look of the app too ... that appeals to my inner-geek!

For the price ($0) you can't go wrong!

Price: Free | iTunes


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Topics: Browser, Apple, Apps, iPad, Mobility

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  • I agree with you about Safari

    How can a company that gets so much so right get something so wrong. Whether it is on my iMac or iPad, I really dislike Safari. Easily the worst browser that I have ever used. When will there be a FireFox for the iPad?
    • Agree as well

      safari is not my favourite browser. Funny Dolphin HD gets mentioned, which indeed is a much better browser, but since I updated from 4.3.3 to 5.0.1 this browser turned into crash central.
      • However, Adrian is wrong about Dolphin being "more robust and stable", ...

        ... since all browsers in iOS only allowed to use iOS-built-in WebKit engine (except for Opera Mini, which downloads pictures of the page you visit via their servers).

        So all browsers have exactly the same robustness and stability.
    • Really...

      what is wrong with Safari? Please actually state what you dont like about it. How is it the "worst browser" that you have ever used? I could say Chrome is the worst browser I have ever used, but unless I say does not matter.

      I never have any issues with any web pages. Back in the Safari 2.x days when IE ruled everything I would bump into web pages all the time that would have issues with Safari or any other browser that was not IE, (firefox, Oprah etc).

      Today I access Exchange 2010 webmail and it looks the same on IE9 or Safari, Chrome, or Firefox. I have zero issues with Safari from a stability or speed perspective. I actually prefer the search area to be separate from the main URL line.
      • Mobile safari

        Does not offer the same owa experience as Ie9, chrome or Safari on the desktop. Mobile safari lacked tabs prior to ios 5, one of the reasons I preferred Dolphin, since ios5 I hardly use Dolphin as it became crashy, that said, Safari also crashes more on Ios5 as compared to ios 4. For me personally, I don't really like safari, I use FF on Osx.
      • Safari is the one browser that just doesn't work

        There are many sites that I get blinking response boxes with safari. When I go to Chrome or Firefox, they work just fine. i don't know why this is. Also, I've found Safari is the slowest of the major browsers on my computers (both PC & Mac)
      • Stuck on the past

        I have too many sites where I do a refresh or reload and Safari loads an old cached version of the web page.
        Then there is the login dialog boxes. All too often they do to open correctly in Safari.
      • OWA with Exchange 2010

        is identical feature wise on IE, Safari, FF, or Chrome. In 2007 > yes there was a IE only premium version and a basic version. This is a selling point for both Exchange 2010 and Office 365.

        Mobile browsers are always limited and always will be, no plugins etc. I have never had Safari on my iPad or iPhone crash. I do use the tabs on the iPad but not on the iPhone to save space.
      • OK..

        Save files (specifically PDF files) to your iPad using Safari. We tried doing this with several of our company's PDF marketing files. It would bring each of the 9 PDF files up after a download period but when you opened one and then opened a second, reopening the first meant downloading it again. You simply can't save PDF files to the iPad via the built-in browser without an app. You can transfer them via DropBox (another app) and drop them into iBooks, though. All workarounds or need to get apps.
        • You need apps for files

          That's true, if you use your iPad, you need an app to keep your files, you can't just stay with Safari. For example, for PDF files, I use Beesy, I can keep my files on iPad or put on Dropbox thanks to the sync
    • They didn't get anything right

      Your just living in cuckoo land
  • Very good post

    Thanks for highlighting some of the professional uses and apps for the iPad. Since I don't have one, I've only seen a couple of my friends' units and they only play with them for connectivity in lieu of a notebook. This kind of post can help justify one at work, maybe..
    • What a joke

      professional? I think not, sad how apple fools are stretching to justify that toy as productive.

      Wow a browser and calander and clunky office tool only for dropbox or google craps. Such powerfull tools, not

      Wake me when this toy can direct access or at minimum vpn to a network share.
  • Reward yourself by just doing smart work

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  • DocuSign Danger

    I tried Docusign Ink as you suggested. I was horrified. You store your actual signature on God knows what remote server and click button saying the image is your authorized signature.

    WOW! Wait till that site is hacked.

    And its free. So where are they getting the $ to assure and maintain security.

    The signature could have easly been stored locally. So why get remote server involved.

    Dangerous AND suspicious.
    GNR Beaumont
    • Docusign Danger

      But surely if you are accepting a digital copy of your signature as your signature what stops anyone who has a copy of anything you have signed with it, just copying it and using that copy to sign something. The problem is not really with the app its the whole concept of using a digital representation of your signature to sign something. Although I do agree why make it easier for the criminals if there is a choice by keeping stored locally. But the server will have a copy of it when it modifies the document, it just would not get stored there.
  • Here's a MUST HAVE tool

    A must have tool that works with all business apps on the iPad is an [b]external keyboard[/b]. I recently got an external keyboard for my iPad and I am blown away with how much easier the iPad is to use. <i>Check out this short</i> article.
    • WOW!!

      I didn't see that coming!! A touchpad that was difficult to pound out an e-mail on. I wonder what's the next difficult thing to do on an iPad? Could it be CAD/CAM perhaps???

      Nahhh... what am I thinking...
    • Wow

      You needed to buy an iPad to figure out you needed a netbook. Good stuff!
  • "...capable of doing real work"

    All of these apps are consumption apps, with one exception, that being Dragon Dictate (maybe). I have used Dragon Speaking Naturally, and it is okay for putting down words, but it cannot do any kind of formatting as with a real word processor.

    How can you create anything beyond a post-it size note on the virtual keyboard? How many words a minute can you type on that? Want to try writing a report, long memo, or, heaven forbid, a novel?

    I have seen those small keyboards they sell to go with the iPad, and would never want to have to use one. Too small to properly touch-type with any kind of speed.

    If you define "real work" as the same type of tasks you do on your full-sized keyboard on your desktop, then the iPad simply does not qualify.