Seven 'must have' productivity apps for the iPad

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.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

'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

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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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