[Original post date: November 11, 2011.] November 2013 Update: This continues to be one of my top 5 most popular articles. Thank you!
Looking at stats the other day, I realized that this post needed a major update – almost an entire rewrite. Many apps in the original article I no longer use at all, or use in a different way. Since the original was written over 2 years ago; life and my workflows have changed a LOT.
In this article rewrite (or MAJOR edit, depending on your perspective) I’ve updated the list with new and current recommendation status, crossed out apps I’m not actively using, and listed alternatives where appropriate. Apps from the original article have remained to show how workflow and usage can change over time.
Also in this update, I’ve also added one hardware / accessory recommendation as a bonus for reading the full article (no fair scrolling in advance…) It’s not technically an “app”, but has boosted my iPad productivity more than any software package ever could. Stay tuned for that.
FYI: Apps that are updated or added to the list are denoted with “-NEW” in the title. Away we go!
I owned an iPod Touch for a long time before plunging into the world of iPad. An original requirement was that it had to integrate with existing Mac / Android [update: at the time of this rewrite, I’m not using Android] / iPod Touch workflows as much as possible. My productivity with the non-iPad devices (Mac, PC, Android phones, etc.) was so finely tuned; I thought my iPad screen time would be relegated to drawing and sketching. My how times change! I now do a substantial amount of productivity, writing, and consulting-related work on the iPad. When used creatively, there is almost no end to the productivity gains an iPad can bring into your life.
This article is the culmination of my app discoveries and usage in daily, real-life work. Hope you find it useful. When you’re done reading, please add your own suggestions to the comments section.
How I Select iPad Productivity / Business Apps
- App must be iPad ready, and work in landscape mode. [November 2013 update: landscape mode is no longer a strict requirement. I now do so much PDF and book reading in portrait mode, that a solid portrait view — if executed well in the app — is acceptable.] iPhone-only apps are NOT covered here.
App must have practical, daily, business or business-related use.
App must substantially improve or enhance my workflow and not detract from it. If I spent more time learning an app than actually using it, it didn’t make it to the list.
App must save measurable and demonstrable amounts of time.
App must be reliable, with few or no crashes under normal usage conditions.
Subjectively speaking, I need to like the way it looks and functions.
And Now, Bring on the Apps (in no particular order…)
Google Analytics to go! Have one site, several sites, dozens of sites? No problem if iDashboard. Here are a few things I like about it:
- It’s fast. Really fast. I can click any of my site profiles (our company has several), and it brings up raw visits, uniques, traffic sources, top countries, and more.
- Select a reporting tab. The latest version has a real-time view. You can also keep tabs with “Today”, “This week”, or “this month” for reporting.
- Drills down on most of the tracking elements you’d expect. I particularly like some of the more obscure features, such as “Device Branding”. From here, I can see just how many visits come from which device. And #1 by a gigantic margin? Android? Nope. Apple. by a 30 to 1 margin. #2? Samsung.
- Free, or in-app option. Personally, I don’t find the free version quite as useful, except for quick visitor numbers. You can get an annual subscription for a few bucks per year, which I recommend.
For a long time, I used a third-party tool which monitored Clicky Analytics, my main go-to stats package. Unfortunately, the app stopped working about a year ago and I had to find something that worked with Google Analytics. The search led to iDashboard, and it just might for you too.
Productivity and workflow isn’t all about offices and work. Ooohhhh no. Maximizing your off-work/non-billing time, getting with the family, and staying on the same page with them is important too. Enter Cozi. Think of it as a simplified team calendar, list tracking, to-do management, and contact system for families.
You set it up, assign a family surname, and each member signs up with their email. From there, you can build shopping lists, shared contacts, (such as the kids sporting event contacts, emergency contacts, other relatives, churches, etc.), shared calendars, photos, and more.
One of our favorite features is the real-time updating of shared shopping lists. If one of us goes to the store and checks off items on the list, other family (team) members can add new things and re-order them on the fly. I can’t tell you how many countless times my wife or I thought of that last minute “have to have” item and slipped it on the shopping list just in the nick of time! (Before the one of us doing the shopping leaves the store.)
There is a lot more to it though, and I highly recommend checking it out. It will save a lot of back and forth, increase family productivity, and make shopping and other repetitive tasks more effective.
- Drafts for iPad – NEW
Drafts is one of those rare apps that I’d give 6 stars if I could. It is a Swiss Army Knife app of sorts that captures notes and bits of text, stores them in a buffer, then publishes, reformats, or performs some other action on the blobs of text.
For example, you can use Drafts to capture all text notes, convert them to Markdown (or not), and send them to email — or Evernote, or IFTT, or….(the list goes on and on.) The beauty of this tool is that it doesn’t force some arbitrary box or system around your notes. It literally captures — and only captures — and provides you a massive range of options for what to do with it.
In my workflow, I collect so many random bits of text (scratchpads) that I want to file later; bits such as random thoughts, one-time directions to somewhere I won’t likely go again, phone numbers without full contact records, quotes, the “just-popped-into-my-head” idea, some note from a client to be filed later, etc.
Drafts has font options, an extended keyboard, distraction-free text entry, and many other features. I daresay, once you start using it, you’ll find all sorts of fun things to do with it.
One word of caution though: buffer-type apps can — for some people — loosen the workflow a bit too much. Since everything is going into a buffer and not some set structure, you have to perform an action to file it, either at the time of entry, or later. At times I’ve found myself with a big buffer to file! But once you make processing your ‘Draft Buffer’ a regular habit, the benefit outweighs its looseness of structure.
This app is the “up and comer” in my productivity arsenal. The back story on this one is that I moved many of my writing projects to Ulysses III – The Soulmen GBR (Mac only). The full story on my recent workflow changes is an article in its own right. But for now, I needed a way to integrate iCloud Markdown text documents on iPad and Mac. Since I was already doing writing projects on the Mac, the integrated Daedalus Touch option seemed the way to go.
I’ll be honest and say that its editing paradigm of tiles, swiping, and “stacks” may take a bit of getting used to. At least it did for me. But now, there is one step less in the workflow between iPad writing and Mac writing.
Note to new users: You may hear a lot about integration between Daedalus Touch and Ulysses III. Just keep in mind that integration is one way: from Touch to Ulysses. Ulysses can view what was saved by Touch, but Touch cannot view what was created or saved by Ulysses. Keep this in mind when working with both and all should be well with your workflow.
Update: This is still a highly useful app, but one I no longer use in my daily workflow. With recent speed, feature, and interface improvements in iOS 7, I’m back to Apple Mail for iPad. That, coupled with the fact that my Gmail reliance is no longer absolute. (A subject for a separate post.) These days, I use a mix of many different IMAP and Gmail/IMAP accounts, and for me, iOS Apple Mail does the trick.
However, if you need to work with all Gmail accounts, then Mailboxes is a great choice.
Like many Mac users with multiple Gmail accounts, I started out looking for “Mailplane on iPad.” Alas, way back in September 2011, such an app didn’t seem to exist. The next best thing? “Mailboxes.”
“Mailboxes” allows you to easily manage multiple Gmail accounts from a single interface. The real power of this tool is that you can use “roll up” Gmail accounts, that front-end non-Gmail accounts. Using a Gmail-aware tool such as “Mailboxes” allows all of the “send from” addresses to be maintained when replying to different senders, from multiple accounts.
For instance, I have one Gmail account that “receives from” and “sends as” 5 other non-Gmail accounts. I can still “send as” from those accounts in “Mailboxes”, just as I would using Gmail’s native web app.
- Wunderlist 2Do: Tasks Done in Style
NOTE: I no longer use Wunderlist and have not for quite some time now. First, I went back to the “Things App”, which is — or appears to be — what inspired Wunderlist in the first place. Things finally added its own sync service which works really, really well. (And honestly, I can still very highly recommend the Things app.) Then, I later switched to — and have stayed with — 2Do: Tasks Done in Style – Guided Ways Technologies Ltd.
2Do is one of those apps I could probably write a whole post about. If you’re interested in more workflow details about 2Do, let me know in the comments. Focusing on the top two or three things I like the most:
- Actions and triggers. There are a number of actions that can happen when an alarm goes off, including location-sensitive alarms. Or, it can generate a call, email, SMS, or even open a web page.
- The clean and colorful multi-tab UI model. Very easy to find my major categories, such as “Ideas”, “Quotes, Sayings, Tidbits”, “CorbinLinks.com Tasks” and others that I use in my everyday flow. The colored side tab model just seems to resonate with me, and was one factor in my replacement of *Flipboard* with *Feedly*. (I’ll talk more about that later in the article.)
- Email-based backup. Now, with Dropbox sync (did I mention their great sync options support?) I no longer rely as much on this feature. But it’s really handy to have, especially when switching new devices.
There’s a lot more to this app, and I highly recommend checking it out in your digital workflow.
- Calendars 5 – Smart Calendar and Task Manager with Google Calendar Sync – Readdle Apple iOS 7 Calendar
It was hard for me to cross Calendars 5 off my workflow list. To be really fair, “Calendars 5 (formerly ‘+’)” is a fantastic app. I used it daily for a very long time. I even left the original write up below.
However, in my new workflow, the revamped “Calendar” app included with iOS7, plus its synchronization with all my devices, everywhere, has negated my need — or desire — for a separate Gmail-centric calendar. In a major effort to simplify and centralize, I now use as many iOS 7 built-ins as possible. This arsenal includes Clock, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, and Mail to name a few.
But a great many consultants I know rely heavily on separate Google Calendars, and for them, it’s still a perfect app. So here is the original November 2011 writeup:
Finally! A Google-aware iPad calendar with seamless integration, drag and drop, etc. I tried several from the app store including CalenGoo, but ultimately found and stuck with Calendars. I’ve since turned the native iCal completely off and just use this. I’m hoping that they one day make a native Mac version as well. (Hint…hint…)
Writeroom is a really nice iPad implementation of the desktop app. (The desktop version of Writeroom was one of my earliest exposures to distraction-free writing on the Mac platform.) Writeroom for iPad integrates well with Dropbox, includes Markup support and distraction-free editing. Here is what it looks like:
Shortly after buying my original iPad 2, I tried at least 9 or 10 different text editors, Writeroom was the winner at that time. But over the past year or so, I’ve spent a lot of time with iA Writer and Byword as well. My long-form writing workflow has included Byword on the Mac since it was released, and it works *really well* for writing, markdown, and exporting. (In fact, I’m writing this article update in Byword.) Raw keyboard customization is a bit better in Writeroom, but the whole writing experience is smoother (in my opinion) in Byword.
iA Writer is another, Byword-ish, distraction-free editor. In fact, it’s almost a direct competitor. iA Writer’s beauty is in its font selections, minimalist approach, very limited configuration options, (hence, fewer distractions) smooth Markdown support, and a moderately customizable keyboard.
To this day, I use still use all three text editors on the iPad and it was very hard making a single pick for this article. The final selection depends on your workflow and purpose. If you were to ask me about my Mac flow, it would Byword would be my top long-form writing pick.
For iPad, I recommend getting all 3 apps (Writeroom, iA Writer, Byword) if your budget allows. In 2.5 years of varied iPad use, this is what I’ve found:
- Writeroom is great for rapid-fire meeting note-taking and moving text around quickly. It’s blazingly fast, and the cursor movement is very smooth.
- Byword is great for long-form writing, handy extended keyboard, and the ability to publish direct blog entries. (For me, this gives a final edge to Byword.)
- iA Writer for pure distraction free writing, with a nice typewriter font and nothing much else to get in the way.
Note-taker, annotator, scribbler. Penultimate uses a notebook metaphor for creating, storing, and filing collections of notes. If you do a lot of drawing and note-taking by hand, Penultimate is an excellent tool. The interface is sharp, elegant, and visually pleasing to work with. In my consulting work, I often use it as my virtual whiteboard; connecting up the iPad to a VGA projector and drawing out schematics.
- Note Taker HD
Note Taker HD is also a writing / scribbling, note-taking application. This is starting to overtake Penultimate in my daily work. It’s not as “pretty” as Penultimate but is very fast with many powerful features. One of the things I like most, is how fine the text writes, when created with a stylus. I’m finding that my text accuracy is better with it is with Penultimate; I recommend you test drive both and stick with what works best for you.
Update: I don’t remember exactly when I stopped using NoteTaker HD. But Penultimate just got better and better; suddenly, Penultimate got the big daddy feature: Evernote integration. That did it for me.
I primarily use Hootsuite for the scheduling feature. If you don’t need to schedule tweets, then I recommend using Tweetcaster or the native Twitter app.
Update: I stopped using Hootsuite a few months after posting the original article. It’s “all about the Buffer(app) now. At present, the only social media app I use on the iPad is Twitter. Indirectly, I post everything to Bufferapp for those websites that offer the option. All my other social media, except basic Twitter activity, is done on a full Mac with a big screen.
What can I say about Twitter on iOS? It’s there, it’s tightly integrated, and just works. As noted above, I Buffer when I can, and when not, just use the basic Twitter app. There are tons of fancier social media apps, and it really depends on how you work with your iPad. For me, the giant screen Mac with lots of website windows and tools is more effective for heavy social media use.
- Diigo Bookmarking Service
Technically not an app, Digolet is a bookmarklet that travels with me between browsers and devices. Since the full Diigo bookmarking application is still iPhone only, I use the Safari bookmarklet to track and index my bookmarks. Service requires a free account over at Diigo.com.
Update: I’ve pushed all iPad bookmarking to Evernote, or as a text blob to Drafts. Diigo still offers a lot of interesting features, and if may be a fit for your workflow.
I use this in conjunction with the LastPass Tab Browser below. I consider LastPass one of those “must-have” applications for all platforms, much like Wunderlist or Google Calendar. LastPass securely syncs all of your passwords between desktops and devices, regardless of platform of browser.
Update: Though the first sentence above is strike-through, I still actively use LastPass. The difference is that I no longer use the Lastpass Tab Browser. Most of the functionality in Tab Browser you can now have in the base LastPass Premium app. Apple took a huge step forward in my opinion by adding LastPass-type features to OSX and iOS Safari.
But until Apple develops ubiquitous multi-browser password management with secure notes and similar features, I’ll stick with LastPass premium. It’s solid, used by bazillions of people across many platforms, and just plain works.
- LastPass Tab Browser
The companion to LastPass Premium. This is a full tabbed web browser that integrates with your LastPass account. Once signed in, you can visit any sites in your vault, or visit new ones.
NOTE: Requires an account from LastPass.com
- Safari Reading List
There are a number of “save and read later” tools out there, such as Instapaper, or Evernote for clipping. For me, the “Reading List” feature of Safari works well. If I’m saving the link for posterity, I’ll add it to my Diigo.com account. Otherwise, the “Reading List” works great.
Update: I still really like the Safari Reading List, but have switched mostly to Instapaper. One of the chief reasons being my need to span non-Apple devices and browsers for information. See below…
- Instapaper – NEW
See above. Instapaper is a classic and has been around for many years, in various forms. It has a lot of imitators in the market now, but still wields a feature set that few can match.
For my use, I clip articles and stories with it, across all browsers and devices. It has a ton (or ‘tonne’ for my many UK friends) of page, color, font, and filing features. Suffice to say, if you need a general catch-all tool for capturing non-connected reading material across the web, this is a great option.
My only minor quibble with recent versions is the page rendering. It doesn’t always display pages as accurately as Safari or something else might do. But when it’s “on” — which is most of the time — it’s really “on”. Don’t forget to load it and sync at least once before traveling. I have that step added to my pre-travel check lists.
Check out my Recommended Android 2.2 Apps Article for details about Evernote use. I did a write up for that article, and my use is very similar across devices [even though I no longer use Android devices]. Evernote is mostly ubiquitous and I have it installed on all devices and desktops.
The app itself is self-explanatory, but I use it specifically for:
- Podcasts and video learning
- Audio books
Unofficially, I estimate the Podcast app delivers me an additional 20+ hours of schooling per month from iTunes classes, podcasts, books, and audiobooks.
At Links Business Group LLC, we use Basecamphq.com extensively. When I got into the iPad, I quickly discovered that trying to use SaaS apps through a browser was not for me. A major search led me to Trailhead, which I’ve been very happy with. I wish it had a Basecamp file browser, but it does everything else I need it to do.
Update: Trailhead “broke” early on when Basecamp changed its API — at least that’s how I remember stories at the time. Either way, it stopped working at some point. Coupled with the fact we no longer used Basecamp for projects, the Trailhead app fell from use. It may no longer be available in the Apple(TM) iOS App Store.
This was one of my very first iPad apps and I still use it almost every day. GoodReader is one of those “kitchen sink” taps that does a lot of different things. The main thing I use it for is file upload and download. It supports a ton of file transfer types, including FTP and Dropbox.
This is my primary “office document” editor. I can create, view, and edit .DOC, .DOCX, and .XLS documents. Unfortunately, MS Excel editing support is limited to XLS, but XLSX is available for read-only viewing. In my experience, complex formatting still renders well in this app.
November 2013 Update: FYI, I’ve used this very little in the past year or so. With my general shift to Markdown, Google Docs, iCloud Apps and PDF exports, there is less need to bring up Microsoft Office (TM) docs on the iPad. When I do, this is still my go-to app. Given the size of complexity of most of my Office docs, I stick with Office 2011 on my Mac Book Pro.
Most real editing/document/note apps for iPad support native Dropbox integration. But I also keep a copy of the native “Dropbox” app handy for browsing the file list and even for viewing files. One of my favorite uses for the Dropbox app is to use it as a document launch pad. I find what I need (usually a PDF, text, or audio file on iPad) and tell it where to open. It’ makes a great pairing with iBooks and for sending PDF files to the iBooks book shelf, or to GoodReader for annotation.
The iPad, iPod Touch and incoming iPhone 4s brings a whole new world of reading. I was never fully happy with the Kindle; iBooks is just what I’ve been looking for. One of my first purchases was a “vook”, or video book format made possible by the iBooks platform. The “vook” concept fascinates me and I won’t be a bit surprised if a newly authored “vook” shows up on BIG Results Consulting some day…
One secret I learned during my iBooks exploration — audio books purchased via iTunes are often less expensive than their Audible.com equivalents. (Even though many of not all actually sold by Audible.com on the back end.)
- Jetpack Joyride – Halfbrick Studios
Ok, I had to throw in one “non-essential” app. For mindless distraction, Jetpack Joyride is a fun little app. Ever since my childhood days watching variations of “Commando Cody” (and yes – it was in syndication – I’m not THAT old! 🙂 ), I’ve always fantasized about cruising around on a jet pack. Since I can’t do that in real life, “Jetpack Joyride” works nicely.
Check out: http://thenostalgialeague.com/fsfh/sciencefiction-ghrocket.html for more on “Rocket Men” and “Commando Cody”
Update: Sorry Jetpack…you were sooo…. much fun in the early days of iPad. But these days, I’m just too focused on family time, books, training, content creation and enjoying real non-digital life (not necessarily all in that order…) But truly, this is a fun little app if you’re looking for a game to play.
An easy way to annotate and “sign” documents. Ever had to suddenly fax / sign / email a bunch of documents around? Contracts, invoices and stuff like that? Yep, me too. This app is perfect for those situations. You can add (overlay) and send signed documents right from your iPad. I estimate this app saves at least one hour of faxing per month.
You want Flash? (Yeah..me either. But sometimes, we *need* to use it, right?) This has Flash! Tossing aside the ongoing Flash vs. no-Flash debate out there, there’s no arguing that the Photon Web Browser does Flash well on iPad. Very well. I mostly use Photon for managing different analytics packages and various Flash-only video podcasts. Aside from being a fine web browser in its own right, it has some really useful “geeky” features, such as Flash bandwidth adjustments, a gaming keyboard, and alternate port assignments.
Not to be confused with the full Mac OS app by the same name, TextExpander for iPad stores reusable snippets of text and code for later recall. What it does not have is inline text expansion. For instance, if you have a regular TextExpander abbreviation like “brg” that expands to “Best regards,
The iPad version of this app generates confusion with some Mac users, because some expect iOS to behave like Mac OS. But when used for what it is, TextExpander can be a real time saver. When setting it up, be sure to enable all integration options for those apps that support it natively. And, it integrates nicely with your Mac TextExpander snippet library, for multi-device access.
A nicely executed iPad version of the Logmein.com remote computer management service. LogmeIn for iPad supports remote control (free account) and file transfer (if your Logmein.com accounts supports it.) Great for remotely fixing technical glitches, remote updates, software demos, or grabbing that last-minute file you forgot for the client presentation…
Highly customizable web/blog/news reader. But that’s not all….integrated Twitter, Facebook and more turns your social and online life into an integrated newspaper. This is one of those apps that probably does 10x what I think it does, but for me, it’s a beautified version of “iGoogle” for iPad.
Update: I’ve long since replaced my Flipboard use with Feedly News Reader. Blogs, RSS and Youtube. – DevHD. Flipboard served me well for quite a while, but I later moved to a direct Google Reader model to corral my daily blog and article reading. After the infamous Google Reader “Announcement” , I prepped for a full Feedly move and haven’t looked back since.
See my note above. Feedly brings a folder-drop-down paradigm to news reading. In sort of a way, it reminds me a lot of one of my other top iPad apps – “2Do”. Organized categories on the left — by color. Each can drop down to display blogs and website under those categories. Select a full category or a single post.
For me, the Feedly model presents a cleaner and a more “regularized” (if that’s a word) view of the way I like to interact with information.
- Keynote Remote – Apple – NEW
Ok, I’m breaking one of my rating criteria here a bit. Technically, Keynote Remote is designed as an iPhone app, which just happens to work on iPad. If you haven’t used it before, the concept is dead simple: basic (really basic) remote control for a Keynote Presentation.
As a busy consultant, I give countless presentations every year. The iPad option is nice because you have access to hand-sized swipe gestures (vs. finger-sized gestures on the iPhone). At least 1/2 of my presentations are delivered while sitting down with a large table full of people. Gliding my hand back and forth over the iPad while moving through slides is fast and smooth, and flows really well with presentation discussions.
Of course, the same holds true on the smaller screen of the iPhone, so it’s just a matter of preference. If you have both devices, load it on both in case one gives out on you or needs an unplanned charge while you’re presenting.
Do you design iPhone or iPad apps? Other mobile apps or sites? Want to? Blueprint is the iPad app for you. I checked out a lot of drawing, wireframe and iOS design apps before settling on Blueprint. It has a full bevy of widgets, layouts, and accessories to choose from. Plus, unlike the famous (but effective) pen and paper design method of sketching interfaces, this will let you “play” your mockups. I used this in the later stages of designing the IAM Success Tips app, and am using it almost daily for several different projects.
Update: The IAM Success Tips app mentioned above is no longer offered for public sale. But the iOS Blueprint app was really handy for its purpose, and I continue using it for mockups.
Bonus Hardware Accessory!
Whew! What a list, eh? I know it’s a lot to read (and was a lot to write too), but I hope the list is useful.
Since you made it this far, I have the bonus recommendation mentioned at the beginning of the article.
It is the Logitech Keyboard for iPad 2.
It’s a keyboard. It’s a cover. It’s a stand. Lots of tools out there purport to do similar things, but the Logitech really delivers. (I’ve tried a bunch of the others…don’t even get me started.. 🙂 )
Here’s a rough idea of what it looks like:
I’m constantly tuning my workflow so this article will be updated over time. Note that there are many alternatives available for most apps discussed here. And that is where you come in. What iPad apps are indispensable in your consulting or mobile life? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section.