Apple iPad: good for business as well as pleasure?

The supplied charger is interesting since it looks exactly the same as the charger supplied with earlier iPhones, but if you look carefully at the label you’ll see the iPad charger says 10W. iPhone-owning iPad users will need to be very careful not to get these two otherwise identical-looking chargers mixed up (actually, you can safely plug an iPhone charger into an iPad – it just takes a lot longer to charge).

Apple iPad: good for business as well as pleasure?

And while we’re on the subject of Apple chargers, can I just mention that the newer iPhone chargers, as supplied with iPhone 4, are beautifully designed, and it’s nice to see one that’s UK-specific, rather than some bog-standard worldwide effort with bodged connecting pins? Perhaps if we asked Apple nicely it might start to put as much effort into the earphones it supplies with the iPhone, the current version of which are frankly awful.

iPad charger

But back to the new charger: for those who haven’t seen it, it looks like a very slim, normal UK mains plug, but with a USB socket where the cord would normally emerge, all the circuitry being contained within its slim triangular body. Mere words can’t really do it justice (although perhaps raving over a charger design is a sign of unhealthy obsessive tendencies).

Sick squid

So what’s it actually like to use an iPad for business tasks? Can it really replace a laptop for travelling-light journeys? Well, out of the box it comes with a few things that a business user might need: a pretty good email client (which supports push notification when connected to an Exchange Server) and a fairly good web browser. My only real reservation is its lack of Flash support (although unless you work in the creative industries that probably won’t be a huge problem).

The Contacts and Calendar apps both sync wirelessly with Exchange and are more than usable, and typically for Apple not only do they work well but they look nice too. There’s also a Notes app, although that doesn’t sync with Exchange Notes, and a native Google Maps client, although this is somewhat superfluous as the web version works – and, in some ways, works better.

What’s missing – as indeed it would be from a newly purchased Windows laptop – is an office suite, containing word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software. These all have to be downloaded from the App Store, where Apple has its own offerings based on its Macintosh iWork suite. Available for the iPad are Pages, Numbers and Keynote, and I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to work out which are the PowerPoint, Excel and Word equivalents. Each costs £5.99 – not at all unreasonable – and works elegantly on the iPad platform.

In my attempt to write this column on the iPad, Pages was my first port of call, but I only got as far as the first couple of paragraphs. The big problem for me is that it has no word count, which I simply couldn’t believe at first: how can any modern word processor expect to be taken seriously without a word count? It’s an especially important facility for anyone who bangs out words for a living, but even people who only turn to a word processor occasionally still need to see how much they wrote (I’d bet that Apple’s own job application form has a “Tell us about yourself in no more than 200 words” box). This omission from the iPad version of Pages is bonkers.

Despite my love for the prettiness of Pages, and indeed for most of its functionality, it had to be binned

There are ways around it: someone has created an app that you use in conjunction with Pages, by copying the text from Pages, switching to the other app, then pasting in the text to count its words. Sorry, but that’s far too much faffing. Another is an email-based service, where you send a document from the iPad to a special address and receive an email back specifying the word count. Again, far too much trouble.

So, despite my love for the prettiness of Pages, and indeed for most of its functionality, it had to be binned. Ah well, I’d only wasted £6. I ended up switching to Documents To Go, a package I’ve used on various PDAs and mobile phones in the past. It’s not as good-looking as Pages and perhaps not quite so well integrated into the iPad OS, but it’s functional and, more importantly, it has a fully working word count facility available, just one click away from the main editing screen.

There are two versions available: Office Suite for £5.99 can read and edit Word and Excel files but only read PowerPoint, while the version costing £8.99 also allows you to edit PowerPoint documents, plus it has support for saving to cloud storage systems such as SugarSync and Dropbox. There are a handful of specialist writing apps available too, but I tried a couple and found them both a bit lacking – I’m coming to the conclusion that office software works best when it has a few versions’ worth of history behind it, and when it comes from some largish vendor rather than a lone “bedsit” developer.

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