iPad productivity tools: Three must-haves

More and more traveling executives are leaving their laptops behind in favor of the iPad. They're writing documents, crunching numbers, and sharing files. Can you really swap your laptop with an iPad? Here is my three-part game plan for success:

1. Cloud Storage: Dropbox

Dropbox is a cloud storage service. There are other services out there, such as MobileMe, iDevice, SugarSync and Box.net (which is more geared toward enterprises). But I like Dropbox because of its simplicity. It's just a file folder in the cloud.

To get started, you'll need to download the Dropbox app and create an account at Dropbox.com. I suggest you do this on your Mac or PC first. There's a three-tiered pricing plan based on the amount of storage: 2GB (free), 50GB ($10 per month), and 100GB ($20 per month).

Next, you'll want to download the Dropbox app on all of your computers (laptop, iPad, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry) using the same Dropbox account name. The free apps simply allow you to access your file folder and view its contents, including streaming music and movies stored in Dropbox. You can also access your file folder by going to the Dropbox.com Web site and logging in.

You can move files into Dropbox on your laptop by simply dragging and dropping them inside the Dropbox file folder. Any new file or changes you make to older files inside Dropbox are instantly encrypted and uploaded to the Dropbox server and viewable on any device with a Dropbox app (assuming, of course, you have an Internet connection).

Tip: A blue icon appears next to the file during this process and turns into a green check mark once it's completed.

One of the great features of Dropbox is the ability to share folders with other Dropbox users. Right click a folder in Dropbox, go to Dropbox in the menu, and select Share This Folder. A Web page will open that lets you enter recipient email addresses, inviting people to have access to the folder. The folder will appear in their Dropboxes.

You can also share individual files with non-users. Right click the file in Dropbox, go to Dropbox in the menu, and select Copy Public Link. Then paste the link in an email and send to the recipient.

2. Productivity App: Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite

Viewing Dropbox files on your iPad is fine, but what if you need to work on them? You will need an iPad productivity app. While Apple's office productivity tools (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) work pretty well, most people still use Microsoft Office. There are a few mobile Microsoft Office apps, but my favorite is Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite for the iPad($15).

Quickoffice lets you create (or open), edit and save Excel spreadsheets, Word documents and, as of earlier this month, PowerPoint slides on your iPad. Like most mobile apps, Quickoffice lacks the full functionality of the desktop version of Microsoft Office. But Quickoffice has been closing this gap.

One of the coolest Quickoffice iPad features is its tight integration with Dropbox and other cloud storage service providers.

First, you'll have to set up Dropbox on Quickoffice. Launch the Quickoffice app, tap the Edit button, select Add Account, and choose Dropbox. Then enter your Dropbox account information. Now you'll be able to access Dropbox files directly from the Quickoffice app, edit the files using Quickoffice tools, and then save them in Dropbox in the Quickoffice app.

3. Hardware: Apple Wireless Keyboard

If you're planning to work a lot on your iPad, you'll need the Apple Wireless Keyboard ($70), which connects to the iPad (and even the iPhone) via Bluetooth. It's the same size as a Macbook keyboard, in the sense of the size of the keys, only thinner.

The keyboard requires two AA batteries, which lasts an amazingly long time. The keyboard powers down when not in use and automatically starts up as soon as your fingers touch the keys.

However, this presents a problem: The keyboard often turns on accidentally, which signals the nearby iPad to fire up via Bluetooth. The workaround is to turn off Bluetooth on the iPad when you're traveling.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at mailto:tkaneshige@cio.com.

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Tom Kaneshige

CIO (US)
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