Mobile Download Guide to Top 5 Enterprise Apps for iPad

We’re several weeks into this iPad phenomenon now -- and today Apple issued news of the mobile device surpassing 1 million in sales.

“One million iPads in 28 days -- that’s less than half of the 74 days it took to achieve this milestone with iPhone,” Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, said in a statement. “Demand continues to exceed supply and we’re working hard to get this magical product into the hands of even more customers.”

And while it’s not entirely a sure-hit laptop replacement, Apple’s handheld computer can help keep mobile professionals productive—with the right apps, that is.

Owners of Apple's hot new mobile devices have already downloaded over 12 million apps from the App Store and over 1.5 million e-books from the new iBookstore, according to Apple, but if you’re looking for the best enterprise apps, we can help you filter through the inventory of iPad apps.

Here’s a guide to five of the best business and productivity iPad mobile downloads currently available. All are either free or $10 and under.

1. iWork for the iPad -- for Creating and Editing Documents

This one’s a no brainer. If you need to edit or create text files, spreadsheets, or presentations on the go, you need Apple’s iWork suite of iPad apps. Each one -- Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets, and Keynote for presentations, is $10 and can be purchased separately. All three are slick, easy to use, gorgeous apps—like their Mac OS counterparts—that get the job done with style.

Unfortunately, iWork doesn’t transform the iPad into a bona fide, full-on, no-questions-asked laptop replacement for those of us who must live in the Microsoft Office world.

Pages makes it the easiest to co-exist with your Office-using counterparts because it imports and exports Word documents. Some formatting may be lost in the process, however.

Numbers imports Excel files but only exports to Numbers’ file format or to PDF. Similarly, Keynote can import PowerPoint presentations but can only export to Keynote’s file format or to PDF.

Also worth noting: The iPad lacks an internal VGA-out port. If you want to connect your iPad to show a Keynote presentation via a projector or computer monitor with a VGA connector, you’ll need Apple’s $29 iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter.

2. SugarSync -- for Accessing Files from Your Computer

If you’re used to moving back and forth between multiple computers—a laptop at work, your desktop at home—then you’re probably already familiar with SugarSync, Dropbox, Box.net, and similar services.

SugarSync backs up and sync files between multiple PCs and Macs, lets you share large files with others, and gives you remote access to your files from a Web browser. There’s a free 2GB plan. Otherwise, you pay $5 a month and up, depending upon how much storage you need.

The free iPad/iPhone SugarSync app is, as the name suggests, sweet. With this app, plus a SugarSync account, you can access your computer files from your iPad as needed (with a wireless Internet connection, of course).

Suppose you’re on a trip with just your iPad and no laptop. Suddenly, you remember you needed to finish a report. No problem. Just open the SugarSync iPad app, navigate to the file, choose the ‘View File’ option, then tell SugarSync to open the file in Pages. Make your changes, then either e-mail the file or upload it back to your SugarSync account using the service’s Upload by Email feature.

If you intend to travel with just an iPad on business, SugarSync is essential. Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage, too, but the Dropbox iPad app wasn't available in time for my review. (Dropbox is also available on the iPhone.) Box.net has a free iPad/iPhone app, but it offers only 1GB of storage for free.

3. GoodReader for iPad -- for Reviewing Google Docs and Other Files

GoodReader for iPad is a terrific app with multiple file management talents. Among them: You can connect to Google Docs, MobileMe iDisk, Dropbox, Box.net, FTP servers, and other services to download files to your iPad. This is particularly helpful for Google Docs users, as Google hasn’t as of yet enabled editing features in Google Docs when accessed through Safari on an iPad or iPad.

Using GoodReader, you can review your downloaded files offline or open them in Pages, Numbers, or Keynote for editing. The app does an above-average job of displaying large PDF files, which means you can carry around training or other manuals on your iPad. Best of all: GoodReader for iPad is only $1.

4. Air Sharing HD for Printing Documents

Among its limitations (when compared to a laptop), the iPad lacks any built-in printing capabilities. Air Sharing HD, a $10 app, gives you a workaround, though there are some major limitations—including the fact that printing requires printer sharing via Mac OS X or Linux.

Air Sharing HD effectively turns your iPad into a mountable drive on your computer. With the iPad and your Windows, Mac, or Linux computer on the same Wi-Fi network, you can drag and drop Microsoft Office, PDF files, and other documents to the Air Sharing HD app on your iPad.

Open the app, and you can view your documents (particularly helpful for large PDF files). If you’ve enabled printer sharing in Mac OS X or Linux, you can print your Air Sharing HD docs to a printer on the same Wi-Fi network. You can also view and download e-mail attachments and perform other tasks with your files.

The printed pages of Word files I transferred from my iMac to Air Sharing HD looked OK, if a bit fuzzy. There was a border added around each page, too, which didn’t exist in the original Word files. And on some pages the first line of text didn’t print fully.

Print n Share, a $7 iPad/iPhone app, creates a print server that runs in the background on a Windows or Mac machine, in order to let you output to a printer attached to the computer. Print n Share may be a better option for those with Windows machines.

5. Twitterrific and TweetDeck

Now that Twitter has become such an important marketing/communications/reputation management tool, you’ll probably want to keep the tweets flowing from your iPad. TweetDeck and Twitterrific for iPad are both free apps for Twittering from your Apple tablet or iPhone, and each has different strengths.

Customer ratings aren’t as high for TweetDeck as they are for Twitterrific, but I prefer the latter. I like its multi-column approach to organizing your Twitter friends, mentions, direct messages, Twitter searches, Twitter lists, and favorites. You get to choose which of those you want to populate the columns with. You can also manage multiple Twitter accounts at no extra charge, something Twitterrific charges you $5 to do.

TweetDeck links to your bit.ly account, for easy URL shortening. And I like the fact you can save Twitter searches as columns, so you can quickly see what the Twitterverse is chirping about on a given topic. Unlike the TweetDeck desktop app, you can’t currently integrate your Facebook account using TweetDeck on the iPad, but the company says that feature is coming soon.

Twitterrific doesn’t offer all the features of TweetDeck but gives you an at-a-glance view of the latest trending topics (what is it with this Justin Bieber guy?). My advice: Since they’re both free, use both apps.

James A. Martin has written about mobile technology since the mid 1990s and is the author of the Traveler 2.0 blog.


iPad, Apple, enterprise apps, mobile apps, mobile downloads