This the gift-getting season, and there is a fair chance there will be an iPad or two under the tree in numerous households. The newest version just came out not too long ago, recently enough to make it a hot holiday item, but long enough ago that any distribution issues are gone. Still, it has yet to overcome the idea in many quarters that “the iPad is just a toy.”
I am no Apple fanboy (love my Linux, thank you very much), but I know a great many people, from PR companies to landscapers, who use their iPads to run their businesses. The iPad is a computer, and therefore, whether it’s a toy or not depends on the software you’re running. I’ve done some research into this, and I think with these five apps, you have everything an entrepreneur needs to run a serious business.
1. The task manager
The first app that you will probably need on your iPad is OmniFocus from the Omni Group. This task-management app helps you ensure that every project you have stays on deadline. Relying on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” approach to task management, OmniFocus has a clean two-panel interface — the inbox, folders and projects are in the sidebar, and the main area holds grouped actions. You can store your data either locally or in the cloud with an account that the Omni Group provides. Knock out single-action tasks right away, choose between parallel and sequential actions within a project, even enter new actions from your e-mail. There is a smartphone and Mac version of app, and the new OmniFocus 2 edition has been tailored specifically for iOS8. At $29.99 for the iPad version, some might hesitate; there are cheaper, even free, task managers. However, this is a case of getting what you pay for.
2. The accountant
Being in business for yourself means you’re trying to make a profit, and that means you need accountancy software on your iPad. And that, in turn, means you need Workbox, which handles the day-to-day accounting needs of a busy entrepreneur. Built-in timers record hours worked for each client, and Workbox allows you to keep track of one-time and recurring fees, products sold and services provided. Invoices are generated with a single tap, and it’s straight-forward to monitor accounts receivables and enter client payments. Just as important, Workbox keeps track of your expenses so you can get all the deductions you’re allowed come tax time. The expense function includes a handy feature which lets you take a picture of your receipts and vendor invoices for future reference. The app is especially useful for mobile professionals since it works anywhere and anytime and does not need an Internet connection. For $4.99 a month, you can’t do better.
3. The travel agent
Next up is an app that will take care of all the little things that need taking care of when you travel on business. For this, Tripit is the way to go. Go ahead and book your flight, hotel, car and all of that the way you usually do, through your favorite travel site. Send the confirmation e-mails to your Tripit account (or link through your Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo account), and Tripit generates a fully integrated itinerary — maps, directions, photos, recommendations are all part of these sharable itineraries. If you need more than Tripit Free offers (flight refunds, alternate flights, mobile alters, etc.), Tripit Pro for $49 a year does all of that plus gives you VIP privileges including complimentary one-year memberships to Hertz #1 Club Gold and Regus Gold, VIP car rental and access to 1,700 business lounges worldwide.
4. The secretary
Fourth on the list is Evernote, an app designed for note taking and archiving. The company’s logo is an elephant’s head because an elephant never forgets, and with Evernote, neither will you. Evernote lets you take notes and organize them so they are accessible across all of your devices using either the keyboard or the photos from supported cameras as well as recorded voice notes. Its web clippings plugin allow you to mark sections of webpages and clip them to your Evernote workspace. Then, using its unique abilities, you can actually find anything very fast: not just text but also photos and webpages. Make up-to-date to-do lists, draft meeting agendas, collaborate with others and autosync everything on every computer, tablet and smartphone you use.
5. The filing cabinet
Finally, you’re going to need the usual suite of office programs, a place to store documents and a way to share them with others, and Google Drive is just the ticket. Just about every document you need to work on is covered by Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and Drawings. Storage is free for the first 15 gigabytes, the next 100 are just $1.99 a month, a full terabyte costs $9.99 a month, and for $299.99 per month, you can save 30TB (and if you have that much data, you may not count as a small business anymore). And, of course, you can invite anyone to share your documents as securely as the cloud allows.
The iPad and other tablets are more than mere toys. They allow us to watch movies anywhere, surf the web while lounging on the couch, carry an entire library of books with you on vacation and keep the kids quiet on long road trips with zillions of gaming apps. But they are also serious tools that let you do serious business in places and in ways you have never been able to. These apps prove it. Every note, trip, bill, agenda and task are all there to be worked on whenever you need to from wherever you are.
A device is only a toy if all you do it play on it. By the same token, Cray supercomputers are awfully good at chess. Does that make them “just toys,” too?