Could an iPad be useful in Sales and Youth Leader work?


I’ve long thought an iPad was basically just a big, expensive toy. I’m writing this Blog with my Macbook Pro. It’s an awesome piece of kit, very powerful, and I do video editing, programming, all sorts on it. During the day though I work on a Thinkpad. This is naturally a bag of nails. It’s slow, hardly ever works with projectors (and when it does only after a reboot!). A lot of the time in meetings though it’s useful to take notes separately – you can’t very well write down information and questions on the same screen you’re projecting from.

I have copious amounts of paper notes, drawings, web page and desktop screen mock ups, all held in paper in an A4 business wallet I keep with me all the time. I’ve thought lately that it may be useful to manage this electronically. I’ve also thought that keeping work slidedecks and screencam video recordings would be useful too. There’s a few things I do in business and in my spare time as a youth leader that would be useful to manage. Would an iPad help me do this??? Let’s have a close look and see.

Work functions (highest priority at top):-

  1. Doodling, mockups of web apps and desktop apps (Currently paper)
  2. Note taking and management (I use Evernote on my Mac)
  3. To give presentations
  4. To share past solutions via screenshots, presentations or screencam recordings
  5. Access to Sugar CRM to record meeting notes or preview opportunity information

Youth Leader functions:-

  1. Share teaching collateral – different map types, rucksack packing diagrams, principles of flight information
  2. Managing eD of E information online
  3. Present slides – Child welfare, role of a cadet NCO, continuity drill sequence, …
  4. Collect data for approval forms for later upload – cadet names etc, track who has paid or handed in paperwork

What software is available?

Penultimate – £0.69p – iPad

Penultimate is a simple note taking app where you can keep and manage multiple notebooks. You can use a stylus to write, and also doodle pictures with different pens and colours. What makes it particularly attractive to me is that you can sync it with Evernote. This is a powerful cloud storage system so you can share and synchronise notes across several machines, and access them on the web when you are away. It also supports Dropbox which some people may find useful, but which I think pales in comparison with SugarSync’s fantastic features. This would be a great solution for general note taking and doodling, but not so much for screen mock ups or other ordered diagrams.

Evernote – Basic version Free. Premium version $5/month or $45 for the year – iPad, iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, Web

I’ve been using this for years for simple notes, but only just re-evaluated what you can do with it this weekend when looking at apps for this blog entry. There are some great uses out there. I didn’t realise until now, but you can share entire workbooks. This enables you to add your lesson material in to the workbook and share with your students and their parents instantly. I can see this being particularly useful for kids with learning difficulties, or kids that would like to understand the subject deeper than you have time for in class. Check out what this American teacher advises for teaching or this education information page from Evernote. I must say I think the PDF and image only file attachments are potentially poor – what if you do actually want to share a word doc so your students can edit it? Other than that this looks good. You can also use the Web Clipper extension to grab a whole web page, an article within it, or the page url and save this as a note to read or edit later.

Sugarsync – Free for 50GB – iPad, iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, Web

This is a great service I use for work a lot. Many financial services companies have paranoid firewalls installed. This service is great because you can share folders for read only or read/write access with anyone. You can password protect them too. Handy to send large files, share web application install files and licenses. The fab thing is you can get apps for your mac, pc and phone/tablet that will auto sync the files in certain folders to all your devices (or just a select few). On first inspection the sharing options suck a bit because they require a free account for people to read the files. You soon realise this is a bonus because the sharers can themselves download a sugarsync client and because they’re subscribed to your shared folder, they’ll automatically download all files when they change, or when you add new files. Fantastic for kids getting the latest lesson plans – they just have to go online and it’s all magically there.

iMockups – £4.99p – iPad

If you’ve ever wanted to sketch out iPhone, iPad or web application ideas without being stuck with the time consuming nature of pixel perfect mock ups, then this app is for you. It allows you to quickly create low fidelity mockups that allow you to convey function and flow over exact form and style. I’m not usually a fan of wireframe apps – why create a throw away mock up if you have to rebuild the thing anyway? Also, a lot of web design companies will mock things up in photoshop that may look cool, but is actually unnecessarily complex and expensive to implement. This app strikes the balance well. Low fidelity and pre-built ui components mean you’re unlikely to create something that can’t easily be built, whilst still showing a client or colleague the power of the ideas you are pitching.

Omnigraffle – £34.99 – iPad, Mac

Omni produce many products for the mac and they’ve started creating versions specifically for the iPad and iPhone too. Omnigraffle is a mix of visualising tools. It includes freehand wireframing, sketching, and creating charts. The charts feature is very visio like, with the ability to download extra stencils. You can also draw then choose to auto layout via lots of settings. Seems to be a few people who really don’t get on with this app. I presume this is down to the learning curve associated with creating complex diagrams and the price rather than anything fundamentally wrong. Releases do seem to be rather irregular though, and as of writing this they still haven’t released iCloud support or integrations with the likes of dropbox or sugarsync. Still, this may be a solid performer for creating diagrams of all types.

sketchbook pro – £2.99 – iPad (Free cut down version available too)

This is an artist’s drawing tool. Looks particularly fully featured as you’d expect from Autodesk. If you sketch on the go then this powerful app may well be the answer for you.

adobe ideas – £4.99 – iPhone, iPad

This tool is designed to allow you to capture images and annotate and edit them on the go. Interesting idea for designers I’m sure, but a bit pointless for me. Also if you want more than one layer you’ll have to ‘buy’ a layer for £0.69!!! Talk about hidden total cost of ownership. What a cheek.

Notes plus – £5.49 – iPad

This looks like a very clever app. Includes a voice recorder and recognition of drawing basic shapes. Writing with your finger will appear as thin pen rather than thick scrawl. In app purchase of hand writing recognition is an additional £1.49. Includes dropbox sync support too. This app also includes built in web clipping, but this is a manual selection of images or sections of a page which is very powerful. You can also include PDFs in your notes. Evernote integration is also scheduled for a future release.

SugarCRM – Free for existing subscribers – iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Mobile Web, Web

This is a great tool for recording sales, marketing and general opportunity information. The Mobile Web version should be accessible on all SugarCRM licenses just by pointing your browser at your companies SugarCRM URL. Not sure how fully features the mobile or mobile web ones are – for me I’d like to be able to list and update contacts to an account/opportunity, and add meeting notes for an opportunity too.

gotomeeting / webex / facetime / fuze meeting hd

These apps are all about participating in online meetings. This may be very useful if I were someone sitting on a call, but as I’m often the one presenting I’ll need to do this from my work laptop with the software solution I sell installed on it too. Cool feature for my customers to use though!

WordPress – Free – iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, Blackberry, Windoze phone 7, Nokia, webOS, Web

OK so not strictly work related but a useful thing to do none the less! This little free app will certainly allow you to post on the go. Interface looks very basic compared to web composing. Also looks like you’ll have to know HTML tabs to do things like bolding text and lists. Not a great feature there at all. It seems that users report a few bugs and niggles too. Still, if you have to create posts on the go this will do the job.

Roambi – Free – iPad, iPhone

This is a very interesting idea. The principle here is that you sign up for a free Roambi online account and publish various internal data sets to it. You can then use a mobile device Roambi app to visualise that data. It’s a very powerful BI visualisation tool which allow you to also embed reports and graphs within keynote and powerpoint presentations on your device. Downside is data has to be from CSV, Excel or Salesforce.com. No use for me really as we use SugarCRM, but still a good app worth looking at if you need to visualise data.

Analytics HD – £4.99 – iPad

Comprehensive programme to view Google Analytics data on your iPad. Potentially useful if you manage a lot of sites and need to keep an eye on them. Of course if you needed to then change the site you’d be screwed with an iPad, but still…

keynote – pages – numbers – £10 each

For the life of me I can’t think why you’d purchase these separately for the iPad. Keynote has a great Export to PDF that can even export the result of each individual transition as a new slide. Sure you don’t get the animation, but having sat in presentations where the animations were utterly distracting this may well be a plus! I use all of these on my Macbook Pro all the time. They’re fab apps and much easier and quicker to use than Libreoffice. I wouldn’t use the iPad for creating documents like these though. They by definition take time and require all the features of the full products. You’ll have to get your Macbook Pro out to finish creating the documents anyway, so why would you ever use these apps?

outlook/gmail integration – built in to Mail on iPad

This comes as standard, along with yahoo and hotmail support. Unfortunately my corporate mail server is behind a fortinet ssl vpn. IPSEC is built in to the iPad, but not SSL VPN. I’d have to use the manufacturers own app by the looks of it, and these seem to be generally quite poor. I’d be happy to be wrong, but with no great detail in the app store on the SSL VPN tools openness how would a potential business user ever know?

Instapaper – £2.99 – iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

This is an interesting idea. It’s a cloud based services that gives you a ‘Read Later’ bookmark. When you’re on a page to read later, click this bookmark and it’ll grab the important text and graphics from the page and save them in the coud. The app on your iPad/iPhone then sync’s the copies to your device so you can read offline. The reading format is not a simple copy of the web page but instead a grab of the content of the article you’re reading. This gives a readable and clutter free reading experience. It’s worth noting that the Evernote web clipper does the same. Here is a link to the Evernote firefox extension.

In summary

I don’t think I’ll be getting an iPad anytime soon. I can’t justify over £400 for a platform that delivers less than my existing Macbook Pro now. If the concept of file storage in the cloud was built in – but not using an expensive iCloud account, but SugarSync instead, then I may consider it. Even then I can’t see myself creating content on the device other than a few jotted notes and sketches. It’d be a bit of an expensive notepad for me. Probably more environmentally friendly to use paper for 8 years than an iPad for that period of time too.

Having said that I’m happy to be proven wrong. If you have used an iPad successfully for a similar range of tasks as the above then please let me know!

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About adamfowleruk
I'm a Principal Sales Engineer with MarkLogic in the UK. Big NoSQL geek, but not a mindless fanboi! Author of the upcoming 'NoSQL for Dummies' book from Wiley. Also love Node.js, particularly for real time situational awareness application stacks where timely information is a must. Love Node.js packages to run http servers, supporting WebSockets on HTML5 apps, and linking to IM platforms like Jabber. I'm the creator of MLJS and MLDotNet, wrappers in JavaScript and .NET, respectively, for the MarkLogic REST API.

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