I spend a lot of my work time in meetings. Some are productive. Others are college committee meetings 🙂 Anyway, last week I used my iPad at a meeting of the Technology committee of the community college where I teach. As Chair of the committee, I have to run the meeting and prepare minutes. I used my iPad to help me view MS Office and PDF documents, edit MS Office documents, and take notes. The verdict? Mixed. Here’s why.
Viewing MS Office and PDF documents
Our committee’s meetings, like many meetings, often focus on documents. Or I may need to obtain information from a document. Most of these documents are in Microsoft Office or PDF format.
I use Dropbox to store on the cloud documents I think I may need for the meeting. Dropbox is one of several excellent file storage and synchronization solutions.
Dropbox offers an iPad client. The price is right; it’s free. It’s also excellent. Assuming connectivity – usually assured among WiFi, MiFi or 3G – I access any of my Dropbox documents.
The Dropbox iPad client also enables me to open the document in other compatible programs on my iPad. My primary program for viewing Word and PDF files is GoodReader. It’s not free. But it’s only 99 cents. It’s also excellent. GoodReader can read Office and PDF documents – including very large ones. Additionally, GoodReader has its own quasi file system, partly making up for the lack of a user-accessible file system in the current iPad OS.
This combination of Dropbox and GoodReader enables me to view the documents I need to access during meetings.
Editing MS Office documents
One of the many sublime pleasures of being Chair of my community college’s Technology committee is writing up the meeting minutes. Before the meeting I usually prepare a skeleton of the minutes in Microsoft Word. This minimizes the need for typing or notes during or after the meeting. During the meeting I fill in the blanks, expand on certain areas, etc. I can then complete and send the minutes later the day of the meeting. This way I can prepare the minutes while the meeting is still fresh in my mind.
I can read the draft minutes in GoodReader. But I can’t edit them. To edit, I tried importing the draft into Pages. That didn’t go so well. Pages notified me that there were aspects of my minutes it couldn’t properly import. Like the Times New Roman font. A simple table. Sheesh. Also, Pages turned my 2 page Word document into an 8 page Pages document with page breaks in the weirdest places. I guess that’s why Apple named it Pages.
I’m hoping for better programs to handle Office documents. But DataViz’s Documents To Go for the iPhone and iPod isn’t quite ready for the iPad. Indeed, the lack of a true iPad version is a problem with a number of programs I’d like to use, such as Pocket Informant, a PIM app. So in the meantime, editing MS Office documents remains problematic.
I’ve been using Penultimate and Note Taker HD. They’re not bad. But it’s not the same as taking notes on a Tablet PC with an active digitizer. Not a surprise since the iPad doesn’t have an active digitizer. I also miss OneNote with its notebook organization, especially given the iPad’s lack of a user-accessible file system.
Interestingly, the most common question I was asked while taking notes is whether the iPad could recognize my handwriting and convert it into text. It doesn’t. No surprise for apps that only cost a few bucks. And frankly, I usually don’t convert handwriting to text on my Tablet PC. However, I do searches of my handwriting on my Tablet PC, which in the background does perform a conversion to enable such a search. That functionality I miss.
So why use an iPad instead of a Tablet PC?
Because I want to try out the iPad in business situations. And human nature being what it is, perhaps I’m trying to justify my expensive purchase.
It does seem that with the iPad I am trying to work around issues that wouldn’t be issues with a Tablet PC. However, the iPad does have some advantages over a Tablet PC that mitigate its comparatively lesser functionality.
-It’s smaller and lighter than most Tablet PCs.
-It turns on faster than most Tablet PCs from standby.
-It’s more responsive than most Tablet PCs.
-Much longer battery life.
I suspect the iPad will partially bridge the functionality gap with Tablet PCs as iPad versions are released of software such as Documents To Go and Pocket Informant. I also am curious how much difference OS 4.0 makes when it’s released for the iPad later this year, probably Fall. In the meantime, I will continue to try out the iPad in business situations. And continue to report.