10 best iPad and iPhone apps for mobile working

1st Nov 2011 | 11:02

10 best iPad and iPhone apps for mobile working

Top iOS apps around for working on the move

10 best iPad and iPhone apps for mobile working

Employers are finally seeing sense. With rising rents and longer commutes taking their toll, they're realising that, in many roles, we can be just as productive away from our desks. Indeed, for many people an open-plan workspace is the least productive environment of all. Why not leave it all behind and work on the move instead?

Apple is one of a growing number of companies looking to take advantage of the great spread of wireless access. Forthcoming updates to Pages, Numbers and Keynote, its iOS and OS X office apps, will use Wi-Fi and 3G to synchronise the work you do on the move with that on our Macs back home or at the office.

With this in mind, we set out to discover whether we really could leave our desk behind and work on the move. The 10 apps we pre-loaded on our test devices - which excluded Apple's own office suite - have been designed to work as seamlessly as possible with regular Mac or PC applications, so we could switch from mobile to desktop depending on where we found ourselves.

The results, as you'll see, prove that by investing just shy of £30 - less than the cost of a daily ride to work for many - we could kit ourselves out with a fully functioning mobile office.

01. Quickoffice Pro HD

Price: £13.99
Works with: iPad

quick office

Apple's iWork apps have been praised for their look and feel, but many actually prefer Quickoffice Pro HD. It dispenses with Pages', Numbers' and Keynote's visual clutter to present a clean, professional interface, while beating Apple to the cut by already fully integrating cloud synchronisation courtesy of Google Docs.

Where Apple offers separate apps to create text documents, spreadsheets and presentations, Quickoffice bundles the three together. If you need to use two or more Apple apps, you'll make a tidy saving by going for this instead.

Further, while the latest versions of Apple's own office tools can export in Microsoft formats, they still default to their own native file types, so if you're using iCloud to synchronise documents with a Mac for which don't own the equivalent OS X apps, you'll have to convert them first. Quickoffice uses industry standard formats from the off, so there's no extra step to go through when sharing your documents.

It's up to you where you store your work. When you have no net connection you'll naturally work locally, but if you have a 3G-enabled iPad or a Wi-Fi connection then you can work directly from a remote server.

At the time of writing, the options were Google Docs, Dropbox, box.net, MobileMe, Huddle, SugarSync, Evernote and Catch. Apple has announced that it will be discontinuing the MobileMe iDisk service so we would expect to see this option disappear in an update, but that leaves us with six diverse alternatives offering a range of benefits.

Business workers with Google Apps accounts can work directly on documents shared with other team members, while Dropbox subscribers with the desktop client installed on their Mac or PC will enjoy simple integration between their working devices, with documents created on the iPad showing up on their home machine and vice versa.

Files can be organised into folders within the app itself. The editing environment is clean and easy on the eye, with a number of smart navigation tools. Run your thumb down the right-hand edge of a text document and its constituent pages are shown as expanding thumbnails. Work on a spreadsheet and as you switch back and forth between its various pages they'll curl up and down like pages in iBooks.

Equally neat is the way that you align cell data in the spreadsheet app: it presents you with a tic-tac-toe board about which you drag sample text to align it left, right and centred at the top, middle or bottom of the cell. Overly long entries can be wrapped, if you choose.

It's not a complete desktop replacement, of course. The choice of fonts is limited to seven rather pedestrian options in sizes ranging from 8pt to 72pt, and while there's a library of 18 shapes ready to be dropped into your presentations, none of the modules has the layout abilities of Numbers, Keynote or Pages.

It is, however, more than up to the job of taking a project from concept, through notes to final polished product ready to be emailed or printed directly. At £13.99, it's nothing short of a bargain – a fact that helps soften the blow of realising you'll have to shell out an extra £6.99 if you want it on your iPhone, too.

02. GoodReader for iPad

Price: £2.99
Works with: iPad

Good reader

'GoodReader' is an understatement. This aptly-named app is a catch-all viewer for PDFs, Microsoft Office documents, iWork files, Safari archives, images, video, audio… you name it and GoodReader can open it.

Its interface is beautifully designed and bristles with so many features that in the hands of lesser designers, it could easily have been overwhelming.

There's a neat slider for changing the screen brightness in this app alone (so you don't have to change the overall system setting from the multitasking bar), and the navigation elements let you slide through your pages, skip straight to a numbered location and set bookmarks.

If you're reading a lengthy and complex PDF, there's even an option to strip out the images so that you're left with just the text, making this a great way to keep up with whatever reports you might need to read on the train home.

Annotation tools are grouped on a sidebar menu, along with simple graphics, such as lines, arrows and circles, and changes can be saved to the original file, or to a copy that GoodReader creates itself, preserving your master.

When you've finished work, you can compress the results into a self-contained ZIP file and email it directly from the app itself. For anyone who needs to do a lot of reading for their job, this is one of the few apps we'd call totally essential.

03. LogMeIn Ignition

Price: £10.49
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

LogMeIn

Great though it is, the iPad isn't quite the all-rounder that a desktop PC can be. It's well-endowed with plenty of highbrow business apps, but for some tasks you still need access to your regular Mac or PC, even when you're away from base.

LogMeIn Ignition works in concert with a free utility app on your Mac or PC. (Upgrading to the utility's £41.95 pro edition gets you the added benefit of printing from anywhere in the world.) Download and install it, and it'll check in with the LogMeIn site, updating the service's servers with its IP address and details of your broadband router.

So far, so simple. The clever bit comes when you hit the road. Leave your computer switched on while you're working on the move and the client app on your iPhone or iPad uses these details to find the computer over the net, allowing you to see the screen and control both the remote keyboard and mouse.

So, if you've forgotten to email a file that you need right away, you need only log in from the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot and you can mail it out to your iPad.

It does have its downsides, of course. Although LogMeIn features wake-on-LAN to rouse your Mac or PC from sleep when you need to use it, your machine will continue drawing a small amount of power even while sleeping. Relying instead on regular cloud or online storage would let you shut it down completely.

Further, although it's recently had its price cut by a third, LogMeIn Ignition still costs a not-inconsiderable £10.49 to achieve what Mac users can largely do for free with Apple's own Back to My Mac service.

So, is it worth it? Absolutely. The time saved in not having to return to the office to collect a forgotten file, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing you can access all of your files from anywhere in the world at any time, is incalculable.

04. Penultimate

Price: £1.49
Works with: iPad

Penultimate

Penultimate is a brilliantly simple way to scribble things down. With a finger or stylus, you can draw directly onto its beautifully rendered pages.

There are three pen weights in six colours, along with three types of paper – graph, lined or plain. You can install further paper types for free from the in-app Paper Shop, where you'll also find a selection of charged-for styles, including music sheets, design pages and paper-based games. The paper packs range from 69p to £1.99.

It's smart enough not to be confused when you carelessly lean a wrist on the screen, and mistakes can be excised selectively or en masse by clearing the page. Pages are organised into virtual books and can be printed from the app, saved to your Camera Roll, or emailed as a PDF with or without the paper design. Penultimate is a wonderful creativity tool – it's fun to use, and easy to correct mistakes.

05. Wunderlist HD

Price: Free
Works with: iPad

Wunderlist

Things, the long time champion task manager, has been trumped by Wunderlist. How? Things costs £6.99 on the iPhone, £13.99 on the iPad and £34.99 on the Mac. Buy all three and you've spent £55.97. Grab the iPad and separate iPhone version of Wunderlist, as well as the desktop version, and you won't pay a thing, yet it's far from underpowered.

As well as looking great on every platform, it lets you set deadlines and priorities to help you keep on top of your jobs. Tasks can be organised into lists, and each installed version of the app synchronises with the others over the web.

Things can only do this over a local network, while rival The Hit List does it online, but charges for it. It emails you a list of tasks for the day each morning and, in the opposite direction, you can set tasks by sending an email to the Wunderlist servers.

06. Skype

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

Skype

Skype is an old hand on the iPhone, and has now finally arrived on the iPad, where it uses the larger screen to display your contacts as proper thumbnails.

For iPad users, the immediate benefit is the fact that it adds telephony features to the device, while significantly undercutting regular landline or mobile rates for international calls. It also lets you send texts for 5.6p, rounding out the forthcoming iMessage offering, which will only send messages to other iOS 5 users.

Pair it with an online number and your contacts can reach you on the same line whether you're sitting at your desk or working on the move. Available in 23 countries, including the UK, US and Ireland, numbers cost £11.50, $18 or €17.25 per quarter, respectively.

Renting a number also affords you free voicemail and means you don't have to give out your mobile number to anyone but your friends and family.

07. PlainText

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

Plaintext

PlainText is an enigma. On the one hand it's the most feature-poor app we've ever recommended; on the other it's one of the best writing environments available.

Stripped of all formatting options, font menus, word counts, rulers and tools, there's nothing here to stand between you and your words. You can even do away with the default sidebar, leaving only the workspace and minimal ad banner that helps keep the app free (you can remove this too, for £1.49).

The second secret to its success is the way it hooks into Dropbox, through which it saves your work to the cloud, and from which it'll synchronise with your Mac or PC. Having supplied your Dropbox credentials, you can sit back and type, and let it get on with the business of uploading every time you pause, while you just think about the writing.

08. SugarSync

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

SugarSync

Billed as 'your own personal cloud', SugarSync is like a hard drive in the sky. Similar to Evernote and Dropbox, it comes in iOS, Windows and OS X flavours; installing it on all of your devices means they'll all be able to share the same set of data.

Pick the folders you want to synchronise on your computer and SugarSync will copy them to its online storage and sync them with each of your other devices. It's one of the simplest and easiest ways to get images onto your iPad for use in documents and presentations, separating them out from your synchronised folders into a dedicated Photos area.

For PC users and Mac owners without iPhoto who can't take advantage of iCloud's forthcoming image synchronisation, SugarSync's image upload tools make short work of transferring photos and screengrabs back to your computer. It's a hassle-free way to work.

09. Evernote

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

Evernote

If all you want to do is tap out a shopping list, the iOS Notes app will suit you just fine. For anything more ambitious, look to Evernote.

You can type notes directly and organise them into folders, where they'll be backed up on Evernote's servers and be available through the browser, iOS client and desktop app. Get into the habit of using it to take minutes or jotting down quick ideas when you're at your desk and those same sketched thoughts will be at your fingertips on the move; you can use your commute productively to flesh them out.

Every note is indexed and filed by date. You can go further and organise them into discrete collections, called notebooks, and describe them using keywords to help you search.

The real power comes in pairing it with the desktop client. Allow that to add an Evernote button to your browser and you can clip web pages directly to your account. It's the quickest way to build up a digital scrapbook.

10. Dropbox

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

Dropbox

Dropbox is more than a simple online storage tool. Set all of your Macs or PCs to log in using the same credentials as your iPad or iPhone and your files will be synchronised between all three.

Files that you create while out and about using Dropbox-connected tools will already be waiting on your hard drive when you get back to the office. Not only is this convenient, it's also great security against losing your iPad, since your work will be backed up both online and on your computer.

As well as a file manager, the Dropbox client is a first-class viewer, rendering text, PDFs and spreadsheets well. It's also free for up to 2GB of storage.

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First published in Tap! Issue 09

Liked this? Then check out Top 50 best free iPad apps 2011

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