Ho Ho Ho, Santa's bringing an iPad

The iPad is a hot item on a lot of holiday gift lists, so if you're giving one or getting one, here are some tips.

1. I would not have thought that the 3G capability was that important, but I bought my iPad with both the wifi and 3G anyway. Some of what I've read recently says skip the 3G. I disagree. I have been amazed how many times I have had to use the 3G. Public wifi is just not as widespread as you would like to think and even if you find yourself in a client office where they have wifi, it may take some effort to get the connection information. That's wasting critical face time with a client while someone scrambles around to find the right connection and passwords. Forget it.

What you can do to save costs is to get the $15 250 mb plan. I know that doesn't sound like much. But since you don't use the 3G that much, you will rarely run up beyond the limit. You can buy more space on the fly from your iPad - or cancel the plan if you want to.

2. The iPad is a remarkably resilient piece of equipment. I carry mine in my purse. I did buy the Apple iPad case - resisting the temptation to purchase fancy leather cases and special padded sleeves to carry the device around it. I also have not put a screen protector on it. Other than brushing off the dog hair and wiping with a damp cloth about once a week, the device requires very little in terms of accoutrements. If you will get freaked out by the constant presence of fingerprints on the screen, the iPad is not for you. You only see them when the device is off!

3. Steve Jobs says the device fails as soon as someone has to reach for a stylus, but depending on what you want to do and what apps you need to use, a stylus is a good idea. They are, however, more expensive than they should be considering that there's not much to them… But it is what it is.

4. What the ipad does require is apps. This is a very personal decision, so if you are giving someone an iPad for Christmas, you'll do well to include an iTunes gift card. Don't worry, most apps are under $5 and a great many are free. How many will you need? That's a very personal thing and it really depends on what you are going to use the iPad for.

If you want some stocking stuffer apps, here are a couple. This is totally subjective and, in general I will steer clear of any app over $7.

News reader: Reeder or Fleedler. Both connect to Google Reader. Feedler has some additional social networking integrations, if you are into that kind of thing. A free version of Feedler has some limitations and banner ads. The full version is $4.99.

Social networking: Flipboard. This great app pulls together twitter, facebook and some customized content channels, via RSS, into a magazine style interface. Instead of meaningless reTweeted links, you see headlines and photos, videos and audio directly in the interface. And the app gives you the ability to comment, reply or reTweet. This app has let me see a lot more of what was being posted than I ever had before. The company has just added content from eight content channels including the Washington Post Magazine, Bon Appetite Magazine, and ABC News to add specialized content. Flipboard is a free app.

Web Conferencing: WebEx, Go To Meeting and Adobe all have an iPad app so you can join a meeting and participate at some level. But if you want to be able to start, run and manage a meeting from your iPad, you will need Fuze Meeting. A one-to-one account is free and the iPad app is free as well.

Books: Ah, the battle between iBooks and Kindle continues. I feel in love with ebooks early on and have a Kindle 1.0. But I love reading books on the ipad and have bought books from iTunes as well as Amazon. But the edge in this area goes to the Kindle for it's sheer accessibility. I keep the Kindle in the bedroom, and I have the app (it's free) on both my iPhone and my iPad. When I launch it on any device, it automatically syncs to the furthest point read on any device. On accessibility and the sheer size of the books available for purchase, Kindle has to be tops in this sector. The iBook is prettier, but unless you're 10 do you really need your book to sing and dance?

Productivity: Apple's commercials show people doing cool things with Pages, Numbers and Keynote. But they are limited in their scope and do not support many of the features of the full app. For example, if you create a presentation on your desktop in Keynote and transfer it to the iPad, you can kiss your speaker notes goodbye. If you only transfer it for presentation purposes, you won't lose the notes but you also can't see them. If you edit it the iPad, it will overwrite the desktop version and your notes are gone. Either way, it's a problem. This is just an example and until I found Office2HD, I was concerned that this could be a barrier to really "working" with the iPad. But Office2Hd makes work possible. It will let you create or edit documents or spreadsheets, including styles, formatting, adding tables, indents, photos and color. On spreadsheets, a full menu of formulas and functions - including database functions - are available. You can connect the app to an idisk, Google Docs, Dropbox, MyDisk, icloud, Box or other WebDav service. And you can save locally or online. Office2HD is $7.99. Generally, that's over the top of my app budget, but this app is worth it.

The Creative Side: We've all got another side. For me, it's the relentless desire to be able to draw. I doodle on everything and struggle to find my inner artist. If you really ARE an artist, you might like Sketchbook from AutoDesk. A large array of brushes, weights, shapes and templates will give you the tools you need to create. But if you are like me you might need some help. I import photos and trace them - then delete the photos and have fun adding color and backgrounds. OK, I guess it is a good thing that I am not trying to make a living with art. But it adds some fun and distraction and is a bargain at 99 cents.

Your app options are vast and once your giftee has opened the iPad, you will be golden anyway!
Portfolio provides services to small businesses in communication, technology and training. Do you want to integrate iPads and iPhones into your business but worried about communication with your enterprise and legacy servers and software? Contact us for a free consultation about how to help your workforce be more mobile and more productive.

We believe in sharing information that assists small businesses to be more efficient, productive, and profitable. So we pass on information for free through our blog, Facebook PageTwitter account and email newsletter. Don't miss a beat and subscribe to the newsletter. You'll get some great information and special offers!

Working the iPad: Best inking/handwriting applications

By Laura Haight

Since my iPad and I embarked on our journey together, I've tried - really, really tried - to be totally paperless. It's a goal I have championed for years and, in various career incarnations, tried to move toward.

But there are those times and certain situations where my brain and hand just talk to each other and - unbidden and unstoppable - I reach for a pen and a notebook.

My paper notes are usually brief - jot down a phone number or email address, a few keywords or mind joggers, a quick task list.

So, I thought, maybe there's an app for that - an iPad tool to let me handwrite quick notes and export them to other tools. Many of the note-taking applications that I experimented with (see Working the iPad: Best Note-Taking Applications) had a component that allowed inking/handwriting, so I started there.

Here are the guidelines:

First, if you are a woman and you have any kind of fingernails at all, you will need a stylus. With any kind of protuberance at the end of your finger that blocks your fingerTIP from making full contact with the iPad surface, your writing results will be unacceptable. The screen shot at right of my inking without a stylus gives you a good idea of what the problem is.

Second, a note is meaningless if you can't get it out of the iPad and into some actionable form. This is the challenge with note-taking
applications as a whole and why - Steve Jobs would kick me out of the orchard for
saying this - Microsoft's One Note remains the best note-taking app I've ever used and the standard by which all the others are judged.

Finally, it would be great if a good note-taking application also offered good inking features.

Most inking apps make a big deal out of offering different pen styles, different colors and line weights. That's important if you are drawing, but if you are note taking - that's not the higher priority. So if that's all they had to offer, I didn't consider them. Some of the many apps out there with inking capabilities are designed to let you express yourself more personally by handwriting your emails, or sticky notes. And I didn't consider those for this purpose either.

This narrowed my field down to four: Inkiness, Notify, SmartNote and Penultimate.

I had great hopes for Inkiness ($3.99) which I found through the Evernote Trunk - a collection of add-ons or affiliate apps that extend the functionality of Evernote. I don't think of Evernote as a note taking tool, but it is by-far the best tool for organizing information and keeping it tagged and accessible. The Inkiness app is lean - no vast selection of the design of the paper I am writing or drawing on, limited ink color choices and only three line weights are offered - fine, medium and broad - common fountain pen nib options. One nice feature is being able to select the way the way your fingertip or stylus will position on the surface both in terms of proximity to the virtual nib and also angle. So if you are right or left handed you can make adjustments to improve the accuracy and appearance of your notes.

Still you are forced to write HUGE. It seems that the stylus makes this unavoidable, no matter what line weight or nib selection you make. Inkiness does seemlessly transfer to Evernote, as well as Twitter (although why you would want to I haven't figured out yet), to email, your photo gallery or to the clipboard.

There are several real problems - or maybe it's more fair to call them limitations - with Inkiness. First, no wrist-safe zone. You really need this with the iPad or you have a lot of unwanted marks and distractions. Second, each note is one page. There is no note
book or file structure within the app itself. So if you are taking notes during a meeting and they spill over to a second or third page, those are all lose pages with no way to append them. If you use Evernote, there is a merge function, but if not you are on your own.

Bottom Line: Evernote users may put up with the shortfalls to the get the integrations, but anyone else will likely find this app is quite ready for prime time yet. I will, however, watch for updates.

Notify ($.99) is another Evernote Trunk find. This is a more full-feature
d program and it's big selling point is that you can import web pages, documents, pdfs and annotate them with your own handwriting and drawings and then export them back out - including to Evernote, Google Docs, Dropbox and Box.net. This is a useful program for annotating pdfs and web pages. It's got a wrist-safe area and a full array of pen styles, widths and even different colored highlighters. You can change your paper style (lined, legal, white, yellow) if that's a big driver for you.

One- and two-fingered operations let you draw boxes and circles. There are fairly thorough object manipulations available. Type handling also has some neat features like the ability to calculate simple formulas and to translate text into dozens of different languages.

You do have the ability to create tags for your notes within Notify and to perform a full text search if your notebook gets sizable.

Bottom Line: A lot of features, a good tool for annotating. Navigation confused me a little and I am still trying to figure out how to close a note.

SmartNote ($2.99). In my previous look at Note-taking apps, I found SmartNote to be the all around best product for note taking. This remains true and it will allow you to integrate inking with typing. SmartNote lets you create as many notebooks as you want so you can keep notes organized by topic (this would be a big plus for students). You can bookmark pages and notes to make them easy to find later, add audio recordings and use an array of pre-built widgets to add drawings, graphs, musical notations and more to your notes.

For students - especially those studying music, science or math - SmartNote is a must-have app. For business, there are a few challenges. The handwriting appearance is jaggy - even with a stylus - but gets better with experience. You only have two things to do with your notes/notebooks when you need to integrate them with other applications - Export a PDF or Email a page - which comes over as a .png file. Exporting a PDF gives you several good options: export the entire notebook or just specific pages or page range, include the notebook background or not, change the image quality to make the file smaller if you need it to be and email it or save it in a documents folder.

Your recordings can be emailed separately, but if you email the note any associated recordings do not come along with it.

Bottom Line: smartNote does a lot, but I started out looking for a quick way to take notes on the go. This is not smartNote's forte. Still if you're looking for a good note-taking program that you can work in 75% of the time, this may be it.

Penultimate ($3.99). This app advertises itself as the best handwriting note app in the App Store. Although it seems like you are paying more for the app that does the least, it's more that you are paying more for the app that focuses on doing one thing. The interface is simplicity - choose one of three line widths and six colors and start writing (or doodling, if the artistic spirit moves you). There are no boxes to get in the way, no questions of whether to type (you can't) or write. The fewer moving parts, the less to get in the way of the single purpose - taking some quick notes.

Bottom Line: It's odd as I look at my evaluation, but this is my favorite app for this purpose. Don't get me wrong: This is not an app for writing. You won't want to take copious notes in long meetings or lectures. And the export options are limited to email, which fails on one of the two things I was looking for - something to integrate with Evernote. So it seems unlikely that this should be my favorite. But its simplicity and ability to do the one thing well won me over. It looks and feels like exactly what I was looking for - a pen and a notebook.

Any of these four programs will fill the handwriting and note-taking role - some with more features, some with less. What those who like to write know is that ultimately it comes down to intangibles - the weight of a fine pen in your hand, the feel of the nib on quality paper. And so it does with these apps. If it feels right, go with it.
Portfolio provides services to small businesses in communication, technology and training. Want to integrate iPads and iPhones into your business but worried about communication with your enterprise and legacy servers and software? Contact us for a free consultation about how to help your workforce be more mobile and more productive.

We believe in sharing information that assists small businesses to be more efficient, productive, and profitable. So we pass on information for free through our blog, Facebook Page, Twitter account and email newsletter. Don't miss a beat and subscribe to the newsletter. You'll get some great information and special offers!

An iPad app to flip over

By Laura Haight

If you've every labored through lengthy lists of Twitter and Facebook posts looking for nuggets of interesting information. Or waded through retweeted link after retweeted link without ever clicking through. Then Flipboard is the app you may have been waiting for.

It's easy to say Flipboard is an aggregator of content, but it is so much more. Flipboard turns the often dry, 140-character post, links and retweets into a magazine style format.

Flipboard starts with 9 content channels on its main page - Facebook can be one, Twitter another - and there are a number of pre-packaged subject-matter channels (like tech or media) as well as individual publications like Slate, Fast Company or USA Today.

For posted links, Flipboard displays the actual headline, artwork and some content. The poster is listed in a byline-like format. If you want to view the entire post, you can expand it to see the entire web page but within the Flipboard app. Although the app could be improved by enabling posting to Twitter from Facebook and vice versa, right now it enables you to retweet or repost to the same channel from the app. You can also add comments or view existing comments, without every leaving the app or the screen its on.

Posts are displayed chronologically and, at least so far, I haven't seen anything from Farmville or Mafia Wars so I think it skips the Facebook game posts.

In the five days I've had this app, I have found some real gems in the links that pour over the transom each day. Many of these, I know I would never have gone to look at from the normal Twitter/Facebook interface.

Flipboard is free and, unfortunately, right now is only on the iPad.
I recently did a presentation for a local business group on getting started with social media for small businesses. Are you using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other tools for your business? What tools do you use to aggregate the information? If you're an expert you can definitely help others; if you are not, Portfolio may be able to help you. Let's start the conversation.

Working the iPad: Note-taking apps

When meetings rule your life a good note taking application is critical. One of Microsoft's best efforts was OneNote - a terrific note taking app that can turn your meeting notes easily into tasks, assignments, contact information, webpage bookmarks, and searchable time stamped content.

Armed with my iPad, I'm trying to answer the question of whether or not the device can be a business tool. Step one is a great note taking app.

There are many for the iPad, I tested four: Notepad Pro, Notebooks, smartNote and SoundPaper.

In several cases, the developers seem to have focused more on the form than the function. And while there is no application that pulls it all together, each has particular strengths - and weaknesses. All of them allow you to transfer notes and audio - either by email as a pdf or text file or, in some cases, via Wi-Fi sharing. Another important aspect is price. The iPhone app world got us used to 99 cent applications. But the iPad apps are considerably pricier, so you're less likely to buy something just to see if you like it.

Here's how they stack up:

Notepad Pro ($1.99) is the least impressive. It is a straightforward note program ands only slightly expands on the toolset of the default note program that comes with the OS. The program lets you change the paper design and will accept drawing and audio recording. While you can change the color and line weight of the drawing tool you are stuck with a huge - maybe 24 pt - text size and no way to change it,

You can email the file as a pdf and audio if you need to get it out of the iPad and into your desktop.

The most frustrating thing about the app, however, was that the page did not scroll up. So with the keyboard displayed you could not see what you were typing once you got about halfway down the page.

Notebooks ($8.99) is an expensive offering but it also offers some unique features. What it does not offer is audio - the only one of the reviewed apps that doesn't. Although, future versions may include audio support. There is also no capability for adding drawings. What Notebooks does offer is by far the best organizational function.
With Notebooks you can create books and pages within those books. You can also nest books inside books, creating a familiar hierarchal system. You can change the font and type size you are working in, and the application makes it easy to move files to other folders.

You can easily create files from the clipboard or from the contents of emails or attachments. One of the coolest features is the ability to turn your page into a task list and add in due dates. A nice enhancement would be a task calendar view.

Notebooks is a very useful app for the notetaker who primarily wants typed in notes kept very well organized.

smartNote ($2.99) has just about everything you could look for in a note taking app. You can create separate notebooks with customized skins. There are paper temp
lates that run the gamut from lined white paper to a half court basketball diagram. Widgets let you add elements like push pins, bullets, sticky notes and more. There's even a widget that adds a web page to your notebook that can either remain dynamic or can be converted to an image.

Pens and text size can be customized both in size and color. And there are some nest little extras, like a wrist rest zone that the user can define that makes that a dead zone so you don't accidentally delete or change information in your note.

There is support for audio recording, bookmarking and full text search.

For $2.99, this is a full featured program that provides good value.

SoundPaper ($4.99) is the application I wrote this article on. It is a fairly basic app but has one feature that students, journalists and others will find hard to resist. Notes and audio are tightly integrated so if you click on a word or phrase in your notes, the audio recording will automatically move to that area in the timecode.

No more hunting around on recordings trying to find that great quote, I used this feature during a recent interview for a magazine piece and it was a huge help.

SoundPaper also supports drawing and full text search.

So what is the best app? The answer really depends on what kind of note taker you are and what you want to do with your notes after the fact. There is still room for improvement. Some of the things I'd like to see would be automatic recognition of hyperlinks, phone numbers and email addresses and the ability to automatically add those to your default contact application. Integration with some of the most popular to-do programs would be a nice addition, since so much of what happens in business meetings is the creation and assignment of tasks.

For me, I'll have to keep two - SoundPaper for the recording capabilities and smartNotes for everything else.

Take a screenshot on the iPhone or iPad

iPhone/iPad tip: Ever want to take a screenshot of something on your device? Hold down the Home key and press the power button at the top of the device. The screen will flash and your screenshot will be saved in your photo gallery. If you have a printing program, you can print from that. Or if you're doing presentation on iPad, you can pull it into your Keynote file or Pages doc.

Three things that make Apple different

A few years ago, frustrated with all the time I spent fixing my computers and all the money I spent on new utilities to make them work, I bought an iMac.

I was equally surprised and thrilled to realize that the hype was really true. They actually do just work. Next, I bought a MacBook and a Time Machine/router. Not only did they work; they worked together. I added Mobile Me and synced everything seamlessly and without intervention.

But it wasn't until I bought the iPhone two years ago, that I went from being a very happy user to a convert. Today, I played golf with a gentleman who was learning his way around his first iPhone. "I always said I never wanted an iPhone," he said, "and I've had this for two days and it has changed my life." I completely understand that.

The iPhone changed everything for me. As a technology executive who was also in charge of cell phones for a 500-person business, I was able to consistently replace my cell phone with whatever was new and then roll down my phone to another employee. This was good because no matter how cool they seemed at first, within a few months their warts had been revealed and I was on the march for something better.

The iPhone has never disappointed. Consistently, I find new ways to make my personal and work life easier, more efficient, and - yes - more fun. And, again, they just work.

Adding the iPad this week, I now have an entire Apple orchard in my house and my work.

To me there are three factors that make Apple stand out among so many competitors.

-- People want to use their products. It's not work to work. Go to the Apple store. It is a modern, connected digital nirvana. The associate had a card swipe attachment and a proprietary app on his iPhone. When it came time to check out with my new iPad, he swiped my card on his phone there, emailed my receipt and applied my Apple Care plan to my existing Apple account. It was easy, smooth, efficient and it showed what the technology can do. Our businesses should all be this inviting and look this efficient to our customers.

-- And let's consider customer service. You can argue about the controversy surrounding the Apple antenna issue. But so often companies are quick to make statements, but slow to make amends. Last week, Apple announced they would provide the "bumpers" to all iPhone owners to correct the antenna problem. And, if you happened to have already bought one (like me), you would get a refund. 'How long is that going to take,' I wondered, 'and what kind of paperwork will I have to file?' I spent 30 minutes hunting up my receipts and emails so I would have everything all together. I need not have worried.  Today (one week after the announcement), I received an email from Apple that they had refunded the charge for my bumper. It was already in my bank. That's follow-through we could all strive for in our businesses.

-- Finally, they innovate. There were certainly Apple products that were sub par - the blueberry colored Mac and the Newton come to mind. But that didn't send Apple to the mattresses. They learned from the blueberry Mac and it evolved into the iMac on my desk. And the Newton may very well be the first glimmer of the iPhone/iPad revolution.

Like it or not, Apple is leading the way in computing, producing products that are both reliable and exciting. Businesses could do far worse than find ways to integrate that into our businesses.

Stay with us as we take the iPad on a rigorous course of Business 101. Your comments and suggestions on apps or integrations are welcome. We'll do our best to check them out.

iPad: Tool or toy? Let's find out

Since it's introduction, the iPad has suffered from a bit of an identity crisis. Sure it's a great entertainment device for taking digital content to the next level of mobility. But does it have a place for business?

We're focusing on that with our new iPad. What is it going to do for you as a business person? What apps really make a difference for mobile users? Can it take the place and even improve upon the notebook? Can it satisfy even PC users?

To set up our test, here are a few basics: I have a 32 GB iPad with both WiFi and 3G.. The latter was my biggest decision. I just couldn't decide if I needed the 3G and if it would be worth the money. That will be one of the things we'll learn as we go through this process. 

I am writing this post as a note because I started it at the dentist's office and did not have wifi there. My plan will be not to pay for 3G until I really think I need it. Working on a blog post while in the waiting room did not rise to that level.

The first thing I will say is how I love typing on the keyboard. The feel is terrific but it takes some getting used to. A stray finger and you've got some errant letters. 

Please comment and let me know if there's anything particular you want to know about the iPad. Next up I'll take a look at business related applications for iPhone running on the iPad and how well they work.. Or do you even need them?