It’s an App-world Afterall

Its iOS; its all about the apps. That's the frame of reference you have to keep in mind, if you're considering switching over to use an iPad for your primary computing device. The apps you'll use on an iPad for work are likely different than the ones you use on your phone. They're also likely going to require a significantly higher purchase cost or have a recurring subscription to get the full use out of them. Apps used for work, as opposed to ones you use as a consumer, have a different level of capability, a smaller group of people who will use them, and thus, have a very different cost to create and maintain.

So, after you spend a lot of money purchasing your new productivity tool, note that you're about to spend a moderate amount of additional money, on a recurring basis, in order to get the most out of your device. This isn't a bad thing, as paying for complex and useful apps means that they exist, but it isn't something most people realize as their work usually pays for these apps for us.

Most of us think in terms of documents: emails, word processing, spreadsheets, webpages, and slides. We create a series of these things and store them in files. We store those files in folders. We access the folders to find the files, which in turn launch the corresponding app that created them. This is the mental path that we've been taught for decades of personal computing.

But the iPad turns this all completely around.

Lets give an example of how your habits, which have served you so well for so long, will cause you pain in this new world. I was using my iPad for a video conference. From my calendar, I tapped the link to the video conference and it launched the appropriate app, connected to the conference and I could see and hear people in another city. So far, so good.

Part of the way through the conference, I was asked to share a document for us all to review. Normally, I would have shared off my entire screen, opened the document and shown it. But because the conference app can't share the screen in that way without it being the app in the foreground. If I try to open the document in its app, no one will see it.

Thankfully the conference call app explains how to do it. You open the document in its app, tap the Share button and select the conference call app. This pushes a view-only version of the document over to the conference call for display (I believe it converted it to a PDF to do this), which the people on the other end of the call can now see.

This was a magical experience, not because it solved a problem in some impossible fashion, but because it was convoluted and required an esoteric series of gestures to make it work. Most people probably couldn't have just figured this out, without the conference app telling you first.

Its not that this is a process that is better or worse than the way it works on a desktop operating system, but it is different. As iOS matures, I know this will improve so that its much easier to do, but we're not there yet, so until we are, you have to change your thinking about how things are done in order to get things done.

Microsoft's Catalog

Starting up the conversation of software on an Apple platform with the suite of Microsoft apps might at first appear to be a thinly veiled attempt to troll, but I promise you its not. The Office suite for Mac and PC have always infuriated me to use. From data loss, to a series of abysmal user interfaces, to bloated file sizes and horrible file-compatibility with anything outside the suite, the reasons to hate-on Office are plentiful.

When Microsoft announced they were bringing their apps to the iOS platform, I rolled my eyes and said I'd never use them. The first versions were not the terrible mess I had expected, but they were not that great either. Over the last few years, Microsoft has spent a significant amount of time to make these apps full-blown peers of their desktop OS counterparts. Yes, they are unmistakably Microsoft software, with their own weird way of doing things which are not the same as things are done with most iOS apps. Yet, when you use them all, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneDrive, Teams, Skype for Business, Sharepoint... the list goes on, you come to realize that they are cohesive in a way that Office hasn't really been in prior versions on any platform.

Microsoft has unified the code-base of these apps across all their platforms, but done this in a way that still allows for integration with the uniquenesses of each platform as well. Its not perfect, but if you end up using them all, they are alike enough that its like you're using a platform within a platform.

There are some really nice things you can only do on mobile versions of Office, that you can't do in the desktop versions.

  • Powerpoint allows you to tap your finger on the iPad screen when presenting, and a red dot appears just slightly above your finger and follows your finger around the screen. Its a great feature to add a virtual laser pointer.
  • Photos integration. Inserting a photo is substantially easier. On desktop versions, you have to search through your hard drive to find the file and then insert it into the document. Now, you tap the Insert Photo button and it displays your photo library where you select an image and its right in the doument. Cropping and adjusting the photo is just as easy.
  • Simplicity. These apps probably only have 75% of the functionality of their desktop cousins, but when it comes to functionality you absolutely will use, its more like 99.99%. This is good because the "power user" cruft that is used by nearly no one is disposed of, making the apps easier to use for everyone.

The only app that I just want to burn in a fire on a regular basis is Skype for Business. This app shows its history as Lync, because its user interface is not the same as any of the other apps. It will allow you to chat and take phone calls, but you will hate every moment of it. Thankfully Microsoft is taking these functions and integrating them into Teams, so hopefully this one will die in a fire very soon.

There are a few others I use that deserve a mention, but not much else. PowerBI, OneDrive, OWA, and Sharepoint get used regularly, if not with joy. They serve their purposes and allow me to get things done, but are not anything worth writing home about.

Overall, I give Microsoft's apps a B+. If Skype for Business were dead already, it would upgrade to an A.

Ted's Standard Apps

There are a few other apps that I feel are worth mentioning, as they play a big part of my iPad usage. You likely haven't heard of these, but they are needed for me to get the most out of this workflow.

  • Reeder. I use the Feedly service as a news reader, but do not like the Feedly app. Thankfully, Reeder fits the bill perfectly. I think the app is a bit too sparse when used on a 12.9" iPad, but it is by far the best app to do this I have found.
  • Soulver. The iPad doesn't have a calculator like the iPhone does, and that's a good thing. When the iPhone calculator was written, it meant to mimic a physical device, despite not having those limitations. Soulver is the rethink of how a calculator should work on a touchscreen that you didn't know you needed... but you do. Buy this. Shovel your money here.
  • Bear. Apple has improved their Notes app dramatically in the last few years. It is dramatically better than it used to be, but I still don't like it. Bear is my note-taking app for two main reasons. First, its design is unsurpassed in the category; it is beautiful to look at and use. Second, the majority of what I use a note app for is text. Apple Notes does a lot more, and does it well, but the text handling of Bear is dramatically better.
  • Workflow. I'm still working on my use of this app, but I know it will increase in usage as I learn more about the difficult things of using an iPad. Workflow helps you automate routine tasks very quickly. I am looking forward to seeing how this speeds me up.
  • Prompt. This one is unlikely to be used by almost everyone, but it is a terminal app that allows me to connect remotely to my personal webserver and administer it. I probably just lost most of you with that last sentence, so I'll just move along.

These apps fill out everything I need to get the majority of my work done. There are a few other apps, mostly the half-dozen conference calling apps I have to use in order to attend video calls with vendors, but I use them only out of a lack of choice in the matter. These are generally just as bad as their desktop equivalents, so you're not missing out on anything by me skipping over them.

Apple's Apps

There isn't a lot to say about these that you can't find elsewhere. Mail, Safari, Messages & Calendar do exactly what their respective names say, and there isn't anything unique that I do with them. If you're looking for more detail on them, many people have spilled a lot of ink on them elsewhere on the net and have covered it in more depth than I have the inclination to do here.

For the rest of Apple's apps, there is a handy folder I put them all in. They stay there, never to reach escape velocity, forever captured in a black hole.

It’s an App-world Afterall
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