Thursday, August 2, 2012

Top Non-Photography iPad Apps

Every once in a while the best technology rises to the top. I have had my iPad now since the iPad Gen 3 was launched on March 17th, 2012. I have used this iPad for personal reasons, for work and for photography. The iPad itself, the technology behind it, the build quality and even the OS is exceptional. Don't get me wrong, it does have its quirks, and its problems but it is excellent. I may post on these issues at some other date but this post is about app, utilities and services for the iPad, at least some of the good ones I have found.

The tablet itself is great but without software it would be useless. The things I like the most about the iPad is the Apple App Store, the Apps themselves and the cost of the apps. I particularlay like the cost of the apps. Many are Free, many are $0.99 cents to $4.99. What a great deal, specially if the apps are useful for you. Some larger commercial business apps are more expensive and can run into the $50.00 range and some can get into the hundreds. If they are great business tools that can help your business processes out or safe you tons of money, they are probably worth it.

This post is about the apps available for the iPad that I have found to be excellent. The iPad comes with some excellent built in Apps, but here I will blog on General Apps, Photography Specific Apps and on Technology/IT related Apps in three separate posts. My years of working, using, servicing and teaching technology gives me the ability to recognize well written software and shortcomings. I have found some apps lacking and in some cases I have contacted the developers making some suggestions to improve their products. In one case my suggestions were implemented within the next upgrade that was released and then thanked in an e-mail. Nice to see some companies listening to their customers.

Apps need to be easy to use or intuitive, you know, that perverbial 'user friendly'. Personally I have never liked the term. For me, I find that almost all software is 'user friendly' as I have used so many different programs over the years, good and bad, that I just have the intuition to know, based on design, layout and workflow, what I should do and how I should do something. For beginners, or those new to technology, what may be a user friendly program to use for many, may be very challenging for them. When I rate a program, I judge it partly on how intuitive it is to use, ie. does it make sense, on how well it does its job, no matter how easy or difficult the job is, the cost and the overall look and feel of the program.

Here are some recommended general use applications for the iPad. Please note that some of these great apps also work on the iPhone but I have no first hand experiance on the iPhone and so will not make any recommendations.

1) DropBox (Free) - So DropBox is not so much an App as it is a Service. Using you computer go on-line and sign up for this free service that gives you storage on the Internet, or the 'cloud' as some people call it nowadays. The Free option gives you 2 Gigs of memory to store any file you want. Whats nice about using this type of service is that it makes your files or documents available to you anywher in the world as long as you have internet access. It can also be a great way to Backup important files. I will be doing a review of On-Line Backup Solutions for your PC's and Macs in the Fall. If you require more space than the Free 2 Gigs of memory, you can pay a small monthly or yearly fee to get more storage. There are other companies offering similar services, including some that offer more free space but I like DropBox for several reasons the biggest being its acceptance in the industry as being the most standard. This means that some other apps now intergrate seamlessly with DropBox. I have such an app next on the list. Other companies that offer free space includes Microsoft, Google and others.

A warning about using such products; One, make sure you read all the licensing and agreement terms. Are your posted files and images always yours, even if you die or do some rights get turned over to the provider? Two, are your files private or are they being screened by the hosting company for valuable private information? Just because all your friends use a service doesn't mean its safe to use. China for example has state sponsored hackers actively trying to hack into most businesses and personal computers in North America as we speak. Proof of this has already been reported by various security companies and confirmed more recently when Google warned many large businesses that Chinese sites and IP adddresses were trying to hack into their (or more politely worded as 'were interested') in their sites. This infuriated the Chineses Government and caused them to pronounce a bunch of denials and then attack Google about their claims.

The sad part about all this was NOT that Google told these companies that China was 'interested in their sites' but rather that these companies IT departments did not already know that China was trying to hack into them. Four months before the first word of this comming out, I already was actively preventing Chinese hackers at 6 different IP's (two of which were MS Server 2008 Boxes??) from hacking into my clients site. Why would these IT departments of the very large companies not know this was going on?? It's their job to know. More heads should have roled over this.

Anyways, back to where we were... Some tech companies have developed some free programs and services that are meant to do nothing more than to get access to your data. Be leary of off shore companies. Do you really want to store your personal and private information in China, Russia, or some other Eastern Block countries. Having said that, some of these mob-esque companies have now opened up shops developing programs here in Canada and the U.S. just to make themselves look more legitimate. Google and Microsoft, i'll trust them, others, not so much.

Another big warning! It is very important knowing where these companies are for another reason. Not necessarely where their headquarters are but where the physical data is stored. Many Provinces, States and Countries have Privacy Laws. In British Columbia where I live, it is illegal for companies to store private and confidential information outside of Canada. So Law Firms, Accounting Companies, Doctors and anyone else that stores any identifiable client information, so almost all companies, should never use these services unless they know their Data is actually stored in Canada.

2) CloudOn (Free) - Ok, I must rate this as the best free app out there! The first application I looked for when I aquired my iPad was something to view and compose Microsoft Office Documents like Word and Excel files. Microsoft in their not so wise reasoning have never created Office for the iPad which I would gladly have paid their big buck demands for as Office is a business tool I use all the time. A no choice option for me. But loh, it's not available. So the search was on and the best program I found as a replacement was QuickOffice. A good program which I review below. CloudOn however is free. This program runs on the Cloud and so requires an Internet connection. To connect to the Internet it requires a place to save files. This is where DropBox comes in. It will look at your DropBox files and will opn up a Word/Excel/Power Point like interface that will allow you to edit or even create new Office documents without owning Microsoft Office. If you have a PDF file in DropBox it will show you those files also. CloudOn's newest update also allows you to use the Free Google Drive. Google Drive is like Drop Box except i allows you to store 5 Gigs of data for free. Oh, wait, if I use both free services I can get 7 Gigs of free space. CloudOn will access both of these.

3) QuickOffice Pro HD (19.99) - Quick Office Pro is probably the best MS office replacement available that is a standalone product that lets you work on local files or create new files. It is also integrated into the built in iPad mail app and is also a SaveBack program. It supports Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007 and 2010 formats and also lets you view PDF files. This works great with DropBox and other Cloud apps and is a cleaner experience than using CloudOn. The Apps are not as sofisticated as CloudOn in what they do in the way of features but they do handle all the basics that most users need or require. And, unlike CloudOn, it does not require Internet access, but it does cost $20.00.

4) Document Manager Pro (2.99) - This great file manager will alow you to transfer files to and from the iPad to your PC or the Internet (think Drop Box) using a nice friendly interface. It supports file transfers using Wi-Fi, USB and iTunes.

5) RoboForm (19.99/yr) - In this day and age of a trillion apps, web services and on-line retailers, passwords become a big issue. RoboForm is a great password management tool. It is also a long time favorite. It is available for you PC, Mac and On-line also. On-Line and non on-line Password management tools have proliferated in the past two years. Like other apps mentioned above this can be a big security risk. Make sre that you completely check out what company you setup with and who the owners are and what contries they are based out of. Tuff to do but unfortunately I can't mention which companies may be bad as I could get sued. Just know RoboForm can be trusted and that I do not get paid for saying this. This great CNet 5 Star rated app (free for the iPad but you pay for a yearly service) is currently on sale for 9.99 for the first year.

So, all the warnings I said about using services like DropBox from other companies is doubly so here. There is also a risk involded that by using an infected PC or a system with a Keylogger on it that you may inadvertently give out your Master Password thus giving out ALL your passwords. Think twice about using these types of utilities. What you can do is allow a company like RoboForm to remember all your non important, non confedential, non secure web site information which is probaly the majority of your passwords and not allow it to remember things like Banking Information, PayPal accounts and so on. Play it safe.

6) Bamboo Paper Notebook (Free) - From the creators of the Bamboo and Intuos Tablets comes this great Sketching, Doodling, Note making pad. Create lists or just about anything. Draw with your fingures or use a Stylus. I do recommend the Bamboo Stylus for the iPad. Works great. The nice thing wth this is you can import a photo, or a map and then draw or write overtop of the images. Greate for creative thinking and hashing out projects. Makes a great napkin replacement.

7) Quick Sale Professional (29.00) - So this is mostly business app but a great one it is. This app will allow you to create quotes, invoices, oreders and other forms on the fly. It can automatically create and e-mail PDF versons of these while you are on site with clients to get Quote Approvals or Invoice Payments. It can litterally transform your business. It has a bit of an Inventory system built in but as of this moment it does not tie into other programs and would not be suitable for keeping track of inventory for more than one sales person. It is loaded with a multitude of great features and is very customizable. There is a Free Lite version available but it is somewhat limited.

8) Onavo Extend (Free, for now) - This app is all about saving money and based on my tests Onavo Extend will do that for you. Most iPads are 3G/4G enabled as data is important specially in todays workforce. The Data plans we purchace are limited and/or capped and once we go over the plans limits it can start costing a lot of money. This is where Onavo comes in. When you request data, say from the Internet, the Onavo servers will gatehr the data and will then compress it. Once compressed, their servers will send your iPad the compressed data and the Onavo App on your iPad will decompress it. This is all on the fly and very seemless and the speed decrees is neglegable.What happens is that by compressing all this data you can end us using 2 to 5 times less data depending on what you are doing. This can add up to a lot of savings. Currently Onavo has a few limitations and will not Stream Video for example but that will be available soon. The Pad app has great built in reporting and it will show you how much of your data plan you have saved with breakdowns on what services saved what. All very well done. I am guessing that once this product is complete and streaming is available that this may become a $10 or $20 dollar app. It is free right now but would well be worth it even at $20 per year as a service as this can save you $20 to $50 per month depending on how much data you currently use. Brilliant.

This app makes you wonder why not all apps do this, or rather why the OSes or Web Browsers do not all do this automatcally. Imagine if all the worlds web traffic was cut by 2 to 5 times!! I find it odd that years ago ALL modems used compression to save data transfer times and costs and that now years later we do not do this at all. Perhaps its something Onavo should look at doing.

So back on the security track for a moment. I'm not saying this app does this, but rather that it could do what I'm about to suggest. If all the data you request from your Data Provider like mail, web pages, even secure corporate data, (think, you are logged into your personal corporate web site) and videos and such all get collected by the Onavo servers, compressed and then sent to you, what would stop them from seeing, reading, copying or extracting all that information? So the question becomes who is Onavo? If you log into your Canadian corporate site, download data garnered by Onavo outside of Canada and then download it onto your device, are you breaking the Law? At some point during the transaction you have sent all your information outside Canada. Just something to think about.

09) Epicurious (Free) - Although one can simply use Safari to get to, this app makes browsing and finding recipes much nicer. Add the fact that Epicurious is the best source for recipes on the net and you have a winner.

10) USA Today (Free) - USA today is a great U.S. newspaper. Thir iPad version is concise with great articles and covers many sections including the headline news, sports, technology, entertainment, the arts and others. It gets updated throughout the day and posts breaking news. A great deal for free.

11) The National Post (Free) - Probably Canada's best written and informative newspaper. Again, like USA Today, the National Post has various sections and its free.

12) TED (Free) - "Riveting Talks by Remarkable People, Free to the World," is the slogan for TED. This creative and worthy project brings great lectures to the masses for free. See some incredible lectures from some of the best talet from around the world. The App has a great interface that is free to use. Most lectures are short and make it easy to fit into a busy life schedule. Your never to old to lear.

13) Linda (Pay Service) - is an on-line school with great class offerings that are mostly technology related. Need to learn Excel or Word, Programming, PhotoShop or just about anything else. A great offering of classes. So pay by the month or year and take all the classes you want.

14) W.E.L.D.E.R. (Free) - So what list would be complete without a pastime game on it. W.E.L.D.E.R. is a Scrabble like game with a board layout, tiles, and word creation. Fun to play and very educational.

15) Line2 (9.95/mth) - (NEW) A lot of people wish their iPad was Phone Enabled. Well, with Line2 you turn your iPad into a full fledged phone complete with voice mail and text messaging. You also get to choose the Area Code you want. I chose a Montreal 514 Area Code so that people in Montreal can call me locally without long distance.

So far the sound quality has been good over Wi-Fi. Will need to try and report back on how it is over 3G or LTE connections.

16) FieldRunners2 (2.99) - (NEW) I have added a second game to the list. Perhaps Angry Birds should be on this list as it is a great game. However it is a game I have not gotten into. I did find a new jewel of a game that got me addicted for a time called FieldRunners2.

This is the first iteration of my Best General iPad Apps List. There are other great apps I use that have some major flaws and so they are not on my list. Perhaps, as the apps evolve and are updated, they may make it on the list. As mentioned before, many of the built in apps like 'Maps' are excellent and free.

If this has helped you find a good product, please let me know. Have a better product or a great app not on the list? Let me know. Don't agree with my pics, let me know why.

In the comming weeks (Months?) I will be posting a similar list with Photography related and/or specific apps followed by Technology/IT pecific apps. I hope you find this helpfull. If you know of any apps you think should be on this list, please let me know. I will check them out and report back to you and if worthy, I will add it to the list.

© 2012 Jean-François Cléroux

(Version 1.10 - September 2012)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux