Home 5 Apps for Working From the iPad

5 Apps for Working From the iPad

Let’s be real about this. You can’t do everything on an iPad. As Shawn Blanc pointed out the other day, you can’t make iOS apps on it, for example. But you might be surprised by how much real work you can do on it with the right tools. If your work requires generally office-like capabilities, there are definitely iPad solutions.

Here are five road-tested apps for getting things done on an iPad. It’s not meant to be a complete list, but it’s meant to be a flexible one. These are tools that are not tied to any particular method of working. They’ll help any digital worker stay sane and accomplish things, and you might find that the iPad is a surprisingly nice device to use for them.


This app just came out last night, but it blows away other drawing apps out there because of its clear interface and relative ease of use. If you need to brainstorm in free-form ways or sketch out ideas, this is the way to go.

It’s still not the most natural thing in the world to draw on a touchscreen, but this app’s brushes are careful and precise. It comes with a free fountain pen, and you can buy more brushes for $1.99 via in-app purchase.

The key to Paper is its natural gestures. You swipe up from the bottom to access your tray of tools, and you can swipe them out of the way for a full-screen, blank canvas to work on.

Paper for the iPad from FiftyThree on Vimeo.

Undoing mistakes is a hard problem for iPad drawing, and Paper nails this. It uses a two-finger “rewind” gesture to let you step back smoothly in your drawing. Just wind it counter-clockwise to undo and clockwise to redo.

If drawing with fingertips still looks weird, there are styluses out there. I’ve ordered a Cosmonaut stylus by Studio Neat for testing, so look forward to that review if you think you might want a stylus for your iPad.


Byword is a plain-text editor, which is the most flexible way to write. You never have to worry about which version of Microsoft Word the other person has or anything like that. It syncs with Dropbox or iCloud, so you can have access to your documents on any device. You can also export files by email or through the documents folder in iTunes. You can even print from it.

It has a nice custom keyboard that lets you move the cursor around with arrows, a very helpful addition to the iPad’s keyboard. It barely has any preferences, which is a good thing. You can choose from a few simple fonts, and you can turn auto-correct and spell-check on and off. But otherwise it’s just a place to write.

Byword is great just for notes or drafts, but you can also use Markdown to format your text and produce full-fledged documents. Markdown is simple, human-readable markup that converts easily to HTML. Byword does that conversion automatically. So you can put bold, italics, headers, links and images into your Byword documents, preview them and export them as HTML just by tapping a button.


OmniFocus is serious software (note the price tag). There are clients for the Mac and the iPhone as well, all of which are equally expensive for their categories. But it’s an unscientific fact that OmniFocus geeks like the iPad client the best, and you don’t need all three to get things done.

Many pixels have been spilt about the uses and benefits of OmniFocus, so I’ll be brief. The great thing about OmniFocus is that you can manage every single one of your life’s tasks in it. It is, in an extremely basic sense, a “to-do” app, but it’s no mere checklist. It allows you to organize your tasks by project and context, so you can keep your chores and your work projects here without mixing them up.

A project might be something like “RWW posts,” “Big report for my boss,” “Books to read” or “Fixing the car.” Contexts are “Work,” “Home,” “Grocery store” and so on. A task can have a project and a context, so the “Work” context might include several projects. Contexts can even be associated with places, so you can view your tasks on a map.

OmniFocus has a forecast view, so you can see all the various tasks you have coming up, as well as a review mode, so you can check your own progress. Yes, it’s a pricey app, but I think of it as an investment in using it. If you invest your time in OmniFocus, it will pay you back in sanity and accomplishment.


This one is further down the list because it’s not retina-ready yet, but it still works great on the new iPad.

MindNode is for “mind mapping,” which is a way to outline projects or ideas using tree-like diagrams. You start with a central idea, and you draw branches to ideas that follow. You can color-code them and move them around as you work. It’s great for brainstorming or planning with more freedom than a text outline but more structure than a blank page.

MindNote supports a variety of export options. You can save as MindNode or FreeMind mind map formats, as OPML data, as a text outline, as a PDF or as a PNG image. So you can use this app’s particular style of outlining but still share it with anyone on your team.

Trellofree(iPhone app)

This is last on the list because it’s not iPad-sized, but it actually looks and works surprisingly great on the iPad. Hopefully we’ll be able to update this post soon with a full-sized iPad version.

Trello is collaboration software that is totally, completely free. In his extensive review yesterday, Joe Brockmeier said it’s “as easy to use as a whiteboard and Post-It notes.” That’s a pretty helpful way of imagining what Trello does. Every member of the team gets a column, and that person’s tasks are a stack of short notes.

You should read Joe’s review for the full run-down. But if you work with a team, this is a great way to keep track of who’s doing what. You can even use it by yourself for a nice, two-dimensional way of keeping track of a few projects at once.

It’s best in the browser. You can get to it through Safari on the iPad, but it’s a little too clunky and slow to be useful. But the free iPhone version does the trick on the iPad.

What other apps do you use to work from your iPad? Share them in the comments.

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