By Woody Leonhard
Getting an iPad to peacefully co-exist with your Windows gear is easier than you think.
With 500,000 or so iOS apps now available in the iTunes App Store — 100,000 of which are just for the iPad — and a whole lot of very smart people working on bridging the interplanetary gaps between Apple’s tablet and Windows, an iPad can be the best peripheral your PC ever had. Or vice-versa.
In my Aug. 18 Top Story, I talked about two apps that no iPad-owning Windows user should be without. iTunes on Windows not only tethers the iPad but can be used in clever ways to perform all sorts of magic on the tablet; TeamViewer lets you run your PC remotely from an iPad, from across the living room, or halfway around the world.
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The response to that article was remarkably — but not surprisingly — bipolar!
Some of you thanked me for finally tackling the diminutive 800-pound gorilla that’s shaking the technological foundations of many companies, not to mention formerly Windows-only households such as mine.
Others felt I had melded with the Jobs Reality Distortion Field, luring readers into parting with their hard-earned shekels to support the devil’s spawn. More than a couple said that if I ever mentioned the “A” word again, they’d cancel their subscriptions!
Worlds are colliding, my friends, and we Windows veterans sit in the middle of it.
Here you have it, from a guy who’s written dozens of books and many, many hundreds of articles about Windows: the iPad’s a great product, even if you think of it only as a Windows peripheral. Some day, Android and Win8 tablets will do as well — or even better. But for now, the iPad offers all sorts of advantages to inveterate Windows users. That’s what these articles are about.
This week I’m going to tell you about a handful of iPad apps that I’ve found very useful. It’s far from a definitive list. And if you’ve discovered something that works for you, please mosey over to the Lounge and tell us all about it. More apps and tips to follow in future issues.
And yes, I’ll cover the Android and Win8 tablets, too, when the time is right. Promise.
Delivering PowerPoint presentations with an iPad
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a PowerPoint presentation delivered from an iPad. The presenter had a reasonably good PowerPoint presentation, running on a plain-vanilla Win7 laptop connected to a projector. The presentation went extraordinarily well, because the presenter interacted with the audience — not with his PC or with the projector screen.
Surprisingly, the presenter neither hid behind his laptop — mousing his way through the slides — nor turned his back to the audience to stare at the projection screen, clicker in hand. Instead, using the iPad as a sort of mini-teleprompter, he faced the audience and swiped his way through the presentation.
If you haven’t yet seen — or delivered — a PowerPoint presentation with an iPad, you’re in for a treat. The liberating little tablet changes the entire dynamic of presenting to an audience.
The presenter was using LogicInMind’s Slideshow Remote (info page), just U.S. $4.99 from the App Store. Using Wi-Fi, Slideshow Remote lets you use an iPad or iPhone to remotely control PowerPoint on a PC. (You can also connect the iPad directly to a projector using a VGA adapter, though, of course, you can’t run PowerPoint on the iPad.)
Slideshow Remote displays PowerPoint slides on the iPad, of course, plus presentation notes and a preview of the next slide. You can even bring up a full list of slide thumbnails, just as in PowerPoint itself, and jump to specific slides with a swipe and tap.
Tip: If you just want to view your PowerPoint presentation on the iPad (i.e., not project it onto a screen), check out Acoolsoft’s Knowledge Center story, “Five ways to view PowerPoint presentations on iPad.” Several of the options are free.
Slice and dice photos with PhotoShop Express
Nobody would mistake an iPad2 for a high-quality camera. But it’s quick and easy for taking simple photos. And both generations of the iPad are fabulous for sharing shots.
Similarly, nobody would mistake Adobe Photoshop Express for the real thing: Photoshop, which can chew up every bit of processing power your big Windows PC can muster. But if you want to crop, straighten, rotate, or flip a photo — or get rid of redeye or run a simple filter — Photoshop Express does the dirty work in spades, on your iPad.
I find it particularly useful for touching up a photo before sending it in an e-mail message or posting it on a website. No need to haul out your PC: the iPad can do the little stuff in a flash.
Adobe Photoshop Express is free through the iPad App Store.
Extending your Windows display with iDisplay
What? You didn’t know that you can use your iPad to extend your Windows PC’s display?
The $4.99 iDisplay (info) connects the iPad (or iPhone) to a PC via Wi-Fi to create side-by-side Windows displays — no cables or fancy video cards needed. Just download and boot the iDisplay app on both systems, find the iPad on the Windows side, then start iDisplay on the iPad. Stick the monitors side by side (see Figure 1), and you can click-and-drag from one screen to the other.
Figure 1. The iDisplay app lets you extend the Windows desktop to your iPad.
The iDisplay app is best suited for shuffling relatively static information off to the side of your on-screen workspace — all the bits have to travel by Wi-Fi, and they don’t move all that quickly. I use iDisplay, for example, to run TweetDeck permanently on the side of my screen.
Move files between your PC and the iPad
The iPad’s file system can best be described as, uh, rudimentary. Actually, the term “nonexistent” comes to mind. Be that as it may, from time to time you may want to transfer a file other than a typical iTunes file — music, video, podcast, photo — to or from your iPad.
My personal favorite? Dropbox. I wrote about Dropbox in the June 2 Top Story, where I recommended not using it for sensitive files. But for normal, everyday files, Dropbox for iPad (free from the App Store) works fine. Download and install the app, give it your user name and password, and you’re done. Dropbox handles synching across multiple platforms invisibly and reliably. Even if your Internet connection goes down, the files are still in the iPad’s Dropbox.
Working with Windows documents on the iPad
If you’re looking for a Microsoft Office replacement for the iPad, you’re out of luck.
The iPad doesn’t do Office, and none of the alternative applications comes close to Office’s capabilities. Sorry, but Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents usually get hashed when edited in any of the Microsoft Office alternatives. (Of course, the same can be said for Office Web Apps, Microsoft’s own online version of Office.)
My best advice is to avoid any attempt at editing Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files in the iPad. If you want to create documents that stand some chance of being properly interpreted in the original Office programs, consider using Apple’s iWork apps for iPad (info).
iWork consists of three applications, each of which can be purchased separately for $9.99. Pages handles word processing; Numbers is for spreadsheets; and Keynote produces presentations.
Some of the ways iWork functions will drive Office aficionados mad — for example, documents are selected from a gallery and you don’t save them because they’re saved automatically. Techniques for selecting and modifying text are quite different, but if you follow the on-screen tutorial, you’ll get the hang of it quickly. If you plan on using any of the iWork apps for more than 30 seconds, you should invest in the iPad Keyboard Dock ($69).
Getting Dropbox files into iWork apps is easy — you just open them — but getting modified files back into Dropbox is a monumental pain in the neck. You can e-mail the files or sync them with iTunes, but if you want to make modified files available in Dropbox, follow the instructions on the techinch site.
Tip: If you want to work with PDF files on the iPad, get Goodreader, $4.99 in the App Store. Goodreader lets you read PDFs, but it also allows you to mark up and annotate PDF and TXT files and sync with Dropbox or remote servers. It’s an amazing, legendary program.
Those are the iPad apps I use every day — ones that make my iPad work in my admittedly Windows-centric life. I’m constantly amazed at how the iPad gets little things done well and at how much effort is being expended to make it fit in with the legacy world of Windows. Stay tuned. We’ve only just begun.
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Woody Leonhard is a Windows Secrets senior editor and a senior contributing editor at InfoWorld. His books on Windows and Office include the award-winning Windows 7 All-In-One For Dummies. His many writings cast a critical eye on the latest industry shenanigans.