8 Important Things You Can Do With an iPad

| Analysis

There are over 475,000 apps for the iPad. If you include iPhone apps, that number rises to about a million. The vast majority of those apps are, generally, inwardly focused on the user: games, cooking, weather, entertainment, finance, health, medical, social networking and so on.

What's often overlooked are productivity apps that are, generally, outwardly focused, those that make a difference and allow the user to make a contribution to others. Let's take a look at the second category.



It's tempting for critics to suggest that the iPad is a very personal device, a vanity product that promotes a self-serving approach to life. That can be true of those categories mentioned above. However, that thinking is comfortable conceit: the notion that an iPad isn't really a necessity in life.

In fact, the more we look, and by we, I mean me and my colleague, Adam Christianson, here at The Mac Observer, the more we see professionals of all kinds making real contributions to their profession -- and other people -- with an iPad. As these tablets start to take over in sales numbers compared to PCs, the more of a load tablets will assume in all kinds of productivity. In that process, the man-machine interface will continue to advance. As Adam put it so succinctly:

"You have to be willing to let go the old workflows and paradigms and adopt new ones, but that is nothing new when it comes to applying new technology to a process.

Enabling Technology

Another aspect of productive use of the iPad is enablement. To first order, we tend to think of the iPad as somehow crippled compared to, say, a MacBook Pro. It's easy to point to sandboxing, the lack of a physical keyboard, and the relative lack of hardware ports as crippling. However, the essence of a tablet has been instantiated by Apple with forward looking vision. Rather than tack on the accoutrements of old, like other companies, Apple is developing new tools, frameworks and new ways of doing things. This is something Apple is known for, is showcased at WWDC, and it's something that is often overlooked by outside observers.

As a result, our apps will be different, the workflow will be different, and the potential for new products will be created. Those ingenious, expert users of the iPad tend to figure out interesting and effective ways of using the iPad and its software as a tool to forge a new path forward. They inspire us.

SkySafari by Southern Stars


The principle feature, the essence of an iPad is, approximately, always-on, single-hand portability with touch and gestures. You don't have to open it, you don't have to boot it up (very often), and you don't have to be positioned square to a keyboard or a display. Right away, this translates into a new physical utility that can be exploited.

Second because of that portability and utility, there are opportunities for usage and productivity that fit that mode of operation. One example of this is portable podcasting, as described by Fraser Speirs.

Here are some other notable examples.

Art. Drawing and painting with fingers or a stylus on a touch sensitive display is just about the quintessential application for an iPad. Here's an example of what can be done with an app called Procreate on an iPad.

Astronomy. It's very convenient to control a telescope with an iPad, an app like Sky Safari Pro, and a connection to a compatible amateur telescope. Many amateur astronomers have professional level observing programs that involve the monitoring of the planets, comet and asteroid hunting.

Aviation. It's well known by now how airlines and private pilots are using iPads as tools of their profession to replace paper maps. We take maps on an iPad for granted, but it really is another quintessential application for a tablet: a map that (almost) floats in space before the user. As we know, that's the essence of a tablet.

Data Collection. The iPad has a rich enough operating system and frameworks to collect and analyze data for business, science and technology. This can be in a learning environment or field data collection.

FaceTime. Remote viewing can be a powerful tool for diagnosis, that is, remote medicine or remote technical viewing and education.

Image Credit: Apple

Programming. There aren't a lot of great IDEs and programming languages on the iPad for the end user. However, things are getting better. What better way for a child to learn programming in a visual way than with Hopscotch? Then there's DraftCode, an IDE for PHP development. Once the door is opened for actual code development by the end user, all kinds of new possibilities arise.

Real Estate Sales. Combined with small drones that have cameras, a real estate agent can easily show a prospective buyer, literally, the lay of the land and the roofs of buildings. Also, an iPad is the right kind of tool to hand to a prospective buyer to look at floor plans and exteriors.

Writing. While we normally think that that a notebook computer is the ultimate tool for the writer, it may be that some want the utility of the iPad in mobility mode, that is, still want the ability to write even if the sum of the iPad and Bluetooth keyboard are close to a MacBook Air.

For example, I've observed both myself and other writers make a tough decision about which device to take om travel or vacation: an iPad or MacBook Air. A working vacation suggests an easy to tote device that can also take advantage of all those personal iOS apps too. There are too many really good writing apps for the iPad to list, so I'll take some liberty and mention two that are notable: Editorial and UX write.

There's More

The above is just a taste of what can be done. Apple itself has also posted a page on how iPads are used professionally, called Life on iPad. It's worth a look for the inspiration alone.

The lesson from all these examples is that as iPads become more deeply entwined in our lives, they'll become more and more dominant as the go-to tool for many tasks both expected now and unforeseen in the future. The nature of the tasks will change because the tablet platform introduces a new way thinking and using a computational device.

And of course, in my view, that will lead to larger iPads, maybe not for travel but certainly for home and office use. All this means that people who are trying to achieve something important and want to make substantive contributions will be using iPads in new and clever ways.

Of course, nothing says we can't curl up with some Angry Birds from time to time.


TMO's Adam Christianson contributed to this article.

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This is a good example.


I still don’t see the iPad as much of a programming platform. I like as big a screen as possible so I can see more of what’s going on. It’s also pretty much necessary to be able to test the program.  I suppose for web development it could be a useful on-the-go tool for tweaking something. It might also be a good platform for beginners to learn about programming. But I still want my truck, a.k.a. 27” iMac.

I have been using my 13” MBA to hack on Arduino sketches while lounging around the house over Thanksgiving.  I also used to use a 13” black MacBook in college classes, but would resume working on larger screens outside of class.

Do writers not have the same desire for screen space to see the big picture? Is it perhaps that you do less reading of what is there (and often written years ago by someone else) and more tracking your narrative in your head?



Your article sets just the right tone on the utility of the iPad in the professional world. Most of the critics of the iPad belong to a generation for whom the iPad is not intended as a principal device, not to mention the fact that the device remains a work in early progress. This thing is just warming up.

Now that it has 64-bit capability and is likely coming out in a larger screen size, presumably for productivity, we will see even more robust and capable apps written for it that will give apps on OS X a run for their money, at least for many users.

As far as the iPads penetration into the professional world, this too is a work in early progress. We’ve just concluded a meeting here in London on one of our international collaborative projects, and amongst not only the leadership in the room, but the data analysts, Macs prevailed but, importantly, even amongst those using Windows laptops, iPads abounded, and were the go-to device for note taking, data accessing (via DropBox) and email in the room. I saw no other tablet (and everyone had iPhones). One of my colleagues, who was using a MBA, asked me what type of iPad he should get. I suggested the 9 inch iPad Air as the only option for anyone wanting to do serious productivity work, as the 7” screen is simply too small for most adult male fingers to type upon.

The reason for his interest was due in no small measure, not simply to the high prevalence of iPads in the room, but to the fact that electrical connections were hard to find to keep laptops running all day - a trend I am seeing more often in conferences, as many professionals are simply showing up with their iPads.

What I eagerly anticipate is the rise of apps written in 64-bit from some of my favourite sources, like Thomson Reuters Endnote (a reference manager) and Stata (data analysis software), to enable me to analyse data and draft manuscripts with references attached from my iPad. 2014, perhaps? One can hope.

John Martellaro

wab95:  Your fabulous feedback put a big smile on my face.

Spyder Ryder

UX Write?  It’s not even available anywhere.  Where did you see it?  your link doesn’t work

John Martellaro
Digitpedia (Chris)

I’ve just taken a look at the Procreate app in the app store and they have released an update which is taking a beating in the reviews, lots of 1 stars. Shame.

Technamize Shan

Hey I’ve written a similar post and the viewers might want to check it out!

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