Dropbox, TouchCalc, powerOne Calculator and More

Apple did a lot of things right on the iPad, but there are some things that could use improvement (making the screen more smudge-proof for instance). There are some features, however, that Apple left off the iPad altogether that has me scratching my head and wondering why.

Wireless document syncing, for example. Why don’t we have it? In fact, why don’t we have wireless everything syncing? Apple manages to sync my contacts, email, and even my browser bookmarks, so what is so hard about documents?

I’ve been using Pages to write my articles on my iPad. I enjoy Pages as a word processor because it fills my needs, which are pretty basic, without getting in the way. That is until I need to get my document onto my iMac for editing and publishing. Then I have to perform arcane rituals to sync my docs. It’s ridiculous that Apple hasn’t stepped up to this particular plate yet, especially since there are so many MobileMe users, including yours truly, who are paying US$99 a year for inferior service.

I have iDisk available on my iMac, iPhone, and iPad, but I can’t use it to sync anything easily. None of the iApps work with it, so it’s pretty useless unless I use non-Apple apps, like Documents-to-Go. What sense does that make?

I have a theory about why Apple is putting its customers through so much pain, I call it the Feature Euphoria Theory.

See, my theory says that Apple intentionally offers little or nothing on potentially hot features that are not considered mainstream - in this instance, the ability to seamlessly and easily sync, documents, photos, movies, etc. Apple does this for a period of time so as to cause its customers grief. Since customers are locked into using the Apple platform, in this case, any of the iDevices, customers have little choice but to suffer without the feature while other platforms seem to have no problem getting the feature to its users.

Then, at some strategic time, Apple provides the missing feature, complete with embellishments, claiming that it took so long to deliver because they had to “get it right.” iDevice users are so happy to have the feature that they soon forget how slow Apple was to provide it in the first place, and laud the feature and applaud Apple for “getting it right”, even if it’s not everything they hoped it would be.

Well, I’ve gone through this once with cut-n-paste, I’ll be damned if I do it again with wireless syncing. I’ve had enough of Apple Feature Euphoria. There’s a way to sync like I want to right now, and it won’t cost me a dime.

Well, that’s not quite true, but read on.

There’s a service called Dropbox which offers 2GB of cloud space for free. You can get a desktop Dropbox client for your Mac or PC, and a client for mobile iDevices. Set it all up and, Bada Bing! You’ve got an iDisk equivalent for free. You can move files to and from your Dropbox space easy enough on any device the client is installed on, but what’s great is that there are relatively inexpensive apps that will let you do that wireless-sync thing automagically.

Dropbox Screenshot

For instance, there’s a fairly new application called Elements that lets you write text documents and save them in your Dropbox space. Elements is a very basic text processor, but that really all most folks need. No fuss or bother, it just works. On the Mac or PC side you open the saved doc using any text app you want. The document and any updates to it appear quickly, so you can truly start editing on your iMac, save it to Dropbox, and start editing the same document on your iPad immediately. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

Dropbox doesn’t work with every app, developers must include the Dropbox API to be compatible, and right now there are only a handful of apps, including Elements, that do work. What Dropbox will let you do is open a file on any application that’s capable of reading it. So, if you create a file is Pages on your Mac and save it to Dropbox, Pages on your iPad can open it. The problem is that Pages on your iPad won’t save the edited doc back to Dropbox, you have to fall back to Apple’s tired sync process to save your doc in the cloud.

Before you decide on a text processor think about how you’ll manage your files. If you don’t mind doing things outside of Apple’s apps then Dropbox may be for you. (TMO’s Ted Landau wrote about this last week if you want more information about Dropbox)

Back to the iPad for a moment: What’s up with the missing iPad calculator? Apple made a big deal about how cool its calculator is when it first showed off the iPhone, displaying a standard calculator in portrait orientation, and an advanced function calc in landscape. Does the iPad not rate a decent calc? Is the iPad too cool for school? Or is it a miscalculation by Apple? (Ha!)

There are free calculator apps for the iPad, sure, but they barely equal what Apple gives away on the iPhone. Luckily, all is not lost.

TouchCalc is just a big old advanced function calculator. It’s pretty standard, but that’s not a bad thing if it works, and that it does.

TouchCalc Screenshot

TouchCalc only displays in portrait orientation, but the keys are big and colorful. If you’ve used an advanced function calculator before - one that can do more than basic math - then you’ll feel right at home with this one.

There are three modes of operation; Scientific, Bit/Integer, and Statistics. Select your mode and the function keys change accordingly. You can also do some tweaking of the displayed precision.

If you just need a solid, free calculator, TouchCalc should work just fine.

powerOne Calculator takes a slightly different approach to free calculation. It combines an advanced calculator with a feature that lets you store formulas and function for later use. That’s pretty cool.

powerOne Calculator Screenshot

The stored functions are called templates, and Infinity Software, makers of powerOne, offers templates geared to specific occupations, like real estate and science, for an upgrade fee.

powerOne Calculator Screenshot

As a better-than-basic calculator, powerOne shines. I like the tape and history functions as well as the math and trig switching. You can call any of the included saved functions, such as Sum, or create you own. You can then email your results off for others to use.

powerOne is pretty useful and featured rich for a freebie. In fact, there’s an iPhone version that could easily replace Apple’s calc, which doesn’t offer a tape or function mode.

Grab powerOne Calculator.

That’s a wrap for this week. More free stuff below with direct links.

Free on iTunes