Could I do 80 percent of my work on an iPad?

iPad air pics

As part of the recent IBM announcement, Tim Cook recently said:

“There’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t be like that. Imagine enterprise apps being as simple as the consumer apps that we’ve all gotten used to. That’s the way it should be…”

Since I’m a big proponent of using an iPad for productivity, I thought I take a look at how much of my time could be spent using an iPad to do my work.

I have two jobs: my day job, and my freelance writing business. For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to eliminate my freelance job from this equation. I’m doing this because my freelance business tends to focus on the iPad anyway, and as a writer all I need is an app that accepts text inputs. Also, my freelance business doesn’t take up much of my time — probably about 5–10 hours a week.

So, for this article I’m instead going to focus on the 40 hours I work at my day job. My day job I work as a business analyst working to help business lines in my company improve workflows and help implement IT projects. I’m also responsible for administering our web-based project management (PPM) tool.

By the numbers: how I spend my work day

I reviewed my time sheets for the month of May and found that my time was spent in the following ways:

Project work: Time spent in project-related meetings and working on deliverables. The tools I use for these tasks are Word, Excel, Visio, and OneNote. My chief deliverable is a Business Requirements Document, which lists the requirements that must be fulfilled as part of the project.

Break-fix: Handing day-to-day administration of the web-based PPM tool. I can use any modern browser to do this.

Reporting: Time spent generating reports from our PPM tool. The majority of my time here is spent in Tableau.

Team Meetings: Weekly team meetings. For the most part, I take a few notes, but most of the meeting is a general discussion about topics that filter down.

OOO (Out of Office): Vacation time. Yeah, I am so not working on day job stuff then.

The chart below shows how I spent my time during the month of May.

Screenshot 2014-07-25 10.05.30

How much of my day could I spend using only an iPad?

When I’m in a meeting, I can get by with only an iPad. Most times, I do only bring my iPad. It’s perfect for taking a few notes and referencing material that’s been emailed prior to the meeting.

Of the tasks I perform, there are a few that I simply can not do on an iPad. The Tableau app only has a reader on the App store; I can’t edit any of my workbooks. Since that’s the entirely of the time spent in Reporting, that whole slice counts against the iPad.

I then broke down the time spent on Project work as follows:

Screenshot 2014-07-25 10.05.53

Meetings are easily an area I can use an iPad. I’m already doing this. Most of the time I will only bring an iPad with me since it’s perfect tool to take notes or reference material distributed prior to the meeting. I’d say 99 percent of my time in meetings I either could just bring my iPad or already do.

Our process for creating the requirements documents involves three general tasks: creating the actual requirements listing in an Excel template, running a pivot table to group the requirements into sections, and then importing them into Word. In Word, we write the narrative around the requirements — the business problem to be solved, the current and future state of the system, and any gaps between the two states. A Word macro then formats the requirements properly. Lastly, we use Visio to create any diagrams we need.

The actual writing I could do in Word on an iPad. I’ve never done it, mind you, but if my work laptop (a Windows machine) was having a problem I could get by with my iPad. I would likely need an external keyboard and because of how heavily we use Styles in Word, I’d need to have the document already created. Word on the iPad can read the styles in an existing document; it just can’t create them. I also couldn’t run the macro to format the requirements as Word on iOS doesn’t support that — and I don’t see macro support happening for a long time, if ever.

The Excel component I also can’t really do on the iPad. There are a lot of references to other tabs in the spreadsheet that are collated onto the area we write the requirements. While it’s possible I could make light edits, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that task on an iPad.

Diagramming on the iPad is in a state of flux. Omnigroup is no longer selling OmniGraffle 1 on the iTunes Store while it works on version 2. There are no details on their site about the new version, but a key one for me the ability to read and write Visio files. Version 1 didn’t and I don’t know if it will be added.

Also, because so many pieces of my Requirements Document come from different apps, how hard it is to move data between apps aids to this problem. It may get a little better with iOS 8, but I expect it will take time before apps start communicating better.

When I took a lot at the percentage of time I could use my iPad as my main device, I got the below chart:

Screenshot 2014-07-24 19.17.02

It comes to about a 49 percent to 51 percent split, with the non-iPad side slightly winning. Remember, a huge part of the non-iPad time is taken from my Reporting task. One task, in my case, severely affects the results. I had a pretty good idea where I spend my time, but had never really sat down and determined how much of my day I could use an iPad. Included in this number is the break-fix time since that just needs a web browser.

Final Thoughts

How people spend their work days is obviously variable. I think the results I came up with are expected for anyone who uses a computer; some tasks can be done on an iPad, some can’t. In Tim Cook’s case, as CEO of Apple he’s probably not spending a gigantic amount of time using a reporting package to generate a report — he’s got people for that. Like most managers, I bet Tim spends a lot of time reading reports that have funneled up the chain. Tim can also cook the books (ouch, bad pun) a little since he works for the company that makes the iPad and his computer. Like many tech companies, Apple eats its own dog food, so I’d expect it to be on the leading edge of iPad usage.

In my case, I expect my iPad usage at work to remain the same; it’s great for meeting and notes, but not so great for generating my documents. One thing I have thought about, though, is writing the narrative to my documents on the iPad. I want to see how iOS narrows my focus and if that speeds up that portion.

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