Blog Post

Weekend Project: iPad Productivity in the Cloud

As a heavy user of Google Docs (s goog), both for work and personal activities, I was initially disappointed to see a lack of iPad (s aapl) support for the cloud-based productivity suite. Given the connectivity options of Wi-Fi or 3G, the large but portable display of the Apple’s device appears perfectly suited for light editing of Google Docs. Unfortunately, Google has been slow to add edit capabilities in mobile browsers, and those it has added are fairly limited.

So not long after my iPad arrived, I began my search for a Google Docs editor — after all, there’s an app for that, right? As a matter of fact, there is. I stumbled across an app called Office2 Pro and although the software had some initial shortcomings, it indeed allows for Google Docs editing directly on an iPad, and with recent updates, is a solid tool. Using it, I can connect to Google Docs via both my work and my personal Gmail account, plus the application supports WebDAV connections for other cloud storage solutions. The software doesn’t yet allow for presentation edits, but most functionality needed for document and spreadsheet editing is there, including complex document formatting and spreadsheet formulas.

Even with my newfound solution, I’ve still run into limitations. Most notably is when someone wants to send me a document. Google Docs used to offer an upload-by-email feature, but disabled it late last year. Luckily, Office2 Pro now supports the opening of email attachments on the iPad — tapping a spreadsheet attachment in email, for example, opens up Office2 Pro where I can edit the doc and save the changes right in one of my two Google Docs accounts.

Just for piece of mind — and a second backup copy — I’ve incorporated SugarSync for iPad into the workflow. If you’re not familiar with it, SugarSync is a cross-platform, cloud storage and synchronization service. Files on one computer are replicated up to the cloud and back down to other computers or mobile devices associated with a SugarSync account. For instance, I can create a new document file in a folder on my PC and SugarSync automatically makes a copy available in the cloud, on my Mac, and even on my Google Android phone, just to name a few devices.

Like Office2 Pro, SugarSync recently added support for external applications, so I can navigate to a document I have in the cloud through my SugarSync iPad app and open the document for editing directly in Office2 Pro. From there, the changes can be saved directly to Google Docs. Note that Dropbox, an offering similar to SugarSync, recently added API support for external applications — so the productivity method I’m using will likely soon work by using Dropbox in tandem with Office2 Pro, iWork or other iPad productivity apps.

Perhaps it’s overkill to have a backup for a backup, but you never know when it will come in handy. Unlike Google Docs, SugarSync does support email uploads by stripping out and saving the attachments from any message sent to a special SugarSync email address associated with your account. That feature is handy for two reasons — I can share that email address with friends or peers so they can shoot attachments to my cloud account, plus I can email edited files to SugarSync right from Office2 Pro. A quick tip if you plan to or currently use the SugarSync email upload feature: create a contact for SugarSync in your address book so you don’t have to remember the email address.

How does all this work and what are the costs involved? The solution is fairly seamless although I’d like to see to see better integration between SugarSync and third-party apps after editing a doc — emailing a file back-up to the cloud isn’t the most effective method. Obviously you’ll need a free Google Docs account. Access to SugarSync will cost you, based on how much storage you want, but a 2 GB account is free. Of course, with a starting price of $499, the iPad itself doesn’t come cheap, but Office2 Pro is only $7.99.

Armed with this toolset, I can be fairly productive with nothing more than my iPad and a web connection, although I’ve been known to “cheat” and use a folding Bluetooth keyboard for extensive edits. I’m finding that instead of carrying a netbook or notebook, I can use this set of tools and get by with just an iPad for basic content creation. Of course, some are doing far more with the iPad —  the device has already been used to run the Norwegian government and one of the folks behind our recent web site redesigns recently found himself using the iPad to run his business — you can read all about the pros and cons of that situation over at WebWorkerDaily.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

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21 Responses to “Weekend Project: iPad Productivity in the Cloud”

  1. I wonder why no one ever thinks about Remote Desktop when they review the Ipad, it is the killer app that no one talks about.
    Just get Jaduu Remote Desktop App
    It works for the Iphone in a pinch.
    You will get all the programs you needs without worrying about losing data. I am sure the screen is big enough on the Ipad to run all day.
    Try it out.

  2. A huge driver for me, along with the iPad’s battery life, is “instant on”. Having a lightweight device that is always right there for you whenever you want it. Don’t have to boot up Windows or OSX. Just click and go.

    As others have said, it will only get better with time. But it’s already great for what I need (light doc authoring, PDF annotation, web browsing).

  3. Sorry for those who wanted to turn my comment into something Anti-Apple and Anti-flash but if you actually read my comment I say nothing about Flash and nothing negative about Apple, just the fact that I would rather not find “work arounds” to get things done that I can currently get done now with just the browser or just a “normal app” instead of a lightweight app for a mobile device.

    I guess for me it’s simply the fact that my current browser on my notebook does NOT need any “work arounds” to use google docs, etc. . . Maybe that’s why I also find tablets running Win7 interesting, because I can use my “normal” software–not that I’m saying Win7 is a great OS for a tablet/slate/pad or mobile device, or maybe it’s just the fact that I find the current “mobile tablet” (like iPad and the few Android ones I’ve seen) as very immature devices, relative to notebooks, tablets, etc. After all it is a matter of preferences, and I’m not one who likes “more toys” over toys that do more things.

    Sorry, to those of you who took my comment as insulting but it says nothing in particular about Flash, Apple, or the iPad. It simply says, I (Charles, not you) would much rather wait for a product that can handle a browser (like Chrome or Firefox) that can access the internet and its applications as the developers who developed them intended for them to be used, whether that be Java, HTML5, Flash, Silverlight, etc. . and NOT require “work around” apps to get the job done.

    Personally I would love a web that is 100% OPEN (and free) standards but. . .
    “Ian Hickson, editor of the HTML5 specification, expects the specification to reach the W3C Candidate Recommendation stage during 2012, and W3C Recommendation in the year 2022 or later.” –Wikipedia

    That doesn’t look like it will be happening in the immediate future ;)

    I simply made an observational comment about a review that required work arounds on a device, and I would prefer having a device in which I would not have to use work arounds–notice the “or anything close to it” statement. For me, I haven’t seen that device just yet, one that will replace other devices and not just be an addition to the collection of toys.

    • And since I have to edit HD videos, I’m not ready to give up my Mac either. ;) The iPad won’t replace every device — in its current state, it’s more of a complementary device for most.

  4. Hey Charles,

    I have been using a 3G iPad since it’s release and i bought it to replace a net book. I did not get it to replace my main computer. I use it as designed, which is as a companion or something in between the main computer and my iPhone. The only thing I have found that it does not do for me is flash, which is well documented. The one reservation I had was the keyboard, but I have found it to be pretty comparable to the keyboard on my net book. I can understand your sentiment when you read articles like this. I do think it sounds like work arounds, but frankly once the Ecosystem of apps is available, i think you will see some amazing apps out there that will not feel like a workaround. The killer feature for me with this device is the battery life. I can use it all day without any issue. For me, the many things it will do for me far outweighs the limitations I found with a net book.

  5. After that little review I definitely don’t want an iPad or anything close to it. It sounds like a case of constantly finding a “work around” to get anything done. I think I’ll wait for a tablet/slate that allows me to use a real browser and the web as it’s intended.

    As for phones accessing and editing gDocs, I’ve never seen the reason why I would want to go through the frustration of editing a doc on a 3″ screen.

    • Adam Grant

      Your comment reminds me of a MadLib rant against gay marriage with all the blanks filled in by iPad description. “A real browser and the web as it’s intended”, LOL. The web as it is intended for what, by whom?

      You may think you want a browser that runs Flash on a tablet with necessarily shrewd power management, but trust me–a veteran Flash developer–you want it in the way a kid wants candy for lunch.

      Agreed on the smartphone doc editing; small screens are not text editing ready.

    • Charles, I completely understand your point. And I’d never suggest that someone use a tool that isn’t best suited for their tasks. But I think that Doug makes a reasonable point in his comment down below because it will take time for mature apps and solutions to be appear.

      To be honest, there are real tablets / slates that allow you to use a real browser and the web as it’s intended. I’ve been using them since 2004 in the form of various Microsoft Tablet PCs and Ultra Mobile PCs. They’re full-blown Windows devices, so there’s no compromise on the software side. But there is still a compromise in the form of more weight / less portability, far less battery life, desktop interfaces that aren’t finger-friendly, etc…. So it becomes a question of which area are you willing to compromise in, which of course, is a personal decision. I’m not trying to convince you — or anyone else, for that matter — that an iPad is the best tool for productivity. I’m simply showing a potential productivity solution for the device. It’s up to the reader to decide if they want to use it.

      • Yacko

        You have to remember that your article describes the current iPad-cloud situation and the iPad has been out only just about a month. “Full-blown Windows devices” that are tablets and UMPCs have been rolling from 5 to 10 years. Six months from now and new apps, then iPad2, then a couple of more months and we’ll see what we have. I expect a switch to a pad will be more obvious. The question you pose is whether one would live with the kludges currently necessary in order to start early on a path that will reach a fuller maturity in 12 months. I tell you, a lot of people like me, sitting on the fence, are likely to commit soon. More importantly, if I was in school, middle school to college, it would be a no brainer. This new generational wave, using an iPad, will relegate low end portable Windows devices to a very small niche.