Point. Click. Profit. (As published in The Business Journal)

The iPad Challenge: Can I get my work done on it?


I once experimented for a whole day only using browser-based applications that were accessible through the cloud. I used Gmail.com instead of Outlook; I used Writely (now Google Docs) instead of Word; I even used a Firefox extension called FireFTP to transfer files to a server, instead of FileZilla. The biggest challenge was not in adapting to any particular tool but in embracing a mindset that facilitated smoothly navigating between tools.

Recently, I decided to take on a new challenge: to use only iPhone and iPad apps to update a webpage. The required tasks included editing HTML, converting an Excel file to PDF, and uploading both file types to a website. I won’t tell you it was a smart thing to do; only that I successfully finished the project. And I thought that my success demanded that I share these apps with you, in case you should find yourself with no laptop available and a critical task needing doing.

The five apps I used are: Gusto (HTML editor), FTPOnTheGo (file transfer), iBooks (e-reader), iWork.com (Apple’s “Microsoft Office Live”), Mail and Safari. The combination is a bit cumbersome in a Rube Goldberg sort of way, but that’s part of its charm to a geek like me.

The notion set in when I received two spreadsheets containing race results to be posted at tourofthevalley.com. I was in our den watching TV and reluctant to get up and go upstairs to my office and laptop. True, I could have popped up the stairs, grabbed the laptop and been back on the daybed in less than a minute. But you are underestimating the level of inertia I was feeling in that moment.

That morning began the summer festival of the arts on the campus of YSU, with the festivities kicking off with the Smoky Hollow 5k run & 1mi fun walk. We brought our new puppy, and after the walk we explored the food, entertainment, booths and activities spanning the quad. We finished off at Handel’s for $1-cone day.

So, at 10:30 that night I was looking for any excuse to stay put. And the notion that I might have everything I needed for the job already at hand was intriguing. And yes, it could well be that I spent 2-3 times the amount of time I would have needed on my laptop to achieve the same ends. But dammit, this is for science (not to mention having a story for this column).

It started in email. I viewed the attached .xlsx files and tried to envision a workable process to convert them to PDF. My first step was to open it in Numbers, since I didn’t otherwise see an option to save it directly as PDF. From Numbers, I shared it to iWork. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I knew I could email it that way, and I hoped iWork.com would have a “View as PDF” option.

When I opened the Numbers file from the email generated by iWork.com, I had the option to open it in iBooks, which looked like the option with the most potential. Remember, I had multiple spreadsheets I wanted to translate to a multiple-page PDF.

Once I viewed the file in iBooks, the options were “email” and “print”. So, I gave email a shot. Sure enough, a multiple-page PDF file with the spreadsheet data was attached. Next I used the “Open with…” option to send the files to FTPOnTheGo, where I could log in to  opened the PDF and excel file from my email into FTP on the go. I logged into my account, connected to the remote server and uploaded both excel and PDF versions of each file to the server.

Next, I opened Gusto to add the links to the webpage. The process involves connecting to the web server, downloading the files to edit, then going into edit mode. The interface offers attractive and clear syntax color coding. The on-screen keyboard includes the additional technical characters needed to compose HTML. After editing the file, I returned to the file-transfer screen and uploaded the edited file.  I uploaded in the files and pushed the latest versions to the server.

The apps you might be able to use for your next on-the-go task will likely be different than these, but the willingness to experiment and think a few steps in advance are necessary regardless of the project. Sometimes it’s just more fun to lounge with an iPad, and if you can be productive then so much the better. Of course, I needn’t mention that this column was written on the iPad, using Evernote and Pages.

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