How much of your job can you really do on an iPad?

Tim Cook recently said that he performs 80% of his work on an iPad—and he thinks everyone should do the same. But is that really realistic?

The answer depends, of course, on the kind of work you do. Perhaps Cook spends his entire day working in email and a browser. If that’s the case, the iPad could be entirely adequate. When he was quoted, Cook was specifically touting the iOS-compatibility that will come to many corporate apps, thanks to Apple’s new alliance with IBM. So if you’re living in apps that your company built for itself, the iPad could someday be all you need.

But what about the rest of us, whose work tools lie somewhere between a Web browser and bespoke corporate software? To get a take on how well the iPad suits at least one specific job-description, I asked some editors here at Macworld, as well as at our sister publications PC World and Greenbot, to tell me: How much of your job do you currently do on an iPad? And how much could you do if you really had to?

Dan Frakes (Senior Editor, Macworld)

Most of my routine writing and editing happens on my desktop Mac. But I do use my iPad a good number of hours each day—in the morning, at lunch, in the evening, and during writing breaks—to read my innumerable RSS feeds, triage email, and perform other tasks that don’t require the complex workflows and multitasking I get on my Mac. For these tasks, the iPad is simply a better tool for me.

That’s not to say that I couldn’t do more on my iPad during the work day. I always have an external Bluetooth keyboard handy, so longer bouts of writing and email are easy enough. (In fact, I’m writing this on my iPad with Logitech’s Ultrathin Magnetic Clip-on Keyboard Cover.) An external keyboard is great for serious email correspondence, too. (Alas, I find editing on an iPad to be a chore because of iOS’s fiddly text select/copy/cut/paste mechanism.)

Dan Miller (Editor, Macworld)

I do use the iPad for work, but not much. I could use it more, but frankly I see no reason to: I have a perfectly good (if heavy) MacBook Pro, which I don’t mind lugging around and which I find better as a work tool than the iPad.

That said, I could use the iPad for more of my work if I had to. As others have pointed out, the bulk of my job involved processing text. For most writing and editing, I work primarily in plain-text format these days, for which almost any iOS text-editor would do. Ditto for taking notes in meetings and elsewhere. (I generally use nValt on my MacBook for this, syncing its plain-text notes via Dropbox.) For those outside writers who still use Word, we have iOS tools for that, too.

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Ten things everyone should know how to do with a word processor

Admit it: You don’t use half the tools in your word processing app—whether it’s Microsoft Word, Apple’s own Pages, or Google Docs—maybe even less than half. But without all those bells and whistles you’ve been ignoring, that app is little more than a glorified text editor. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that: I use my favorite text editor, BBEdit, as a glorified word processor.)

But a big part of owning a tool is knowing how to use it effectively. So if you ever use Word, Pages, or Google Docs, you owe it to yourself to know how to do a few essential things with it. Here are the ten of the most essential.

1. Use Keyboard Shortcuts

6. Format a Table

Once you have your table inserted, it’s time to make it pretty. Because table formatting can be complicated, these applications offer separate formatting options for entire tables, for individual cells, and for the text that appears within your tables. (The keyboard shortcuts mentioned earlier for text formatting work on table text quite well.)

Word: Word offers a multitude of table-formatting options, all of which you manage using the Tables tab in Word’s toolbar. In fact, Word’s table tool offers nearly the same set of formatting features available in Excel.

9. Track and Manage Changes

Are you working collaboratively on a document and want to keep track of who has made which changes? Pages, Word, and Google Docs all offer tools for tracking the changes in your documents. Using these tools you can see who has made changes to a document, accept or reject changes, and add comments.

Word: Open the Tools menu, select Track Changes, then choose Highlight Changes. This opens a dialog box where you can select options for how you want to track your changes. The Options button in this dialog box lets you change the way the text you’ve changed will appear in the document. If you want to see your changes as you type, check the Track Changes While Editing box.

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Nine things everyone should know how to do with a spreadsheet

If your job (or even your personal life) requires you to do anything substantial with numbers, chances are you use a spreadsheet app to do it. As a Mac user, you’ve got plenty of choices among spreadsheet apps, but for most of us the choice comes down to three: Microsoft’s Excel 2011; Apple’s Numbers (version 3.2); and the browser-based Sheets section of Google Docs.

The one to use is really a personal choice, and that decision is not the focus of this article. (I personally prefer Excel, possibly because I’ve been using it for nearly 30 years). But regardless of the app you use, the question here is: How well do you know how to use it, really?

As a spreadsheet vet, I gave that question some thought and came up with the following list of things that I think every savvy spreadsheet jockey—not beginners, but people who’ve been using one of these apps for a while—should know. I’m not talking about any specific task. Rather, these are the techniques and concepts that I think you should know in order to graduate from casual to serious user.

4. Distinguish Between Relative and Absolute References

In the functions listed above, CELL and RANGE are references to either an individual cell or a range of cells. So =ROUND(C14,2) will take the value in cell C14 and round it off to two digits; =SUM(A10:A20) will add up all the numbers in cells A10 through A20.

You can enter these cell locations either by typing them or by clicking (or, for ranges, clicking and dragging) the mouse.

7. Perform Logical Tests

Many times, you need to set a cell’s value based on the results of one of more other cell values. For instance, in the worksheet for the shipping supplies company, the Order Alert column is either blank (if there’s plenty of stock on hand) or it contains the Order Soon! warning (when inventory is getting low).

How can one cell display two possible values? By using a logical function. Each of these spreadsheet apps includes a number of logical functions; the three particularly useful ones below appear in all three apps.

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