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How To Use An iPad When It’s Not In Your DNA

Fortune magazine: Apple iPhone DNA, mosaic illustration for Fortune magazineProbably like many people in biotech, I’ve had a mixed history with computers, starting with Macs in academia, then moving to PCs at a company. I now find myself gravitating to Mac devices as the phone and tablet options appear to suit my needs better. Moving straight from a PC to an iPad has left me feeling as though I’m missing something, like there are tricks that Mac users have that I don’t know about. After testing different applications, I’ve been able to ‘catch up,’ to some extent, so I’m offering my iPad tips for PC users below. I would greatly appreciate any suggestions you have as well, please leave them in the comments below.

  1. Learn how to cut and paste. Just like in kindergarten, this is an important skill to learn on the iPad, and something that will drive you crazy when you first get it. The copying and pasting feature is done solely using the touchscreen and sometimes requires some finesse, I’ll point you to this video to show you the details. One thing that frustrates me to no end is that when I copy passwords from a document a space is sometimes added at the end, and needs to be removed before pasting. I have yet to find a good password solution across different devices other than password protected documents.
  2. Let go of the desktop. This ‘feature’ frustrated me to no end at first—there is no file system on the iPad, every file is associated with a program. Is this supposed to simplify our lives, like Apple’s 1-button mouse which they won’t give up? As a result, there is no ‘desktop’ or way to search for or open files without first opening the application. Moreover, if you open a file using different applications, more than one version of it will exist! The only way I know of to get around this is to use cloud-based applications such as Dropbox, and luckily many of the applications sync with it (Note to self: invest in Dropbox). Using Dropbox obviates irritating activities such as file syncing via iTunes, something that takes ages for me. On a minor note, don’t try emailing yourself files from your PC–this rarely works for me, for some reason. One non-desktop problem you won’t get around is that you can’t download or upload files using browser-based apps. So, I was thwarted in my attempt to do Craigslist posting on my iPad, something I thought would be easy, because I couldn’t upload a photo. It is hard to know whether Apple will want us to use individual apps for each of these tasks, or develop a filesystem or workaround.
  3. Learn some housekeeping. As a windows user, the ‘ctrl-alt-delete’ keystroke is part of your DNA, or at least your epigenetics. What do you do with no keyboard, HALP! I’m sure even Mac users have been frustrated from time to time. Below are descriptions of how to perform some housekeeping tasks which will hopefully simplify your iPad experience.
    • Kill an application. Double-click the round ‘home’ button, and the running applications will appear at the bottom of the screen. Hold your finger over the application until it begins to waver and has a red circle with a minus sign in the top right corner. Touch this red circle to kill the application.
    • Delete an application. On the home screen, touch the application until it begins to waver and has a black circle with an ‘X’ on the top left. Touch this black circle to delete the application.
    • Reboot the iPad. Press and hold the sleep/wake button (on the side) for a few seconds until the ‘slide to power off’ option appears. If this does not work, press and hold the sleep/wake button and the home button simultaneously for 10 seconds.
    • Find file sizes. I recently filled up my iPad and wanted to delete files. Due to lack of a desktop and the inability to find files (grrr!) I had to go to each application to see their associated file sizes. To find sizes for applications, go to the app store, select ‘purchased’ and choose the application, and the size will be shown on the left.
    • Take a screenshot. Press and hold the home and the sleep/wake button at the same time. You’ll hear a click, then find the file in your photos (linked from an icon at the bottom of the home screen).
    • Group applications on the home screen. Drag one application on top of another and it will become a group. The iPad will choose a name for you, but you can change it if you’d like.
  4. Test MS Office apps or emulators and use what suits you. There are many instances in which you need to use Microsoft Office products, and there is no substitute. I’ve heard complaints about the Mac office apps (Numbers, Keynote, etc.) and have yet to have a business colleague expect me to use anything but MS Office. Unfortunately Google Docs may leave you cold, both the mobile and desktop versions leave out important functions and can be laborious to use on the iPad. I’ve tried the Office apps and provide some pros and cons in the table below, and likely you’ll need to try them yourself to see if they meet your needs. Note that I tested the apps with an external keyboard (here’s the one I’m using, I’m happy with it), and you may want to consider getting one to do ‘serious’ business applications, as the on-screen keyboard will be intrusive for many tasks. If you’re going on a business trip, be sure to try the programs beforehand, with and without an internet connection.
    Microsoft Office Applications for the iPad
    MS Office Application Price Pros Cons
    QuickOffice $20 More fully featured than DocsToGo •Cannot read password protected files

    Cannot edit powerpoint 2007 files(Newest version can, April 2012)

    DocsToGo $10-17 Many features, simple interface •Powerpoint: can only edit slide text
    •Not as fully featured as QuickOffice
    CloudOn Free MS Office apps are more functional than in most other apps, see screenshot •Requires internet connection
    •Some features absent, e.g., inserting images.
    GoToMyPC
    (Portal, not freestanding)
    $10/month Almost completely native control of your computer, access to
    files
    •Requires internet connection and PC to be online
    •Navigation can be tedious, slow


  5. Keep looking, asking, and testing. Unlike established platforms like the PC, there are no monopolies and application prices are low. However, this means you do need to look around and find apps which will suit your needs. I’ve realized that you get out of the iPad what you put into it. I have a few power Mac users which I consult (@modernscientist and @thecancergeek) and you can also just browse the app store or do Google searches for what you need. For example, I recently switched from the default Safari browser to the Atomic browser and I find it much better–don’t take any crap from your apps, shop around! We’ve also started a Twitter hashtag #scipad to discuss apps and tricks that those in academia or industry have found, whether they be science-related or not, as many of us have to do similar tasks. If you’re looking for life science iPad apps, check out this summary.

Note: My inspiration for this post is my Dad, as he just got an iPad for my Mom and himself. He started me on my first Texas Instruments computer when I was around twelve years old. He is a classic lifelong learner and I hope to be just like him when I grow up!

Image courtesy of Photobucket user Tsevis.

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5 Comments
  1. You may want to try LastPass. LastPass is a password manager that works great between platforms and browsers. I know they have an ipad app, but I have not tried it yet.

    https://lastpass.com/

  2. Thanks Javier! I tried KeePass and it crashed on the iPad, also looking into Keeper. Looks like LastPass is available on the iPad for premium members but I haven’t checked it out.

  3. Thanks Mimi. I wil try to live up to your expectations. I already like the keyboard. Now if I can just control my screen touches. Dad

  4. For a password manager, I use 1Password–works and syncs on all iDevices and desktop Macs. It’s not free, but worth the price.

  5. There’s a much easier way to see what is taking up space on your iPad — open the Settings app, then go to General, then to Usage.

    On that screen you can look at iCloud storage, as well as local storage.

    It may take a moment to populate the list of info, but you get to see how much each app takes up. If you have a lot of apps, it only shows the biggest apps at first, but you can see the complete list by tapping Show All at the bottom of the list.

    You can also tap on any item to see how many megabytes or gigabytes is taken up by the app itself, and how much by documents and data.

    The documents and data you can delete from right there, freeing up space without necessarily deleting the app itself.

    Hope that helps.

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