Technology Update

Cheap stocking stuffers for business users of the iPad

A keyboard case and applications for working with Microsoft Office documents should be top choices

By Davis Janowski

Dec 16, 2012 @ 12:01 am (Updated 2:23 pm) EST

Zaggfolio keyboard and case for the iPad 3 & 4.
Zaggfolio keyboard and case for the iPad 3 & 4. Zagg Inc.

So you bought yourself an iPad or are planning to this holiday season.

Financial advisers who plan to use their iPads for work while traveling probably will want two things sooner rather than later: a physical keyboard and an office productivity suite.

There are lots of choices in both these categories, but I will focus on two solid solutions for each.

The best news is how inexpensive these are.

An iPad keyboard will cost $100 on average. I purchased my Zagg through Amazon.com on special for $80 and couldn't be happier.

And the office applications are even less expensive: $20 to $30 apiece.

PHYSICAL KEYBOARDS

Quickoffice Pro HD for iPad, for creating or working with Microsoft Office documents on the iPad.
Quickoffice Pro HD for iPad, for creating or working with Microsoft Office documents on the iPad. Quickoffice Inc.

Even the most talented typists will have a difficult time reaching 60 words per minute on the iPad's onscreen keyboard. And having the onscreen keyboard open wastes valuable screen real estate.

There are dozens of physical-keyboard models out there, and at least half a dozen reputable manufacturers.

First, advisers should know that no matter what hardware they select, they must make sure that their iPad model is compatible with the keyboard.

Here are two safe, easy keyboard picks. Both offer long-lasting, built-in batteries that charge off a powered USB port and have easy-to-set-up Bluetooth connections.

The Zagg Zaggfolio (for iPad) has been around for a few years, and models are available for both older and the most recent models of the device. Its manufacturer-suggested retail price is $99, but you can find plenty of deals online for less. I have used mine for months. I like the feel of the keys, which are springy yet soft and quiet. It is also compact, and while it's a bit more cramped than a desktop keyboard, I have gotten used to it.

Logitech has been making computer peripherals for decades and it sells a few of the most popular iPad keyboards available. In fact, two editors at InvestmentNews have them and said that they would purchase their units again. A solid choice, in terms of usability, is the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover (for iPad). It sells direct for $99 but can also be found online for less. It provides less protection than the Zagg keyboard, which covers the rear of the iPad, but it does protect the screen with a magnetically attached cover.

My favorite feature, though, on both these devices is their long battery life. Each has a sealed on-board lithium ion battery that can be used for dozens of hours of continuous use on a single charge.

The included micro-USB cable plugs into the device and then any available powered USB port for charging (say, on a desktop computer, embedded display port, laptop, stand-alone hub, etc.).

I spent years tinkering with portable keyboards for personal digital assistant devices that ran on quickly drained AA or AAA batteries.

The Zagg and Logitech keyboards also have automatic power management features that put them to sleep.

I have gone two weeks of fairly frequent use without having to charge my Zagg.

MICROSOFT OFFICE

Quickoffice, Quickword app. Create, open and edit Microsoft Word documents, even track changes...all on the iPad.
Quickoffice, Quickword app. Create, open and edit Microsoft Word documents, even track changes...all on the iPad. Quickoffice Inc.

Here are two proven options for apps that replicate Microsoft Office.

First, a caveat: Neither of these apps approaches anywhere near the full feature set of Microsoft Office. For example, users aren't going to be running Microsoft Word or Excel Macros on either of them.

But for basic text or spreadsheet editing, either will do.

The obvious no-brainer for longtime Microsoft Office users in this mobile-alternative space is Quickoffice Pro HD (for iPad). It is from Quickoffice Inc. which is owned by Google Inc.

As to why it is a no-brainer, Quickoffice feels much more Office-like than Apple's iWork apps (see below). Longtime Office users will be able to start working with it in minutes.

It is also inexpensive, at $19.99, and includes within the single suite a text editor, spreadsheet app and presentation app.

Also, Quickoffice provides integrated access to remote services such as Box.net, Catch, Dropbox, Egnyte, Evernote, Google Docs, Huddle, MobileMe and SugarSync, with others being frequently added. There is also a version of Pro HD available for Android tablets and Pro versions for iPhone/iPod Touch and Android phones.

Apple Inc.'s triumvirate of business productivity applications, iWork, isn't purchased as one suite but rather each separately for $9.99 from the iTunes App Store.

For the uninitiated, there is Pages, a text editor that will open Microsoft Word documents and allow you to save them in .doc or .docx format.

Longtime users of Apple software will feel right at home with the way the app is arranged, but those who have spent a career with Microsoft Word won't. For the latter, it will feel counterintuitive at first, but with patience, they should be comfortable in no time.

Numbers, a spreadsheet app, is more straightforward and probably will be more intuitive to learn for non-Apple people, and can open and save in Microsoft Excel formats.

One important point: Apple's own presentation software, Keynote isn't completely compatible with PowerPoint (here is a list of compatibilities/incompatibilities Apple put together). That could be a deal breaker for choosing Quickoffice if an adviser's firm remains PowerPoint-dependent and doesn't want to purchase both.

djanowski@investmentnews.com Twitter: @ddjanowski

For more information on the products discussed in this piece follow the links below:

Apple iWork

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

Quickoffice Pro HD for iPad

Zaggfolio

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