You may have asked yourself, can I use my iPad for work? Working on an iPad is easily achieved if you follow these handy tips on how to work on iPad. We break down using your iPad online, cloud storage for iPad, the best productivity apps for iPad, the best iPad apps and the best accessories for working on iPad.
The iPad is one of Apple’s most sublime technological creations. Since its introduction in 2010, perceptions of what it can do have changed. You can watch Netflix and sort out emails, but we’ve come to realise there’s a lot of power under the hood of the iPad that sometimes goes unused.
This article was written in the wake of Apple's iPad Pro. It concentrates on how to get the most out of your non-Pro iPad. Sure, Apple’s latest and, arguably, greatest Pro tablets are the ones the company says can act as a laptop-style machine as well as a tablet. But it ships without a keyboard, and its iOS set up means there’s no option for a trackpad or mouse. It’s not dissimilar to the regular iPads that most of us have lying about the place at home or in our briefcases at work.
So what about the majority of us who own a non-Pro iPad? iPad sales have slowed in recent years not because the device is less captivating, but because we all simply don’t need to upgrade as often as one might with a phone or even a laptop.
If you own an iPad or iPad mini, you might be wondering if you can use it for work. Whether you’re a teacher, writer, businessperson, student or even a chef, you can definitely ask yourself whether your iPad might actually be able to do all – or most – of what a laptop can.
When you do ask yourself, your answer should be yes, it can.
You can skip to individual sections that are hyperlinked below that explain various aspects of how to best use your iPad for working. Otherwise, get that cup of tea ready and scroll on through…
Even though the first iPad launched in 2010, in six short years Apple has done its best to not only ensure millions of people buy one, but also confuse most of those people with its tangled product line. Air, mini, 3, what? You may not even be entirely sure which iPad you have.
Luckily, that doesn’t matter. Whether you’re still on the first iPad (unlikely but possible) or the latest iPad Air 2, all the advice in this article and subsequent click throughs will apply to you. Just make sure that if you’re looking for physical accessories that you go for ones that are definitely compatible with your model.
Here is the full range (minus the iPad Pro, of course). Click on each one for the Macworld review.
- iPad 1, iPad 2, iPad 3 and iPad 4
- iPad mini 1, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3 and iPad mini 4
- iPad Air 1 and iPad Air 2
Find out which iPad you have in this handy guide.
For most of us these days in order to get our work done we need a decent Internet connection. Web browsing and emailing depend on it for a start. Depending on where you’re working, this will usually depend on having a Wi-Fi connection.
If you have an iPad with cellular capabilities, you will be able to connect to the Internet using a 4G/3G connection, providing your SIM is registered to a network provider.
For the rest of us, and the majority of iPad users, this won’t be the case as you’ll have an iPad that is Wi-Fi only. You can connect to Wi-Fi at work or at home, but what about when you’re out and about? Provided you have a smartphone with a data plan, you can use your phone as a hotspot and connect your iPad to it for remote working.
Here's our guide on how to create an iPhone hotspot.
In a similar fashion, you can also get a mobile Internet connection by purchasing a Mi-Fi hotspot. See: Mi-Fi hotspots explained over at PC Advisor.
If you’re using your phone or Mi-Fi to go online, you’ll probably want to be wary of how much data you’re using. Here's how to stop running out of data on your iPhone.
While an older iPad will work well for basic work tasks whatever version of iOS you’re using, the most recent iOS 9 is preferable if you are to wring every possible feature out of it. It’s a mobile operating system, but, of late, is becoming just as versatile as its desktop cousin OS X.
Here’s our guide to iOS 9, which contains useful tips and tricks to help you improve your workflow.
The great thing about iOS, if you have an iPhone and/or Mac is the synchronisation across devices. If you have contacts on your iPhone, say, they will sync with your iPad so you always have them at your fingertips. Be sure to take advantage of this; using the Notes app is another good way to take notes in meetings on your iPad. You can then access them any time on any of your Apple devices, provided you save your notes to iCloud within the app.
Given the portability and wireless access nature of the iPad, it’s a good idea to base your workflow in cloud storage. Of course, it depends if your company has a file storage policy, so it may be that you have to save files on the go in order to work on them on an iPad. However, many mainstream cloud services such as Google Drive integrate well into the file systems of PCs and Macs, so you can still organise files as normal and yet access them from multiple devices.
With an Internet connection on your iPad, you can then access all your work via the cloud – this is especially handy if you own a low storage (i.e. 16GB) iPad, as you can work on full versions of files without needing to save them to the on-board memory, which would soon fill up with video, audio and image files. It also means you can pick up unfinished work on your computer or even on your phone at any time.
We’d recommend using cloud storage such as Google Drive or iCloud for working with an iPad, as if you’re familiar with a computer’s traditional file system, this isn’t something that translates to the tablet. With an iPad you don’t really have a view of the file system, and file storage is limited to the apps they were created in. With a cloud storage app, you are given a more familiar, top down view of files, making the transition to working on your iPad that much easier.
Here's a full guide on the best cloud storage services from our colleagues at PC Advisor.
Obviously you’ll need to get set up with email for iPad if you aren’t already. Apple’s bundled Mail app is a clear, clean way to keep your emails all organised. You can add personal as well as work emails from several different providers, too. Here tips and tricks for Mail in iOS 9 on Macworld.
The term ‘productivity’ is both wide-ranging and ambiguous – what you the individual might consider a productive app will differ for the next person.
Productivity apps can refer to suites of products from a specific company, such as Apple, Microsoft or Google, or it can refer to single, useful apps like Evernote or Todoist. Both of these, buy the way, are great apps to organise your work, take notes, and cathartically tick things off as you go.
Once file storage is sorted, you’ll want to consider if you want to use a set of productivity tools. The main example is Microsoft Office 365. It is so-called because you purchase it on an annual (or monthly) basis. The days of buying a £100+ CD-ROM to install software are all but over. But don’t be put off by the rolling cost.
An Office 365 Personal subscription at £5.99 per month gets you Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive and Outlook for 1 PC or Mac, 1 tablet and 1 phone. With 1TB of cloud storage for OneDrive and constant software updates for all programmes, you have the full Office suite across all your devices – including your iPad.
You can pay either £5.99 on a monthly basis, or £59.99 for the year. You can purchase either of these packages here.
We recommend the monthly approach at first as it can be cancelled at any time if you find yourself not using it. Also, you’ll need the licence to create and edit on the Word for iPad app. Even though it’s free to download initially for the tablet, it will only act as a viewer until you pay up.
If you’d like to use Apple’s bundled productivity tools instead, they mirror Word, Excel and PowerPoint: Pages, Numbers and Keynote. These work excellently across the Apple ecosystem, so if you’re also a Mac and iPhone user, it might be preferable to use Apple’s own apps rather than bringing in Microsoft products – it depends what you prefer to use of course, too.
Check out our review of Pages for iPad on the full feature set
Check out our review of Numbers, which is for Mac but whose features translate to the iPad
And last but not least, here’s the skinny on Keynote for Mac – most features can be found in the iPad app
If you prefer Google then you can go that way too. If you personally have a Gmail account, or if your company email address uses Gmail servers, then it can be a good option, as you’ll automatically have minimum of 15GB Google Drive cloud storage. Docs, Sheets and Slides again mirror the famous Microsoft three, but differ to those and to Apple’s products on iPad as you have to save in the cloud – though you can allow certain documents to be available offline on your device if you know you’ll be without an internet connection at some point, and it’ll save work as you go even if you’re not connected to the Internet.
The apps all work well together, so if you’ve gone with Google Drive for your storage, it’s a good option.
Handy features include collaboration ability, so you can work and edit the same documents with others at the same time. You can also open, edit and save Microsoft Word documents if you prefer Office to get your work done, but want to save to Google Drive (which is something we do here at Macworld).
Whichever combination of cloud storage and productivity tools you go for, you should find it an effective way of working smoothly from your iPad.
The obvious place to start here is Skype, but there are a wealth of free video calling apps that will come in useful for working on an iPad.
Here is our guide to the best video calling services for iPad.
Whether it’s a meeting you need to be in, a chat with a colleague or an interview, these tools can be invaluable in the workplace.
Aside from consumer oriented services such as these, there are also free app downloads for business video services such as Webex and GoToMeeting.
You can download any of these directly from here – simply click the links from your iPad browser:
There’s also a handy piece of tech that allows you to remotely access your entire computer from your iPad. As long as your computer is on, even if it’s miles away at work, you can use a remote access app to literally control the computer and view it on your tablet.
Here’s our full guide on remote desktop access for iPad.
Here’s two more apps you’ll want to grab in order to do simple everyday work tasks:
View, annotate and sign PDFs (all you’ll ever do with them really) with Adobe’s free, easy to use software. Essential if you work with a lot of PDFs.
This is a great app if you want the convenience of a scanner day to day. Using the iPad’s camera you can scan images of documents, which the app then formats to appear as close to a paper document as possible. Very useful if you still work with a lot of paper.
And finally, here’s Macworld’s guide to all the best available free apps for iPad.
Working on iPad: Handwriting apps
Even though we’re not dealing with the artistically inclined iPad Pro here, there are handwriting apps available and also styluses that work with non-Pro iPads. Confused? Be less confused with these guides to handwriting apps and styluses for iPad. Just don’t buy an Apple Pencil – it only works with iPad Pros.
Working on iPad: On screen keyboards
Here’s a run down of the best alternative on screen keyboards for iPad to the built in Apple keyboards if you prefer certain styles and input techniques. These can be handy if you want to type directly onto the screen without a physical keyboard attachment.
Pairing your iPad with the right accessories is another great way of optimising it for getting work done. The most obvious and probably most useful is the addition of a physical keyboard.
You have a few options, and they will usually all connect to your iPad via Bluetooth. Here's our complete guide to the best iPad keyboards.
You can use Apple’s most recent standalone Bluetooth keyboard, which is the Magic Keyboard. For £79 it’s a tad pricey, but it’ll connect to your iPad with ease, and as long as you’ve a case or stand, it’s an excellent keyboard for long form typing. Check it out here.
Just avoid the Apple Smart Keyboards – they only work with the iPad Pros.
Styluses, as discussed, are a great way to input writing onto iPad. But also if you’re used to working with a mouse, you may miss it given iOS does not require one for input. A stylus could be a way around this if you prefer selecting actions with one rather than your fingers. Here again are the best styluses for iPad.
A decent case can be vital for working on iPad. If you prefer a standalone Bluetooth keyboard for example, you’ll need a case that allows you to stand your tablet in a landscape position in order to write.
There are also cases for use around the office, like Native Union’s Gripster. It’s very versatile, as you can use the back piece as a stand, a handle for carrying between meetings or as a grip to use iPad without fear of dropping it. It’s available for iPad Air 1 and 2, and iPad mini 2 and 3.
Here’s a link to our guide to the best cases for iPad.
We’ve split it up into models of iPad, so once you’ve found yours, you’ll be able to click through again to a round up of our favourites. Something for everyone, no matter your work style.
An organiser-style case is also a good idea if you want to carry around your iPad with a few accessories. A great choice is the Twelve South BookBook Travel Journal – a lovely leather organiser exactly for this purpose. You can carry your slate, charger, cables, headphones, a stand and more. It’s available here on Amazon.
You may be after a couple of extra Lightning cables to attach your iPad to power in various places; office, meeting room, bedroom, study. Here’s a run down of the best iPad Lightning cables.
If you have an iPad 1, 2 or 3, you’ll need to get a 30-pin cable instead. You can pick one up from Amazon here very cheap.
Another handy accessory you might want is an adapter that allows you to use your iPad with a larger display. If you have a monitor or a TV that you can easily work from, particularly if you have to work otherwise on the small screen of an iPad mini, the right adapter and cable can solve this problem.
The Apple Lightning Digital AV adapter is most likely the one you’ll need – it plugs into the Lighting port on your tablet and has an HDMI port that you can use with an HDMI cable to link to your TV or display. Pick up an HDMI cable here if you need one.
This set up is great for working, however be warned – the device does block many on-demand streaming services, so don’t expect to be able to use it to put Netflix, BBC iPlayer and the like on your big screen.
For other connectivity options, check out Apple’s full range of adapters.
Battery packs can range in size from those able to top a smartphone in an emergency to full on beasts that can recharge laptops. You may want to consider investing in a decent sized one for your iPad if you travel a lot, or go to trade shows or meetings where a plug is hard to come by.
You’ll want to check out how big the battery in it is, this is measured in mAh. For an iPad, you should get anything above 10,000 mAh to make it powerful enough to help you out in a sticky power-based situation.
A good place to start is with the best battery packs guide by our colleagues over at PC Advisor.
Hopefully from this you’ll be a bit clearer on how to use your iPad for work, and can branch out into the pleasing land of useful apps and physical accessories that can turn Apple’s most versatile media consumption device into a powerful work tool. It goes to show that while of course the iPad Pro is well equipped to help you work well on a tablet, there’s definitely life in your older iPad when it comes to getting stuff done. Good luck!