Monthly Archives: February 2017

iPad Journal: Using Numbers

One of the best apps on the iPad is Numbers. For anyone that needs spreadsheets it is essential. I've been using it since it was first introduced on the Mac and then as soon as it was available on iPad. I suspect that, based on some interactions I've had with acquaintances, Numbers is one of those apps that could benefit from some Apple iPad promotion. People seem to be unaware that it exists or, if they are aware of it, do not know what they can do with it. As David Sparks wrote in a recent article about iPad :

If Apple wants to see an increase in iPad sales, I think the answer is making them more useful and getting the word out. Apple should get serious about adding features to iOS that allows users to be more productive in getting their work done. On top of that, Apple should start demonstrating to the public with some its clever advertising how lots of normal people are getting work done on the iPad. I'm not talking about videos of people taking the iPad deep-sea diving but instead how people use it to make spreadsheets, write documents, and all the other work that most of us do to pay for our shoes.

A great example of putting Numbers to work is a client that recently needed some updates to labels for her hand-made soaps and lotions as well as updates to the order form her sales rep uses. As it turns out her order form had been put together by a previous designer using Illustrator. While it looked nice visually it was a mess to edit and was only functional when printed on paper. In conversation with her it became apparent that she would like for her sales rep to be able to enter the data right on her iPhone or iPad so that they could be quickly and easily emailed immediately after the order. The obvious choice was Numbers.

Within an hour I had a Numbers spreadsheet that looked nearly identical to the pretty form created in Illustrator but now she had a form that worked on device, would auto-calculate the total for each line item then calculate the total for each section and, finally, calculate the total amount of the order. No more hand writing and scanning. The whole process is easier and faster for both the sales rep and my client. Even better for my client (not so much for me), she can now update the items in the Numbers spreadsheet herself rather than hire me to do it.

This is the sort of easy to set-up and use workflow that the iPad is perfect for.

Another example would be a Numbers document I created to track my utilities usage. My tiny house shares a utility line with a cabin owned by my sister and her family. I'm a full time resident and they are part-time visitors on weekends. I've got a spreadsheet set-up that allows for easy entry of monthly usage, amount paid and various calculation fields do the work of sorting the payment amounts. I've also used it to keep track of all sorts of data for projects and interests including the membership roster for our local astronomical society, astronomical observing lists, a list of NASA missions and the Periodic Table of Elements.

Numbers is a great way to get started with spreadsheets. It may not be as powerful as Excel but I've found it meets (and exceeds) all of my needs and works great on the iPad. Like all iWork apps it also comes with some great templates that are often a great way to get started on a project. For folks that might need a larger feature set, Excel on the iPad may be the better way to go though I can't say much about it as I've not used it.

One way I hope to see Apple improve Numbers might also require an iOS change and that is to allow for two Numbers windows in split screen mode. I'm sure many would agree that there are times when having two spreadsheets open side by side would be very helpful. For example, I can easily imagine a business owner like my client mentioned above compiling a monthly report of sales in which case she might easily want two Numbers documents open at the same time.

I don't doubt that Apple has plans for such improvements and I'm looking forward to them.

Serenity at iMore is doing a column on people who use the iPad for work

She's already tweeted that she's had a great response within just hours of putting out the request: Use an iPad for work? We want to hear about it!

Hey iMore readers and friends! As part of my ongoing quest to explore working on the iPad Pro, I'm looking into starting a column interviewing folks who do a significant part of their job using an iPad. This doesn't mean the iPad is your only method for work — just that you're using it actively as part of your job.

Based on the screenshot of emails she provided it looks to be very promising. Apple really could and should be doing this sort of thing to promote the iPad1.

  1. I generally avoid statements about what I think Apple should or should not do as it makes me laugh when others do it. Generally speaking Apple seems to be doing a pretty good job over the past 15 years. But, given they've done practically nothing to promote the iPad I'm going to go ahead.

iPad Journal: Invoicing with FileMaker Pro

One of my common tasks as a freelancer is invoicing. I've used FileMaker Pro for this task for more than a decade. I host a custom built database on my Mac Mini which is shared and accessed on the local network via FileMaker Go on the iPad. FileMaker Go is an excellent app that lets me do almost anything the full version of FileMaker Pro does. It does not allow for editing the design of the database itself, which is to say, creating layouts, fields, etc. But I have full access to all data and can edit and add new records as I need.

Each client gets a record and then multiple invoices can be created for that client. Each invoice can have an unlimited number of line items added. When I'm ready to send the invoice I click a button which brings up a dialog and with one click to confirm I get a new email with the invoice attached as a pdf. I can then add any note into the body of the email and send. Simple and effective and done right from the iPad. The invoice get's marked as having been sent and dated. With a glance I can look at my invoice list and see those that haven't been paid as well as the outstanding balance for all invoices. If I need to find invoices in a certain time period it's easy as FileMaker Go has great search features. All of this from the iPad.

The only thing I need to use the Mac for is editing the design of the database which I do only rarely. But it's true that a Mac or Windows machine is necessary to add new fields, scripts, layouts or anything related to the building of a database.

Introducing the iPad Journal

As is often mentioned in the Apple-centric media that Apple does not do enough to promote the iPad. Specifically that Apple fails to tell the story of what people can do, are doing with the device. I've certainly become a bit obsessed with the iPad in the past few months. I've had one since the first day they were available to order but it took six years before it really clicked for me at which time I went from a consistent casual user to nearly full time user. In 25 years of using Apple tech I can say that this is my favorite device thus far and the one I'm most likely to be using at any given moment.

So, I'm planning an ongoing journal of sorts in which I'll share not just how I'm using the device day-to-day. I'd like to get into the tasks the device helps me tackle and the apps I find most useful in

the process. I want to tell the story of how and why the iPad has become my favorite and most used technology. Lots of others are doing the same thing and I intend to link to what they are doing as well.

For example, writer Matt Gemmell has recently gone "iPad only" and has written a fantastic series on the process. I highly recommend it. I follow Matt on Twitter as well and I really appreciate his take on things. I'll be sharing bits of what he's doing as he's got a great way of delving into specific areas and workflows that I find helpful.

Others are Federico Viticci and Fraser Speirs who have been hosting the Canvas Podcast which is all about being productive on iPad. Federico is well known as an iPad advocate and is the publisher of MacStories. He writes a pretty amazing review of each year's iOS update and is one of my favorites.

Then there is Serenity Caldwell, Rene Ritchie and iMore in general. Serenity or Rene use the full range of Apple tech but both use the iPad a lot and often write about it, especially Serenity. I've come to really appreciate iMore as a site that that tends to stay positive and one which increasingly focuses on how to use Apple tech rather than share rumors.

Most recently I've really enjoyed the writings of Matt Birchler at BirchTree. He uses an iPad Air 2 as his main machine. I expect I'll likely share some of his posts as well.

There are plenty of others.

Oh iPad, not again

As has become routine when Apple announces it's quarterly financials the Apple pundits have much to say about the iPad which has seen yet another decline in numbers. Most of it mirrors what has been said the past couple of years which is to say concern that Apple is not doing enough to develop the iPad part of iOS and also that not enough is being done by Apple to promote the iPad. I agree with both.

A lot has been written this week on the topic but the two I found the most useful were by Rene Ritchie and Khoi Vinh.

Rene's post was notable in that he hit on something that has really been bugging me, that the Apple-centric media has gotten into the bad habit of mostly writing for itself and analyzing Apple only from it's very narrow perspective. The problem with that is that it results in a very distorted and, frankly, wrong analysis. The general public thinks and behaves very differently. A part of why the Applesphere has gotten the iPad story wrong is because they have forgotten that the mainstream does not obsess about this stuff. They don't obsess over the details of the operating system nor do they update their computers every year or even every other year. It's a fun device with practical uses. There are at least 16 of them being used in my extended family but they don't get updated every other year. There are original iPads still in use as well as all the other versions. They are sturdy devices that are being used for multiple years before being replaced. As Rene pointed out:

That's what Steve Jobs meant when he called iPad the future of computing. His dream, and the consistent goal of Apple over the years, from Apple II to Mac to iMac to iPad, was mainstreaming computer technology. It's also why Jobs spoke of trucks and cars. iPad wasn't a PC, it was something that the majority of people would eventually find more practical than a full-on PC.

It seems pretty clear that at least a part of the reason that iPad sales have declined is that many were purchased over the first 3-4 years and those are still being used and many will continue to be used. An iPad 4 is good enough for my sister, my parents, my granny, my aunt, my uncle and so on. They very likely don't even know what version of iPad they have or what version of iOS it is running. Until it runs out of storage space they'll keep using it.

In his post The iPad Is Not Done, Khoi Vinh, says a bit more about the iPad as it relates to those of us that do more with the iPad than non-techies. Specifically that the iPad has much more potential with the refinement of iOS. This is a group of people that have spent more time thinking about the iPad as a tool and would like to do more but have found it lacking thus far or found it lacking three years ago.

However, I don’t find it plausible to conclude that just because the iPad isn’t growing right now that that means it can’t grow again. For me, it’s a fallacy to think that the iPad we have today represents the peak expression of what an iPad can be. Yes, you could argue that the trend towards larger smartphones and thinner laptops has robbed the iPad of some of its distinctive qualities, but that would really only be true from a hardware perspective. There’s loads of untapped potential in iPad software.

I think this group includes people that complain about the iPad not having this or that feature when in fact it does. People that may have tried it in the past and written it off fairly quickly. These are folks that take their computing seriously but want the power of an operating system they are used to. From 2011 to 2014 iOS was far more limited on the iPad. I suspect that many from this group have not given iPad a proper re-evaluation and may not have explored all of the features introduced with iOS 9. They still see the iPad as the device that was unveiled by Steve Jobs in 2010. They've long since given their iPads to their kids to use or have lost them on a shelf somewhere. They likely use a Mac and an iPhone.

This group also includes the people who are actively using an up-to-date iOS 10 iPad and are fully aware of the features and the shortcomings. This group sees the potential Vinh wrote about. Interestingly much of this potential might be realized with just a few additions such as drag and drop between split screen windows, multiple windows of the same application in split screen, and an improved application picker in split screen mode are all features I'd like and that I've seen mentioned repeatedly by others. Of course there's more but just a handful of these features would go a long way towards making iPad "power" users happy and more productive.

For myself, I certainly expect Apple will improve iOS for iPad. Of course they will. It just takes time. I expect much of what we've been longing for will be released with iOS 11 given that 10 was largely focused on the iPhone. And because I think the iPad is such a fantastic device I do also hope that Apple does more to tell the story of what a great tool it can be. It seems likely that 2017 will see this happen as both iPad Pro models are likely going to see updates. Combine those updates with iOS 11 and I think we will also see a renewed effort from Apple to re-introduce the iPad to the public. Only Apple knows at this point.