RSM Research: Traveling with iPad only, writing apps

My Mom and Step Dad are about to head on off to the great state of Alaska for a two week vacation. They both have MacBook Pros but recently got iPad2s when the price dropped upon the release of the new iPad. They are long time iPhone users, so they know their way around iOS.

They’d like to travel light, but they also want to email and keep in touch with family while they are on the road, so they want to take only the iPads with them and leave the laptops at home.

Staying Connected

For the most part, I think they can. They can read email, surf the web when they are within a free wi fi hot spot, assuming their hotel and Bed and Breakfast locations have wi-fi. For non network requiring apps, they can play on the road and outside of networks. My Step Dad bought the iPad 2 with 3G and plans on turning on the month of service from AT&T before they go. I will be out of town when they leave, so I am encouraging him to actually go to an AT&T store and have them turn on the 3G service this first time. That way he has someone to walk him through the process.

Writing on the iPad

The primary reason both my Mom and Step Dad wanted to bring their laptops along was to write. They both have some writing to do for work and fun while they are traveling, so I spent last night researching potential options of writing apps on the iPad. My quick searching last night yielded three apps I am testing out, two of which I have installed on their iPads and hope that they can actually use.

Pages

Naturally, Apple’s flagship iWork application, Pages, is the first app I thought of. However, I am not sure how to get the documents from Pages to somewhere else with iDisk going away. I haven’t upgraded my own MobileMe account to iCloud yet so I I haven’t tested how Pages is integrated with iCloud. As far as I know, Pages doesn’t support Dropbox storage. Given the short timeframe I have to find and test out an app, I’ve ruled out Pages for now. The $9.99 charge for the app when I don’t know if it will do what they need helped with that decision.

PaperDesk

A few weeks back, iMore reviewed and recommended the app PaperDesk for the iPad. I had been looking for a good note taking app that would have both stylus/drawing capabilities as well as typing abilities. I’ve used it to take notes in meetings a few times, and found it to be responsive and fairly straightforward to use. You can get the paid for version for $3.99 and a free lite version. I gave both my Mom and Step Dad a quick tutorial and then let them play with the app for a few minutes on my iPad2 before decided to purchase the paid for both of them. I liked how quick the pen responded to figure gestures on the iPad’s screen. The insertion of photos was seemless and as long as you were good at placing the curser where you wanted text to start, the typing also seemed to work well. It was the syncing to dropbox was the deciding factor for me, but the ease of creating notebooks as well as picking the email option as a way to transfer files. Hopefully they will actually get some use of the app.

PlainText

I rounded out the testing with a free app called PlainText by Hog Bay Software because it is specifically designed with DropBox text editing in mind. While I did download it for my Mom, I didn’t get a chance to test it out before my husband and I had to get the kids home for bath and bedtime. So, Mom is on her own. Since this one is free, hopefully she will be able to tinker with it.

Dropbox

The linchpin to all of this, and the thing I never finished getting them set up on is DropBox. I had them both download the Dropbox app but didn’t get a chance to sign them up for accounts. Hopefully I can get it done before I leave for vacation, but if I don’t they will have to backup their documents with email.

Other options

While I didn’t even install it, Evernote was another option I considered. I dismissed it because in my opinion, unless you get the paid version, Evernote isn’t useful on an iPad when you’re traveling and not on a wi-fi network.  You can write something local but once it’s synced up on Evernote’s servers, it becomes really difficult to add to that note. We had a headache using it on a recent trip because we the wi-fi we were using kept dropping the signal so we couldn’t access any of our previously written notes. I wished the app cached more on the iPad.

Hopefully all will go smoothly, because my husband and I (the resident Mac and iOS tech support for my family) will be as far in the continental US from my Mom and Step Dad on their Alaskan vacation as we can be.

Wish us all happy travels and lots of good luck!

RSM.