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.

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RSM app review: Wunderlist

I have been a long time user of “to do” lists, both at home and at work. Making a list of the things I need to get done is the best way for me to keep my world organized.  When I started working at my current job, I was introduced to a formal list making program by the folks at Franklen-Covey.  Once I got my very own Franklin Planner, I never looked back. I am never without it.

Once my family gave me my original iPad, I started to think that perhaps I could replace the physical planner with an electronic one on the iPad (and hopefully the iPhone).  I’ve been searching for a while, and I think I might have finally found my replacement. Let me walk you through all of the apps I’ve tried and my thoughts on their usefulness.

The first app I tried to use was Evernote. I still think that Evernote is an awesome app and gets daily use on my iPhone, iPad, and my Mac to share bits of this or that as I coordinate my life. The synchronization between all of my computers makes it a hit. I can use it from whatever Apple device I find myself using at the time, and all of the data is gathered into one place.  It’s a great way to gather data  into topics for use later. I’ve taken to using it as an invaluable tool in the planning of our Family Disney World vacations.  But it’s not a to do list app. It’s too much for that. I need something a bit more simple that just does lists.

Then I tried a series of apps specifically called “to do” or “getting things done” apps. All of them let you manage lists and some offered the ability to put those lists into related folders, but none of them were easy to use. I kept using my physically planner, hoping I’d eventually find something. Among them were: Nubi Do, Toodledo, and Apple’s Reminders. I thought that both Nubi Do ($4.99) and Toodledo (free) did what I wanted but I didn’t care for the interfaces. I actually started to use the Reminders app (also free) at the beginning of the year as an experiment, but since I am not yet moved to the iCloud, I couldn’t sync between all my devices so I stopped using it.

Then I read a review on the blog of a fellow Disney fan, Kidani Katie, of a to do list called Wunderlist. As Katie puts it, this one is also free so it doesn’t cost you anything to check it out.  Immediately, I liked the interface. Versions are available for just about any platform, mobile or not, that you can think of. I downloaded it to my iPhone, my iPad and to my Mac OS X laptop. Even though I am an iOS fanatic to the core, I still find typing just a bit easier with a physical keyboard over a virtual keyboard. There, I said it, and I will deny having said it to anyone.

I started  by setting things up with the Mac OS X app interface. First, I set up a wunderlist account. This is how all of your lists will synchronize across your devices. Since I will be sending these lists up to a server, I am mindful not to include anything that I wouldn’t want to be saved to a cloud interface. Next, I set up boxes for work, for home, for kids specific, etc. In my Franklin Planner, I’d categorize my to do list by splitting it into two: work and home. Wudnerlist allowed me to break that down even further.  Then I went about figuring out how to enter to do items. It took me a few minutes of tinkering to figure out how to link those to do items with a date. If they are entered under the boxes they don’t have a due date. You have to put those in by hand.

Once everything was set up, I logged into the wunderlist app I’d installed on my iPhone using the same account I’d set up on my OS X machine.  After a little bit of syncing, all of the boxes and to do items I’d created on my Mac magically appeared.

Mac OS X interfaceI found the iOS interface to actually be a bit more intuative than the Mac OS X interface. It was easier for me to add information (notifications, due dates, categories, notes) to individual to do items via the iPhone than on my Mac just because of the layout on iOS. In spite of not initially thinking I’d use the iPhone interface other than to add or check off the occasional items from my lists, I actually do most of my list making on the iPhone. I think that once everything was set up the way I wanted it to be, that day to day entering is simpler on the iPhone.

My great experiment really started when I noticed half way through my day that I had left my Franklin Planner in a bag in my car. I hadn’t even needed it.  I did all my lists entirely electronically and aside from some notes I took in a notebook in a meeting, I didn’t even need paper.

It’s been about a month now, and I can safely say that the iPhone has replaced my Franklin Planner in tracking my to do list. It’s always with me; fits in my purse; is on my night stand. In fact, I use the iPhone more than the iPad to do my list tracking because it is the thing that I always have on hand.

If you are looking for a getting stuff done to do list tracking app, I’d heartily recommend you give wunderlist a try.

Enjoy,

RSM