iPad screenshot of OnLive.
An iPad owned by a freelancer has just saved blushes at the BBC. When broadcast lines went down in Dubai, where its Test Match Special radio program is covering a series of five-day cricket matches between England and Pakistan, producer Adam Mountford reached for the iPad of freelance correspondent — and tech-lover — Jonathan Agnew. As a team of engineers battled to reconnect the wires, the BBC’s team of commentators passed the tablet between them, delivering ball-by-ball commentary through the iPad’s Skype app. Few freelance uses of the iPad are that dramatic, but with a little thought and a bit of planning it is possible to overcome the tablet’s limited storage and turn it into any freelancer’s mobile workstation. Here’s how to do it:
- Fill Your Desk
Clearly, the App Store is the place to start turning your tablet into a desk. There’s no shortage of apps that can help a freelancer. Back in November 2010, AppStorm managed to draw up a list of no less than 90 iPhone apps that a freelancer might want to use. Plenty more have been added since then and many have been updated for the iPad.
The apps you choose will depend on the kind of work you’re planning to do — and also in your taste in apps. Dropbox is irreplaceable but the dozens of note-taking apps available all do roughly the same thing; whether you want to make do with the iPad’s Notes app or buy Noteshelf, which also allows hand-drawn sketches, depends on how you like to work.
In general though, you can divide your freelancer apps into three folders:
a) JobSeeking Apps
Despite the convenience of being able to search for jobs anywhere, the number of freelance jobseeking apps is relatively few, most cost money and the majority are only optimized for the iPhone. Download all of them and you’ll get duplicate ads but you should load up on:
iFreelancer draws in ads from Elance, Freelancer, ODesk, Scriptlance and VWorker. It’s free for a month, then $1.99 for a basic package and $4.99 with unlimited push notifications.
Choose the categories on each site and you’ll be able to review gig opportunities across all the main freelance job platforms.
b) Note-Taking Apps
Search for “notes” in the App Store and you get a list of 1,213 note-taking apps optimized for the iPad. The most essential for freelancers though are:
Multiple notebooks, shared folders, smart website pasting and, best of all, automated syncing across platforms means that you can capture all sorts of notes, share some with clients and access the same notes whether you’re on the desktop, your iPad or your iPhone. The basic services are free but $5 per month buys lots additional features that you probably won’t use.
Evernote is likely to be good enough for collecting ideas but if you like to sketch your thoughts then NoteShelf is a good buy. It costs $4.99 but you also get to lay out your notebooks in a neat iBooks-style bookshelf.
c) Work Apps
A jobseeking app will let you pitch for gigs when you’re away from your desk and a note app will let you put down your thoughts. But when you’re actually looking to do the work itself, you need something heavier.
For serious productivity, you’ve got two options:
i. Download a standalone app:
Apple’s own Pages app looks pretty and syncs automatically with iCloud. It will allow you to do some basic formatting and if you’re using iWorks on a Mac, the syncing will be smooth and easy.
If you’re using a PC and Microsoft though, you’ll struggle. Download a Word-formatted document from iCloud and you’ll lose the formatting from Pages. (There’s even a nasty little bug that means documents uploaded from Word disrupt the link between finger position and the cursor: use your finger to place the cursor and editing starts half a line away.) Nor is there a direct way to move Pages documents into a DropBox folder.
There are alternatives. DataViz’s DocumentsToGo plays nicely with Microsoft Office and syncs automatically to a desktop folder but is a bit clunky, and Office 2 HD wins lots of praise but is said to mangle some Word documents exported from Word 2008 for MAC. It also doesn’t recognize the cursor keys on the Apple keyboard.
ii. Use a cloud app.
A couple of new apps have now made it possible to access Office tools as powerful as those on your desktop. OnLive Desktop looks the most impressive. The app provides access to a Web-based desktop running Windows 7, complete with Word 2010, Excel and Powerpoint, as well as Paint, Calculator and Microsoft Surface Collage. In short, you get access to a complete Microsoft Office suite for free provided you use less than 2GB of storage. But the app is known for having connectivity problems and files are stored in an online folder which then have to be downloaded from desktop.onlive.com. Much more convenient is:
CloudOn might not look as nice as OnLive but it has one killer feature: it syncs with DropBox. Instead of having to download documents from a Web browser, deleting the previous version from your desktop, CloudOn uses DropBox as its default file system. It’s so much easier — and free too.
- Connect Your iPad to Your Computer
Piling productivity apps into your iPad and using a Bluetooth keyboard will all help tablet-using freelancers to find work, take notes and smoothly use their iPads as adjuncts to their main computers. The best solution though is easier still. If you know you’re going to be in a place with a reliable Internet connection:
On a PC, open Control Panel > Hardware & Sound > Power Options > Edit Plan Settings.
Under the Plugged In option next to Put the Computer to Sleep, choose Never.
From the App Store, purchase and install Splashtop on your iPad. (It costs $4.99).
Download the Splashtop’s free desktop streamer.
Sync the app with the streamer and you’ll be able to access all of the tools and files on your main computer wherever you have Internet access, using your iPad as a remote control.