12 iPad apps that mean business

The iPad isn't just for fun -- there are a number of serious applications that can help your business run smoother.

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Pocket Informant is a way to make sure that you're always on time.

FlightTrack Pro

Business travel is never easy, but Mobiata's FlightTrack Pro ($9.99) can help get you to the airport in time and alter your itinerary when your plans change or flights are canceled. It can track detailed travel plans along with arrivals, departures, delays and other information at 3,975 airports and for 1,462 airlines worldwide. (However, it doesn't work with multimode trips that include train, bus or car travel.)

You start by entering your flight number and either the three-letter airport code or your destination city and picking from available airports.

If you use the TripIt service, FlightTrack Pro can automatically add all the details. The program can not only show any plane en route and the weather along the way, but will also display all the relevant info about the flight's status.

I particularly like the program's Airport Board View. It shows a facsimile of the departure board from any airport so you'll be the first to know when a flight is late or canceled.

If you're stranded with a flight that's going nowhere, FlightTrack Pro can help you find the easiest alternate flight. Any info on FlightTrack Pro can be shared via Facebook or Twitter or by a good old-fashioned email with colleagues back at the office or those waiting for you at your destination.

Bottom line

If you find yourself with time to kill between flights, just shake the iPad and it will track a random flight for you, which is oddly absorbing. With all the different ways you can get from here to there and back again, FlightTrack Pro can turn any business traveler into an air traffic controller.

Desktop Connect

Antecea's Desktop Connect ($14.99) lets you view the files you need when you're away from the office. The $15 app works with Windows, Mac and Linux.

Because Desktop Connect has to take over the host computer, setup is a little complicated and takes about an hour. After that, however, the application is easy to use. The app uses password protection and 128-bit encryption to safeguard your data.

You start by configuring the host computer to run Virtual Network Computing (VNC) software, which is available for Linux, Windows and OS X; or Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which runs on all Windows versions except the Home and Starter editions of Vista and Windows 7.

I had a little trouble configuring the software -- it didn't work on the first few tries. However, with a little help from Antecea's tech support crew, I was able to connect with a Windows 7 desktop and a Mac Mini.

Once Desktop Connect is running, your entire desktop is replicated on the iPad. There's an option to automatically lower the resolution to make it fit better on the pad's screen. All it takes is tapping one button to get back to your office PC. You can't download files, but anything that can be viewed on the host can be seen and saved as a screenshot.

Bottom line

As with other remote control programs, the action is a little slow and awkward at times. After a little practice, Desktop Connect gives you a liberating feeling when you know that anything you left behind can be viewed on the road.

OmniGraphSketcher for iPad

Do you need complex graphs to make that presentations sing -- even though you have the artistic talent of a slug? The Omni Group's OmniGraphSketcher for iPad ($14.99) can turn numbers into beautiful infographics.

There's a helpful introductory tutorial and video to get you started -- however, OmniGraphSketcher's four-step interface is one of the easiest I've worked with.

You can copy and paste your numbers in place or manually add them by tapping on a blank graph. OmniGraphSketcher turns your numbers into a good-looking chart or graph using a number of formats, including a line graph, bar graph or area graph. You can add colors, labels and captions.

The program arranges its color schemes in palettes that are named for artists like Mondrian and Hokusai. You can try out a new color combination or graphing style and, if it doesn't look right, just try something else.

It took me 10 minutes to create two professional-looking sales graphs for an imaginary new product that might be used in a marketing report or sales presentation. Unfortunately, OmniGraphSketcher is limited to creating static representations of the data -- I would have loved to have been able to create an animated graph.

You can also update your data and the graph changes to reflect the new numbers -- or just drag the elements in the graph to the new shape. (Although I found the latter method an efficient way to create graphs -- sort of graphic finger painting -- it turned out to be difficult to highlight the exact areas I wanted to change, particularly when I was on a bumpy train ride.)

When you're done, the graph can be duplicated, saved as a .PDF or .JPG file and emailed to your co-workers or dropped into a presentation or report. At any time you can swipe through a gallery of your finished or in-progress items, making it easy to find past projects.

Bottom line

By being able to create such a variety of professional-looking graphs, OmniGraphSketcher lets the numbers do the talking.

On-Core Time Master

If you're a freelancer who has to bill for your time or you need some help with time management or expense tracking, On-Core Software's On-Core Time Master can help you make the most of every minute.

Time Master is one of most customizable programs I've ever used. Getting started was quick; the app comes with explanatory videos and clear documentation.

Clients can be entered individually, from the iPad's contact app or by importing a comma-separated file. Activities can be set up by time or duration, or by punching in and out in on the fly for a single event. Tasks can be billed in a variety of ways, and the program can track multiple items by client, project or task. Payment can be based on hours, minutes or even seconds.

When you start timing a new task, a green circle starts spinning. It continues to time your work even if you're using the iPad for other things. Just tap on the rotating circle to stop or restart the timer.

Time Master lets you note whether expenses are reimbursable, whether you have a receipt and whether it's taxable. You can add expenses based on everything from how much you drive on the job to the number of pages you print for a client. Basically, anything that can be counted can be charged as an expense and sent as an email or exported as a comma-separated data file.

While it can't be set to trigger an alarm when you've hit a preset monetary or time limit on a project, the app can deliver detailed reports for your own records or for attaching to an invoice.

On-Core sells add-on modules for QuickBooks ($6) and for creating professional-looking invoices ($10). You can also add the ability to synchronize with another device -- for example, with your iPhone -- for another $7.

Bottom line

Building your day around Time Master can help you make the most of your time.

Network Utility

If you need to monitor how your company's network is operating, then you'll want to download Codepacity's free app Network Utility onto your iPad. It can not only interrogate a corporate LAN but can test the network's performance and show what's going on behind the scenes.

Originally designed for the iPhone, Network Utility occupies half of the iPad's screen, but you can hit the 2X button to fill the screen. It gets a little fuzzy, and part of the main screen doesn't quite fit, but everything is readable.

The software allows an iPad to connect with a corporate LAN via a Wi-Fi link; all you have to do is type in your network's host address.

You can run a ping test, which sends a data packet to the server and times how long it takes for the round trip. Network Utility actually performs a series of four separate ping tests and displays the results. However, it stops short of averaging them, which would be a great thing to have if you were troubleshooting a problem or looking for a congested network port.

In addition, Network Utility can scan ports within a specified range to see who's using what and check on intermittent faults. It also runs a whois query to check on the domain name behind the IP address. The software can not only display the iPad's IP address, but also check on a LAN's host name and find its external address.

On the downside, one thing Network Utility can't do is run a simple broadband test to gauge the connection to the Internet. You'll have to use Ookla's free SpeedTest.net Mobile app to do that.

The best part is its price. Network Utility is a freebie, but it inserts small ads at the bottom of the screen. For 99 cents, the Pro version goes ad-free.

Bottom line

In either form, Network Utility is perfect for IT people who need to roam from facility to facility.

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer based near New York and is the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

This story, "12 iPad apps that mean business" was originally published by Computerworld.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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