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Holiday Gift Guide: iPad apps & accessories for business

From one-person shops to giant enterprises, if businesses agree on anything right now it's "iPad Yay." The Apple tablet hasn't even reached the terrible twos yet, but it's clearly making its presence felt across countless verticals and different industries. For at least a couple of mobile professional writers (who might have been termed "ink-stained wretches" in times gone by), the iPad's capability as a writing tool has led it to largely replace their laptops for day-to-day work.

While consumers may be the drivers behind most iPad sales, chances are that the iPad-toting professional on your gift list is using his or her iPad for a combination of personal enjoyment and work tasks, so why not find a gift that supports and extends the biz savvy of everyone's favorite quasi-computer? Here's our brief list of gift ideas that you could conceivably write off on your taxes.

Cloudy Days

If your business iPad user is a sole proprietor or running a small business, they don't have to compromise about getting big-biz-level enterprise tools anymore. The same Google Apps or Box.com infrastructure that supports huge corporations can be theirs for a modest investment. Consider gifting a pro Dropbox account (50 GB is quite a bit of room to maneuver), or going with Box or Egnyte for more sophisticated file services & sharing. (Dropbox's Teams product is great, too, but requires more coordination with other colleagues.) Maybe a Pogoplug account, or a subscription to one of 37 Signals' highly-regarded services? If your businessperson is already a user of 37 Signals' Backpack business collaboration tool, the $9.99 Pouch app makes their iPad a fully-featured Backpack client. Another collaboration platform, Pagico, just released its official iPad app last week.

Then again, what we want from the cloud, often as not, is access to the files we have sitting right there on our computer at the office or at home. With the free Polkast service and iPad app, business users can quickly get to their PC or Mac storage over local networks or remotely as long as the computer is on. It's not the sort of thing that BigCorp IT departments find particularly appealing, but for a lean and mean solo operation or small team it might just do the trick. Speaking of big IT, the pricey ($29.99) but indispensable LogMeIn Ignition client makes it easy to remotely control one or hundreds of remote computers from the iPad's screen. If your gift recipient has to keep tabs on a lot of PCs, Ignition is a wonderful gift.

Hardware

Given that the iPad is mostly self-contained, unless your recipient is asking for specific accessories or gear there's not much to add to the list that is business-specific. The two notable exceptions come under the "input" and "output" departments.

For text-heavy users, a wireless physical keyboard may make the difference between frustration and joy. The Zagg and Logitech keyboard cases get a thumbs-up from Technologizer; our fearless leader Victor votes for the AmazonBasics Bluetooth keyboard, which at $44.90 is $25 cheaper than Apple's wireless compact keyboard.

While the folding Jorno keyboard remains vaporgear, Logitech is now shipping its $129.99 fold-up keyboard for the iPad 2, and I have to say it looks awfully tempting. Almost any Bluetooth keyboard will work reasonably well with the iPad, so if your giftee has a preference it should be honored.

As for output, it's all about presentation. Give your road warrior the $29 VGA and/or $39 Digital AV Adapter HDMI adapter cables and they'll be ready to hook up in the office or at a client, wherever there's a projector. Both adapters support mirroring with the iPad 2, so the full interface of the iPad can be shown on the screen.

Of course, anyone who's going to be tossing their iPad into a backpack or laptop bag will need a cover. Apple's Smart Cover does a fine job on the front, and there's a fair assortment of matching shells for the back. The choice may come down to personal (or professional) style.

Presentation & Meeting Apps

Speaking of presentation output, what busy professional doesn't have to throw down a few slides now and then? The unquestioned king of the hill when it comes to iPad-driven presentations is Apple's sleek and straightforward $9.99 Keynote -- in fact, you can't really go too far wrong by bundling all three iWork apps for the new iPad user. Still, Keynote is less effective if your giftee isn't Mac-based on the desktop side; the fidelity of PowerPoint file conversions is what I'd call 'adequate.' The QuickOffice Pro HD suite does a slightly better job of keeping PPT files (not PPTX, so be sure to save down) looking the way they should, although neither product supports all the fonts, animations and transitions you'd get from your laptop when presenting. Of course, with QuickOffice you get all three productivity functions in one app. (If you really truly need the full fidelity of PowerPoint 2010, keep reading.)

You can't always present in person, so don't forget the remote meeting apps. Fuze Meeting HD and WebEx for iPad both made Apple's Rewind list this year, and both are effective for video conferencing alongside content-centric presentations; Fuze even lets you upload presentation content from your iPad to the service on the fly, and run the meeting completely PC-free. Your iPad owner may already have a business account with a distance meeting service, so keep an eye out for the official app that matches their platform. Note that WebEx's tool does not support Training Center or Event Center programs, so if those features are important to you be sure to let them know. If your decks are already in the cloud with SlideRocket, the company's iPad viewer app is a must-have (and free).

The way things are headed, it's not out of the realm of possibility that your iPad owner might show up for a meeting where there's no projector, but where every other attendee has his or her own iPad. In that case, the tool to use is Condé Nast's Idea Flight. This "follow along" presenting tool works just as if you had handed out copies of your deck to 14 people -- but they can't flip ahead without permission, so they won't spoil your big reveal. Idea Flight ties into LinkedIn for contact sharing, meaning you'll never have to suffer the shame of not remembering the name of the next person at the conference table.

For unforgettable and unusual presentations, step away from the slide metaphor and go flying away with Prezi. While you need to author your 'cosmic zoom' presentations using the company's Flash-based web tool, the iPad viewer app works great for downloading and showing these wild and head-turning media experiences. Not every bit of dynamic content will play on the iPad, though, so be sure to leave time for experimentation.

If you need to be able to show PDFs and other documents in a pinch, the most flexible (and one of the oldest) apps in this category is GoodReader. While its interface has been variously described as "idiosyncratic," "quirky" and "unique but not in the good way," the power and flexibility it offers are unmatched. It's worth having on any business-use iPad just for all the various use cases it covers and the number of other apps you won't have to buy. The latest version adds AFP filesharing support and auto-sync, so Mac users with shared folders can automatically have a set of files copy over to GoodReader without intervention for reading/review on the road. GoodReader also supports nearly every cloud storage service imaginable, from Box to Dropbox to Google Docs to WebDAV. This app would be a bargain at $15, but at $4.99 it's a steal.

Travel & Expense

There's no way your iPad owner is going to shine at that big pitch meeting if they don't get there on time and on budget. Fortunately the iPad makes a killer travel assistant (and not just because you can play Madden or watch movies on it). For booking air travel, the indispensable Hipmunk app makes finding the least-agonizing itinerary as simple as tap and go (Kayak is also great for complex searches). Once you're booked, Tripit for iPad gives clarity and coherence to your travel plans, allowing you to keep flight schedules in-line with hotel, car and other bookings.

There are scores of expense-centric apps on the App Store, and I wish I could recommend a task-specific tool, but sad (or glad) to say I don't have to go any further than my Swiss Army app for all things remembery, the free Evernote app and cloud service (premium subscription optional). Forget the fact that all your notes and tidbits are handily synced to the cloud for easy access no matter where you roam; that's just the start. Evernote's astonishing OCR abilities on your sync'ed image-based notes mean that handwritten comments on receipts, boarding passes or hotel bills actually get recognized and indexed alongside the printed text.

Once you've had the experience of jotting a client name or a project code onto a restaurant bill, snapping a picture of it with the iPad 2's camera for Evernote to digest, and then searching back at the office for that client name only to have your scrawl-adorned note pop right up... well, I'll tell you, it's magical. This capability to do IRL tagging on the fly with nothing more than a ballpoint pen is one of many features that keep me perfectly happy with Evernote. For $55, you can gift a year of Evernote's premium service (though the free version is nothing to sneeze at), and get a snazzy t-shirt in the bargain. Evernote can even help you maintain your gift list and plan your holiday celebrations.

Notes & Text

Having mentioned Evernote enthusiastically, there are plenty more options all over the store for text-centric tasks. The multitalented Notability gives equal time to those who prefer writing by hand, while also supporting keyboard input, PDF annotation, audio recording and cloud synchronization; it's on sale for $0.99 this week (usually $4.99). If you prefer a more minimal notes app that includes the sound-to-text timeline, check out SoundNote. Meteor Notes also adds some interesting features to the party. The free or $1.99 (lite vs. pro) app delivers a familiar folder paradigm, easy search and organization plus Dropbox sync.

Of course, the iPad's onboard Notes app is capable of syncing with iCloud, Google mail or Exchange, and there's always Apple's Pages app. But then again, Evernote.

Remote Access & Virtualization

Aside from the aforementioned LogMeIn Ignition, there's no shortage of solid remote access clients all over the App Store. Wyse's $14.99 Pocket Cloud Pro/free Pocket Cloud gets my personal thumbs-up after Ignition, but really they all work quite well (Mel is a fan of Edovia's Screens app, for $19.99). If you're trying to do a presentation in a PC-specific app (such as PowerPoint 2010) and you haven't been able to get it quite right in SlideRocket or Keynote, using a remote access tool is a great way to deliver a high-fidelity experience.

When it comes to remote access to virtual machines, Parallels & VMware have slightly different approaches. For your own personal VMware Fusion setup, VMware recommends using any capable VNC or RDP app to access a running VM. For the company's big-iron infrastructure setups of virtualized desktops, however, you can use the free VMware View app with VMware's new PCoIP connection protocol to easily and securely get a full desktop experience, including 1080p output and a 'Presentation Mode' option that turns a display-connected iPad into a sleek trackpad/keyboard combination -- but that depends on corporate support of a View server. (Wyse's Pro version of Pocket Cloud also supports connections to VMware View, and VMware is also doing View clients for Android, Windows and Mac.)

Parallels is happy to offer you a $4.99 (soon to be raised) iPad app that supports remote control of the company's virtualization app on the Mac; this is a solid way to get quick remote access to your virtual machine, assuming your Mac is online and accessible (it should also work with the PC versions of Parallels Desktop, although I haven't tested that). There is a twist, however; you can use the Parallels app to 'pop the stack' and actually control the host Mac system in addition to the virtualized system. This could get confusing!

Above and Beyond

There are obviously thousands of business-centric apps and millions of ways the iPad can be employed where you're employed; if we went through all of them, that would be enough material to write a book. Or two. Since there's no time for that, here's a few more biz-friendly app finds.

The Marketcircle suite of apps (Billings, Daylite) play extraordinarily nicely between the Mac apps that help run the business CRM and other functions and the mobile pros who need that data in a hurry. The Canadian company has gained a reputation for strong service and customer dedication, and if the businessperson on your gift list is looking for a Mac-friendly CRM solution with a good iPad story then they should be running for Daylite.

If your scheduling and meeting-invite needs are more you against the world, the tough-to-search-for, great-to-find cloud calendaring service Doodle has an app that's currently iPhone-optimized; we hope it makes it to the iPad soon, but in the meantime the company has just added an iCal connector that allows users on Intel Macs to sync their iCal schedules up to Doodle quickly and easily.

Project management? Merlin. Business intelligence & visualization? Roambi. Mind mapping? iThoughts HD or MindJet. So many gifts, so little time!

If you've given or gotten a great app for business on the iPad, share it with us all below in the comments. Happy holidays!

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