Since its introduction in 2010, perceptions of what the iPad can do have changed. You can watch Netflix and sort out emails, sure – but we’ve come to realise there’s a lot of power under the hood of the iPad going unused.
Apple has long pushed its iPad Pro as a laptop replacement with bags of power as a business machine. But the rest of the iPad range has plenty to offer too, at a fraction of the cost, and whether you’re a teacher, writer, businessperson, student or even a chef, your Apple tablet can do for you almost everything that can be done with a laptop.
Using an iPad for work, productivity and business is easy if you follow these handy tips. We explain how to use your iPad online, how to set up cloud storage, the best productivity apps, and the best accessories for working on iPad.
Which iPad do you have?
For a company that used to be so devoted to simplicity, Apple sure has managed to build a tangled and confusing iPad range. Air, mini, Pro, what? You may not even be entirely sure which model you’ve got.
Luckily, that doesn’t matter. Whether you’re still on the first iPad (which we’ll admit is unlikely) or the latest iPad Air (shown above), all the advice in this article will apply to you. Just make sure that if you’re looking for physical accessories, you get ones compatible with your model.
Here is the full range of iPads that Apple currently offers (although older models are available from Apple’s Refurbished Store). Click on each one for the Macworld review.
If that doesn’t ring any bells, you can find out which iPad you’ve got in this handy guide. We also have an iPad buying guide if you’re thinking of buying a new model.
Getting an internet connection on iPad
For most of us these days, in order to get our work done we need a decent internet connection; web browsing and emailing depend on it, for a start. Depending on where you’re working, this will usually depend on having a Wi-Fi connection.
Cellular iPads explained
If you have an iPad with cellular capabilities (or are looking to buy one), you will be able to connect to the internet using a 4G/3G connection, providing your SIM is registered to a network provider. This feature comes in handy when you don’t have Wi-Fi network easily available. Some retailers that offer iPads with cellular contracts are Carphone Warehouse, Vodafone, O2, EE and Three Mobile.
Mobile hotspot setup
A Wi-Fi-only iPad can obviously stay connected at work or at home, but what about when you’re out and about? Provided you have a smartphone with a data plan, you can use your phone as a hotspot and connect your iPad to it for remote working.
Here’s our guide on how to create an iPhone hotspot.
In a similar fashion, you can also get a mobile internet connection by purchasing a Mi-Fi hotspot. Mi-Fi, short for Mobile Wi-Fi, allows you to connect multiple devices to a single 4G router. See Mi-Fi hotspots explained over at PC Advisor.
Data usage tips
If you’re using your phone or Mi-Fi to go online, you’ll probably want to be wary of how much data you’re using. Here’s how to stop running out of data.
iOS and productivity apps
While an older iPad will work well for basic work tasks regardless of the the iOS version you’re using, the most recent iOS 12 (soon to be replaced by iOS 13) is preferable if you are to wring every possible feature out of it. It’s a mobile operating system, but, of late, is becoming just as versatile as its desktop cousin macOS Mojave.
The great thing about iOS, if you have an iPhone and/or Mac, is the synchronisation across devices. Apple’s line of MS Office equivalents such as iWork apps, Pages, Keynote, and Numbers work on both Mac and PC (more on this below). Every document you work on syncs over iCloud (we’ll discuss more on Cloud Storage below).
iCloud lets you store up to 5GB of content for free across all devices, though you can subscribe at a nominal rate for additional storage space (up to 2TB for £6.99/$9.99 per month). Find out more in our iCloud subscription guide.
iCloud gives you much needed flexibility when working between spaces. For instance, you could start editing a Pages document on the office Mac, and then continue working where you left off on your iPad at home. OS synchronisation also lets you access folders on your desktop Mac on your iPad (or iPhone).
Additionally, if you have contacts on your iPhone, say, they will sync with your iPad so you always have them at your fingertips. Be sure to take advantage of this. Using the Notes app is another good way to take notes in meetings on your iPad. You can then access them any time on any of your Apple devices, provided you save your notes to iCloud within the app.
Read up on how to sync your Notes (plus a few other tips) in our guide to the app.
Given the portability and wireless accessibility of the iPad, it’s a good idea to base your workflow in cloud storage. Of course, it depends if your company has a file storage policy, so it may be that you have to save files on the go in order to work on them on an iPad.
However, many mainstream cloud services such as Google Drive integrate well into the file systems of PCs and Macs, so you can still organise files as normal and yet access them from multiple devices.
With an internet connection on your iPad, you can then access all your work via the cloud – this is especially handy if you own a low storage (i.e. 16GB) iPad, as you can work on full versions of files without needing to save them to the on-board memory, which would soon fill up with video, audio and image files. It also means you can pick up unfinished work on your computer or even on your phone at any time.
We’d recommend using cloud storage such as Google Drive or iCloud for working with an iPad, as if you’re familiar with a computer’s traditional file system, this isn’t something that translates to the tablet. With an iPad you don’t really have a view of the file system, and file storage is limited to the apps they were created in. With a cloud storage app, you are given a more familiar, top down view of files, making the transition to working on your iPad that much easier.
Here’s a full guide on the best cloud storage services from our colleagues at PC Advisor.
Obviously you’ll need to get set up with email for iPad if you aren’t already. Apple’s bundled Mail app is a clear, clean way to keep your emails all organised. You can add personal as well as work emails from several different providers, too.
The term ‘productivity’ is both wide-ranging and ambiguous – what you, the individual, might consider a productive app will differ for the next person. See our roundups of the best iPad apps for productivity and organising your life for specific advice.
Productivity apps can refer to suites of products from a specific company, such as Apple, Microsoft or Google, or it can refer to single, useful apps like Evernote or Todoist. Both of these, by the way, are great apps to organise your work, take notes, and cathartically tick things off as you go.
Microsoft Office 365 for iPad
Once file storage is sorted, you’ll want to consider if you want to use a set of productivity tools. The main example is Microsoft Office 365. It is called 365 because you purchase it on an annual (or monthly) basis. The days of buying a £100-plus installation software on CD are all but over. But don’t be put off by the rolling cost.
An Office 365 Personal subscription at £5.99 per month gets you Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive and Outlook for 1 PC or Mac, 1 tablet and 1 phone. With 1TB of cloud storage for OneDrive and constant software updates for all programmes, you have the full Office suite across all your devices – including your iPad. The Office 365 subscription also gets you 60 minutes of Skype phone calls.
You can pay either £5.99/$6.99 on a monthly basis, or £59.99/$69.99 for the year. You can purchase either of these packages here (click here if you’re browsing from the US).
There’s also the Office 365 for business use. The premium version gets you the additional features Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams. The subscription costs £9.40/$12.50 per user per month, whereas a basic subscription is £7.90/$8.25 per user per month, but only comes with OneDrive. See all Office 365 Business plans here (click here if you’re in the US).
We recommend the monthly approach at first as it can be cancelled at any time if you find yourself not using it. Also, you’ll need the licence to create and edit on the Word for iPad app. Even though it’s free to download initially for the tablet, it will only act as a viewer until you pay up.
Here is our our full Office 365 guide, and another on how to use Microsoft Office on iPad.
Apple’s productivity tools for iPad
If you’d like to use Apple’s bundled productivity tools instead, they mirror Word, Excel and PowerPoint: Pages, Numbers and Keynote. These work excellently across the Apple ecosystem, so if you’re also a Mac and iPhone user, it might be preferable to use Apple’s own apps rather than bringing in Microsoft products – it depends what you prefer to use of course, too.
Check out our review of Pages for iPad on the full feature set.
Check out our review of Numbers, which is for Mac but whose features translate to the iPad.
And last but not least, here’s the skinny on Keynote for Mac – most features can be found in the iPad app
We also have an article on how to use Workflow to automate tasks on iPhone.
Team collaboration apps for iPad
Google Docs for iPad
If you have a Gmail account, or if your company email address uses Gmail servers, then it can be a good option to use Google to collaborate, as you’ll automatically have a minimum of 15GB Google Drive cloud storage. Docs, Sheets and Slides again mirror the famous Microsoft three, but differ to those and to Apple’s products on iPad as you have to save in the cloud – though you can allow certain documents to be available offline on your device if you know you’ll be without an internet connection at some point, and it’ll save your work as you go even if you’re not connected to the internet.
The apps all work well together, so if you’ve gone with Google Drive for your storage, it’s a good option.
Using Google for your work lets you edit the same documents with others at the same time. You can also open, edit and save Microsoft Word documents if you prefer Office to get your work done, but want to save to Google Drive (which is something we do here at Macworld).
Whichever combination of cloud storage and productivity tools you go for, you should find it an effective way of working smoothly from your iPad.
When the iOS 12 update rolls in, there will be a new feature in FaceTime that will allow video chats with up to 32 people. Until then, the next best place to start is Skype. There are a wealth of free video calling apps out there though that are useful for working on an iPad.
Here is our guide to the best video calling services for iPad.
Whether it’s a meeting you need to be in, a chat with a colleague or an interview, these tools can be invaluable in the workplace.
Aside from consumer-oriented services such as these, there are also free app downloads for business video services such as Webex and GoToMeeting.
You can download any of these directly from here:
Remote desktop access
There’s also a handy piece of tech that allows you to remotely access your entire computer from your iPad. As long as your computer is on, even if it’s miles away at work, you can use a remote access app to literally control the computer and view it on your tablet.
Here’s our full guide on remote desktop access for iPad.
iPad apps for annotation and markup
Here’s two more apps you’ll want to grab in order to do simple everyday work tasks:
Adobe Acrobat Reader – View, annotate and sign PDFs (all you’ll ever do with them really) with Adobe’s free, easy to use software. Essential if you work with a lot of PDFs.
Tiny Scanner – This is a great app if you want the convenience of a scanner day to day. Using the iPad’s camera you can scan images of documents, which the app then formats to appear as close to a paper document as possible. Very useful if you still work with a lot of paper.
And finally, here’s Macworld’s guide to all the best free apps for iPad.
Accessories for iPad
Keyboards for iPad
Pairing your iPad with the right accessories is another great way of optimising it for getting work done. The most obvious and probably most useful is the addition of a physical keyboard.
You have a few options, and they will usually all connect to your iPad via Bluetooth. Here’s our complete guide to the best iPad keyboards.
You can use Apple’s standalone Bluetooth keyboard, which is the Magic Keyboard. For £99/US$99 it’s a tad pricey, but it’ll connect to your iPad with ease, and as long as you’ve a case or stand, it’s an excellent keyboard for long form typing. Check it out here.
There’s even a new one with a number keypad if you have £149/$149 to dish out. Keep in mind the Apple Smart Keyboards are only compatible with the iPad Pro, so avoid it if you have a regular iPad.
Here’s a rundown of the best onscreen keyboards for iPad – the best alternatives to the built-in Apple keyboards if you prefer certain styles and input techniques. These can be handy if you want to type directly onto the screen without a physical keyboard attachment.
Styluses for iPad
Styluses, as discussed, are a great way to input writing onto iPad. But also if you’re used to working with a mouse, you may miss it given iOS does not require one for input. A stylus could be a way around this if you prefer selecting actions with one rather than your fingers. Here again are the best styluses for iPad.
Remember, the first-gen Apple Pencil works with the iPad 9.7in, iPad mini (2019) and iPad Air (2019); the second-gen Apple Pencil only works with the 2018 iPad Pro models. Read our advice on which iPads work with which Apple Pencils if you’re confused.
There are also handwriting apps and styluses that work with non-Pro iPads. See our guide on the best handwriting apps for iPad.
A decent case can be vital for working on iPad. If you prefer a standalone Bluetooth keyboard for example, you’ll need a case that allows you to stand your tablet in a landscape position in order to write.
There are also cases for use around the office, like Native Union’s Gripster (£49.99/$59.99). It’s very versatile, as you can use the back piece as a stand, a handle for carrying between meetings, or as a grip to use the iPad without fear of dropping it. It’s available for iPad Air 2. See all Gripster cases for iPad here.
Here’s a link to our guide to the best cases for iPad 9.7in.
See all our iPad cases roundups here. We’ve split it up into models of iPad, so once you’ve found yours, you’ll be able to see a round up of our favourites. There’s something for everyone, no matter your work style.
You may be after a couple of extra Lightning cables to attach your iPad to power in various places; office, meeting room, bedroom, study. Here’s a rundown of the best iPad Lightning cables.
If you have an iPad 1, 2 or 3, you’ll need to get a 30-pin cable instead. You can pick one up from Amazon here for £5.99 or $7.82 in the US.
Another handy accessory you might want is an adapter that allows you to use your iPad with a larger display. If you have a monitor or a TV that you can easily work from, particularly if you have to work otherwise on the small screen of an iPad mini, the right adapter and cable can solve this problem.
The Apple Lightning Digital AV adapter (£49/$49) is most likely the one you’ll need – it plugs into the Lighting port on your tablet and has an HDMI port that you can use with an HDMI cable to link to your TV or display. Pick up an HDMI cable here if you need one for as little as £4.10/$5.99.
This setup is great for working, however be warned – the device does block many on-demand streaming services, so don’t expect to be able to use it to put Netflix, BBC iPlayer and the like on your big screen.
For other connectivity options, check out Apple’s full range of adapters.
Power banks for iPad
Battery packs can range in size from those able to top up a smartphone in an emergency to full-on beasts that can recharge full-size laptops. You may want to consider investing in a decent-sized one for your iPad if you travel a lot, or go to trade shows or meetings where a plug is hard to come by.
You’ll want to check out how big the battery in it is; this is measured in mAh (milliampere hours). For an iPad, you should get anything above 10,000 mAh to make it powerful enough to help you out in a sticky power-based situation.
A good place to start is our article on the best iPhone power banks & battery packs. Another article to check out is the best battery packs guide by our colleagues over at Tech Advisor.
Hopefully having read this article you’ll be a bit clearer on how to use your iPad for work, and can branch out into the pleasing land of useful apps and physical accessories that can turn Apple’s most versatile media consumption device into a powerful work and productivity tool.
It goes to show that while of course the iPad Pro is well equipped to help you work well on a tablet, there’s definitely life in your older iPad when it comes to getting stuff done. Good luck!