From printing without cables to scanning business cards, here are five handy uses for your new iPad or iPhone.
They might look like shiny toys, but Apple's iGadgets can also be serious productivity tools for small businesses.
An iPhone or iPad is great for watching movies or getting your Angry Birds fix, but they're also incredibly useful when it comes time to get some serious work done. Handheld devices are handy for staying on top of things while you're away from your desk, but there's a lot more to mobile productivity than simply checking your email and calendar appointments. Here are five simple ways your business can make the most of its iGadgets.
1. View and edit Microsoft Office documents
There aren't official versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iOS, but you'll still find several ways to read and edit such documents. You can read Word, Excel and PowerPoint attachments within the email client or else open them in a range of applications such as Apple's office suite -- Pages, Numbers and Keynote -- or third-party apps such as GoodReader. Rather than rely on email you can copy files directly into third-party apps like GoodReader using the Apps tab when connected to iTunes. GoodReader also supports direct file transfer via Wi-Fi. I find GoodReader is a handy place to keep important PDF documents such as user manuals.
You can edit documents using Apple's office suite, but only after you convert them to Apple's own document formats. I tend to import documents into Google Docs, convert them and then edit them. Both services let you export documents back into Microsoft formats, but you might lose advanced formatting. One alternative is CloudOn, an app which lets you edit native Office documents stored in cloud storage services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Box or SkyDrive. It's easy to sync Offices files from your desktop computer to these cloud services, plus SkyDrive lets you edit native Office documents on any computer using the desktop browser.
2. Print to your desktop printer
You can't plug an iGadget straight into a USB printer, but you can print directly from many apps using Apple's AirPrint (press the arrow-like Share icon to call up the menu). You'll find a range of AirPrint-compatible printers from the likes of Canon, Epson, HP, Lexmark, Dell and Brother. Many printer manufacturers also offer their own apps for printing photos directly to a network-enabled printer and I often use the Canon Easy-PhotoPrint when I need a quick print and don't want to mess around with my desktop computer.
Meanwhile it's possible to print from an iDevice to almost any printer using Google Cloud Print. Google's printing service is built into some new network-enabled printers, but you can also use it to print to your USB desktop printer when your desktop computer is up and running. Google Cloud Print allocates your printer a unique email address, letting you print any file which you can email from an iDevice as an attachment. It's also built into Google's Chrome desktop browser. Unlike AirPrint, Google Cloud Print also lets you print remotely via the internet.
The PrintCentral app offers another alternative for printing to network and shared printers in your office network. It should detect most printers automatically but, like Google Cloud Print, might require you to install software on your desktop computer to access attached printers.
3. Scan business cards
Exchanging business cards is still an important part of doing business, but thankfully it's easy to add those details straight to the contact list on your iPhone.
CamCard is one app worth trying on the iPhone, particularly as there's a free version which lets you save up to 20 cards initially and then two additional each week. This lets you see if it's the right app for you before handing over any money. CamCard lets you take a photo of a business card, or use an existing photo in the Camera Roll, analyse the photo and correct any errors before saving the details. There's also support for scanning QR codes.
Once you've scanned a card you can add the person's details to your phone's contact list, or merge them with an existing contact. Alternatively you can save the card's details to your Gmail or Exchange address book, or else email and export them as .csv, .xml or vCard files for importing into other address books. I like that I can also create a CamCard account for backing up your scanned cards online, with the option not to add them to your phone's address book. While I want to capture the card, I don't always want to mix those details in with phone's contact list.
4. Connect to a Virtual Private Network
A Virtual Private Network offers an extra layer of security while you're away from the office, letting you encrypt your internet connection even when you're using an unprotected public wi-fi hotspot.
One option is to use a third-party VPN service such as WiTopia or StrongVPN, which offer PPTP and L2TP/IPSEC VPN services that work with iGadgets. L2TP/IPSEC is considered more secure than PPTP and harder for governments and network providers to block. StrongVPN and WiTopia let you choose from a range of VPN servers around the world to mask your location. I find WiTopia is useful when I'm relying on public wi-fi and unsure of who might be eavesdropping on the network.
Some businesses require staff to use a VPN when connecting back to the office, creating the illusion they're connected directly to the office network. Once connected you can access in-house services, such as the intranet, which are otherwise only available when you're in the office. You can't do this using a service such as WiTopia or StrongVPN. Instead smaller business might look to in-house VPN hardware from the likes of Cisco, Juniper, Check Point or SonicWALL. Alternatively they might consider the software VPN features incorporated into Windows Server. It's also worth investigating software-based VPN services such as LogMeIn Hamachi, Remobo and Wippien.
5. Control your desktop computer from afar
You can perform a surprising number of tasks with an iGadget, but for those times when you still need access to your desktop computer you can use your iPhone or iPad to control your office computer remotely.
You'll find remote desktop tools built into Windows and Mac OS, along with third-party services which require you to install software on your computer which runs in the background listening for incoming connections. You can then use your phone or tablet to take control of your computer via the internet. I use this regularly to access a desktop browser from my iPhone, as some sites I work with require a digital certificate which won't work with my phone.
Many remote desktop services are based on the VNC (Virtual Network Computing) standard. They make a direct connection to your computer, although you may need to configure your firewall to allow remote access. Some VNC tools such as HippoRemote let your iGadget act as a remote keyboard and trackpad for your computer, while others such as Screens and Mocha VNC also let you view the computer's desktop on your phone. Alternatively you'll find proprietary remote desktop services such as LogMeIn and Teamviewer, both of which offer free versions which take the hassle out of configuring remote access.