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iPad Gets Productivity Apps

Several vendors have announced iPad versions of their business- and office-oriented applications, while problems are surfacing with Apple's own contributions to the genre.

Several vendors have announced iPad versions of their business- and office-oriented applications, while problems are surfacing with Apple's own contributions to the genre.The release of the iPad has been quickly followed by the announcement of several business applications for the new device. One is a new mobile version of Bento, the so-called personal database from Filemaker. Filemaker calls Bento that to distinguish it from its more capable, business-oriented namesake products; but the latest version of Bento has features that make it suitable for any Mac-based business with relatively lightweight database needs. Filemaker already had a version of Bento for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and, as that app did, the new iPad version works as a standalone database but also syncs with Bento 3 on a Mac.

The main advantage to Bento for iPad over the iPhone app is, as you might expect, the way it takes advantage of the iPad's larger display. For example, with the iPad held in landscape mode, you can see a list of records on the left and a particular record on the right. Rotating the iPad to portrait mode displays just the one record at a time. And like the iPhone App, Bento for iPad comes with 25 database templates, including some for such business-oriented tasks as contact management and inventory. Bento for iPad is $4.99 from the App Store (iTunes link).

Another entry is Mariner Calc, an iPad version of a venerable spreadsheet for the Mac. Mariner Calc and its productivity sibling Mariner Write have been around since 1991, providing well-regarded alternatives to Micorosft Word and Excel. Mariner Calc came to the iPhone in 2009 and is now available for the iPad. It provides 145 math, finance, statistics, and other functions and supports splitting and freezing panes. Perhaps most compellingly, it lets you view and edit native Excel files. Mariner Calc is $5.99 now, as an introductory price; it will be regularly $9.99 at the App Store (iTunes link).

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At the iPad's introduction, Apple touted iPad versions of its own Pages and Numbers productivity software (word processing and spreadsheet respectively). Early buyers of those apps have been unpleasantly surprised, however, to discover that apparently they don't support all the features of the Mac versions of the programs. What's worse is that apparently the unsupported features are simply discarded from documents synced from the Mac to the iPad, and aren't restored when the docs are synced back. Users on the Apple discussion boards are complaining of Pages tables of contents being disrupted (the text is still there, but it's not a table of contents any more -- it's lost its links to the rest of the document) and of objects in Keynote becoming ungrouped (again, they're still there, but they've lost their relationship to each other). Apple's product pages offer very low-key warnings about the changes, but as yet no solution.

By contrast, DataViz advertises that its Office to Go iPhone app "holds on to" Word and Excel formatting that it can't display and restores it when an edited document is synced back to the Mac or PC. Apple would do well to quickly come up with something similar for its own applications.

The iPad business apps are coming thick and fast. ChannelWeb offers its own list of ten free ones, and other sites will surely be weighing in as well. It's also worth checking the rest of our list of "17 Essential iPhone Apps For SMBs" to see which ones besides Bento might already have iPad-specific versions.

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