Mobile computing's promise is well documented. Marketing campaigns frequently position portable technologies as empowering and time saving. You've likely seen just such an ad. A mobile user, maybe at a coffee shop, develops an arresting and compelling presentation with just a few taps on a tablet screen. Or, maybe a modern worker is cast as a harried, on-the-go parent that manages to draft an eye-catching business report while catching a train. The only problem is that actually designing and producing an accurate, attractive document, spreadsheet, or presentation using a mobile device is incredibly difficult.
Why is it so hard?
Smartphones and tablet computers are largely output devices. In other words, with mobile devices, it's easier to consume content than to create it. The reasons are simple: phones and tablets typically don't include full keyboards and mice, which are critical elements for entering statistical data, generating charts, producing graphics, manipulating layout, keying text, and managing similar elements.
Whenever I do see phones and tablets married to Bluetooth keyboards, I'm taken aback. Apple and other manufacturers make laptops, so if you need a full keyboard and a pointing device, you're better served using a full-fledged laptop.
Read more about iWork on TechRepublic:
iWork apps make it easier
Apple's iWork suite makes generating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations easier when you're using iOS. Although Apple's taken heat from long-time users, recent simplification of the Pages, Numbers, and Keynote iOS applications helps users by distilling the applications' functionality down to its basic elements. When trying to create compelling files on a mobile device, screen space is at a premium, so toolbars, layout guides, menu elements, and other navigational and interface items must be cannibalized.
Apple understands and has simplified its iOS iWorks apps accordingly. However, I still find it difficult to create professional documents, spreadsheets, and presentations using just an iPad or an iPhone. That said, I've created hundreds of iPad documents and dozens of spreadsheets while collecting data and performing field audits and assessments. In my experience — especially when I need to return field-generated notes, spreadsheets, reports, or presentations to a client — I've found myself editing and upgrading the files using my desktop computer.
How do you create files on the fly?
During the month of December, I attempted to learn if some of the trouble I experienced building compelling files in the field was due to using iWorks apps or because I was using a smaller, mobile platform. At most every opportunity, I forced myself to use iWork instead of other common tools, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Ultimately, I found all the features and capabilities I required are present within iWork — and now that Apple is including the suite free with new iOS and Mac devices, iWork is an outstanding value and potential free, permanent replacement for many former Microsoft Office users. But I still found myself gravitating toward a large display, full keyboard, and pointing device to complete final last touches, tweak formatting and layout, and add touches of professional elegance.
How about you? Am I alone in finding a laptop or desktop necessary for fine-tuning professional office suite files? Or do I need to slow down, become more dexterous using the exponentially smaller touch-screen iOS interface, and force myself to squeeze the maximum capability from the iPhone and iPad applications? Share your opinion and experience in the discussion thread below.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.