With its iPad Pro devices, Apple took the iPad experience we've come to know and love from the consumer space and planted it firmly at the feet of business workers and creative professionals. With a Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil, the iPad Pro is an exceptional work tool.
Partly it's due to the exceptional hardware, and partly it's thanks to the ultra-lightweight iOS operating system. Apple's hardware and software ethos make a formidable tool that's light enough to hold like a notepad, and creatively powerful.
Of course, all of this also depends on some incredible apps. Here we're looking at some of the best business and productivity apps for the iPad Pro models.
You can take a look at the iPad Pro on the Apple Store here.
It's to Microsoft's credit that it bit the bullet and threw itself wholeheartedly into developing its Office suite for iOS. Microsoft Word and Excel don't get enough credit among iOS users; these are exceptional tools with desktop-class strength.
Those working with Excel spreadsheets will value the ability to edit, create and manage documents without having to transfer them through third-party apps.
Microsoft's apps are slick, too, but it's a shame you have to have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription to use them on the iPad Pro. Regular iPad devices are still free.
Evernote is something of a perennial favourite on business lists, and when you start using it, you'll soon discover why. The ability to collect notes from anywhere, on almost anything soon works its way into your life.
Like many apps, Evernote has come to life on the iPad Pro thanks to the Apple Pencil, and the ability to add sketches to notes with the Apple Pencil is invaluable.
Penultimate is another app to add alongside Evernote. It features a range of papers to work on, and is great for handwritten notes.
When it comes to to-do lists, we're somewhat torn between Wunderlist and Things. While Things is the more Mac-centric list, you have to buy the app for iOS and OS X to get the most from it.
Wunderlist is a free app, and it has a web interface so you can investigate your to-do items on the move. That sold it for us.
When it comes to remote access from your iPad to a Mac computer, nothing is as feature-complete as Parallels Access. It automatically resizes app windows, so they display full-screen on the iPad. The closest you'll ever come to having a touchscreen Mac (for now, at least).
Microsoft Excel is fantastic for creating charts and tables, but they can look a little dry. Business experts are increasingly working in data-driven environments, and they need better-looking charts to stay ahead of the crowd. Roambi Analytics is an exceptional app that accepts data from Excel (and other sources) and turns it into incredible-looking charts.
PDF Expert for iPad
If you ever have to work with PDF documents, then this is the app to get. PDF Expert makes it easy to sketch over PDF documents, add notes, highlights and approve or reject design changes. It's another one of those areas where having the Apple Pencil makes a real difference.
While it's possible to add signatures inside iOS using Markup tools, the functionality is a lot slicker inside PDF Expert, and it's our preferred way to add signatures to documents.
While PDF Expert is our go-to app for editing and approving PDF documents, LiquidText is where we go if we just want to read them. More than any other app it's easy to skim through text, and add sections and paragraphs to a bookmarked area. You can pinch text together, which makes it much easier to compare text from different section.
Scanning documents with the iPad's camera and converting them to flat documents is a trick many iOS users overlook. While you can take a photo with the camera, an app like Scanner Pro automatically detects the edges of the document and flattens it out. The end result is that you get a scanned document without having to use a scanner. There's a few apps out there doing the same trick, but Scanner Pro is our favourite.
Like its namesake, Paper is just that: paper for your iPad. This is our favorite sketching app. Perhaps because it has so few features, Paper makes it easy to sketch out ideas without getting distracted by clutter. There are few tools, but a comprehensive range of pencils and a neat ruler tool that draws lines, arrows and shapes from your doodles.
Unlike the iPhone, the iPad doesn't have a built-in calculator app. Nevermind, there are lots available on the App Store. MyScript is a favourite of ours because it enables you to draw your calculations on the screen, as if you were sketching them out on paper. Only it magically arranges the numbers and does the maths for you. Calcbot is the one to get if you really want something more traditional.
A relatively new addition to my digital bag of tools is an app called Workflow. Think of it as the Mac's Automator feature, but for iOS devices.
The app makes it possible to automate mundane tasks such as annotating, then deleting screenshots in your Camera Roll, or more complex tasks such as converting a YouTube video to an MP3 - without you doing more than tapping a couple of buttons.
I also use Pythonista to automate parts of my daily work routine. Taking a different approach than Workflow, Pythonista requires you to code actions in Python. I've found the list of scripts in the app's forums to be more than sufficient to get started with. I get the most use out of Pythonista when it comes to creating consistent screenshot layouts for posts. Additionally, it cuts down the amount of time it takes me to process screenshots.
There was a time when editing photos on the iPad was mostly clunky and inconvenient. Then Pixelmator for iPad happened and the iPad became a legitimate photo editing platform. Perhaps I'm overselling it a little bit, but really, this app is easy to use, powerful and has near feature parity with its macOS counterpart. I just wish iCloud Drive played nicely with my RAW image files.
iA Writer is my preferred writing app due to its Markdown integration and distraction-free writing interface. Best of all, it's not just for those who often stare down a blank screen with a blinking cursor. One of its lesser-known uses is creating and sending HTML-formatted email.
Editorial is the complete opposite of iA Writer, with buttons and information all over the screen. Editorial enables users to create workflows such as spell-checking text, Googling synonyms for a word, and finding and replacing text, just to name a few. It even offers a built-in browser for quick research, eliminating the need to leave the app. Think of it as a text editor on steroids.
The combination of Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides is the best setup for sharing and working on the same document with people both inside and outside of your company. If you find yourself having to work with other people a lot, these three free apps are a must.
Printing, signing, scanning, and then emailing important documents can bring a morning's productivity to a screeching halt. DocuSign's interface is a bit confusing at times, but overall it gets the job done. With a few swipes and taps I can place my initials and signature on a document and send it back without ever leaving my desk. Not to mention, I get to do my part in saving the planet due to not having to print out lengthy contracts.
Fantastical 2 is one app I'd be lost without.
Fantastical makes entering an appointment or reminder nearly painless with its ability to turn "Lunch with John tomorrow" into a scheduled appointment. But my favorite feature is that it combines iOS Reminders and your Calendar into one app, making it easy to manage both types of entries from the same place.
With the number of leaks and hacks surfacing seemingly daily, having strong passwords is more important than ever. 1Password is the app I use to create and manage my passwords. My favorite feature of the app is its integration with iOS. Using extensions, I can access my vault directly within Safari on my iPhone or iPad and log into accounts without having to bounce around between apps. The app is free, and the Pro upgrade is via in-app purchase.
The iPad Pro is great for many reasons, but I particularly love it for making paper documents and forms almost obsolete: I can't think of the last time I had to print a form and send it through the mail (or worse — fax it). Instead, I rely on iOS's built-in tools and great third-party apps to take care of all my form, document, and signature-related needs.
After testing a bunch of PDF markup apps — and asking for your favorites on Twitter, here are my top apps worth considering.
Markup isn't an app, but it's still pretty great
Preview may not exist on the iPad just yet, but its excellent markup and annotation tools are coming systemwide in iOS 11 as an extension. The Markup extension can be triggered by pressing either the Share button or new Markup button in certain apps — it looks like a pen tip with a circle around it. (You can also tap an email attachment in Mail.) In the Markup interface, you can add pen, highlighter, or pencil notation; basic shapes like squares, circles, arrows, and quote bubbles; drop a magnifier on the image or document; and even add text or a signature.
It's basic, to be sure, but sometimes basic is all you need — and once iOS 11 is released this fall, you'll have Markup features across the system at your fingertips.
Read more about Markup
PDF Viewer is a smooth alternative to Markup
While putting together this roundup, I had a number of people point me in the direction of PDF Viewer, a newer annotation app released at the end of 2016. After a few minutes with the free app, it's clear why they did — between its clean, simplistic interface and powerful annotation tools, PDF Viewer is a perfect in-between for users who need a bit more than iOS's Markup tool provides, but don't need the power of apps like PDF Expert or LiquidText.
A PDF app's interface can frequently appear daunting to the average user, thanks in part to the sheer number of annotation options developers try to shove inside of them, but PDF Viewer smartly simplifies this process. Taking a page from Apple's own iWork suite, the app provides a series of nested views depending on which feature you're using. For instance, if you're looking at a document, you'll be shown the tools for sharing, zooming, and browsing through annotations; tap the annotation button, and the app brings you into Annotation mode, with its various tools — still simplified into easy-to-understand icons.
PDF Viewer can even rearrange, delete, or insert blank pages within a PDF, though it doesn't have some of the more advanced combination features (like merging multiple PDFs or adding existing PDF pages into a document).
Twitter, you did well to bring this app on my radar. It's an excellent one.
PDF Expert is an annotation juggernaut
When people ask for an all-purpose PDF markup and annotation app, I tend to send them to Readdle and PDF Expert. The $9.99 app offers basic PDF reading, annotation, and digital signatures, but where it shines is in its advanced tools.
You can create customizable "stamps" for oft-used annotations (a friend to copy editors everywhere), edit the structure of the PDF, zip multiple documents together, password-protect your files, and sync with iCloud. A $6.99 Pro upgrade takes those tools one step further, and allows you to physically crack open a PDF and edit it on the spot. Have a spelling error in your ready-to-print proof? Even if you can't jump back to InDesign on your iPad, you can fix it in the PDF.
You may never need the tools that PDF Expert provides, but I for one love that an app this complex and functional exists on iOS.
Researchers, writers, and copy editors will love LiquidText
I've rewritten this intro to LiquidText about five times now, largely because the multitouch annotation app has this slippery way of defying description. A traditional sign-and-form-fill annotation app this is not: LiquidText is built for projects, novels, research papers, and dusty libraries. Lawyer and Mac enthusiast David Sparks describes it as being "engineered around the idea of reviewing long PDF documents better." It looks at books filled with post-it notes and string-covered bulletin boards and laughs. There's a better way to organize your research, and the app is it.
At its core, LiquidText focuses on the pain point of annotating lengthy documents, giving users a number of tools to do it in a way wholly unlike any other PDF app on the market. You can use multitouch gestures to pinch together large sections of a document; for instance, you could look an introductory thesis statement next to its midpoint argument to see if it properly connects the dots. You can pull annotations out from the document they belong to — like clippings or post-its — and organize them together or even link them along the right side of the screen. And all of this is lightning fast and wholly enjoyable, thanks to LiquidText's speedy and simple UI.
The Apple Pencil makes all of this even better, giving users specific gestures to highlight and pull out annotations as you review documents. For those who need this kind of workflow, there's no better app than LiquidText out there — and possibly no better workflow.
- Free; $20 in-app purchase to unlock Pro features - Download now
Other apps we tested
For this roundup, I narrowed down an incredibly large pool of PDF apps to highlight the best ones in their respective classes, which naturally meant excluding otherwise beloved apps. Here are some alternative PDF annotation apps that are great, but didn't quite make the cut.
- GoodReader, $4.99: GoodReader was my stalwart PDF manager and annotation editor for a long time, in large part because it supported uncompressing ZIP files, but I tend to look at it as more file management system than proper PDF annotation app.
- GoodNotes, $9.99 & Notability, $9.99: Both of these apps have PDF annotation features, but they're first and foremost note-taking apps.
- PDFPen, $19.99: Smile Software makes excellent apps, but as good as PDFPen on iOS is, it doesn't outshine PDF Expert.
- iAnnotate, $9.99: iAnnotate was another app recommended by a number of Twitter users, but I don't find the interface or ease of use as enjoyable as working with PDF Expert.
Do you have a favorite PDF annotation app I missed? Let me know below so I can check it out for our next roundup!