by Tom Kaneshige

5 Awesome iPad Productivity Tools for Under $5

Mar 25, 2011
Consumer ElectronicsCRM SystemsSoftware Development

Do you take notes in meetings? Get people to sign electronic documents? Write long missives? These economical and under-the-radar productivity apps will make your job a little easier.

With lines still forming daily outside major Apple stores, it’s easy to view the iPad as a multi-media juggernaut attracting mass consumers like moths to a flame. After all, no one in their right minds would be this excited over, say, a tool for getting work done.

Well, you’d be three-quarters right.

Forrester Research released results of a survey of 2,300 IT executives this week that found one out of four companies using or planning to use tablets. Signs show CIOs are warming to the iPad and drafting formal adoption policies. Meanwhile, employees are bringing their iPads to work.

[ Considering the iPad 2? Check out 15 best iPad apps for newbies, reports ]

The bottom line: The iPad isn’t just for consumer-driven entertainment—people also want iPads so they can be more productive. Already great iPad productivity tools have emerged, chief among them, Quickoffice and Dropbox. Some apps straddle work-life balance, such as Evernote, which can be used to take both personal and business notes and voice memos.

Then there are a few cool iPad productivity apps that you’ve probably never heard of. Here are five under $5 that will be a great help to most companies and their workers:



Imagine you’re a salesperson with an iPad making a pitch to a client. With DocuSign, you can hand your iPad to your client so that he can review his order and you can close the deal on the spot. The customer can electronically sign an order using their finger on the iPad via DocuSign on the mobile Safari browser.

The iPad can blow open the doors for signing everything from sales orders to real estate forms electronically. DocuSign currently claims more than 6 million users of its cloud-based service, many of whom work in Fortune 500 companies.

Last fall, DocuSign came out with a free iPad app for managing documents that need to be signed. With the iPad 2, the app lets users take a picture of a document so that it can be electronically signed. There’s also a geo-location feature built into the app that records the location of a signing for audit purposes.


iA Writer

At some point, most everyone needs to write a lengthy document—if not the great American novel, then a report, memo or other directives. If you need to write something longer than a 140-character Tweet, use the iPad app that most writers prefer, iA Writer ($1).

iA Writer strips all the frills of formatting and word processing and lets you focus on the words in standard Courier type (think: typewriter). The virtual keyboard is set up to make common punctuation easy without having to switch to the symbols keyboard. Arrow keys help you navigate around the document.

Another cool feature: focus mode, which dims all the words except for the three lines you’re working on. That way, you can make those words really sing. Reading-time and word count indicators on the upper right corner keep track of the document’s length. The only feature this app doesn’t have is a way to get around writer’s block.


Salesforce Chatter

Sales, marketing and public relations pros know the value of relationships and networking. A social networking iPad app tuned specifically for Salesforce users, called Salesforce Chatter (free), seemed only natural and was released last fall. More than a quarter of Salesforce’s customer base uses the platform.

Salesforce Chatter lets users post status updates, pictures, links, even PowerPoint presentations, as well as updates on projects and sales deals. They can create business profiles that highlight work experience and include graphics that show performance.

Salesforce Chatter keeps executives up-to-date on the latest sales-related happenings, as well as what’s on the minds of the movers and shakers in their industry. Users can also search out people with related business interests in the hopes of growing their network and finding potential customers.



Chances are you’ve sat in corporate meetings frantically scratching notes on a pad of paper. It’s not very efficient, and you’ve probably missed important details. This method of note-taking has been going on for generations. There’s got to be a better way.

Now there’s SoundNote for the iPad ($5), which not only lets you take notes and drawings but records audio of the meeting.

The best part of the app: While an audio recording backs up your notes, you won’t have to look forward to hours of listening to the recording and maybe even transcribing to find missed details. Just tap on a word, and you’ll jump to the proper place in the audio track.

(Okay, it’s awesome for tech reporters, too.)



Are you searching for the right word in an important email? Have you run across a word whose meaning eludes you? It probably happens all the time, especially on the iPad where reading books and Web articles is a mainstay of the device.

WordBook XL – English Dictionary & Thesaurus on the iPad just might be the best $3 investment on the App Store. Quickly look up words and learn their meanings, or use the thesaurus to find the perfect word. You can bookmark words that you might want to use later.

Even if you’re not a wordsmith or voracious reader, WordBook helps you avoid gaffes that can make you look foolish. (Who can forget Sarah Palin’s use of the word “refudiate”?) The app has a neat pop-up spelling engine that helps you find the correct spelling of words.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at