Getting Law Firms to Support the iPad

I was surprised to hear in a conversation with a colleague at a larger firm that someone in the IT department at his firm refused to allow him to connect his iPad to the firm’s Exchange network. The reason given was that the iPad was “not compatible” with the firm’s Exchange/Blackberry IT infrastructure.

I’m no expert on managing large corporate networks, but I think something else is at work here. Law firms are very often long standing Windows/PC environments with IT staff having experience to match. An IT administrator’s job is to ensure network performance and reliability. Introducing new elements to a network can be at odds with those two goals. Couple that with the difficult customers that law firm partners can be (what, really?), and I can see where an IT admin might choose to adopt new technologies carefully.

Fortunately, expert resources are available. I was recently given a chance to review a new book from Apress publications, Enterprise iPhone and iPad Administrator’s Guide by Charles Edge. The book provides detailed steps for deploying and controlling iOS devices in a network environment.

The book begins by discussing the inevitability of iPhone in the enterprise. Recognizing that even if a firm’s policy is to support a different breed of mobile device, the amazingly widespread adoption of iOS devices means that employees, CEOs and law firm partners will have iOS devices at home and want them connected to their corporate environments. The book goes on to discuss the purchase/activation process (for small and large deployments), configuration decisions, Exchange integration settings, document/file management, support models and the like.

As a partner in a law firm, I like this book as well for having something of a “business minded” perspective to deployment decisions. The strengths and weaknesses of the platform are acknowledged as well as the benefits and burdens of deciding whether to support iOS devices. All told, I think a book like this would be an indispensable resource for a firm IT administrator and possibly even the lawyer trying to get support for an iOS device in an otherwise recalcitrant firm.

Apress has graciously made the first three chapters of the book are available for TabletLegal readers to preview at this link. The full book retails at $59.99 but is available new from Amazon for $44.99 at this writing (Amazon link). I see that the book is also available for Kindle (or Kindle app equipped iPads) for $37.67 (Kindle store link).

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Legal Apps for the iPad: Initial Reactions

A few days before the iPad launch I profiled the apps and web services I was most interested in trying out once the iPad was launched. I’ve had a week now to work with these apps. Some passed with flying colors and some need to back to the drawing board for better implementation on the iPad (at least in the way I described in my initial review).

Couple things that surprised me, though in reflection probably shouldn’t have. Text entry on the iPad with an iPhone app uses the iPhone keyboard. You do not get the larger iPad keyboard. For some reason, I thought the iPhone app calls for a keyboard would give you the device’s default keyboard as opposed to a keyboard within the app. The iPhone keyboard does not take advantage of the iPad size and is less suitable for text entry.

The second thing had to do with scaling of iPhone apps. While I knew that certain image elements within apps would be jaggy when magnified, for some reason I thought the font scaling for documents would be agnostic to screen size and smoothly (just like it does when increasing the size of fonts on your desktop computer screen). In fact, the scaled fonts were jaggy, though in most cases were still very usable.

So, my follow up reactions to the items covered initially.

1. LogMeIn Ignition (iPad app | iTunes Link). The LogMeIn folks hit one out of the park here. They had an iPad specific version of this remote access app available on launch day and didn’t charge existing users more money to get the improved app. This app and a wifi or 3G connection allows you to control your home or office computer from wherever you are as though you are sitting in front of it. With the larger screen and more powerful processor of the iPad, it essentially becomes very usable rendition of a full PC or Mac. This app was usable in a pinch on the iPhone, but it is a powerful tool on the iPad.

2. Highrise (web app). No major problems using the web app in mobile Safari – except when I couldn’t get wifi, of course. A couple interface glitches (checkboxes in particular), but nothing that materially stood between me and my data. The 37Signals Highrise for iPhone also doesn’t allow offline access, but I’ll still probably keep it on my iPad for the time being. For those of you unfamiliar with Highrise, this is an amazing CRM tool. I use it for my business development but it has tons of applications. Give it a look.

3. Backpack (web app). This is my to-do list and everything else organizer and it works quite well on the iPad. I did experience some interface glitches when trying to check off items (which was a problem I couldn’t always reproduce). Data entry and navigation worked very well. Even though the web app works well, I will probably keep Satchel, my iPhone app of choice for communicating with Backpack, on my iPad because of its offline functionality. No word yet on whether 37Signals or the folks making Satchel will be pumping out an iPad app for Backpack (or Highrise, for that matter).

4. Google Reader (web app). The desktop version of Google Reader is not functional on the iPad’s mobile Safari. The mobile version of Google Reader works great on the iPad, even though it hasn’t been optimized to take advantage of the extra screen space yet like Gmail has. Stick with the mobile version of Google Reader for now or use any of the great iPhone readers. I use Reeder for its beautiful formatting of my feeds and offline access on the iPhone and recently began using NetNewsWire for the iPad (iTunes link).  NetNewsWire makes RSS fun and easy again especially with how the browser is implemented so seamlessly within the iPad app.

5. Dropbox (web app). I commented about this app the other day. While you can’t upload docs to the Dropbox website from the iPad, you can use it to get documents and spreadsheets into your iPad. Using the Dropbox iPhone app on the iPad gave me trouble. Most documents either refused to render or rendered so poorly as to be unusable. Stick with the web version for now. I see that the Dropbox team is expecting an iPad app in 3-4 weeks. I’ll give comments on that once I get some time with it.

6. Documents To Go Premium (iPhone app | iTunes link) and QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite (iPhone app | iTunes link). Quick Office retained its core functionality. I did experience quite a few crashes of the app while trying to edit documents (something I didn’t experience on the iPhone). Like the other iPhone apps, text entry doesn’t take advantage of the iPad’s larger keyboard interface – you just get a larger version of the iPhone keyboard which less functional than the small keyboard on the iPhone. While the scaled documents had some jaggies, everything remained readable.

7. Zosh (iPhone app | iTunes link). This app is functional on the iPad, though no real benefit is gained by operating it in full screen mode on the iPad. If anything, scaling up Zosh to full screen on the iPad makes the signature pad tool a bit cumbersome. Again, document scaling was a bit of an issue revealing some jagged text – but on the whole it remained usable.

8. RightSignature (web app). Current version leaves much of the website’s desktop function inaccessible by mobile Safari. A person can access pending items to be signed and sign them using the RightSignature iPhone app (iTunes link). But, the process of adding documents to the library, creating signature and date fields, etc. (which I think is the true strength of this web app) isn’t accessible. Perhaps this makes sense given how the iPad manages files (even if the full RightSignature interface was available, I don’t think you could access documents on the iPad from Safari to upload them to the service). I understand that the RightSignature folks are working on an iPad app, so I’d expect this to be remedied very soon.

9. Stanza (iPhone app | iTunes link). This iPhone app works as expected. While the larger screen gave the iPhone app some troubles rendering the text in really small text sizes (jagged text affecting readability), it was very usable at most text sizes. I’ll continue to use Stanza to read statutory compilations, cases and other legal materials I consult regularly because of its ability to annotate – a feature the iBooks app currently lacks. I do not know whether the Stanza team is planning an iPad app.

10. iWork Suite (iPad apps | Pages iTunes link | Numbers iTunes link | Keynote iTunes link). I posted a quick reaction to the typing feature in Pages on launch day. My opinion is essentially unchanged. I believe Pages on iPad is a highly functional word processing program that permits productive work on the go where a laptop wouldn’t be available, practical or fun to have around. Not that everything is perfect. No, the .doc export struggles with much beyond basic text. Imports of .doc with complicated formatting – footnotes in particular – will frustrate as many of those features are lost. Automatic numbering, especially in documents imported from Word, also rendered improperly on the iPad. So, if complex formatting is a need, the iPad won’t be helpful. But, recognizing that many lawyers have assistants who help with document formatting and delivery, the formatting limitations and .doc export troubles of Pages on iPad may actually be non-issues to many lawyers.

I am going to hold further review of Numbers and Keynote until I can give them a more thorough run down. There are lots of folks writing about these apps already, but I want to put them through some trials of what I think will be lawyer specific use cases.

Office 2: iPad Word Processing Alternative for Lawyers

Office Squared

Over the weekend I had a chance to try out one of the first non-Apple word processors optimized for the iPad: Office² HD developed by Byte (iTunes link). This entire post was written using the app’s word processor (images were added and HTML cleaned up on the desktop). As Byte describes the product:

Office² HD is a Microsoft Word compatible word processor and Microsoft Excel compatible spreadsheet for the iPad.

The other two major players in this field, QuickOffice and Documents To Go, have not yet released iPad specific versions of their respective products. So, Office² HD gets first mover advantage in what will likely become a very competitive space. No PowerPoint compatible spreadsheet program is included in Office² HD at this time.

On the word processing side, Office² HD has the basic word processing features that you would expect, including:

  • bold, italic and underline formatting colored text and highlighting
  • basic font choices and text sizing
  • basic paragraph formatting (justification, numbering, bullets, indenting)
  • ability to insert tables and images
  • document search
  • last 100 action undo and redo

Probably the most notable omission in the word processing program of interest to lawyers is the inability to display or create tracked changes. Another omission that will be noticed by many lawyers is he ability to create more “outline” (I. A. 1. A. i.) or “contract” (1., 1.1, 1.1.1., etc) style numbering.

Couple features I really like about the word processor:

  • Inline Help – Office Squared

    There is a comprehensive help system onboard that can be displayed I. The left pane when in landscape mode. The help is concise, annotated with pictures and hyperlinked. While most of the features are fairly straightforward, it is a new interface with a learning curve.

  • The button bar at the top is easy and intuitive to use. Only a handful of choices are available, but additional features can be accessed by swiping the button bar.
  • Unlike Pages for iPad, the button bar containing the various formatting functions is conveniently available in portrait and landscape modes (Pages for iPad obey inexplicably only reveals the button bar in portrait mode, making for lots of flipping and rotating of the iPad if you like to format as you type)

I successfully emailed a simple doc from the program and was able to open the file without problem in Pages (desktop and iPad), Microsoft Word and in my file viewer of choice (GoodReader). Opening basic documents worked fine, but the app did struggle with imports of more complexly formatted documents (just like Pages for iPad). Office² HD connects to your iDisk, box.net, Google Docs or similar cloud based service but does not connect with Dropbox.

Office Squared – Insert Image

I had some problems inserting images.  The program allows you to images saved onto your iPad. Once selected, you are offered  a Move and Scale panel, but I was unable to do either. Images larger than the mask offered by the app were simply cropped. I was also unable to adjust image size once the image was inserted. By contrast, Pages for iPad handles images and masks very well.  I don’t think this is a major issue for legal writers as inserting images is not something done often.

If you never work in Pages, then Office² HD may be a good choice for you as an iPad word processor. Not only would using Office² HD eliminate the need for exporting to .doc format, but Office² HD is also considerably cheaper (each of the iWork apps for iPad is $9.99). The integrated file manager is also a plus. While the absence of track changes support is disappointing, none of the word processors for the iPhone OS can do so either.

At this point, I am only reviewing the word processor. I plan to tackle the spreadsheet app at another time. You can purchase the Office² HD suite for $7.99 in the App Store. If you don’t need spreadsheet or advanced file access capabilities, you can get Docs² as a stand alone for $5.99. The spreadsheet and file manager aspects of Office² HD can be purchased individually for $5.99 and $3.99, respectively.

ABA Magazine for iPad

[See Update below]

I missed this when initially announced, but the ABA has developed an iPad app for it’s magazine, ABA Journal. The app appears to combine the ABAs magazine content and web/breaking news content into one app:

The app features breaking legal news updated continuously every business day, all of the monthly magazine’s in-depth articles, and the latest blawgs featured in the Journal’s directory of more than 2,500 legal blogs.

Unfortunatly, I was unable to use the app. Upon launching the app, I was immediately kicked out of the app into Safari to enjoy an advertisement. Same result on next launch. Couldn’t even get to the app content. Looks like some of the ad popup code from the website was ported a little to directly into the app. I’m disappointed to see this because (i) I think the iPad is a natural and brilliant medium for magazines and related content and (ii) TabletLegal is one of the 2,500 blawgs whose content can run through the app.

Hopefully these bugs will be worked out in the next version of the app. Anyone successful in getting past the ad popups?

[Update: April 26, 2010 @ 4:30 pm]: I was contacted by the ABA about the popup issue described above. Sounds like it was some problem on the server side that feeds the content for the app that the ABA has since resolved. I’ve confirmed that the ad popups are no longer a problem. Good on them for quickly addressing the problem. I’ll try to give the app a more thorough review sometime soon.

[email protected]

CardMunch Review at iPhone J.D.

This has been sitting in my queue for a couple weeks – just forgot to post.

Great write up about CardMunch from Jeff Richardson at iPhone J.D. yesterday. CardMunch is my preferred business card scanner app because of its integration with LinkedIn. I find LinkedIn very helpful for networking with potential clients and referral sources. Jeff makes a good point about setting the app’s preferences to match your preference as to whether you automatically want to connect on LinkedIn with every person’s card you scan. I like to take a little time to read through the LinkedIn profiles of people I meet before I deciding whether they would be a good connection to follow up on. As a result, I don’t mind the time delay between scanning and processing the card info as I tackle those tasks separately. The increased accuracy of human transcription is also valuable to me.

If we get a higher quality camera in the iPad 3, I wonder whether these apps will make universal versions for the iPad. I can’t really see the benefit of a larger form factor for this type of task, though from time to time I’ve wished the iPad camera was a bit better so I could quickly “scan” a document using my iPad when my iPhone wasn’t handy.

PDF Annotation on the iPad for Lawyers: iAnnotate

One app many lawyers have been looking is a good PDF annotation tool. I was surprised to find that there was really only one dedicated annotation tool in the App Store: iAnnotate by Aji (iTunes link).

I’ve been trying out iAnnotate for a few days now. As expected, the iPad is a natural device for reading and marking up PDF files and iAnnotate is a very competent annotation tool. I think it is a must have app for any iPad carrying attorney. That said, there is definitely room for improvement, both in the feature set and in the interface. I’m hoping that another good annotation tool arrives on the scene and the competition drives the development of this critical tool for lawyers.

Getting PDF files into iAnnotate

In The current version, there are three ways that I discovered to get PDF files into iAnnotate for use. The first method is to use the iAnnotate Reader Service. This small application, once installed on your desktop computer, makes PDF files in folders you specify visible to iAnnotate via your local network. PDF files in subfolders of specified folders are also accessible. In my tests, is method worked successfully, though I was frustrated by the extra steps this method takes. While there are ore methods of getting PDF files on the device, this is the only method if you want to take advantage of certain of certain of iAnnotate’s advanced annotation features (more on that later).

Document Sharing

I was also able to successfully get docs into iAnnotate via my preferred file manager / reader application GoodReader (iTunes link). Good Reader is one of a number of applications that takes advantage of the Document Sharing features of the iPhone OS. From the manage Files pane of GoodReader, you can select “Open In…” and be presented with a list of installed apps that handle PDF files.

This inter app connectivity is also available in the stock Mail app. Viewing a PDF attachment to an email presents you with an “Open In…” button in the top right corner that, once selected, will allow you to open the file in Annotate.

Because Dropbox is my “files on the go” tool of choice, the GoodReader route works well for me because GoodReader connects to Dropbox. I also prefer this method over the iAnnotate Reader Service as Dropbox doesn’t require me to be connected to my local network.

Importing via iAnnotate Reader Service

That said, in the current version, the iAnnotate Reader Service is necessary is you want to take full advantage of the annotation tools in iAnnotate (like search, text highlight, underline, strike rough), if you want to share your annotations or if you want to transfer them back to the desktop. The reason for this is that the annotations in PDF (not just iAnnotate, but any app, desktop or otherwise) reside in a metadata layer that can ride along with a PDF file. Withoutis metadata layer, pdf files are just images. The iAnnotate Reader Service uses some mojo to make sure this metadata layer is readable by the iAnnotate app.

Nonfunctional “Read” and “Mail” buttons in iAnnotate

iAnnotate says that rendering this metadata is a processor intensive task that is better done on the desktop. iAnnotate claims that this rendering can also be done in app, though I haven’t been able to accomplish it this way yet. I see a “Read” button in the file info viewer in iAnnotate which I expected to do the metadata work in-app. So far, tapping that button is without effect.

iAnnotate also says that the ability to share annotations via email will be included in the next version of the app.

Annotating Documents

The interface for iAnnotate is unique when considered alongside other iPad apps. Rather than the typical approach of creating contextually appropriate menus from a set of icons at the top of the app, iAnnotate uses customizable button bars along the edges of the viewing area. Tapping on an annotation tool takes you out of navigation mode and into that tool’s annotation mode.

Sample of all annotation tools in iAnnotate

iAnnotate annotation tools include the following, most all of which can be done in whatever color you choose.

  • highlighting
  • strikethrough
  • underline
  • freehand drawing
  • sticky note style comments
  • bookmarking

Note that the highlight, underline, and strikeout annotations are only available in PDF files that have come in through the iAnnotate Reader Service as they require the metadata file described above. Also, while you can view annotations that existed in the original PDF document, those original annotations are not editable. iAnnotate says the ability to edit existing annotations will come in a future update.

Getting Annotated Documents Out of iAnnotate

The main way to get documents out of iAnnotate is again through the iAnnotate Reader Service. Emailing from the app is not yet enabled but is promised in the next version. Exported documents opened properly in Acrobat and Preview. Annotations from iAnnotate appeared properly as well.

Other Features

iAnnotate offers the ability to customize the content and location of the button bars in the app. You can browse/annotate multiple PDF files at one time using the apps unique tabbed browsing feature. I think this is a is tremendously helpful feature for lawyers who often have multiple sources open at one time. Text within PDF files (having the accompanying metadata file) can be copied and pasted into other apps.

Gripes

My gripes are mostly small things, some of which are promised to be addressed in the next version. I’m not crazy about the iAnnotate Reader App. I need to be able to pull a PDF out of email or my Dropbox and be able to edit right then. I can’t be tethered to my local network to get the metadata file iAnnotate needs for certain of its tools.

One thing I’m hoping continues to evolve is the interface. Put simply, I don’t particularly care for the interface of iAnnotate – which is to say I think it is ugly (and nonstandard) – even if functional. The app reminds me of what you get when a PC developer makes a Mac app. While I recognize that I’m an admitted interface snob, I initially held off on purchasing the app because of what I could tell about the interface from the App Store.

iAnnotate “New”

Simple Note “New”

While an extensive tour of the interface quirks would really detract from an otherwise positive review and solid app, let me mention a couple examples. Have a look at the “New” button in iAnnotate and compare that withthe “New” button in Apple apps like Contacts, Calendar, Notes and in third party apps like Simple Note (iTunes link) (where this review was largely written). I’m unconvinced that the iAnnotate “New” button is more functional than these starker alternatives or worth whatever extra design effort went into making it.

Compare also the button bars of iAnnotate to the sliding toolbar of an app like Docs 2 (iTunes link) (part of Office 2 HD reviewed last week). The sliding toolbar offers more functions in less screen real estate. The iconography is clean and understandable. Perhaps this is an aspect of the app that will evolve over time.  Again, I recognize that this may just be a personal preference, which is why my recommendation is otherwise quite positive.

Recommendation

I think iAnnotate is a must have app for any lawyer that uses PDF files. All the critical annotation tools are there and easy to use. The output from iAnnotate integrates seamlessly with your desktop PDF tools. Though the app is still developing in certain areas, it is a very capable first release that I look forward to seeing develop.

iAnnotate is available in the App Store for $6.99 (iTunes link). The price will go up to $9.99 once the first update is released (though no response to my inquiries of Aji as to when this might be).