SharePoint and the iPad


I have been fascinated by the uses of handheld devices since I first laid eyes on a PalmPilot many years ago. Since then I have bought and used many devices based on Windows CE, Windows Tablet PC, PalmOS, BlackBerry, Symbian… up to my current devices, Apple's iPhone and iPad. Part of it was just my natural love of technology, but a lot of it was the hope for a new way of interacting with computers.There are many activities that are better suited to a tablet than to a laptop or desktop. Most of these involve the consumption of content such as browsing the web, reading documents and ebooks, listening to music and podcasts, and watching videos. The portability of these devices make it easy to quickly change your environment but continue with what you were doing. You can work on a sofa at the cafe down the street or sitting on the bus. You can now take action when you think of an idea instead of jotting down a reminder to do something later.

Some offices are now adopting a bring your own device (BYOD) policy that allows employees to use their own personal devices to access internal resources. Some of the reported advantages include increased job satisfaction, since you are using a device that you personally chose, and increased productivity, as the device may be more technologically advanced because it is not subject to the company's upgrade cycle.

Being involved in a product that works with SharePoint, I am very interested in the possibilities and limitations of using SharePoint with an iPad. The most obvious and cheapest method is to access a SharePoint site using Mobile Safari. This is the version of the Safari browser that ships with the iPad. Assuming that your iPad is connected to the same network as your SharePoint site, the first thing you will see when you enter in the URL is an authentication prompt.

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The site renders just like on the desktop. Even all the SharePoint drop-down menus and the ribbon are rendered properly. You can view and edit document libraries and list items as usual. The iPad can display most popular document types such as Microsoft Word, Excel and text files. You can also open these documents in an app of your choice. There are many Office-compatible apps available for the iPad, but all seem to have their quirks. We may need to wait for the rumoured iPad version of Microsoft Office to get all the features rendered properly.

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It's not perfect though. You cannot edit any documents on the iPad and check them back in. The filesystem of the iPad prevents you from being able to search for documents to upload - you can only upload images from your Camera Roll or photos that you take with the camera. You can work around this by enabling email on a document library and emailing a document as an attachment. I also noticed a problem using the Content Editor webpart in a publishing site.

If you are primarily dealing with lists and document libraries, there are a number of native iPad apps that improve the experience by taking advantage of the touch capabilities of the tablet. I hope to test some of these out while I think about how best to present our product in mobile form. Until then, Mobile Safari does an admirable job if you are mainly using it to view content.


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