5 great iPad apps for developers

It's just sitting there.

A smooth, glassy surface with a built-in keyboard, Internet connectivity, and a form factor that just begs to get some quick work done.

While much has been made of the iPad as a content consumption device, there are still ways to create work on the popular device from Apple, if you know the apps to use. That creativity applies to writing, graphic design, and even code development.

Application development on the iPad has remained an elusive dream. Because of Apple's policy of not allowing any outside code interpreters on the tablet (or any other iOS device, for that matter), developers are not going to be seeing an onboard IDE with compilation capabilities anytime soon. This is not to say that development work on the iPad is impossible. With the right apps, the iPad is a very good code editing tool that will let you edit code and update applications on the go.

The heart of the matter

Right now, there is one app that can we can easily recommend as the best code editor for the iPad: Textastic. We could pretty much stop right here and tell you to just go download the app for $9.99 so you could see for yourself what we're talking about, but that's not entirely helpful.

There is a great deal about Textastic to like. As an editor, it's a simple, clean interface that does all the things that a good text editor is supposed to do, handling various fonts, tab widths, and auto-indents, with the usual copy and paste, undo and redo, and search and replace.

For coders, though, the magic starts with Textastic's syntax recognition functions. Over 80 different types of syntax (HTML, Objective-C, C++, Ruby, and JavaScript, to name a very few) can be used, which is extremely helpful for editing code. Using the app's HTML syntax recognition capabilities, you can easily hand-code and edit HTML files; you can also preview files (and Markdown files, too) in a built-in Web preview screen.

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Textastic is the gold standard for editing text or code on the iPad.

With just the editorial features of Textastic, you would have a darn good coding editor -- but there's definitely more to it. Opening files are all well and good if they're on the iPad's local storage, but iPads are historically persnickety when it comes to transferring files to and fro. Textastic takes care of this, baking multiple ways to get files to the iPad right into the application. A simple FTP client will connect to any authorized server via FTP/SFTP, or you can connect to any authorized Dropbox account to download and upload files. There's even a running WebDAV server in Textastic, so you can push files to the iPad from a PC, Mac, or Linux machine.

Using Dropbox in Textastic was remarkably straightforward. After adding the connection to a known Dropbox account, moving files down to the iPad (and up again to Dropbox) was a two-tap operation. The connection is persistent, too; after editing a file downloaded from another location, one of the sharing options is re-uploading the file back to the online source.

One of the other features that make this app well worth the price tag is the developer, Alexander Blach. Blach is very much involved in improving his app, and his feedback site demonstrates that effort clearly. On that site, users can provide suggestions -- and more importantly see the features that Blach is working on for future versions of Textastic (hint: support for version control systems like Subversion and git).

Project management on the move

The old adage goes something like this: how do you eat an elephant?

The answer: One bite at a time.

And that's the real trick behind project management: looking at a really big goal (building that suite of applications, or porting an existing app to the cloud) and parsing it into smaller, finite steps. If you break huge insurmountable projects into these smaller tasks, not only is the end result perceived as achievable, but you also have a path in place for the project.

Developers with big projects on their plate may need an app that will help them manage their workload. There are two ways of going about this: using task management or project management tools.

There are a number of really good task management tools for the iPad, which handle tasks as they come up, without focusing on the bigger picture. Remember the Milk and Things for iPad are two apps that meet those criteria very well. Remember the Milk is perhaps the better of the two, since its Web-based system enables access to task lists from any device with a browser.

Traditional project management has a more project-centric point of view than task management tools like Remember the Milk. Task management tools enable you to create tasks, and, at best, group those tasks into larger projects.

Project management tools start with the assumption that you are going to build a project first and then add the tasks needed to get the project completed. By creating a series of sequential and parallel tasks, you can more accurately determine the total length of time it should take to complete the project (assuming of course that everything goes on schedule).

An excellent project-centric project management app for the iPad is SG Project, formerly known as Project Pad. This app works in much the same way as larger applications like Microsoft Project, although it is much more streamlined and mobile-friendly.

SG Project, which also runs for $9.99, uses a traditional project management methodology, with normal tasks, milestone tasks, and parent tasks. Tasks can be viewed in a variety of ways, including the Gantt charts we've all come to love. It does a great job for developers on a budget. If you've got a lot of projects and users to manage, you might consider plunking down the $39.99 for SG Project Pro, which expands the functionality of the original SG Project quite a bit.

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SG Project brings traditional management methodology to the iPad.

Another way of handling project management is using the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, invented by management consultant David Allen. GTD essentially advocates applying a "do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it" rule to get your inbox empty, which helps determine how to best apply your attention to each task so there's never a sense of being overwhelmed.

If you like the GTD method, you will definitely want to try Omnifocus for iPad. Omnifocus is a task-centric approach to project management, similar to Things for iPad, but has a number of extra features (such as context for tasks and projects) that enable you to manage fairly robust projects. The only caveat is the price tag: $39.99. Like Things, Omnifocus can work with its Mac OS X desktop counterpart. Linux and Windows users don't have to feel entirely left out: an inexpensive third-party service called Spootnik uses WebDAV and a Web interface to sync projects and tasks with Omnifocus from any browser.

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Omnifocus builds on the Getting Things Done philosophy.

Connecting with the work

Since we've already seen how Textastic connects with various machines for file and code work, you might think there's no need for any other connectivity apps. But, brace yourself: not every file a developer works with is going to be text-based. You'll still need a way to access files like graphics and PDFs to read, edit, or otherwise use.

The best and simplest tool is the free-of-charge Dropbox app. Once you've signed up for the free Dropbox service, which gets you 2 GB of storage, you can access the contents of that folder from any machine that can see the cloud-base storage. On Windows, OS X, and some Linux distributions, that's through a dedicated folder in the filesystem that can be set to regularly auto-sync with the contents of the cloud folder. For the iPad, the Dropbox app will handle this functionality.

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Dropbox is simple and free of charge.

Dropbox is great for pulling files down to the iPad. It's not so easy, though, to get files into Dropbox if they're on your iPad, graphic files in the Photo Library excepted. Only an individual app with Dropbox support (such as the aforementioned Textastic) can push files out to your Dropbox, regardless of the installation of the Dropbox app. So, iWork apps like Pages and Numbers won't upload to Dropbox, but DocsToGo will.

For a little more two-way functionality, FTP on the Go Pro (available for $9.99) will connect to the Shared with iTunes folder, so you could move files into that folder and have them available in FTP to Go Pro. Still, like the Dropbox app, FTP to Go Pro is best for connecting with existing FTP sites and downloading and uploading files from there. Because it's based on direct connection to existing sites, FTP on the Go is suited for managing Web sites through straightforward FTP management.

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Connect with existing Web sites with FTP to Go.

All of these apps are essential starts to any developer's toolkit, enabling hackers to work with code wherever they might find themselves.

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