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Weekend Special: The perfect business device – Apple’s iPad?

December 2, 2011

I do remember Steve Ballmer’s story about a fund-raiser trying to get money from him using an iPad to present. He made some fun of it with regards to how to hold the iPad so that all can see and that a Notebook or Tablet PC (the notebooks where you flip the screen) is superior. Apart from presenting to the Microsoft CEO by using an Apple device not being a clever move I do believe Steve Ballmer underestimated or misjudged the iPad based on this early experience.

In a certain sense the iPad represents the almost perfect business device. Before you scream and disagree or applaud in favor of this statement take a step back to understand where the iPad fits into the enterprise landscape.

User segmentation

It is one of the approaches used to address SaaS in the form of Google Apps or Microsoft Office 365 to enterprise customers. As a matter of fact one size fits all is history. Today enterprise IT departments are on the lookout for standardized solutions that cater for different kind of needs. The same approach is needed to understand the iPad in an enterprise context. While the iPad is no device for content creation, it is just perfect for content consumption. So the user groups you would target with an iPad are those that mainly consume / present content rather than create it.

Examples for these roles are: Retail sales roles, mobile sales roles, and mobile service and support roles

Another group to target with the iPad are executives that would switch between devices and where the cost factor is not the main decision factor. But there is a third group as well. These are roles that create content in a much formalized fashion through forms. This could range from the traffic cop through to teller roles in a bank and many more other roles.

So there is a user group ripe to use a content consumption and limited creation device. While all these would be able to work with a Notebook as well, the Notebook is not always the best solution. And as mentioned above  the times for “one size fits all” are over.

Advantages of the iPad in a business context

Do you remember the efforts IT departments were taking to make PCs secure? I remember the days when banks ordered IBM PS2 machines without disk drives and actually paid more for less. Or the efforts that are needed nowadays to turn off USB ports. Deployment always is an issue and there is one simple solution to it – cloud computing. Rather than deploying the software you let it run in the browser. The iPad and Smartphones are the perfect cloud devices – always connected!

Another issue in the area of security always has been local storage and access to it. With centrally available storage solutions, that are accessed through the cloud,  the risk of critical content being stored locally is eradicated.

Where does the iPad fit into this story?

The iPad has no USB port and limited local storage. On top of that it connects well to cloud services. You even would be able to create and deploy your own enterprise apps in case you want to step out of the browser. With support for encryption, remote wipe even through the Exchange Management Console or from Outlook Web Access and many more security features the iPad really qualifies as an enterprise ready device. Most people do see an iPad as a consumer device but if you dig a little bit deeper you’ll find many enterprise class features. Have a look here for more details: http://www.apple.com/ipad/business/docs/iPad_Security.pdf

Still to come to make it even better

There are some areas where the iPad could be improved to even better fit enterprise requirements. The obvious point is the need for iTunes. A full integration into Asset Management, Device Management and Software Deployment tools already used in companies would strengthen the iPad’s position big time. This would also address the fact that IT departments do not seem a hundred percent happy with the current functionality around remote wipe and policy enforcement. This is more hassle than a full blocker though.

While Facetime is nice the Google+ hangout concept is much closer to the Enterprise needs. The hangouts actually do challenge Microsoft’s Lync on a broad base especially since content sharing and even screen sharing have been included. So a natural integration of Google+ would actually position the iPad for a broader use. The question would be whether it is Google’s job to create the App or Apple’s interest to even drive a closer integration of that with iOS.

Arguments against it that do not work

The one argument you here over and over again is that the iPad does not work as you cannot create content on it that is bigger than a short email. While some would challenge that I do agree that I would not want to write e.g. my blog on an iPad. This is no argument though to stop iPads from adding value to enterprise sized companies. First of all there are things like extra keyboards you could use (I personally do like the Logitech iPad 2 keyboard case). Secondly remember what we discussed earlier with regards to user segmentation.

Another argument is the risk of theft (employees as well as external thieves). I do not agree that there is a risk of theft that would prevent the enterprise use of iPads. Theft is an issue for all mobile devices from Smartphone through iPad to Notebooks. The risk connected to theft is twofold.

Data Loss

This can be prevented through encryption and remote wipe functionality. It does therefore not work as an argument against the iPad.

Value Loss

Every business item stolen is an item too much. But the facts that stop me from accepting this as an argument against the iPad are obvious if you think about it. Most Notebooks used in companies represent a higher value than iPads and these are stolen as well with nobody arguing against mobile computing. The other thing is that enterprises usually are insured against these thefts.

Conclusion

The iPad is a perfect business device for a selected group of users within an enterprise. These users must not automatically be the executives as there are other roles that would benefit even more. The iPad is a cloud device and the better the cloud backend is integrated the more value the iPad does deliver.

How will Windows 8 tablets stack up against the iPad?

This article featured the iPad as that is available on the market. To what degree Windows 8 tablets will be able to challenge the iPad’s position as an enterprise device remains to be seen. The UI of Windows 8 looks interesting and the promise of a higher integration into the management environment of Windows devices is a plus. There are risks as well. In case Microsoft creates another tablet device that is a full-blown PC in a different form factor it misses the point of a tablet as a consumption and cloud device. It will also be interesting to see whether Microsoft favors the WP7 approach to specs and requirements, very rigorous and narrow, or the PC approach, open to the OEMs to define completely.

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