Why the iPad has a Place in the Enterprise

Updated 1/18/2011: Added details about iPad to projector cabling and added link to opinion piece advocating against the use of the iPad in an enterprise setting to the related content section.

When Apple first brought the iPad to market, some critics lampooned it as a product without an audience, or an answer to a question nobody asked. Robust sales and a surprising level of penetration in the enterprise have laid most of these concerns to rest, and, if the most recent CES is any indication, Apple will soon face an army of tablet competitors from dozens of other vendors. Some -- like the Motorola Xoom and RIM PlayBook -- may finally give the iPad the competition it needs.

Read: Microsoft Preps Strategy to Fight iPad

So why has the iPad succeeded where others have failed? And what do tablets offer that other computing devices don't? Here are a few reasons why I think the tablet form factor may finally have found its niche in corporate America.

Sometimes Enough...is Enough: I'll be the first to admit that my laptop preferences tend to drift towards the overpowered. I really don't need a laptop to have a monster processor, powerful graphics card, vast amounts of storage, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a video camera to write articles, but having that capability when I might need it is smart, right? People predisposed to having the most powerful laptops aside, the vast majority of office workers probably don't need (or care) if their laptop sports the latest bells and whistles, as long as it lets them get on the corporate network, browse the web, view documents and presentations, and check their Facebook pages now and then. The iPad excels at all of these things. It won't replace a desktop or laptop for content creation, but it excels as a device that displays and presents information. And sometimes that's all you need.

Collaboration is King: Have you ever tried to share information on a laptop with 4-5 people seated around a small table? There's lots of laptop turning involved, adjusting the screen for glare, standing up to get a better view of the screen, and peering around the plastic barrier of the laptop screen to make eye contact with the person behind it. The iPad excels as a tool for small, collaborative groups. The device can be easily passed around to participants, or everyone can peer down at the device as it rests in the center of the table. That ability for people to easily share and view the device also makes the iPad ideal for playing digital versions of such popular boardgames such as Risk, Scrabble, and Monopoly.

Instant Information: Like the iPhone, the iPad has a start-up time that is measured in seconds. We've all been in meetings where everyone patiently waits for someone to pull their laptop out of its case, turn it on, wait for it to boot, and then navigate to the information required for the meeting. Fast start-up time is a boon for sales people, who now have even more time to present information and pitch prospective clients. On the productivity front, how many hours -- or weeks, days, or months! -- have we all wasted waiting for someone's PC to boot? The main reasons people bring laptops to meetings is to provide information relevant to the topic at hand, present documents, share a slide deck, or search the web. Aside from taking notes and connecting to a projector, a good tablet can perform all these tasks. (Update: Apple does sell an iPad to VGA connector cable that does allow the iPad to output to a projector. )

Simplicity Trumps Complexity: I'll admit that I couldn't live without my work laptop. I'm a writer and editor by trade, so the thought of typing a 3000 word article on a touchscreen would be torture. But I also admit that laptops have their own share of drawbacks. They tend to be heavier and more cumbersome, and lugging them between conference room can be a chore. Start-up times can often be long, and how many of us have had problems with waking up a laptop from sleep or hibernate mode? And how many meetings have we all been in where we watch someone try in vain to get their $2000 laptop to work with a $4000 projector?

The iPad solves most of these problems: It's light, slips easily on top of notebooks and binders, and starts up instantly. The iPad's greatest strength is it's intuitive operation and simplicity, traits which are often more valuable than the faster processor speed and more voluminous storage capacity offered by an overly-complex (and expensive) laptop.

I'm sure there are other reasons why people are using the iPad, and I'm sure there's an equally long list of reasons why people aren't using it. If you fall into either camp, let us know what you think by commenting on this blog post or following the discussion on Twitter.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 5

on Jan 16, 2011
I wrote a blog entry on why the iPad has no place in the enterprise from a productivity point of view it fails in almost every category. The iPad is an incredible device for consumers. Otherwise it has no place in the enterprise in it's current form.

You have to be responsible as a corporate employee. People, investors, employees and companies could get hurt when you risk data and information leaking out of a company. In hospitals the devices cannot be sterilized, in manufacturing the devices does is not designed to take a fall. I have the same challenge with consumer phones in the enterprise. No need to list all of the lack of management and corporate security features.

In terms of collaboration the iPad fails miserably. What corporate web conferncing tool is supported? What about a corporate IM solution?

I get it the device is small, fast and just plain old cool! However what is the real return on investment here? What is the real cost for standing up the corporate infrastructure to properly support it? What help desk is trained on supporting this device for companies and corporate usage? What is the real risk to not being able to manage this device (and Yes, I understand companies like GOOD technologies are helping to close the gap, however they are not quite yet there today).

My kid, friends and I have great fan fare for the iPad however I think you are way off the mark here. There is good reason Apple does not have mass enterprise push for the device. They understand and realize the device was not designed for responsible corporate usage. If your best argument is email and facebook, then I think we have a very different view of enterprise usage. http://blogs.msdn.com/b/eferron/archive/2010/10/08/the-ipad-enterprise-disruption.aspx

on Jan 15, 2011
Just a couple of clarifications/additions:

Contrary to the author's claim, I connect my iPad to a VGA projector all the time. I gave a presentation yesterday which included PowerPoint, several PDF files and a browser session (showing the meeting attendees how to access a certain website).

The VGA adapter that Apple sells (maybe $30?) works very well. The only catch is that the VGA port on the iPad does not receive all of the video output that the iPad screen receives. Output to the VGA port is governed by the software that is running at any particular moment.

So, for PowerPoint presentations I use a free app/service called MightyMeeting. And for everything else like DOCs, PDFs and web browsing I use GoodReader ($2.99 and worth every penny).

FYI - I am a business owner and Windows developer/techie who had not used an Apple product since 1992. I needed a small, portable device that would: 1) allow me to make quality presentations using a VGA projector; 2) give me mobile access to all of my windows computers and servers (via RDP) and; 3) provide basic laptop-style services while on the road (e-mail, document editing, web browsing and instant messaging).

The iPad does all of this for me in a sleek, well-designed package. As a bonus, it's great to carry around a library of books, games and other useful applications. For the typical business person like myself, this device has a lot going for it IMHO.

on Jan 18, 2011
We have found that the iPad is a highly useful tool for certain classes of road warrior type employees in our sales force. We are selective about who we issue them to - one of the challenges of bringing the iPad into the enterprise is that people are still defining ways to use it, and it can be tricky to determine which employees are a good fit for an iPad and which are best suited with laptops.

Apple's biggest challenge is licensing and distributing software in an enterprise environment. Software is bought and distributed through a channel that was designed to carry music downloads. One of our major headaches is that we buy an app, and we have to manage which email address we've created in order to download and install that app. And since Apple currently restricts the number of devices per account, it becomes unmanageable at scale.

on Jan 21, 2011
I must address many of efrron's comments. Many of his arguments are easily countered.

"You have to be responsible as a corporate employee." True. And not every organization has a completely locked down infrastructure. How many reading this cannot use Facebook or IM in their company? I would imagine that they would not be close to being in the majority. Hardware encryption, use of VPN, and software to enforce use of these (e.g. Cisco VPN Anywhere)obviates many of these issues.

"In hospitals the devices cannot be sterilized, in manufacturing the devices does is not designed to take a fall." Agreed. Hospitals and clean room environments are unique environments with unique needs and challenges. Again, not the majority of use cases.

"In terms of collaboration the iPad fails miserably." Liferay seems to work just fine for us.

"What corporate web conferncing tool is supported?" Webex, for one.

"I get it the device is small, fast and just plain old cool! However what is the real return on investment here?" Here, the points made in the article are completely ignored. Go back and read it.If you disagree, give reasons.

"What is the real cost for standing up the corporate infrastructure to properly support it? What help desk is trained on supporting this device for companies and corporate usage?" Because of lack of moving parts and ease of use, our ongoing support costs will be appreciably less than conventional laptops. Our help desk was easily and eagerly trained on iPads and iPhones.

"What is the real risk to not being able to manage this device (and Yes, I understand companies like GOOD technologies are helping to close the gap, however they are not quite yet there today.)" Agreed, but it is a matter of degree. For many, the management capabilities offered and productivity enhancements more than offset the risk of deploying these devices in a sales scenario.

Finally, the iPad is not a laptop replacement. But it can handle most of the needs of a mobile sales force with adequate management and security features. If Apple's metrics are to be believed, 80% of companies are either deploying or piloting these devices. Do some research and have a good idea of your particular organizations security requirements and support capabilities before you deploy any mobile computing solution. You may find that the iPad (or another mobile computing solution) is a good fit.

on Jan 18, 2011
Lots of excellent comments here, everyone -- many thanks for the feedback.

@Quesne: Thanks for the info. I'll update the article with the VGA adapter details you described.

@eferron: Great counterpoint as to why enterprises shouldn't use an iPad. I'll add the link to your blog post as a nice counterpoint to the article.

@Devin Rambo: Thanks for the info about the difficulties with managing iPad software for larger organizations. Would you be interested in interviewing you to get more details on your perspective -- drop me an email at jeff.james@penton.com if you;re interested.

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