April 11th, 2010 No Comments

The business case for the iPad – Part 2

iPad From All Sides

Looking at the iPad from all sides

Read part 1 of this review.

The iPad has been available for a little over a week and Apple just announced that they have to delay international sales because demand in the US has been much greater than expected – apparently over 500,000 were sold in the first week. Cynics will say that it’s just a bunch of Apple fanboys and lemmings that blindly buy anything bearing the fruity logo, but I think there is something more at work here and that real business users are snapping these up.

A few of us have been testing the iPad in typical business situations and comparing notes on apps, battery life, and the number of strangers that ask to hold it. See our first iPad review for a variety of business apps that we like. A few more useful apps are listed below, but first some general thoughts after carrying this around for the past ten days.

Sitting posture for computer workstation

1) Ergonomics matters. I probably spend at least three hours on a typical day reading at a computer: e-mails, news, technical magazines, blogs, etc. Sitting up at a desk to do this reading is really uncomfortable. (You wouldn’t grab the latest paperback bestseller and snuggle up at your desk, right?) Being able to do this part of my daily job in a more comfortable place, and position really makes a difference. Notebook/netbook computers also let you change place, but not your position. In this respect the iPad plays the same role as a bluetooth headset which makes it possible to be comfortable during long phone calls – my neck still hurts when I think about all the hours I used to spend with my shoulder pressing an old desk phone handset against my head.

The iPad is small and light, easy to hold in one hand, and it can be used while standing, laying down, sitting on a couch, and probably in a variety of yoga poses. The long battery life means you don’t have to carry wires around, and the screen offers enough range of adjustment to accommodate bright sunshine in the park, or darkened airplane cabins. I leave the iPad on my desk while I’m using the desktop computer so if a long e-mail comes in, or there’s something else I need to read for a while I grab the iPad. The iPad turns on instantly and makes reading more comfortable, even if that just means leaning back with my feet on the desk.

One of my friends described it this way. The iPad has made him more social, more visible and accessible to his staff. He runs a company with about 40 people and the iPad allows him to get out of his office. A notebook/netbook would be awkward to hold and use in this situation. With an iPad he can read an e-mail, or a competitor’s Web site and simply hand the iPad to someone to show them. Enabling that sort of simple interaction, sharing information in the hallway without needing to print or e-mail the documents, helps improve communication among your team.

2) Limits are good. Most of the complaints about the iPad concern the walled garden approach that Apple has taken to their world – the iPad doesn’t have a “real” operating system, there are no USB ports, it doesn’t multitask, it can’t print, Apple controls what gets into their App Store. But these complaints are coming from developers and tech enthusiasts. Business owners and IT departments know that “real” computers are a huge headache and expense. Devices like the iPad, combined with advances in cloud computing/storage, will reduce acquisition, maintenance and training costs, user frustration, and ultimately improve productivity because purpose-built apps will provide better integration between an organization’s systems. Who would have imagined a few years ago that heavyweight ERP systems would be available on something like the iPhone? Users want mobility and flexibility in where and how they work. Businesses want reduced costs and improved security. The iPad seems like a good fit for the business world.

About that multitasking. The iPad actually does multitask just fine. While typing this article (on my iPad) I am also listening to music, and I hear a faint bell whenever new e-mail arrives. To read the e-mail I simply press the “home” button, then tap the e-mail icon. After finishing with the e-mail, two more taps on the screen bring me right back to where I left off on this article. In practice, it’s no different or slower than switching applications on a “real” computer.

3) Business apps are a big business. The other day Steve Jobs said that over 4 billion apps have been downloaded from the App Store. He didn’t talk about the number of those that were games vs. business tools, but it’s a big number in each category and with the larger screen on the iPad we’ll see even more business apps. With the iPad I think we will see an opportunity for software developers to create small, specialty apps for companies. Imagine a sales order entry system that connects to the company’s servers when an Internet connection is available. New orders, job status, order history, and other information is stored locally on the iPad when there is no Internet access. The apps don’t have to be big or complicated, they just have to do one thing really well. In the Apple stores the sales people use an app to schedule appointments at the Genius Bar.

For an example of heavyweight enterprise software coming to this category of device, the Oracle retail group is developing iPhone applications. Look here for a list of the Oracle apps. There’s also a prototype app available from SAP if you want to see where they are going: SAP BUSINESSOBJECTS EXPLORER FOR IPHONE

We mentioned a few obvious business apps in an article last week. Since then a few others have seen a lot of use around here:

Evernote – This is a cross-platform note taking program that’s also available for Windows, Linux, Mac and a variety of phones. No matter where you run Evernote the program saves a local copy of your notes, and syncs them into “the cloud” whenever you are online. So you can take notes during a meeting where you only have the iPad, and then read and print the notes on your desktop back at the office.

Instapaper – Consuming content is what the iPad is all about, and Instapaper is one of those apps that should be standard equipment on the iPad. What you do is install the browser add-ons/extensions/plugins on all of your computers and Web browsers. Then when you see an interesting article that you don’t have time for, click the “Read Later” button. When you bring up Instapaper on the iPad it will download a nicely-formated version of all the articles you previously flagged. The articles are all downloaded to the iPad so you can read them even while offline on a plane.

Square credit card scanner

Square credit card scanner

Square – Most apps don’t send you money, but Square, Inc. has developed a credit card scanner that plugs into the iPad. (iPhone and other devices will be supported later – the iPad is first.) Download the free Square iPad app and sign up for an account. They will send you the scanner, also free. There are no monthly charges, minimum transactions, or long-term contracts. You don’t even need a merchant account to accept credit cards.

We will continue testing apps as we discover them. Please drop us a note if you have any favorites that we have not mentioned.

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