How the iPad fits in the enterprise

Miniature de l'image pour P PDA.gifThe launch of Apple's iPad seems to have split the world into two camps, with the vendor's vociferous supporter base unsurprisingly trumpeting the device as the next big thing, while "others" compare it to an overly large and feature-poor iPhone (a good round-up of the features is available here). As with the iPhone, the device is squarely targeted at the consumer customer base; but like the iPhone, it also seems likely that some devices will find their way into the enterprise, with the various challenges this will bring for corporate IT departments.

IDG News Service conducted a straw poll of enterprises to find out first reactions, finding that "in general most of those we talked with were intrigued enough to want to experiment with the iPad".

Perhaps the biggest question is how the device will fit in to the enterprise device portfolio, especially taking into account the fact that tablet PCs are no new thing - and have so-far failed to set the market alight. There is the potential for the iPad to fill specific market niches, for example as a survey tool for researchers using web-based forms, or for use during meetings and presentations, or in specific vertical markets, such as healthcare - in many cases, where existing tablet PCs have found a home. But the limited functionality of the iPad, including its lack of high-end computing credentials and multitasking support, means that it will not be suitable for use as a primary device.

The iPad treads an interesting line in terms of portability: while it beats a laptop hands-down, it still lags a smartphone in terms of true mobility, with the latter often an ideal solution for remaining in-touch when on the move if intensive data manipulation is not a priority. In terms of competition, it is best placed as an alternative to the netbook, although the netbook has its own advantages, including support for multitasking, operating systems that are common with other enterprise computers, cost-effective devices available from multiple manufacturers and, crucially, a keyboard. In fact, as with netbooks, the iPad may really be best described as a third device for employees who will already have laptop computers and smartphone -- and it is not immediately clear how may corporates will feel the need to equip workers with such an array of computing paraphernalia.

While Apple has remained tight-lipped about the operating system used by the device, reports indicate that it uses a variant of the platform used in the iPhone. As the iPhone has become more popular among corporates, so the enabling technology has been updated to make it more enterprise-friendly, which should mean that the iPad will be a similar proposition -- in a blog post, Forrester Research noted "if you've got support for the iPhone in place, the iPad should be no different." But it is also worth remembering that the iPhone OS is still primarily a smartphone platform, which while it will enable compatibility with the existing iPhone application base, is still a limitation when compared to other platforms.

Some analysts have also raised eyebrows over the security features of the iPad. Enterprises will need features including remote device wipe-and-lock, VPN support and application policy management before officially sanctioning deployments.

The fact that the device will support customised versions of Apple's iWorks productivity applications was deemed a plus point, and the addition of a docking station with full-sized keypad for use in the office could enable the iPad to become a work anywhere device. But the lack of multitasking support will be a major drawback for most enterprise computer users, familiar with the capabilities of a modern PC, and the 1GHz processor, custom-made by Apple, is also still unproven. And while a smartphone may be able to be forgiven for lacking in computer power, the same cannot be said of an internet tablet, especially in the enterprise market.

Perhaps the best summary comes from Chris Silva, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research. He argues: "If your users want to try out the iPad, let them foot the bill. The support for the device should look very similar, if not identical, to the iPhone and, for the time being, welcoming experimentation with new form factors by your users is a healthy exercise provided it does not create an undue opex burden on IT. This is a device that's not going away and that we'll likely see some amazing, game changing applications and services for. However, right now, rushing to make way for this device is, for most enterprises, premature".
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