The iPad has already come under fire for its limitations. But despite some missing features, Erik Eckel thinks it holds value for mobile workers.
Apple's new products generate ardent, obsessive, and fanatical coverage. Everyone from technology nerds to mass news media organizations trip over themselves attempting to be first introducing the world to Apple's next big thing. Repeatedly revolutionizing the way people use computers (the Macintosh), listen to music (the iPod), and talk to one another (the iPhone) will do that (as well as generate $15.6B in quarterly revenue and $3.3B in net quarterly profit), which explains why the iPad debuted to such impressive fanfare last week.
For all the things the iPad is (a perfect netbook, an outstanding eBook reader, a portable email device, etc.), there are a few features I'd have liked to see the iPad include. Imagine how the device would change the way we work if it included cellular telephone capability (you could talk using a Bluetooth headset), fancy keys you could feel (instead, the keyboard simply appears onscreen) and plentiful storage space (initial models will top out at 64GB).
Regardless, the iPad will prove plenty popular with on-the-go business users. Here are the top 10 reasons why.
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The iPad's included Mail application makes it easy to join mobile users to Microsoft Exchange-powered email networks. Exchange provides the foundation for most small business email networks, so integration will prove almost automatic. Non-Exchange users will find Mail compatible with most every other commonly used email platform, as well.
Base models include integrated 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless networking. Optional models include integrated 3G cellular data networking compatible with UMTS, HSDPA, GSM, and EDGE networks. As a result, business users will be able to access cloud-based applications, email, VPNs, and other systems and data most wherever they go. Sales personnel, field engineers, consultants, contractors, health care providers, students, instructors, and numerous other users will find the integrated network capacity compelling. As applications, platforms, information, and data increasingly move to the cloud (a trend that fueled netbook popularity), the iPad becomes that much more capable as a business device.
3: Ease of use
The reason Apple's won such converts — and numerous industrial design awards — is that its engineers study the way things can work, not the way they work now. As a result, the Mac, iPod, and iPhone have changed the way people perform important or common tasks. The iPad's patented Multi-Touch display permits precise and accurate gesture input. Spreading pinched fingers explodes a folder. Flicking a finger turns pages with the same speed the finger is moved. Tapping zooms in on an object. Everything is intuitive, making device interaction easy to learn. And at just a half-inch thick and a pound-and-a-half in weight, the iPad is among the thinnest and lightest of any netbook and certainly any laptop ever made. Add in the fact that the device can go 10 hours between recharging, and you have a user-friendly tablet computer.
4: Integrated keyboard
Imagine ripping the lid off a 9.7-inch wide netbook, installing the functionality of an iPhone on steroids, and then eliminating the clumsy mechanical typewriter-like keys in favor of a display-superimposed keyboard. That's an iPad. Mobile users need not pack an additional external keyboard whenever heading to the airport, coffee shop, nearby cubicle, or other location to review email, documents, the Internet, and or other information. The iPad's touch-screen display enables typing on a keyboard exponentially larger than that found on cell phones and sized closer to full-size laptops. For users insisting on a full-size keyboard, Apple's included integrated Bluetooth, so external keyboards can be connected sans wires.
5: Applications, applications, applications
The true value of any computing platform is largely dependent upon the number of third-party applications written for it. Programs written for the iPhone will run on the iPad, and upon the release of the iPad SDK, iPad-specific applications will absolutely flood the market. If the iPhone is any barometer, just keeping track of available tools, utilities, and programs will prove mind-boggling. Already some 140,000 applications have been produced for the iPhone and downloaded some three billion times. Expect the same fervent energy to surround the creation and consumption of iPad applications.
Apple's popular iWork suite will work well with the iPad. The tool set — which includes Keynote for generating presentations, Pages for creating documents, and Numbers for building spreadsheets — will be available to iPad users. The cost? Just $10 per application. The suite's iPad compatibility ensures that business users have access to powerful applications necessary for functioning within today's demanding office environments. iWork on the iPad will also provide a bridge for working with Microsoft Office users, as iWork enables opening, editing, and saving files using popular Office file formats.
Amazon's Kindle reignited hope among publishers that eBook adoption would finally take off. In fact, the Kindle sold so well, Barnes & Noble introduced its own competitor, the Nook, in December 2009. iPad sales will crush both the Kindle and Nook, combined. Hands down. That's because, in addition to numerous applications, full Internet capability, email, and numerous other features, the iPad includes Apple's iBooks app. Business users frequently travel, and the ability to tote numerous books without the weight will prove another popular feature. Think of the iPad as a full-color Kindle (that's easy to read in low light), only with the addition of full netbook computer functionality.
Apple engineers have tweaked the Calendar included with the iPad. Much like the iPhone's Calendar, the tablet PC can display events listed by day, week, and month. On the iPad, multiple calendars can be viewed simultaneously, thereby enabling juggling multiple schedules so common among office workers today. With the benefit of integrated wireless Internet (and optional cellular broadband data networking), consistent connectivity to an Exchange server means users can keep schedules synchronized without requiring third-party sync tools or other clunky measures.
Few things are more important to sales personnel, field teams, and professional services staff than their address books. The iPad's Contacts app provides a simple but powerful method of managing contacts and contact lists. With integrated data networking, synchronization becomes a breeze. Even better, when seeking a client or customer's location, a quick tap of the street address opens Maps automatically. As realtors, traveling sales staff, and other mobile professionals can attest, these little time-saving tweaks are what helped fuel millions of iPhone sales.
10: The price
A good netbook is five hundred bucks. Apple's iPad starts at just $499. With the right mix of applications, storage capacity, and network technology corresponding to each user's specific needs, many business professionals will find a well-equipped iPad capable of replacing a much more expensive laptop in the field. For once, whether it's Apple's recognition that it's debuting the iPad toward the tail of the Great Recession or a concession to detractors incessantly complaining about the high cost of Apple hardware (overlooking the more beneficial long-term total cost of ownership), Apple has priced a new device similarly to Windows-based counterparts.
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Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.