Like nearly every new product out of Cupertino, Apple's new tablet device had been pitched as "earth shattering." One of the scenarios depicted by the marketing hoopla leading up to the device's unveiling was the corporate meeting. Rather than shuffling through a stack of papers, the facilitator taps a few buttons on his or her device, and the group's iPads light up, interactive handouts illuminate the screens, followed perhaps by a demo of a new software program or prototype of an enhancement to the corporate CRM system rapidly flickering across the screen of the snazzy device. Similar scenarios are being promoted toward higher education, with visions of the "iPad Classroom" where handouts are distributed in the blink of an eye and a bag full of textbooks is replaced with a lightweight iPad.
This is combined with Apple's recent and fairly subtle push into the corporate space. Rather than attempting to pitch directly to enterprise, Apple quietly added corporate features like Exchange support, security, and remote wipe capabilities to their iPhone, eliminating some of the reasons for the "IT Police" to reject the device when the CEO shows up and asks IT to "make it work" with corporate e-mail. Is Apple getting ready for a push into the enterprise, and should CIOs need to cast an eye toward the former niche player?
In sorting through the hype and reality of Apple's new device, we need to ask ourselves if the "digital dream world" of tablet-enabled meetings is actually viable and beneficial, and if so, do we want to start supporting "nontraditional" devices in the enterprise.
I frankly don't see the scenario of the "digital meeting" attended by iPad-wielding technophiles happening anytime soon. Almost since the dawn of the portable computer, the "digital meeting" has been pitched as everything from a productivity booster to a "green" paper saver, yet reality tends to rain on this parade. Think of any past meeting where some sort of takeaway was involved. Even in an IT meeting where one would expect to find the most technically savvy, someone invariably forgets to print out the handout that was e-mailed prior to the meeting or one participant claims he or she didn't receive it.
All too often, the first fifteen minutes of these types of meetings are spent with someone attempting to resend the attachment or running to the nearest printer to grab additional copies. Now imagine a meeting with less technical employees, trying to figure out how to send that potentially incompatible PowerPoint to the group's iPads when Joe isn't sure how to turn on his WiFi, Mary has no clue what the e-mail address of her iPad is, Frank's battery is dead, and Bob from Finance refuses to authorize any iPad purchases for his group and just wants a handout.
Furthermore, the iPad misses one critical attribute for a corporate meeting or classroom scenario: a stylus. Apple wisely made its iPhone a finger-only device, but one of the routine problems with replacing paper with an electronic note-taking device is losing the ability to write text notes, jot on a handout, draw a diagram, or doodle a product sketch in the margins.
The closest "electronic notepad" is probably the Tablet PC, which supports a standard Windows operating system, a stylus, and rather compelling note-taking and sketching software. While all of this looks great on paper, adoption of these devices has been anemic at best, shooting another hole in the dream of the digital meeting. In addition, when costs are being cut and a strong business case should be the foundation of any new project, an $800 device with limited functionality may not be the best investment from a raw financial and, more importantly, "cost of attention" basis.
While it may be fun to grab a couple of iPads and explore the possibilities in a very limited trial, at this point the CIO's energies could be better spent on other endeavors. Talent management or effectively wielding the CIO's most effective weapon might be great places to start.
Patrick Gray is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group and author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology. Prevoyance Group provides strategy-consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.