Despite starting out with a jaded view of Apple, IT director Nic Bellenberg has reached some telling conclusions about the iPad’s business credentials.

I thought I was going to hate the iPad. I thought it was going to be a toy. I couldn’t see the point of it. I knew you wouldn’t be able to read its screen outside in the sun. I knew it was expensive and I’m the wrong side of 40 to be able to empathise with the odd people you see in the Apple Store.

Added to that, when I discovered Apple was not going to be able to deliver our business’s initial order of iPads, the pain of having to schlep to PC World to buy a number of the devices for our top team hardly put me in a positive frame of mind, ready to welcome the new world.

This assessment was also based on the experience of having taken home the first one we obtained. It was whipped straight out of my hands by my children and filled full of Lord knows what sort of apps. Actually, I do know what – games and things that made noises, mainly.

Then after only a weekend, still not having been able to get time on the iPad myself, I had to pass it to our chairman. I do not know if he uses the Cat Piano app. But he has not spoken to me since.

The positive side of the iPad
At this point in my iPad experiences, I may have been in a frame of mind to empathise with the rather rabidly anti-iPad views expressed by columnist the Naked CIO a while back. But the lack of positivity involved in maintaining this position would be crippling and ultimately, makes one a progress-denier.

I used to have a boss who positively hated Apple, simply because they were “not standard”. He missed the point – but I bet he’s got an iPhone now.

Series of iPad app screens

The iPad may be a good toy but it’s also a great productivity tool
(Image credit: Apple)

One of the key mistakes people make with the iPad – and any other new technology – is failing to use it properly. So, when our order from Apple finally arrived, I got hold of another 3G iPad, declared it mine and this time set it up to synchronise with our Exchange server for email, calendar and contacts, plus I also set it up to access my private email account.

Smooth connectivity
From that point on I was impressed. It connected to the corporate Exchange server via Outlook Web Access quickly and easily, and synchronised mail, contacts and calendar. My private email and my wife’s also connected faultlessly, which was a great improvement on the last time I had setup Thunderbird to access them.

Having done that, the iPad was ready for work. Certainly it can be a good toy, and you can read an ebook on the train home, but it really is a great productivity aid – better than a BlackBerry for usability and readability on any long texts or web browsing.

For that matter, by virtue of being bigger, the iPad is better than an iPhone or Android phone – apart from the phone bit, which of course you don’t get. You have to have…

…especially large pockets – like David Hockney, apparently – to make it completely portable.

In my opinion, the iPad is also much better than a laptop, assuming you only need to use email or a browser or read PDFs – or use Cat Piano, but not on the train unless your headphones are on.

If I’m feeling dynamic I can get my first half-hour’s email reading, replying and web research done on the train before work and be ahead of the game when I get in. And, despite my greatest fears, the glass keyboard is just fine: the screen size makes typing no problem despite the absence of real keys.

In meetings, the iPad is good for note taking and I’m even reading a book on it much more happily than I had thought possible. Best still is the ability at home to just whip it out, instantly switch on and check something on the web without the tedium of going upstairs to the office or waiting for a laptop to boot up.

Strong parallels with iPhone 4
The iPad is also a really good advert for the iPhone 4, in terms of similar functionality being available in a smaller package. I cannot imagine how anyone can happily compare the iPhone with a BlackBerry these days. I don’t think I will be replacing my BlackBerry with another unless there is a spectacular change soon with better apps and web browsing that works.

Also interesting is the experience of just letting yourself go in the Apple user interface. Generally if you think, “I’d like to do X” and try to, it works. This is how technology is meant to function.

Those who denigrate consumer technology for not fitting a business environment are wide of the mark. The companies that produce clunky business apps and ERP systems with rubbish usability are stuck in the last century and need to raise their game. In this respect, the future is now.

And, if you’re being a less than intuitive user, you can of course download a PDF manual to read on the iPad. In fact, I can’t think why Apple doesn’t provide one already loaded. I also need to work out a better way of getting PDFs onto the device to be read rather than emailing them to myself.

Apple’s renaissance
Generally I have been surprised how enthusiastic I have become about the iPad from a relatively cold start and that’s due to having grown a bit jaded with Apple over the years. But this renaissance has been due entirely to my taking the iPad seriously.

It absolutely is not bad for business. The fact Flash does not run on it can be an inconvenience but it’s not the end of the world and some Flash apps do eat memory like it’s going out of fashion.

I would be apprehensive about handing out large volumes of iPads to business users as corporate devices, supplementary to existing phones and laptops that still have a function. However, you need to assess what you would use these machines for: if it was worth building an app for a particular business process, then you can do it.

I think businesses should encourage staff to adopt their own productivity devices. If they pay for them personally, they will take greater care of them and probably learn more about how they work and what they can do with them.

Many of our staff have personal iPhones. They do not present anywhere near as large a support burden as the company-paid-for BlackBerry users, or demand new handsets annually.

The world is constantly changing. The iPad is a small part of that change, but it could be a big change in the technology world. Probably best not to give the chairman Cat Piano, though.

Nicholas Bellenberg is IT director at publishing house Hachette Filipacchi (UK).