Is the iPad a Business Tool?

With every computing device there are limits and trade offs.  We need to ask, what business problem are we solving and then find the best solution.  Desktop, notebook, sub-notebook, tablet and mobile all serve a purpose.  Although the days are numbered for the sub-notebooks as we know them.  When we have a "new" category the problem may not be evident.  The category is not new.  Rather the design and innovation applied by Apple to the category is new.  It is also important to recognize that technologies supporting this device such as cloud computing, pervasive wireless and digitization are coming of age.  The iPad (and other tablets) can not succeed without these supporting technologies.  There is a technology convergence underway that makes the business solution possible.

Specifically here I'm examining the use case for the executive or manager. The business use case for the iPad requires different thinking.  It requires different working.  The benefits are more informed, efficient and effective work, resulting in better decisions.  Most importantly accomplishing this requires access to information anywhere, anytime.  Accessing a document from your iPad when you need it cannot happen if the document is in a paper filing cabinet or on your desktop "C:" drive.  Storing and sharing information in the cloud using a service such as box.net or Dropbox makes the information accessible from a tablet or any device with Internet access.  Along with this, efficient and effective tablet utilization requires a commitment to working "paperless".  The change in work habits, not the technology is the biggest challenge for most people.  Many businesses therefore need to change how they operate.  IT organization may need changes to support this paradigm shift.

Given these prerequisites, the applications make the use case possible.  The usability depends on thoughtful redesign of applications for the iPad not just iPhone application transfers.  iPhone applications, while they run on the iPad, are awkward and inadequate.  The initial wave of applications provide, for the executive or manager, the critical or essential applications.  More applications are needed.  The following is a list of essential functions and application recommendations.
  • Email.  The native email application is good for consumption and basic composition of email.   
  • Book and Magazine Reading. - The Kindle and iBooks applications are good book readers.  Books and magazines from smart publishers will become applications and in time will barely resemble the paper form.  Digital books and magazines have the potential to offer more then the paper form.  We are seeing this already. 
  • News Reading.  Feeddler RSS Reader is an early favorite for news.  My news consumption is through Google Reader.  Feeddler RSS Reader, among others, synchronizes with Google Reader. There is room for improvement here.
  • Document Reading.  Similar to the traditional paper inbox, contracts, proposals, letters, etc. end up in a folder on box.net or Dropbox for reading and review including when offline.
  • Notes.  The iPad replaces the paper notebook.  Evernote is a good choice for notes.  Notes are stored and synchronized in the cloud.  Therefore notes are accessible anywhere you have Internet access.  The iPad keyboard is good for basic note taking. A voice recorder such as iRec is also useful.
  • Information Access.  Information and the sources are pervasive.  Bloomberg is a favorite for financial information.  Internet and search access is useful in a meeting.  Access to corporate data or documents on-time, at your finger tips while away from your desk is possible with the iPad.  With box.net or Dropbox an assistant or co-worker can drop documents in cloud based shared folders for access during a meeting.
  • Tasks. I'm waiting for an iPad version of my favorite task management application for Microsoft Exchange users - iMExchange.
  • Analytics.  This is a wide open area that has opportunity for improvement and growth. Executives and managers use many tools now.  An iPad based dashboard is very appealing.
  • Remote Access.  If you have not found an iPad application for traditional, Microsoft Windows or IE bound applications, then Citrix Receiver is a delivery solution for many organization with Citrix infrastructure.
This is just the beginning.  In time creative developers will produce applications that will continue enhancing the tools and IT organizations will evolve the infrastructure to support it.