The iPad has a reputation as being good for many things — media consumption, mobile messaging and games — to name a few. It does all of those things but even before getting my hands on one I started thinking about the iPad in the enterprise.

iPad web thumb

The iPad is getting a reputation as being good for many things — media consumption, mobile messaging and games — to name a few. It certainly does all of those things but even before getting my hands on one I started thinking about the iPad in the enterprise. Not so much as a laptop replacement for the workforce, but as a specialized tool for certain functions that I believe the iPad would be good at doing.

After using the iPad for a few days, I am more convinced than ever that there is a place in big companies to take advantage of the special features of the device. I can see customer support employees using special apps to fill out forms as they deal with customers on the phone. The touch interface could be leveraged to good effect doing this, as many support departments operate with “scripts” written to handle problems over the phone.

The iPad is perfect for this type of repetitive data entry with the proper app running the show. The on-screen keyboard is adequate for the short data entries that don’t fit a scripted mode, while common entries can be programmed to mere button taps. The iPad is perfect for this, with only a light development effort needed to bring common tasks like this to life as an app.

I really believe that IT support staff can use the iPad to troubleshoot employee computer problems. I have spoken to many who do this for a living and they are already using LogMeIn on the iPhone to fix computer problems remotely. Throw in the larger screen of the iPad and this method is an outstanding way to provide this type of support.

Yesterday I ran some errands and found myself in a Target store picking up some items. I carried the iPad in a little case, along with the MiFi for 3G connectivity, just in case. I decided to get a coffee in the Starbucks in the Target, and I sat down to enjoy the drink. I hit the button on the MiFi, and pulled out the iPad to kill some time.

I was having fun in the Starbucks, surfing the web on the iPad, when I remembered I forgot to run a system scan for malware on the ThinkPad back in the home office. I started LogMeIn Ignition (as shown in my video) and logged into the ThinkPad on the iPad. I fired up Microsoft Security Essentials and instigated a full system scan on the ThinkPad. Once that started I logged off and continued my web surfing on the iPad. The system scan was running on the ThinkPad in the office while I was sitting in Starbucks enjoying my coffee.

This is just scratching the surface of how the iPad can be leveraged in the enterprise to good effect. I had the pleasure of writing a deeper dive into this for our research arm, GigaOM Pro. If the subject interests you, give it a look (subscription required).

I’d love to hear your opinions on the iPad in the workplace. Can you see functions in your company that would be performed well with the iPad? Share it in the comments.

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  1. .. but couldn’t u do all this stuff easier and cheaper with any netbook or laptop??

    1. “all this stuff” and everything else the iPad can do.

      1. What can the iPad do that any other netbook or laptop can’t? Remember, we’re talking about Enterprise apps here, which, by definition, means something you’re not going to find in the app store.

  2. I wish I could agree with your assertion that the iPad has a place in the enterprise, but I cannot. if the platform was open for development instead of being chained within the App store architecture, any idea of creating application that fit a particular business model for support is moot. ERP and CRM applications in use in the enterprise are both proprietary and heavily customized in many cases to fit the business process of individual companies. There is no one-fits-all model in play within enterprises that would benefit from the iPad. While I could see small businesses that might benefit by having ipad versions of canned solutions (quickbooks, etc) I cannot see the iPad having any relevance in the enterprise as anything other than a tool used by marketing or sales folks – perhaps an alternative to a projector when working with a potential customer in hallmarking the selling points of your product or service.

    Your suggestion that the iPad can be used for technical support also fails on the simple fact that individuals doing tech support within an enterprise are already tethered t a workstation or laptop. $500+ to provide some sort of more mobile option for support when an existing workstation or laptop can provide does not make sense to companies already keeping their purse strings tight in this economy.

    The iPad is a content consumption device that also supports a limited set of ‘conveniences’ for the tech enthusiast, but is not close to being a viable tool for enterprises.

  3. This is another one of those “let’s try to justify the existence of this useless product” articles.

    Seriously? This author thinks businesses are willing to pay the Apple premium to give their cube dwellers a slightly “cooler” way of doing what they can do already?

    Dream on pal!

    1. Coolness has little to do with the appeal of the iPad in a business environment. When you have to distribute technology to hundreds or thousands of people, simplicity takes on a whole new meaning. We’re not talking about geeks. We’re talking about everyday people and how quickly they can accept a tool and use it to its proper potential as quickly as possible. I’ve deployed wireless laptops to hundreds of users and the user support alone is a nightmare, never mind the infrastructure costs.

  4. Cary Phillips Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    @John C:
    There are 2 different types of developers within Apple’s developer program: developers that develop applications to be sold in the app store and enterprise developers that have the ability to load apps directly on ipads/iphones within an organization. Enterprise apps don’t go through the app store.

    1. Right, but there’s also the requirement that you have 500+ employees and a D&B number, which leaves out a significant number of businesses.

      Many ( most? ) enterprises are moving towards web apps for their internal systems these days. I can’t imagine why they’d want to use an iPad when there are equivalently priced machines that can so the same thing, with far more flexibility and security; i.e. Separate user accounts, the ability to completely lock out non-work apps, etc. I don’t want my CSR’s to be able to go in and muck up the device’s configuration whenever they feel the urge to see what the other pretty icons do.

      1. First I’ve heard that you have to have a DUNS number and over 500 employees to develop an app. Is that documented in the SDK?

      2. ( Why doesn’t Shaun have a reply button? )

        Shaun, it’s documented here: http://developer.apple.com/programs/iphone/enterprise/

        Basically, if you don’t meet the 500 Employee/D&B requirement, you can only submit apps to the App Store, and “test” with 100 devices. Obviously that’s not acceptable with an enterprise app.

        If you do get accepted into the Enterprise program, you can deploy apps internally to an unlimited number of devices.

      3. “Why doesn’t Shaun have a reply button?”

        We only have the threaded comments going two deep for now, so you can’t reply to a reply of a reply. ;)

  5. ‘I can see customer support employees using special apps to fill out forms as they deal with customers on the phone’

    You mean tick the box with the finger? I can’t see any other way of filling out forms on Ipad.

    The other story is what happened to me once. The energy supplier representative knock on my door and was presenting how much I could save on electricity. Interesting was that he was making all real calculations on proper tablet pc – loaded with company software. I think it was a real deal as his calculations proved that shouldn’t change supplier.

  6. I seriously planned to buy an iPad just for this use. But Apple killed it a month ago.

    You see, one of the important tools on my current iPod Touch, is an advanced Wifiscanner, and this used a private API it seems Apple has no intention to make a part of the public SDK. As an result the iPad does not have a full sett of tools to replace the iPod Touch/Laptop combo I use today. It also probably means that a couple of hacker tools I’ve recieved from a friend, will not compile on the iPad

    I also think the iBook focus goes to much toward novels and litterature where a Kindle is better, and seems to totaly ignore my need for references and proffesional guides. I want a O’Reilly Safari app, a Wiley and Addison Westley bookstore, not Winnie the Pooh.

    My intensions came from the fact that with my current set of tools on the iPod Touch, I could drop chugging my laptop around. Due to todays insane airport “security”, I could drop most of the tecknical weigth on my trips between our sites, and base all my IT administration partly on the iPad and partly on the onsite terminal clients.

    As an added bonus , I would be able to work at the airport , in the production floor, and even on the ultra short flights I have to endure.

    I could even do presentations.

    Now I have to wait and see what OS 4 brings.

    1. You can use any private API you want in your personal stuff, you just can’t submit to the app store. You don’t have to wait for apple to make any public.

  7. Vladimer Kaveski Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    The iPad is a wardriving machine. We use it heavily to probe, penetrate WiFi networks for security purposes. It is highly portable in the field and has excellent battery life. We are planning on clustering hundreds (possibly thousands) of iPads for high performance businesss apps used in high-volume stock market trading that needs lower power/heat consumption, so far our test results look very promising.

    I am sure others have many business applications that are very well suited for iPad. It is an awesome device. As they say, Game Changer !

  8. I am afraid from a student standpoint I also have to agree that the platform isn’t “fully cooked” yet. I expect it to be in the future but it isn’t yet. Text book availability, ability to annotate pdf’s in a tool like evernote, notetaking, drawing, the fact that pages and keynote docs generated on a mac are not fully compatible on the ipad versions of pages and keynote, mutlitasking between research and content generation, are all needed before this will be a viable tool for the student. I’m afraid my ipad is going back until these are in place.
    That being said, the potential is there and I am excited about the future. It’s just not here yet.

    1. You say that those items aren’t fully cooked yet though you anticipate that they will be soon. You’d rather pay the 20% restock fee than wait it out a little bit?

  9. James, thanks for your insights. A lot of us have come to trust you and Kevin for giving us a thorough pro vs. con perspective. I’m already using this in business environment as my portable computing device for meetings and presentations. I tried logmeinignition but found it too slow and choppy to be of much use and have asked for a refund. I’m using Desktop Connect with great success, however. It works great on the internal networks and over 3G (MyWi) with much reduced latency. I’m even using VPN to a WinXP box at home to have access to every computer on my network from the field. Again, thanks for all the fish…. er um… info!

  10. Stephen Feger Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    I am astonished that no one else has been talking about this. I really am. I’m waiting for the release of the 3G iPad for exactly this purpose.

    I work in government and I can tell you this, the iPad was made for the enterprise. When you look at the cost of the device, the relatively low price of the available data plan (iPad only!), the low weight, the fantastic battery life and the simplicity inherent in the OS, you have an extremely valuable piece of technology.

    Having said that, there are issues. Locking down the device is a real problem. Make no mistake about it. This is not a well managed device from a corporate perspective. It wouldn’t be good to have people perusing porn sites on a taxpayer funded device. Don’t think that people don’t do that during work hours. You’d be amazed how stupid some people are.

    But when you look at the potential, you can’t help but be practically overwhelmed. It’s huge.

    The only thing that really bugs me is the lack of the camera. Yeah, I know everyone wants one. But my view was that it was a strategic mistake by Apple. I don’t care if they would have put a crappy camera on this. It would take a full year for developers (enterprise) to figure out how to incorporate the camera effectively in applications anyway. Now that we have to wait (likely) a full year before a camera might be added, that will push things back further.

    Imagine an insurance adjuster using an iPad with a camera for annotating damage claims. An inventory system that provides a virtual and visual representation of everything you stock. A police department that fills out a police report instantly. A HAZMAT team that has an unlimited amount of reference material. The list goes on and on.

    This is a great consumer device. It’s also going to be a fantastic business device. It will just take a little time.

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