Will the iPad be a Hit with Businesses?
Credit: Apple
Credit: Apple

Since becoming available for pre-order last Friday, Apple's iPad has been greeted with strong sales by consumers.  But will businesses and working professionals ever be among those who snatch up the device?

At first glance, and for many types of industries, widespread iPad adoption seems like a long shot, analysts say. But the iPad's strengths as a smooth conduit of media, plus a vast range of potential touch-screen programs could mean it becomes a hit in both the home and the workplace.

In its roll-out of the iPad, Apple has not made any overt pitches to the business world, and it apparently didn't have business-users in mind when it designed the iPad. Apple's tagline for the device is pitched at consumers, not businesses: "See the web, email, and photos like never before."

"The iPad is targeted at the consumer . . . it's not trying to support office productivity applications," said Leslie Fiering, an analyst at Gartner Research and vice president covering mobile computing.

The iPad "is going to tend to be focused more toward content delivery, entertainment and gaming."

Pros and cons

Because the iPad is a tablet-style device, it is meant to be held in a user's hands. Even with its multi-touch screen and onscreen keyboard, text entry and the creation of documents will be onerous, analysts say.

The iPad also lacks so-called multitasking – the ability to have multiple programs, such as an Internet browser and a word processor, open simultaneously – which is a serious hindrance for efficiently getting work done on a computer.

But there are of course things that the iPad should do well, and top among them is content delivery, Fiering said.

She says companies could show off their products and brochures on the iPad. Travel agencies, for example, could let people pick destinations and hotels by touching on-screen maps and options right in the office.

Other examples abound. "If someone has manuals they have to carry, and they don’t need text input, the iPad might be a very interesting device for them," Fiering told TechNewsDaily.

Clipboard replacement

The iPad's size and user-friendly touch-screen might allow it to realize some of the original promise of tablet computers in replacing the clipboard.

Such old-school, paper-based tools are still used by many professionals, including field appraisers and claims adjusters, and also in shipping and delivery services.

In the last example, the United Parcel Service and FedEx have indeed adopted tablet-style devices. But these are rugged and require their own unique "ecosystem," as Fiering put it, of special cases, brackets, printers, and car mounts, for instance. Accordingly, she does not see logistics companies scooping up the iPad.

But Jason Schwartz, a blogger and the chief investment analyst for Lone Peak Asset Management, thinks the iPad's business potential as a notepad or clipboard replacement has been underestimated.

Schwarz, who has Apple stocks, recently wrote: "teachers will use the iPad as they lecture, coaches will use it as an in game [sic] video/scouting tool . . . think of all the real estate agents and other salesmen who operate at point of sale."

For many companies, however, it will be hard to justify the need for a third device like an iPad on top of a company-provided smart phone and a desktop or notebook computer, said Fiering.

"The iPad is not intended to really replace anything," agreed Jeff Orr, senior analyst for mobile devices at ABI Research. "You're not going hold it to your ear to make a call," he said, and the iPad cannot come close to beating notebooks and desktops at creating content.

Life support for industrial iPads

But one industry that may adopt the iPad early is healthcare, a sector where tablets have made some inroads and for which the iPad may be uniquely well-placed.

Epocrates, a San Mateo, Calif.-based company, is optimistic. It makes mobile and web-based healthcare products, including the most popular medical reference program in Apple's app store that has about 140,000 active iPhone users.

"Certainly the iPhone has demonstrated that [apps have uses] in clinical settings," said

Bob Quinn, chief technology officer at Epocrates.

The company recently surveyed 350 doctors about iPad adoption. Nine percent said they planned to buy an iPad right away, and another 13 percent within a year of its release. An additional 40 percent expressed interest in purchasing the iPad but wanted more information first.

Accordingly, Epocrates is customizing its clinical reference application for the iPad to take advantage of the devices larger display, which is more than double the size of the iPhone's screen.

Besides being as good as an iPhone for prescription look-ups, making calendar appointments and accessing patient lists, the iPad will allow for better viewing of charts and radiological imagery as well, Quinn said.

The iPad could become valuable to doctors for other reasons as well, Quinn said. Its microphone will allow for dictation of patient notes, for example.

Also, accessories such as the docking station will keep the iPad charged and ready for use. Pairing that with an iPad keyboard or Bluetooth will give clinicians "the portability of a handheld device but both the text entry and viewability of a desktop [computer]," Quinn said. They'll have "the best of both worlds."

Perhaps single devices could be shared amongst staff and handed off to the next nursing shift, rather like paper-filled patient folders.

Along these lines, Quinn sees the iPad as a vehicle for bringing electronic health records to smaller clinics. Epocrates is developing an iPad-geared product for this capability as well.

All in the apps?

As with the iPhone, much of the iPad's potential will depend on the apps developed for it. In this regard, Apple has done itself a business-savvy favor by ensuring that apps for the iPhone are available for the new iPad.

Those accustomed to the iPhone's plethora of business-related apps may find the iPad an easier interface, and new, dedicated iPad apps should be right around the corner.

In a blog post, Schwarz predicts that business-specific iPad apps "will be developed that allow these professionals to execute their tasks with minimal typing requirements."

Over at PC World, Tony Bradley offers a selection of apps for the iPad that "business professionals can use to transform the media-consuming toy into a productive business tool."

Many of these apps, such as the Freshbooks for billable hours and Meebo for instant messaging, get around the iPad's lack of multitasking by being able to remain running in the background while the user does primary tasks.

What's more, some apps like Freshbooks do not need an active Web connection to work.

As promising as apps are, they could also prove to be a problem for business adaption of the iPad, Orr of ABI Research said.

"The fundamental challenge I see with iPad . . . is being locked into the iTunes apps store," Orr said.

It could be difficult for a company to keep all of its iPads updated with a certain set of apps because each device has to have its own purchase account. This is unlike how other business mobile devices and computers get updated when IT managers obtain bulk licenses for as many software copies as needed, and then distribute the program over the company's network.

Essentially, keeping all the devices on one page could prove tricky. For the individual user who wants to customize an iPad to personal preferences without having to coordinate with other devices, however, this is not a problem.

Overall, analysts feel that the iPad will be better for someone unwinding after work rather than as the device of choice to make the workday easier.

"If your everyday computer was broken, could you get your work done on the iPad?" Orr asked. "Yeah, you would persevere, but you wouldn’t like it."