Sunday, May 19, 2024

iPad is Coming to Enterprises, Ready or Not

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Hype surrounding Apple’s long-awaited touch tablet centers on the living room. But are iPads ready for the boardroom? The cubicle? The data center?

Whether enterprises are ready for iPads or not, here they come.

Let’s dispense right up front with any notion that iPads will be successfully blocked from enterprise use. It’s going to happen. Resistance was futile against PCs, laptops, instant messaging, PDAs, personal smart phones (including the iPhone), and it will be futile again for the iPad.

The first unauthorized users will be business travelers. Apple probably presold well over a quarter million iPads. How many of those buyers are corporate business travelers? Enterprise frequent fliers will be showing up for work Monday with iPads in hand, and that’s when the trouble starts.

Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler predicts that “mobile professionals” – which make up more than one-quarter of the enterprise workforce – will use iPads as an “employee-provisioned third device” for all the same reasons consumers will buy them. Specifically: ease of use, extreme portability and an ill-defined “cool factor.”

It’s a pretty safe bet that people who travel on business will use iPads. It’s ideal for using on an airplane, and also for meetings and presentations. The real question is: Will ordinary non-mobile employees use it for work as well?

Some will definitely try.

iPad and Office Applications

When we ponder the massive enterprise computing market, we think of data centers, centralized management and security infrastructure. But the reality for businesses of all sizes is that most workers do most of their work through simple web browsers and e-mail. And, of course, the iPad has a browser and e-mail app, and that’s where the fun begins.

Web browsing on iPad is one of the least-improved experiences. Despite Apple hype, touch doesn’t do much for surfing the Web. Although users may enjoy multi-touch for zooming in, scrolling and other tasks — and the viewing of pictures will be superior — I think the experience will be more or less like using a laptop.

Interface improvements are offset by lack of Flash support and also by the small size of the screen compared with a conventional laptop or even a standard netbook. However, Schadler says iPad is “efficient” for using web services. Presumably that efficiency is a product of iPad’s instant-on, mouseless use, and the directness of touch controls.

E-mail is another matter. I believe people are going to love e-mail on iPad. It turns out that multi-touch can make e-mail a lot more pleasant to use. The iPad e-mail supports Exchange to a limited degree, as well as all the usual online and POP3 suspects.

To capture anything in e-mail, users “tap and hold.” For example, to save a photo that is displayed in a message, tap and hold brings up the “save picture” option. Tap and hold also enables users to add contacts or open the address in the maps application. The tap and hold process also brings up the “Copy” command when applicable.

All this tap-and-hold business means that users will be storing the contents of business e-mail (if they can) on the iPads themselves, creating a data security problem.

Out of the box, iPads can view Microsoft Office documents sent as attachments — read only. But if users want to edit them, and send Office-compatible documents back, they’ll need to think outside the box.

Apple sells iWork for iPad apps for $9.99 each. These apps are cheap to buy and easy to use — and will almost certainly prove irresistible for enterprise employees who own iPads.

An iWork presentation app called Keynote for iPad, for example, appears to be a vastly simpler for building presentations than Microsoft PowerPoint.

Keynote has a collection of templates to choose from, and auto-formats input based on the template design. It enables the iPad Photos app to integrate both pictures and videos into slides. Keynote offers a surprising degree of flexibility for formatting and displaying photos on slides, as well as for transitions, animations and other common presentation gimmicks.

Users can show their presentations by connecting the iPad to a projector or TV, or, of course, just showing them directly from the iPad. When slides are displayed on an external device, the iPad becomes the remote controller for advancing slides.

Most business people who travel around giving presentations will want to use their iPads for both creating and presenting. Its 1.5-pound weight and ultra thin size means there’s hardly anything to carry. (Of course, conflict will arise when companies mandate approved templates that may not be usable or importable on iPads.)

Numbers for iPad is Apple’s mobile answer to Microsoft Excel. Apple claims the program has more than 250 functions built in, so it’s probably more feature-rich than most cell phone spreadsheet alternatives.

As with other iPad office applications, the emphasis has been placed on the creation and formatting of documents using touch. Excel users will find the basic approach familiar. Starting with spreadsheets, users select data, then choose functions for calculation or charts or graphs for display. Charts, tables and graphs auto-format, and resize themselves to fit available space.

Users can set up a spreadsheet with desired fields, then use Numbers’ built-in forms to add data. For spreadsheets and charts that change often, the absurdly simple forms approach may be welcome by many.

Like Keynote and Numbers, the iPad word processing app, called Pages, is surprisingly well optimized for the creation and formatting of documents. Of all the iWorks apps for iPad, Pages will prove most popular for all business users, including enterprise employees. One reason is that everybody has to write. Pages enables spell check and other features useful for sitting in a Starbucks and working up the first draft of just about anything — replacing the same activity currently done on netbooks.

The other reason is that Pages produces Microsoft Word documents. But how compatible are those documents? We’re going to find out. Users will simply create documents on their iPads, save in Word format and attach them to e-mail. These iPad-produced Word documents will start circulating on company e-mail systems starting Monday.

Keynote and Numbers do not produce Office compatible files. (They do produce PDF files.)

The sharing of Office documents across different versions and platforms is already an un-solved problem for many enterprises. The iPad, with its semi-compatible iWork apps, may add to the problem — at least initially. A nice solution would be for Microsoft itself to offer Office apps for iPad.

Microsoft finds itself in a familiar pickle regarding iPad apps. On the one hand, the company could make a killing selling Microsoft Office for iPad. On the other, doing so would provide an enormous boost for the main competitor of Windows-based touch tablets. Plus, Microsoft would be forced to share one third of its revenue with Apple! Ouch!

We can be sure all Office competitors, including from Apple, Google and OpenOffice — not to mention future third-party apps, will rush to fill any vacuum created by the absence Microsoft Office for iPad.

If Microsoft fails to act, the biggest initial threat will come from Google. The company already has a nice iPhone app for Docs, which will work right away on iPad. Google has been innovative in creating really nice iPhone applications, most especially their HTML5 Google Voice app, not to mention Google standbys Gmail, Calendar, Talk, Buzz and Reader. The iPad-optimized version of Docs will almost certain appear within the next few weeks. And Docs supports Office formats in both directions. So users serious about producing Office-compatible apps will at the very least be able to do so using Google’s free cloud-based service.

In the short term, iWorks and Google Docs will provide limited Office compatibility. In the longer term, it’s likely that just about all alternatives will evolve to produce Office documents.

No doubt hundreds or thousands of companies will develop enterprise and business apps for the iPad. And cloud services will be optimized for iPads.

But is that enough?

Can iPad Become a Real Enterprise Device?

Of course, IT managers aren’t going to be impressed that iPad can do web browsing, e-mail and limited Office document creation. The iPad represents a new headache, and a new threat to security and internal compatibility, not to mention sanity.

It’s reasonable to assume that iPad will support all enterprise integration features of the iPhone, if not immediately then at least by the end of the year. iPhone supports most major VPN protocols, as well as Exchange ActiveSync.

Three years on, some enterprise IT departments have begun to support iPhone. It’s not clear how much those efforts can be extended to iPad, which Apple claims runs most iPhone applications.

IT managers won’t even want to think about iPads until they can be mass-deployed, connected securely, remotely provisioned, managed centrally, encrypted and remotely data-wiped if lost or stolen.

The truth is that any major official acceptance by IT decision-makers won’t happen with the 1.0 version. If it happens at all, it will take years, not months. The tire kicking may start this year, but serious deployments won’t — at least not on any significant scale.

The most important fact to understand about iPad in the Enterprise is that in addition to being an alternative to other devices (like netbooks), which is what IT managers are concerned about, it’s also an addition. In other words, iPad may prove to be not so much an alternative to other mobile devices, which would be bad, but an addition to them, which would be really bad.

The war starts Monday. Enterprise users will want to use iPads. They’ll try to use them. They will use them.

It’s going to be an interesting battle, and one with a forgone conclusion: iPads will win eventually. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how quickly they can be properly integrated into a total enterprise system. Best guess: not very.

The question of iPads in the enterprise isn’t if, but when.

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