Less than year ago, before the iPad had actually been released, I wrote about why I would not be buying one. Of course I wanted one, but the problem with spending someone else’s money is that you can’t give into compulsive shopping behavior patterns or marketing hype – there has to be a reason. Good reasons include: “we need the technology” – we don’t; “this is a solid trend and now is the time to get on board” – it might be, and it might be; “it will save us money” – hmmmm. At first, I didn’t think there was any way an iPad could save us money but now I think it can.
Most of the people that my department supports are currently working off of laptops. We buy some of them laptops so they can work at home and we buy some of them laptops because they travel. We don’t just buy them a laptop; we buy a docking port, an extra A/C adapter, monitor, keyboard and mouse. For most of the traveling folks, we spend a bit more to get them a powerful, yet lightweight laptop. It is numerically possible to buy those people a desktop PC and an iPad for slightly less than a laptop. I am not talking about windfall savings, but a savings nonetheless. Even a small savings, coupled with the other benefits that an iPad brings to the equation, could swing this decision. What other benefits?
It’s Cool – Usually, “it’s cool” is not a good reason, but in this case, that translates into the fact that I am giving my users something they think is cool. That’s huge, and in the IT world, that rarely happens. I have made a career giving my users things that let them work longer hours, from distant places and stay in touch with people they might otherwise enjoy a break from. On top of that, they have to lug most of those things through the airport and on the plane with them. Last time I checked, iPads, go through security without having to be removed from your bag.
It’s Secure – Oh, I am sure someone will eventually find a way to make Apple regret allowing even the hint of Flash-based apps on the iPad, but even with that threat looming, the iPad is way more secure than a laptop. Security is two benefits in one. First, the traveler is less likely to be rendered incapable of using the device while on the road. Second, and more importantly, we don’t have to repair the unit upon its return or diagnose and repair on the road.
Likes and Dislikes – I did buy an iPad, so I could research these possibilities, and so far, I like what I see. I think it will work for many of my traveling users, but it won’t work for all of them and I’m not sure it works for me. It works for the people who are tied to email and who need to read documents, see the results of spreadsheets and review presentations. The people that actually have to write, edit and prepare those documents are going to want a laptop. Documents to Go is decent, but it doesn’t connect to SharePoint (or even Office Live for reasons I don’t understand) so there is at least a three-app process involved to create/edit and share. A three app combo on the iPad is like a three-cushion bank shot in pool, it’s unlikely most people are going to bother to make the attempt.
As for me, I can connect to our Internet facing SharePoint site, and I can use VPN to connect to our internal site. I can create documents, store them locally, use an app to upload them to SharePoint, use a SharePoint service to turn them into a PDF and… well, actually, I haven’t quite figured out the best way to email that PDF without downloading it again. Even when I crack that last little bit, I’m not sure it’s worth it. On the other hand, I can connect to my desktop over RDP and do practically anything on that box from my iPad. It’s a cumbersome connection that works well for a geek like me, but I won’t be convincing any of my users to put up with it. But hey, this is iPad v1.0 and I know it’s going to get better. Apple seems driven to play in the enterprise, Microsoft (should) want Apple to succeed more than Google and I have a goal for 2011 of developing an iPad app. If this truly is a trend toward my future, I am going to get ahead of it.