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Why the iPad Isn't Ready for the Office

Despite the availability of its own version of iWorks, Apple's new iPad remains an entertainment device, not an obvious business tool. Still, it has possibilities.

The closer the business app is to entertainment, the better the iPad looks. That makes sense, but it is also a real opportunity.Apple's new baby seems to be an excellent tool for small group business presentations, where its ability to run video, play audio, and show presentations can be put to good use.

So what is the iPad is nothing more than a supersized iPod touch.

As for "real" business applications, in the hands of talented developers, the iPad could turn into something useful, if not revolutionary. Though today it would be hard to justify asking the boss buy iPads for employees, in coming months that could change.

With that in mind, here is a quick-and-dirty rundown of the pros and cons of the iPad as a business tool.

Pros:

  • E-readers are becoming business tools and the iPad looks like one heck of an e-reader. Some business users will buy an iPad just to read newspapers, magazines, and books. And that use alone might justify the purchase.
  • Custom reference material will doubtless be loaded onto the iPad, making it a carry around service and support library in some applications. Video content could also be loaded for use in the field.
  • In reference and education applications, the iPad is likely to be a big win. But, those are merely business extensions of the consumer applications for which the iPad was designed.
  • iPads, as noted previously, could be excellent presentation tools. This is another extension of entertainment apps, but making presentations is core to almost all businesses. I can imagine many salespeople carrying an iPad to use with customers.
  • iWork, Apple's business productivity suite for Mac, will be offered as iPad-enhanced versions of its three individual apps, Keynote, Pages, and Numbers. I have a bit of an imagination gap as to why I'd want to use an iPad to create presentations, documents, and spreadsheets. But, I can see editing and sharing them on such a device, with the iPad being much easier to pass around at meetings.
  • Runs existing iPhone apps. This will give people something to do until real iPad applications are developed.
  • With the SDK easily available, some enterprises might develop their own apps for the platform or buy commercial software for applications like Point-of-Sale.

Cons:

  • Existing apps, at least the ones shown on Apple's web site, look like they are intended for the visually-impaired. Not different or better, just bigger than on the iPhone/iPod touch. Not sure there is any gain if you already have an iPhone or iPod touch.
  • Will Apple sell enough iPads to make the platform interesting to developers of business apps? Probably, but sales may be slow compared to iPhone and iPod touch apps. My bet: iPad apps will be more expensive than iPhone software.
  • The lack of a real built-in keyboard is an obvious issue that probably prevents the iPad from ever being a real business device. The outboard keyboard options are nice, but the idea that lots of people will use these to turn the iPad into a notebook/netbook-like device seems far-fetched.
  • Handwriting recognition was the bane of Apple's Newton handheld, so it's not surprising the iPad doesn't even make an attempt. Still, written notes and forms are a big part of business and a business tablet needs to support them. Apple would be wise to offer a fine-point stylus for use with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. The one I've seen isn't really suitable for handwriting.
  • No real GPS (it appears from the specs) nor will the 3G wireless work for voice calls, though I suppose VoIP is a possibility.

Steve Jobs' claims aside, the iPad is not a revolutionary, third-category device. Apple needs people to think it is, but it's really not that different from a really big iPod. As a business tool, it has some possibilities, but they won't be realized until iPad-specific business apps become available.

And even then, the iPad's inherent limitations will likely make it a business tool only for its most dedicated fans.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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