Apple iPad, Day 25: Can a Business Replace PCs with iPads?

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Can an iPad replace a PC in a business environment? My experience thus far during 30 Days With the iPad has been user-centric, and focused purely on how I personally might use the iPad as a PC replacement. For today's post, I am going to explore how the iPad might fit into a network and IT culture that is designed around PCs.

Business has never been Apple's target audience. But, following the consumerization of IT revolution sparked by the iPhone and iPad, Apple has continued to add more features and controls aimed at IT admins with each iteration of iOS.

The iPad is a great device, but its not ready for primetime when it comes to replacing a business PC.
iOS uses Microsoft Exchange Active Sync (EAS) to connect to and work with Microsoft Exchange Server for email, calendars, and contacts. In addition, though, IT admins can use EAS to manage configuration of iOS devices, and enforce security policies on remote iPhones and iPads.

The iPad security settings I talked about on Day 24 are adequate for an individual, but for a company to allow a device to connect to sensitive data and network resources, IT admins have to have some ability to enforce policies on that device.

Using EAS, IT admins can enforce password policies on the iPad (and other iOS devices), including requiring a password, forcing more complex passwords, and setting a minimum password length. IT admins can set passwords to expire, and enforce password history to prevent the same password from being used repeatedly. With EAS, IT admins can also block the use of the camera or web browser on remote iOS devices.

The VPN client on the iPad supports a wide range of industry standard VPN protocols, and there are apps available for additional VPN options. The iPad also supports WPA2 Enterprise Wi-Fi with 802.1X authentication. Add in VPN On Demand, and the Automatic W-Fi Login and Persistent Wi-Fi features, and the iPad is equipped to get connected and stay connected securely in a business environment.

While it may not be an implicit endorsement of the iPad as a PC replacement, the flurry of business-class management platforms enabling IT admins to configure, manage, and protect iPads is at least a significant indication of the iPad's acceptance as a business tool.

Microsoft is incorporating iOS tools into the upcoming System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2012.There are also a variety of third-party platforms available thanks to the Mobile Device Management APIs Apple created.

These tools are all great for managing iPads within a business network environment as a mobile device, but they don't necessarily mean that a company could seriously replace PCs with iPads. For starters, established businesses are already invested in PC-based software, and many industries rely on custom or proprietary tools that are not available for iOS.

The iPad doesn't offer any way to have multiple users with separate logins on the same device--at least not natively. It can be done, but it requires jailbreaking. Outfitting a company with iPads in place of PCs would mean also investing in the hardware necessary to set them up as workstations while working at a desk, and ensuring that peripherals like printers are compatible.

Can it be done? No. Not today. Not realistically. It is one thing for me as an individual to replace a PC with an iPad, it is an exponentially different story for a company of 20, or 50, or 300 to ditch PCs and replace them with iPads.

Technically, yes--it is possible. But, it is highly impractical--at least for now. The tablet industry is still young, and the iPad has already come a long, long way in the business world--especially for a device that was never intended for, nor directly marketed to businesses. If you check back in a year or three, my answer might be different.

Read the last "30 Days" series: 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux

Day 24: Securing and Protecting the iPad

Day 26: Adding It All Up

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