iPad Hands On Review

The iPad is being touted by Apple as a magical and revolutionary device. Does it live up to that designation? If not quite magical, it comes pretty close.

The industrial design of the device is spectacular. It is minimalistic, with the bright, crisp 9.7 inch screen as the star of the show. It feels solid and well built, with just enough heft to make it feel very sturdy, weighing in at a modest pound and a half. It does indeed look like a big iPhone or iPod Touch, and it is running the iPhone OS, but it is quite different, if for no other reason than its large display.

The real question is whether or not the iPad makes sense for enterprise use. Unfortunately there’s no easy answer and its usefulness will depend on individual situations.

It certainly does make sense for some verticals, with healthcare, education, retail, and some professional services - like legal and real estate.

It would also be a great fit for certain types of workers including the road warrior sales person, consultants, field and technical service personnel, and IT support staff, who could all benefit from this type of device.

While Apple has done a very nice job with the iPad, it's not perfect. A lack of Flash support, no multitasking capabilities, and no front facing camera are somewhat unnerving and detract from the experience a little.

A slew of tablet devices will be making their way on to the market this year, providing a range of options. There are, and will be a lot more Windows 7 based, Android, Linux, and likely Chrome OS by the end of the year. Some will be very compelling, and some will be junk - choose wisely.

As for the iPad, I would give it an 8.5 for design, quality, usability, functionality, and application availability. With a few tweaks it will approach a 10, and I think we can expect some of that through software in the coming months, and a camera might find it's way into the next hardware iteration - likely next year.

Addendum to iPad Video

Thanks for the questions and comments. I’m going to try to respond to everyone here, and provide some additional context and commentary.

@Robert, Bob, and Larry – I apologize for not demonstrating the keyboard input. That was a miss on my part. The keyboard pops up contextually in portrait and landscape mode. The portrait keyboard is usable, but certainly not appropriate for two-handed typing. The landscape keyboard is quite large – I would say ~85% the size of a standard laptop keyboard. For most, two-handed typing is possible, though not ideal. I would like to have some haptic feedback (vibration) when hitting keys, but instead there is a clicking sound. Given the lack of tactile feedback, which you get with a hard keyboard, typing is not going to be as fast. There is the option of pairing a compatible Bluetooth keyboard with it (most will be compatible) or using the Apple dock/keyboard combo ($69). More on content creation on the device later.

@Frank – There is no option for connecting a wired printer to the iPad. Some tablets will likely have one or two USB ports, but this one does not. There are a handful of apps that allow printing over WiFi to a printer connected to a desktop or network. The truth is, if tethering to a wired printer is important, this device, and others like it, will not likely meet your needs.

@Sue – As I said above, no USB ports on the iPad. You do have options for 3G connectivity other than AT&T though. One is the Verizon MiFi device, which creates a WiFi hotspot with Internet connectivity provided by Verizon’s 3G network. The MiFi device is very portable and can comfortably be carried in a pocket or purse (MiFi 2200). If you are using Sprint, the Clear Spot device is expected to be released any day now, and provides similar functionality. As far as moving files using a USB drive, that’s not really ideal either unless the files are encrypted. There are several cloud storage options that will allow you to save/backup files and move them back and forth, including free Google Apps or Microsoft Office Live (there are countless other options as well). It does work with MS Exchange ActiveSync, providing push access to e-mail, calendaring, and contacts. Several IT policies can also be applied to force a password, encryption, and remote wipe a lost or stolen device. I would argue that it’s not just a toy, but would certainly agree that it’s not for every organization, role, or user. It’s important to think about where it might bring value to the business. I’ll try to touch on that a little more later.

@Mark – I agree with your comments. First, I think Novell Groupwise would be wise (pun intended) to create a native iPhoneOS app, or a solid, non-Java (HTML5) Web app for this class of device.  I couldn’t agree more that this is not a general purpose computing platform as we typically think of it. It will not, and I don’t think it’s intended to, replace your desktop/laptop. It is appropriate for specific applications and usage scenarios. More on that below.

In general, I’d like to reiterate that this particular device, and this class of device, is not appropriate for all verticals, organizations, roles, and/or users. It does not replace the desktop/laptop or the smartphone. It falls somewhere in between. Here are a couple of more specific examples:

  • Healthcare – for years hospitals and healthcare facilities have tried to incorporate early generation convertible tablets with resistive touchscreen displays for bedside care. The 4-5 pound devices were heavy, the resistive touchscreens required a stylus, the touch capabilities of the operating systems were abysmal, the batteries lasted two hours, and doctors and nurses hated them. Most hospitals already use Citrix, so they are used to deliver applications through a virtual/presentation server. Everything changes when you can deliver the necessary applications to a 1.5 pound tablet with a capacitive multi-touch display and ten hours of battery life.
  • Education – Students currently pay a lot of money for text books that are very heavy to carry around – back strain from carrying 20+ pound backpacks is common. The books kill a lot of trees and cost a lot to manufacture. The era of the bound, paper text book is nearing an end. If it’s not a multi-function tablet device like the iPad, it will be an e-book reader like the Kindle. The Kindle has some advantages on this front, but what it’s missing is the multi-function part. Students can use a multi-function tablet to connect to the Student Information System, do research online, communicate and collaborate, and view video lectures. This type of device will almost certainly find a place in higher education.
  • Professional services – Consider real estate agents using this device to research and view properties in real time with their clients while travelling in desired areas. There are several situations where opening and booting a laptop is not ideal, but carrying a 1.5 pound, instant-on device with a 9.7 inch display and WWAN connectivity would be ideal.
  • Field services – The possibilities are endless for this role. All service manuals can be stored and kept current on the device. The field service application can be live so the technician can immediately enter information on the service call, then be routed to the next call immediately and efficiently. How about an insurance adjuster or a building inspector?
  • Retail – This class of device quickly and easily becomes a mobile POS terminal. Rather than customers queuing up at cash registers, store associates can go to the customer, assist them, and accept payment without the customer ever standing in a line. If you’ve never been to an Apple store, they do exactly this. They use iPod Touch’s for mobile POS terminals, and there is not a queue to pay anywhere in the store.

If you think about it, there are several scenarios where this type of devices is appropriate in the enterprise. Is it for the knowledge worker creating content? No, it’s not. This is a content consumption device, with the capability for input and light content creation. Again, it does not replace a desktop/laptop, it augments where appropriate. If you can’t think of a single situation where this class of device (don’t get stuck on the iPad) would be useful in your organization, there’s a good chance it’s not for your business.

Also, while this video looks at the iPad, we will certainly look at other worthy devices in this category as they become available. In this case, the iPad is really the first device worthy of a detailed review. As myriad tablets and slates pop up this year, we cannot look at all of them, and frankly a lot of them will be junk. However, you can be rest assured that when we see devices like the already-announced HP Slate later this year, we will have it on hand to show it to you and compare and contrast it to the iPad.

I’ll close with a scenario that played out for me today. I go to our Toronto office once a week (it’s a two-hour one-way train ride). While I’m in the office I’m meeting with people, reviewing some content, and trying to just get around and talk to people in the office. I don’t do any serious content creation – mostly reviewing documents, light editing, and reading and responding to e-mail. As an experiment, I left my laptop at home and only brought my iPad. On the train ride there I caught up on e-mail, reviewed some documents, and watched a TV show.

While I was there I tried to keep up with my e-mail, did a little more review, kept up with my Twitter and RSS feeds, and met with some people. On the way home I finished up my e-mail, listened to one of my favorite technology podcasts, and did a little more reading and review. In general,  it was a pretty productive day. It was a treat carrying around a 1.5 pound device as big as a paper notebook cupped in my hand under my arm instead of a 4 pound laptop. Would I try this on a normal day in our London office? Definitely not, I could not do the tasks that I need to on a typical day. But it was ideal for a very different kind of productive day visiting our other office.

I look forward to more of feedback and discussion.
Regards,
Mark

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