Enterprise IT shops will be experiencing a serious case of déjà vu after the launch of Apple Inc.’s new iPad tablet device.
A couple years ago, IT departments were flooded with requests from staff — which included top-level executives — all asking to bring their newly purchased iPhones to work. While some liberal IT departments may have obliged, the iPhone wasn’t widely supported among enterprises until the company added business-friendly features in its subsequent 3G and 3Gs releases.
After upgrading the iPhone with enterprise smart phone staples such as tethering, Microsoft Exchange functionality, remote wiping, and hardware-based encryption, the device finally became a force in the enterprise.
Steve Hilton, a principal analyst with U.K.-based consultancy Analysys Mason’s enterprise and small enterprise research division, said that IT shops might see that same cycle repeat itself. But while some organizations actually purchase the iPhone for staff deployment, this probably won’t be the case for the new multi-touch tablet.
“Apple expects consumer technology to infiltrate the enterprise — a good assumption,” he said. “But there’s a big difference between consumers using a device in their work lives and a device being adopted or supported by an enterprise’s IT department. Just like the iPhone moved almost instantly from a consumer device to the enterprise, I’d expect the iPad to do the same.”
As for the device’s current pitfalls, it reads a lot like a first generation iPhone.
The list includes: no push e-mail or Exchange support, a lack of VPN compatibility, no remote locking features, and a host of potential management headaches related to app deployment (apps have to be downloaded from the App Store as opposed to deployed centrally).
Gartner Inc. networking and mobility analyst Phillip Redman also warned that the iPad doesn’t have enough memory to support more enterprise-oriented applications such as spreadsheets or presentations.
For its first run, iPad users will be able to use the Microsoft Office-compatible iWork. While this will work just fine for many consumers, enterprise users will need more than this, Redman said.
In addition to all of this missing functionality, Redman argued that this new tablet craze might present the risk of device overload for some enterprises.
“Enterprise users also have already been outfitted with a smart phone and notebook, the iPad isn’t competitive with either,” he said. “The iPad may eventually evolve to become an interesting in home multimedia device, but today is stuck in between the computing world of PCs/notebooks and the mobile handheld world of smart phones and PDAs.”
Gordon Haff, a principal analyst with Nashua, N.H..-based Illuminata Inc., lumped the iPad in with all of the other tablet devices set to launch over the next year.
He said that while some businesses bought employees PDAs in the past, IT departments would need a pretty compelling business reason to start wholesale purchasing of a relatively new device for their employees, even at an affordable price point. The form factor on these next-generation tablets are still too new for IT to take the risk on.
“It’s hard to see any tablet becoming a mainstream business device that companies buy for their employees in the near future,” said Haff.
Still, data continually suggests that IT departments have been forced to embrace anything Apple, which could give the iPad a leg up for enterprises who are considering these new tablets.
In January 2009, an ITIC Corp. survey of 700 companies worldwide found that about 80 per cent of businesses have Macs in their environment. According to principal analyst Laura DiDio, one-quarter of respondents admitted to having at least 50 Apple computers in their organization.
At the time of the survey, DiDio argued that Apple should respond to the increasing demand from businesses and roll out a clear strategy for business adoption for 2009.
“It’s incumbent on Apple to come out with a public statement and actually have a strategy on how to pursue the enterprise,” she said last January.
While Apple has not followed this approach, remaining completely silent whenever asked about the business market, some industry observers argue that this will have to change in order to truly create widespread enterprise adoption.
“I think Apple will have to help enterprises make the transition,” Hilton said. “There’s a lot of embedded non-Apple gear in the field. In fact, almost all is non-Apple gear. It’s not realistic for Apple to expect enterprises to dump all that gear and switch teams overnight.”
Of course, not playing up to enterprise interests has not slowed down Apple’s momentum in the enterprise thus far.
Mark Tauschek, a lead research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., said the just like the iPhone — which he said is supported at about 70 per cent of Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. — Apple’s tablet device will certainly find a home in the enterprise.
Organizations in the medical, professional services and educational fields will be especially interested in these devices as many “doctors, nurses, enterprise road warriors and point-of-sale workers” have experience using tablet PCs, he said.
The iPad’s compact design will probably be preferable to many workers who carry around laptops or netbooks for their basic functionality of interacting with documents and staying connected to the Web, according to Tauschek.
It would not be surprising for many IT departments to receive requests to purchase and support new tablets, such as the iPad, as soon as this next generation tablet hits the market, he added.