Much like the iPhone before it, the Apple iPad is a polarizing device. Supporters of the tablet see it as a new paradigm in personal computing, while others deride it as just a really big media player. We put Apple's tablet to the test, seeing how close the new device could get to replacing the traditional laptop in the hands of an enterprise user. After a week of testing, the iPad experience offered a series of highs and some really big lows, but in the end, it is not quite ready to replace my laptop yet.
I have truly developed a love/hate relationship with the iPad. While I love the email, calendar, and web browsing experiences, that excellent experience turns almost loathsome when attempting to do the real work that real enterprise employees do, which inevitably involves Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. So can the iPad replace a laptop? Possibly, but for most enterprises, the device as it stands will likely be a secondary mobile device, used by users to stay connected with their email and calendar when away from their desktops back at the office. Third party application support will certainly extend the usefulness of the device for enterprise users, but there does seem to be a ways to go to make it a true replacement.
Despite the fact that the iPad has been on the market for about a week now, Apple has already announced an upgrade to version 3.2 of the iPhone OS that ships on the device. Version 4 is slated for a fall release for the iPad, with newer iPhones and iPod Touches getting updated in the summer. The next major release of the operating system should bring with it multitasking support, fast application switching and support for background access for applications such as VoIP. Enterprises are also getting attention from Apple, with the ability to support multiple Exchange accounts, SSL VPN support and enhanced encyption and mobile device management support. Hopefully these features are a trend toward a new enterprise focus on Apple's part and a sign they may fill the gaps in the iPad to make it the laptop replacement many users want to be.
To test the iPad, I went cold turkey, powering off my primary machine and living on the tablet for several days. While each organization's application needs are a bit different, I focused my attention on the common needs of most mobile users, including email, calendar and contact management, web browsing, as well the usual office tasks, like word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.
For staying connected, the iPad works very well. I connected the device to multiple email accounts, including an Exchange server for corporate email, GMail for personal email, and Apple's MobileMe service. The calendar and contacts applications sync with all three, providing a unified view of my schedule and contacts, while keeping my personal and corporation information separate. Like its iPhone sibling, the iPad supports server-side push for Exchange, so incoming emails were received almost instantly.