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Mobile Applications Really Do Matter, Especially On The iPad

My review of Apple's iPad, recently posted online, quickly met with some criticisms.  The comments either deemed it flawed, pointing out that the tablet was not meant to be a laptop replacement, or basically implied that I really didn't understand the use cases for the device.  And of course, there was the comment that I was a dinosaur, stuck in 1990's thinking about mobility.

The first argument is the most relevant, that the iPad is not a meant to be a laptop replacement. For the most part, I agree. However, paradigm-shifts in technology, which has been part of the iPad marketing, require that new technology almost always replaces something else. Laptops needed to replace desktop to make workers mobile. Unified communications solutions have displaced traditional PBX options, connecting the phone system to the network and enabling all kinds of new applications. Even smartphones have, for the most part, replaced cell phones, bringing e-mail and mobile internet capabilities to users along with voice.

The iPad is a device that falls somewhere between a smartphone and
laptop. However, considering its actual lack of ability to make phone
calls, not to mention the fact that it would be uncomfortable to hold up
to your ear, it is pretty fair to say that the device skews closer to
the laptop side of the equation. For the iPad to really gain a foothold within the enterprise, it is going to have to replace something, and the laptop is the obvious choice. While one commenter used the phrase "complementary technology" to describe the iPad, I believe you would be hard-pressed to find any organization that would deploy both an iPad and a laptop to an end-user, given the partial overlap of functionality between the two.

My review focused on the minimum set of applications that the iPad would need to perform to satisfy the typical enterprise user's needs while mobile, and frankly, what most mobile users need is the office suite of apps. If you don't believe this, on your next  flight, glance over and see what the guy with the open laptop is actually doing. Assuming he's not watching a DVD or playing Solitaire, I can almost guarantee that he has Word, Excel or PowerPoint running, if not all three. This is the use case that the iPad has to replicate in order to see wide enterprise adoption, and during the course of my testing, this is the area that it fared the poorest.

In the current era of Web 2.0, cloud computing, there are no doubt places in the enterprise where the form factor and functionality of the iPad make sense, and there is also little doubt that developers will bring a wealth of applications to market that take advantage of it. But until the guy on the plane can do everything he does today with his laptop at 30,000 feet with an iPad, it's hard to see the tablet becoming more than a niche point-product within the enterprise.