Apple's iPad Not Ready For The Enterprise

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

April 13, 2010

9 Min Read
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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.The iPad includes full support for Exchange features like the Global Address List (GAL), so I was able to quickly search the GAL for coworkers and send off an email to them without having to have their contact information stored locally. This support extends to the calendar application as well, allowing me to accept meeting invitation requests, as well as send invitations of my own when creating an calendar entry. The PIM and email applications take full advantage of both the iPad's 9.5" screen and its ability to rotate between landscape and portrait modes and I found myself preferring to work within these applications, rather than going back to Outlook. The only issue I had was when I received an calendar invite via Gmail, I was unable to open or frankly do anything with the attached VCF file. This is particularly strange, given Apple's broad support for this vCard format throughout their desktop operating system. Still, if you live on email and your calendar, the iPad will certainly serve you well.

For security conscious administrators, the iPad offers the same levels of policy enforcement as the iPhone. Defined through the Exchange server, the device policies can set the requirement for unlock pass codes, as well as the length and complexity of those codes.  The iPad also supports remote wiping of the device, when either initiated by the user or the Exchange administrator. During testing, I let my colleague who managed the Exchange server I was connected to trigger the remote wipe and the effects were nearly immediate. The iPad's screen almost instantly went black, then the Apple logo appeared as the device scrubbed every bit of my corporate and personal data off of itself and returned factory fresh.

presentation.jpgUnfortunately, when it came time to actually do something beyond checking my email, the experiment started to go awry. With the iPad, Apple also announced that it had developed a version of its iWork product for the tablet. Available as a separate purchase from Apple's iTunes store, the iWork suite consists of Pages, the word processor, Numbers, a spreadsheet app, and Keynote for presentations. The fact that these three apps are available independently of the iPad itself is a mixed bag for the enterprise user. It adds additional investment to what many believe should be required functionality for the tablet, but on the positive side, these apps can be maintained by Apple outside of the core OS upgrade cycle, so we should see more frequent updates and new functionality than if the applications were part of the base operating system. Similarly, because the iWork apps are not considered base functionality, competing solutions from third parties could make their way into the AppStore without fear of being denied by Apple. While it might be a pipe dream to think that Microsoft would port its preeminent Office suite to the tablet, the separation of apps and OS does open the door to this possibility.

The process of transferring Office documents from your PC to the iPad is convoluted.  First the file must be associated with a registered application in a new section within iTunes. This puts the document in a shared area on the iPad. The file, however, still does not automatically appear in the given iWork application. Users must tap on a small file folder icon on the top of the screen and import the document into the application. The file then gets imported into the particular iWork format, which sandboxes the document within the application. For most users, using the iTunes method of transferring documents to the device will no doubt be too cumbersome, and most will resort to just emailing the files to themselves, then opening the document there. Unfortunately, this sandboxing of documents within iWork extends to emailed files as well, separating the document from the original email. The sand box effect will no doubt be the most difficult process for new iPad users to comprehend.

All of the standard Word documents I imported into Pages converted without much trouble, although some font substitutions did occur. The biggest issue I encountered was that the Pages application does not support edit tracking, so opening a document with the Track Changes enabled will apply all of the changes, leaving you with the final edit of the document, but no way to actually see what changes were made. Similarly, Copy and Paste functionality exists, enabling you to, for example, copy a chart created in Numbers to be pasted into your Pages document, but unlike native Microsoft Office documents, the resulting chart is static, losing the ability to be live updated by changes in the spreadsheet.excel.jpgThe Excel spreadsheets, however, did not fare as well. Importing spreadsheets into Numbers shredded all but the simplest of documents. Things like merged cells and some unsupported formulas were stripped from the spreadsheets, and in many case, the last value calculated is dumped into the cell. Ultimately, concerns over what exactly had been changed led me to not trust any of the resulting spreadsheets I used during testing.

Getting documents back out of the iPad was a similarly muddled experience to getting them in. Using the export button, you are given the option to email the document, or export it, which pushes a copy of the document back into the shared area where it can be saved to your PC via iTunes. Both options allow you to export the file as a native iWork file, a equivalent Microsoft Office file, or as a PDF. 

Unfortunately, there is also no option for attaching more than one file at a time, forcing me to send each document or spreadsheet individually. The single biggest issue, and the one that ultimately made me turn my laptop back on, was the inability to print from the device. While the world is trudging its way toward the paperless office, there are still many cases where a hard copy is required. The lack of printing options will likely relegate the tablet to more of really big smartphone than a true desktop replacement.

webex.jpgI also had the opportunity to try out a number of third party enterprise applications on the iPad that took advantage of the tablet's form factor to great effect.  First, I was able to participate in an online meeting using Cisco's Webex conferencing application for iPad, something I would not have even considered on the small screen of the iPhone.  I was able to see all of the attendees, as well as the full presentation with while moving around the office, without a hitch.  I also got a demo of MobileIron's first application for the iPad, called MobileIron Sentry, that essentially turns the tablet into a console for the company's mobile device management platform. By using the iPad, administrators would be able to graphically track the mobile devices connecting to their servers and quickly approve or block them from access.  And then, of course, there is Citrix.  Along with its own GoToMeeting web conferencing application, Citrix has rolled out an iPad specific version of its Receiver application. Receiver enables the iPad to serve as the remote desktop for Citrix's XenApp server, becoming the remote client to the company's application virtualization solution. Want to run Windows applications on your IPad?  You can, through a virtual window into your data center. While these are but three use cases, there are certainly more opportunities for the tablet to streamline business processes.

Depending on your needs, the iPad offers some useful, and undeniably slick, possibilities to enterprise users, and maybe future versions will come closer to what we need to leave our laptops at home, but it's not quite there yet.  

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