Apple explicitly pushes its iPad device as a business tool as well as a consumer media device, and V3.co.uk has taken a look at the handheld tablet system with an eye to its enterprise credentials.
We found that the iPad has a user interface that shows promise for an application platform, but the device in its current form is too limited, too tied to Apple's own services, and does not play well with much existing enterprise IT infrastructure, although it can link to an Exchange mail server via a VPN.
In our view, these drawbacks do not make the iPad well suited for enterprise use, with the exception of some niche applications. Whether this will stop the iPad from infiltrating organisations, as the iPhone handset has done, is another matter.
Click the link for our earlier review of the iPad.
The iPad, which finally became available in the UK at the end of May, is a slate-mode tablet device with a 9.7in touch-screen interface. It runs a similar operating system to Apple's iPhone, and can in fact run many of the same applications, although newer software designed to take advantage of the iPad's larger screen will deliver a better experience.
It should be noted that the iPad is quite a pleasing device to use. The user interface, with its large application icons and on-screen controls activated by the touch of a finger, make it easy to get to grips with.
The standard applications will be familiar to iPhone users, consisting of Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Google Maps, Apple's Safari Browser, a Mail client, plus consumer applications such as iPod and YouTube.
Problems arise if you need to extend beyond the built-in applications, however. The only supported method of installing applications is via Apple's own App Store, a client for which is built into the device.
This requires each iPad user to download and install applications themselves, rather than being provisioned and configured by the IT department, as is standard practice with other platforms such as Windows PCs or even many smartphones.
Moreover, the only way to purchase applications from the App Store is via an iTunes account, whereas most organisations prefer to negotiate a volume licence agreement directly with the software publisher.
Some enterprise software vendors have circumvented this by making their application a free download from the App Store that must be activated through some other mechanism, or where the application is simply a client for some server-based software that is licensed separately, such as IBM's recently announced Lotus Notes Traveler, which is useless without a Domino mail server to connect to.
Perhaps more serious from a business perspective is that it is difficult to get files in and out of the iPad other than via email or by synchronising with iTunes on a PC or Mac. The device's sole I/O (other than Wi-Fi or 3G wireless) is the dock connector port, used to connect to a computer for iTunes synchronisation.
One option is via the web, and we found we could open some documents from file storage sites such as Windows Live Skydrive using the Safari browser, depending on whether it was a format supported by an application on the iPad. (Sadly, Microsoft's Office Web Apps do not let you edit files in Safari - we tried.)
This means that users can pull down documents from enterprise collaboration portals such as Microsoft's SharePoint, which is rapidly becoming almost ubiquitous in large organisations, provided they have installed a tool such as Apple's iWork suite for the iPad that supports these files.
However, there does not seem to be any easy way of uploading files back to the site. This is a shame, because iWork provides a set of quite decent productivity applications that can read and write Microsoft Office file formats, and would potentially make the iPad more appealing as an office tool if it integrated better with SharePoint.
Apple does offer its own web-based sharing service, iWork.com, which integrates directly with the applications in iWork. Businesses could potentially use this for collaboration, but firms already running SharePoint may not be keen to support a second parallel system just for the benefit of iPad owners.
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