Apple iPad: Is there an ROI for business? [podcast]

Summary:The Apple iPad has officially arrived, accompanied by an overload of hype. We suggest it may actually make more sense for businesses than consumers.

Special Report: Apple iPad
The Apple iPad has officially arrived, accompanied by an overload of hype. We suggest it may actually make more sense for businesses than consumers.

The Big Question is a joint production from ZDNet and TechRepublic that I co-host with ZDNet Editor in Chief Larry Dignan.

You can play this 20-minute episode from the Flash-based player at the top of the page, read the full transcript below, or:

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Stories discussed in this episode:

Full transcript

Jason Hiner

Welcome to The Big Question podcast, episode number 26 for April 7, 2010. I'm Jason Hiner.

Larry Dignan

And I'm Larry Dignan.

Jason Hiner

And this is a joint ZDNet and TechRepublic podcast where we pick one of the hottest issues in the tech world and attack it head-on. This week's big question is "Apple iPad: is there an ROI for business?"

This episode is sponsored by TechRepublic's Guide to IT Policies and Procedures, which has over 100 customizable templates that IT leaders can use to really save some serious time and money. You can purchase a copy today and download it right away at policies.techrepublic.com.

So, Larry, the Apple iPad has finally been released, accompanied by an obscene amount of hype. We have both written about it. And now that it's here, the conversation starts to get a lot more real. And of course, we want to talk about it from the business perspective and look at whether there really is a case to be made, an ROI case, return on investment, for the iPad.

Do you want to start this off by telling us why businesses would even be interested in considering the iPad?

Larry Dignan

Well, I think for some fields, a device like the iPad will make a lot of sense. Real estate, you can find some implications. Retail, perhaps. There are a few verticals where the iPad may make sense; items where you're in the field. Anywhere where you see folks running around with little handhelds.

Jason Hiner

Yeah, where you're not at a desk.

Larry Dignan

Right. For people in the field, it may make sense. Because it would be easier to pop up an iPad than it would be to fire up a laptop. So I think that's one avenue to be explored at least. And the iPhone does have some - you can get Oracle apps and salesforce.com apps. So there is a business ecosystem for the apps that would work on the iPad. I think that's a baseline place to look.

Jason Hiner

Okay.

Larry Dignan

I think it would probably be more high-touch people in the field sort of focuses.

I almost - I mean I haven't really thought this through per se. But as a consumer, you're looking at it, and you're like, "Okay, it's one more device to carry." And you're going back and forth. Is this a laptop replacement? It's kind of expensive. The sell process for a consumer is different.

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

I think a consumer is going to have to go into Best Buy three or four times, pass that thing, play with it a little bit and maybe they take the plunge and buy it, maybe the fourth trip. Right?

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

So aside from the people that bought it first on the weekend or whatever. But that's Apple's core crowd.

So then that gets you to, what other folks can use it? And I almost think you can - businesses want to think about the iPad. I almost think you can probably make more of a case for business than you could necessarily for a consumer.

Jason Hiner

Interesting. Okay.

Larry Dignan

Because if you have somebody in the field and you just need to access a CRM app or salesforce.com or whatever your use case is, it's all about just sucking down data and getting information out to people.

Jason Hiner

Yeah, one-app or two-app jobs.

Larry Dignan

And that's what it does well, right?

Jason Hiner

Yeah, that's true. Because of its limitation, doesn't do multi-tasking. There are jobs out there or at least tasks that are relegated to certain positions where they only use two to three apps all day. And that's the stuff you're getting at.

Larry Dignan

Yeah, I mean I almost - conceptually, I almost get it more as a business device than I necessarily do as a consumer device. And - I don't know, you're going to need enterprises to think about how this would work and IT's going to do what IT does, which is sort of close it out at first, [and] figure out how it goes with their network. It'll be like when folks brought in their iPhones to work, right? What happens when they bring in their iPad?

Jason Hiner

Yeah, similar stuff.

Larry Dignan

Right. The problem with the iPad is, there's no - there's no handy way to connect it to the PC or the corporate network.

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

Right? Because -

Jason Hiner

There's WiFi. It's a WiFi-only device. Or 3G, once the 3G version comes out later in April.

Larry Dignan

Yeah, so you kind of wonder about that long-term as far as it impacts the business. But I can picture these things in the field.

Jason Hiner

Interesting. So what do you think about some of the verticals where, to a degree, tablets have already been accepted? Medical, mobile point-of-sale, I think [that] is where you've seen line-breaking and things like that, at places like theme parks and those kinds of places. Kiosks - by kiosks, I mean the places where somebody has like a [sales] stand. Some of these you're seeing with handhelds now, Windows Mobile devices or even iPod Touches with an antenna, WiFi in it with a little card swipe in it, those type of things.

Do you think that this device - let's talk about healthcare first. Because I've heard rumors - maybe you have too - about doctors getting on board with the iPhone in some cases. I've not seen one single [doctor] anywhere, but I've read a few stories that doctors and medical professionals are starting to get on board with the iPhone. Does the iPad make more sense? That group has also been one of the few that has taken on Tablet PCs, which nobody [else] wanted. What do you think there?

Larry Dignan

Ah, could be. I mean the one thing to remember about doctors is they also tend to love technology.

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

Every time I see my doctor, it turns into, "Oh, what about this technology" or whatever. It's almost to the point where you don't really mention where you work or what you cover. Because who wants to go into geekdom when you're at the doctor.

So it doesn't surprise me that iPhones would be at a doctor's office. They're probably all over the place, just sort of that consumerization thing where the consumers are doctors and they bring those puppies in. I can see the iPad being used for educational purposes. There's multiple purposes in the healthcare industry. And like you said, if you want to find a tablet in the wild, that's kind of where you go.

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

That's probably the only place I can think of where you go. Because you just don't see tablets out there too often.

Jason Hiner

They've really been rejected by most industries and by businesses in general, especially pen computing. The difference is, this is kind of touch computing. Microsoft's Tablet PC was using the stylus and writing on the screen. But unfortunately, the handwriting recognition was never very good. People just didn't use them. They didn't feel real great about using them.

There is some evidence that with the iPhone and iPad Touch, that people are more comfortable with this kind of interface. So one of the questions is, can touch tablets succeed where the pen computing tablets failed?

Larry Dignan

Well, I definitely see touch tablets doing much better than pen. The pen just took too much to get used to.

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

There's too much of a learning curve. There was no pre-work involved.

Jason Hiner

It was too unnatural, too, wasn't it? It didn't - it wasn't just like writing on a pen and a piece of paper.

Larry Dignan

Right, it wasn't natural. That - the touch interface, I mean anybody with a smartphone kind of knows it by now, right?

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

No matter you have a BlackBerry Storm, an iPhone, an Android device -

Jason Hiner

Palm Pre.

Larry Dignan

You kind of know how to point and move things around. So in that regard, the learning curve isn't nearly as steep as it would be for pen sort of stuff.

Jason Hiner

Yeah. That may be the biggest thing it has going for it in business. In that - because businesses are going to look at this, especially IT departments, from really a cold, hard case. And they're going to look for what kind of ROI - what's the ROI I come up with. Like okay, look - this thing, I'm only going to typically use about three apps. I can teach anybody, I don't have to go through a big training course to teach them anything. I can give them one of these. I can tell them touch that one, go in here and do it. And I can cut training time by half a day. And if I have 10,000 new employees a year or something, then they're going to say, okay, that adds up to $1.3 million or whatever it is.

I think that could be one of the ways that businesses get on board with touch computing. And it may not just be the iPad, we are going to see some other lookalikes. We are already seeing the one from HP. Today Nokia mentioned that they're going to be coming out with these. So for touch tablets, the iPad is kind of the beginning of touch tablets, don't you think?

Larry Dignan

Yeah, I could see that for sure. I just think it's going to be a question of time, right? And all these tablets are going to come out and they all have different operating systems. And you sort of have this operating system conundrum, like can Windows 7 scale down to be on the tablet, can Android and the iPhone operating system beef up to work - sort of become a laptop replacement. Businesses will be watching that very closely, especially since at some point, these things might connect to your corporate network. So, you know, does HP and Microsoft bring certain core competencies to the table that would matter to an enterprise more?

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

I don't know, you would think, right?

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

But who knows.

Jason Hiner

Certainly, there is some behind the scenes stuff that favors them, right? They're used to selling through the channel, through IT consultants and integrators; that could help. You know HP and Microsoft, they're also used to selling in bulk and working out big contracts. These are things that Apple's not - has historically just not been real great at. So as good as the product is and as great as they are at selling to consumers, they're almost that bad at selling to businesses and large organizations. Do you agree?

Larry Dignan

Yeah. Well, yeah, for the most part. You know, it all depends on how much you believe in that consumerization thing. That the workers are going to bring the super device in and you're going to have to - the corporation's going to have to deal with it. I mean, I know one professor at one school where she brought in her iPhone, and they said well, tough, here's your BlackBerry. So yeah, it remains to be seen how that battle plays out.

Jason Hiner

Yeah. And I believe in it, I think it's just a little longer slog than they'd like to think in Silicon Valley. I mean, I think it's a -

Larry Dignan

Well, it's like everything.

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

It's always - I mean, if you watch the Jetsons, you're stunned at how undeveloped we are, right? We're supposed to be in floating cars and we're supposed to have robots doing things for us and aside from the iRobot, you get the thing to vacuum for you but that's -

Jason Hiner

The little Roomba, that's about as much of a robot as we've got, right?

Larry Dignan

Yeah, exactly. So all these things are going to take longer. And I think that's - that might be the lesson for the tablet adoption. I mean, I think all the people with ADD are going to look at this - that first day sales and you know - because my guess is it's probably going to underwhelm some people right out the gate.

Jason Hiner

Interesting.

Larry Dignan

But I think the iPad is a different sort of device. There's a learning curve. And I think HP is going to see that with its slate. And I mean businesses might look at it today. But realistically, they're not going to have to revisit it till at least a year, if not more.

Jason Hiner

Interesting. I think - I'm not sure if people - I'm holding [an iPad] right now, we've got one in here at TechRepublic, we cracked it apart yesterday and we were going to be posting some photos and an evaluation of the innards. But I think it's actually a pretty shiny object when you first have it. It feels pretty good. I was surprised at how fast it is. And the touch interface is far more precise than the iPhone and some of the Android devices I've used.

Larry Dignan

Yeah.

Jason Hiner

Even the Palm Pre. So that kind of bodes well for it. I think it's a pretty good first impression with it, at least mine was. It's pretty easy to use. I just wonder, over time from the consumer side, if people will stick with it or if you're used to using a laptop or used to using a smartphone, the only thing that those folks, business travellers, if we talk about that market, that's kind of what I'm getting at. I think some of those folks are the ones who could influence this.

Business travelers I think are going to really like this. It's great for [them]. Not only can you read books, but you can watch movies, listen to your audio books, that kind of thing. And hotel entertainment and airplane entertainment being lacking as it is, and even for [light] productivity. This thing has a chance to win over some of those folks.

But those - some of those are executives and salespeople who a lot of times they buy their own stuff anyway and they either just expense it or write it off on their taxes. I think this has a chance with those folks. Because they also like their shiny objects, kind if like doctors, like you said. But not only that, it's pretty usable. I just don't think it's as much of a replacement for your laptop, your daily kind of computing tasks as Apple would like you to think. I think for light computing, some email, send a few messages, and maybe do a little bit of IM on the fly, that stuff is going to be fine. But when you really have to get down to work, you're still not going to use this thing. And then, if you have to do some work on a trip of if you're a business person - you're still stuck with three devices, a smartphone, a tablet and a laptop.

And I think that's what you are getting at is, that's where this thing may be is in a little bit of trouble. Until it can become more of a laptop replacement, its audience is pretty limited.

Larry Dignan

Yeah, I'm not bringing three devices, is what it comes down to, right? I mean the Kindle, you can kind of justify because you're carrying something instead of a paper book. And I guess you could kind of do that with the iPad too. But it is bigger. And I don't know...

Jason Hiner

It is. And heavier too, it's heavier, definitely.

Larry Dignan

Yeah, it's bigger, it's heavier. I need something to consolidate devices. And this isn't it.

Jason Hiner

Yeah, it's another - it's an add-on. So that's going to be something interesting to watch and we will certainly -

Larry Dignan

Now, that said, if it goes to 300 bucks, I'm in. Right? So yeah, the price too. I mean the price point right now matter a lot.

Jason Hiner

Yes. That's funny.

Larry Dignan

Because at that $500 range, which is the least equipped one, you look at it, and it doesn't compete with just devices, it competes with everything, right? 500 bucks. Well that could be used to pay down your mortgage.

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

You know, it can knock down your credit card bill. It can fund your college plan, right? I mean 500 bucks is real money.

Jason Hiner

There's a lot you can do with 500 bucks, that's true.

Larry Dignan

And then once you get up for the 699 one, then you're like, well, why don't I just buy a MacBook?

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

So I mean it's tough.

Jason Hiner

Or like that little - what was that one we were talking about? The Dell Vostro V13 or something? That one is like six or seven hundred bucks.

Larry Dignan

Yeah, exactly. It's kind of the same price.

Jason Hiner

Yeah.

Larry Dignan

So, those are real issues.

Jason Hiner

It's really - to me it's a netbook plus an e-reader. I never was really into netbooks, I had no use case for those. And this one is - that's where this one is kind of in muddy water for me a little bit too. But it succeeds where the netbook fails in that it's far more usable. Like, I could actually do a lot more stuff on this. Watching video is far better. Reading is much better than on a netbook. Even the Kindle, I wasn't crazy about the reading experience on the Kindle. The reading experience is much better [on the iPad].

So as a media consumption device and a light computing device, which is kind of the Kindle plus a netbook, I think it beats both of them. And it does do a little consolidation. But the thing is, I don't know that many people that were going to have both a netbook and a Kindle. So that's sort of the - there's where the consumer conundrum kind of comes in.

Larry Dignan

Yeah, exactly. I mean I just think it's going to take time.

Jason Hiner

Yeah. Fun stuff, though. It could be - the touch stuff is here to stay, I do think. And I think this is going to have implications for laptops and potentially smartphones - something we will keep watching. We also have a lot of coverage on this on ZDNet and TechRepublic. You can find links to those articles in the show notes, I wrote my first impressions, which is called iPad for business: Three reasons to love it and three reasons to ignore it. You will find that linked in the show notes as well.

And as always, ZDNet is your source for latest news and perspectives in business tech. TechRepublic is a source for IT leaders to engage in peer-to-peer conversations and get some tips and best practices. And also, you can find Larry and I online. So Larry, where do people find you?

Larry Dignan

[Between the Lines] btl.zdnet.com and on Twitter I'm ldignan.

Jason Hiner

Alright, so you can find my blog, Tech Sanity Check, at sanity.techrepublic.com; and you can find me on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonhiner.

Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.

Topics: Browser, Apple, Banking, Hardware, iPad, Mobility

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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