Review: Why iPad 2 is still winning with business users

Summary:Everyone wants a piece of the multitouch tablet market. But, iPad 2 competitors have so far been unable to match Apple, especially in the areas that matter to business users.

It's been over a month since the arrival of the iPad 2 and Apple still can't build them fast enough for all of the people who are ready to buy one -- let alone keep the retail shelves stocked. Meanwhile, the iPad's two most widely-hyped rivals so far in 2011 -- the Motorola Xoom and the BlackBerry PlayBook -- have been greeted by mediocre reviews and tepid sales.

Even more surprising is the fact that most business users are choosing the Apple tablet over the ones built by enterprise stalwarts Motorola and RIM. After evaluating the iPad 2 for a month, this review explores the reasons why most business users still prefer the Apple tablet and looks at where the iPad 2 still has work to do from an enterprise perspective.

Photo gallery

Apple iPad 2: Unboxing, accessories, and comparison photos

Specifications

  • Carrier: Verizon, AT&T, and international carriers
  • OS: Apple iOS 4.3
  • Processor: 1GHz dual core Apple A5
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Storage: 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB internal; no SD expansion slot
  • Display: 9.7-inch LED-backlit IPS display; 1024x768, 132 ppi
  • Battery: Lithium-ion polymer with 6930 mAh capacity
  • Ports: 30-pin Apple connector, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Weight: 1.33 pounds (21.28 ounces, or 601 grams)
  • Dimensions: 9.50(h) x 7.31(w) x 0.34(d) inches
  • Camera: backside 720p video recording at 30fps; front-facing VGA
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, aGPS, digital compass, ambient light sensor, three-axis gyroscope
  • Keyboard: Virtual QWERTY
  • Networks: CDMA or GSM; no LTE
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • Tethering: No
  • Price: Wi-Fi: $499 (16GB), $599 (32GB), $699 (64GB); 3G: $629 (16GB), $729 (32GB),

Who is it for?

As I've said before, I think business users are the unseen force driving a large proportion of the iPad's bullish sales numbers. Nearly everyone I know that has an iPad is a business user who bought the tablet for business meetings, answering emails from the couch or the bedroom, watching movies during business travel, reading news and books, and occasionally handing it to a kid to keep him busy using Angry Birds or Stack the States. While Apple's marketing and promotional videos predominantly show kids and college students and average consumers using the iPad, in the real world, I'd suggest that at least 50% of iPad users are professionals. Of course, the interesting thing with the iPad is that it's a combo work/personal device, and that may be one of the things that's driving its success since many professionals having increasingly blurry boundaries between work time and personal time.

What problems does it solve?

There weren't many desperately-needed fixes after the success of the first generation iPad. The biggest complaints were that it was a little heavy to hold for a long period of time, that it didn't have cameras for video calls, that its screen wasn't nearly as impressive as the iPhone 4, and that it wasn't very powerful as a content creation device. Apple made the second generation iPad 33% thinner and 15% lighter than the original iPad, added front-facing and back-facing cameras (albeit low-quality ones) and FaceTime software for video calls, slightly upgraded the LCD to a brighter, more colorful screen, and added a dual core CPU and a few new apps (GarageBand and iMovie) to help increase some of the iPad's content creation mojo -- though it's still not great for complicated emails (w/ attachments) or document creation.

Standout features

  • The one button solution - As far as tablets go, it's still tough to beat the iPad's simplicity. It's essentially just an app delivery mechanism with multiple screens and a home button. That's it. It doesn't really dazzle you with its UI, and the multitouch user experience could still be enhanced to make it more effective for working with files and documents. Nevertheless, the user experience is simple enough that even the most technophobic old school business executives (who've traditionally had their assistants send all their emails) can pick this thing up and figure it out.
  • Burgeoning ecosystem - Again, since the iPad is primarily an app delivery system, its strength is the huge (and still growing) catalog of third-party apps. That includes a lot of enterprise software that has jumped on board the iPad express, including apps from Citrix, Cisco, Oracle, SAP, Wyse, IBM, SalesForce.com, and more. Plus, there are lots of clever business apps from smaller players like OmniGraffle, Penultimate, Roambi Visualizer, QlikView, and Board Vantage.
  • 10+ hours of battery life - As I've said before, the real world battery life of 10-12 hours of peak usage is the iPad's quiet killer feature. It allows you to work consistently all day, make it through a cross-continental or overseas flight, or forget to charge the iPad overnight and still have juice to use the next day. Other tablets such as the Xoom and the Samsung Galaxy Tab max out at 7-8 hours and don't quite approach the iPad.
  • The price is still right - While Apple added upgrades and new features to the iPad 2, it kept the same aggressive pricing structure, starting at $500 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model and scaling up to $829 for the 64GB 3G models. Other tablets have struggled to match the iPad's price tag for a number of reasons, which I've written about.

What's wrong?

  • Email app needs major improvement - My biggest complaint about the iPad is the email application. It's very bare bones, and even a little awkward in terms of the way that it always leaves a message open in the preview pane as you scan through your mailbox. It also doesn't integrate any of the features of popular email clients, such as Microsoft Outlook and Gmail, and it does not handle attachments very well.
  • Cameras are awful - While Apple added front-facing and rear-facing cameras to the iPad 2, the cameras are very low quality. Both the photos and videos taken with the iPad 2 are grainy, pixelated, and disappointing. The cameras are mostly there for video calling, since taking photos with a big tablet like this is pretty silly. However, with that in mind, Apple should swap the cameras. It should put the higher quality camera on the front and put the low-res camera on the back (used only for showing what you're looking at when you're on a video call). All in all, the cameras on the iPad 2 are worse than the cameras on the Motorola Xoom, BlackBerry PlayBook, and Samsung Galaxy Tab. I suspect that the low-quality cameras are a result of Apple trying to keep the price of the iPad down. Still, Apple should have done a better job here.
  • Enterprise is an afterthought - While Apple has spent a lot more effort making the iPhone and the iPad friendly to the enterprise than it ever did with the Mac, the enterprise features of the iPad are still an afterthought to Apple -- simply an additional revenue stream. Steve Jobs has made it clear that he does not think very highly of the way things work in the enterprise. As a result, I doubt we'll see Apple do the kinds of things Samsung is doing to court the enterprise, such as drop-shopping 10,000 Wi-Fi tablets at a discounted price, integrating hardware encryption, and partnering extensively with enterprise software companies.
  • Apple lock-in - One of the greatest obstacles that the iPad has to overcome with some business and IT professionals is that, like most Apple products, it's locked into the Apple ecosystem and doesn't play very nice with other products outside of that ecosystem. For example, unlike other mobile devices, the iPad 2 doesn't support DLNA for wireless streaming to TVs -- it only supports the Apple TV's proprietary protocol. While Apple is certainly not alone among tech vendors in trying to push its own software and services on its customers, it is the most aggressive. And, while Apple often does this in the name of streamlining the customer experience, it can lead to annoyances and frustrations for many customers who have a diverse coterie of tech that they work with on a daily basis.

Bottom line for business

The iPad 2 is a minimal refinement of the original iPad that adds a better screen, a slimmer form factor, and a dual core processor (the new cameras are barely worth mentioning). However, by retaining its great battery life, simple user experience, huge catalog of apps, and low price, the iPad 2 has enough to maintain a stronghold over the nascent multitouch tablet market. Even among business professionals -- many of whom use the iPad for both work and personal use -- the iPad 2 remains the tablet of choice. And, judging by the early competitors so far this year, it's not in danger of being dethroned in 2011.

Competitive products

Where to get more info

This article was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Laptops, Apple, Hardware, iPad, Mobility, Tablets

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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