Apple's New iPad In The Enterprise: Laptop Replacement Gets Closer

How will an iPad with much better graphics and a faster network connection affect the enterprise?

As my colleague Sarah Rotman Epps so aptly observes: the third generation of iPad is a gut renovation masquerading as incremental innovation. The new iPad looks basically the same but now carries a snappy 4G radio and a much more powerful graphics processor than its predecessor. The big hardware advance lies in the components, particularly in the graphics processor to handle the high-fidelity Retina display and rapid-response touchscreen control. How will an iPad with much better graphics and a faster network connection affect the enterprise?

Some Forrester data from our workforce surveys and forecasts to set the stage:

In conversations with over 100 CIOs in the past six months, three questions dominate the enterprise tablet to-do list. Here's my take on how the new iPad will change the answers to those questions:

  1. How do I get business applications onto the tablet? With 11% of employees globally using tablets today, developers have powerful incentives to port business apps to touchscreen tablets. Already developers have built 200,000 apps for iPad. With a faster network connection and more power in the touchscreen interface, the new iPad can take on more business workloads: graphics, video, browser apps. And some of that network speed and graphics power will be diverted to translate keyboard/mouse applications to even better virtual machine interfaces from Citrix and VMWare and others.Further, every systems integrator is building mobile interfaces to SAP applications to handle the needs of field sales, executives in meetings, and normal joes like us. The list of SaaS and software vendors delivering touchscreen business apps is also rapidly expanding and ready to take advantage of the faster network. Cisco WebEx moving into two-way video; QuickOffice is ramping up its spreadsheet program; Adobe Illustrator is unleashed with gestures; even Microsoft is running OneNote on iPad with panache; enhancing its touch. interface. And new-generation mobile engagement vendors like Appian and appsFreedom are handling the refacing and last mile wireless delivery of business apps to tablets. In short, iPads are accumulating business apps at breakneck pace.
  2. Which employees can use tablets instead of laptops? This is the hottest question among cost-conscious CIOs. The answer is simple: executives and sales reps can use tablets instead of laptops today. All others, especially heads-down content creators, will still need a dedicated computer or access to a computer. But even these people are time-shifting towards tablets. Already, US employees with smartphones or tablets do 26% of their work email on them. While the new iPad with its powerful chipset, beautiful screen, 10 hour battery life, instant on, and fast network-seeking smarts makes the post-laptop experience better, I predict the big laptop replacement breakthough could come in the fall when Apple has the opportunty to upgrade the OS to handle touchpad accessories. (Apple should logically do this because it would advance its convergence strategy to simplify and unify the experience across all Apple devices, serivces, and ecosystems.)
  3. How do I support tablets while protecting my company's policies? The new iPad will have a better answer to this question as well. Why? Because the security mechanisms of partitioning the tablet, running a snappy browser over a 4G network, or sandboxing each business app with its own end-to-end safe zone will just work better with a faster network and more powerful hardware. There's much work to do on the part of your security and network operations teams, but the ultimate answer to operate tablets safely is to protect data end-to-end with a redesign of the security and access architecture. Vendors like MobileIron and Airwatch can help.

These improvements are contingent of course on vendors building great touchscreen apps, something that they have cut their teeth doing for Apple devices since 2007. I believe that a critical mass of expertise now exists to build great touchscreen apps. Our recent investigation into mobile engagement showed how companies like, TripIt, Pandora, Box, Dropbox, and QuickOffice can deliver great task-oriented applications that serve people in their moments of decision and action.

Last thought: CIOs wait with hopeful anticipation that Windows 8 tablets will have even better answers to these questions. Well, we'll see. I am not so sure given the employees' willingness to buy their own work equipment the way they buy their own work clothes. The end result of device consumerization is faster innovation and more device diversity. And Apple has a four-year headstart wooing developers to build and sell touchscreen apps. So they beat Microsoft in tablets. What do you think?