iPad: Art object or enterprise tablet?

If Cupertino wants to stave off that iPad sales slowdown, then it has to change the recipe. Or at least add some new dishes to the menu.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Yesterday, I talked a bit about my yearly ritual of trading in my iPad for the latest and greatest model, and why as IT professionals it may make sense to think about our device purchases as leased equipment that depreciates heavily and is turned in for the newest technology, rather than holding onto it indefinitely, as a consumer might.

The iPad is, at the end of the day, a consumer device. But you would have to be completely unaware of the increasingly common use cases in which scores of CxOs and other executives and IT pros are bringing them into the workplace for use with all kinds of productivity workloads now, whether they are BYOD outright or are actual corporate assets.

Despite the fact that the iPad -- and also the iPhone -- are being brought into the enterprise in droves, there is the fundamental problem that they just aren't engineered for this purpose. And they are as much objet d'art as they are technology.

Look at any iPad or iPhone advertisement, and you will see where art object and consumer industrial design takes precendent over tech. The extreme closeups are a dead giveaway. 

Nevertheless they are entering board rooms and are being used in the field for vertical apps as a result of their popularity in the consumer space. But as a result enterprise IT has had to create workarounds to deal with the rigors of these devices being forced into those usage scenarios for which they were not designed, such as:

  • RDS/Citrix connectivity (to address resource limitations, such as lack of RAM and processing power)
  • Attaching them to physical keyboards (because you can't type out a lot of stuff on a screen)
  • Shoving them in big ugly cases (to prevent them from breaking, because they aren't constructed to enterprise or vertical industry specs) 

These are only just a few. An entire industry has been built on shoe-horning iPads into business. But the paradox is that the enterprise is the only market remaining that the iPad has for further growth potential. 

To do this, though, Apple needs to pivot. It needs a new kind of iPad for business use, which doesn't exist today.

The big question is whether or not if it exists tomorrow. If what we get in terms of an iPad offering on Thursday is a spec increase on the CPU, with double the memory (2GB is rumored), a Touch ID sensor and the same consumer-class construction -- effectively, a giant iPhone 6 Plus, then Apple will have failed to deliver what enterprises are actually looking for in a tablet.

I'm pretty sure a bright guy like Jony Ive can figure out a nice balance between fragile art object and butt ugly indestructible. If he can't then there needs to be a separate design team for enterprise products put in the place that can.

Let's be perfectly clear, fanfolk. This configuration will sell like hotcakes in the consumer space, at least for those chasing the replacement cycle. And more than a few will end up in business. But they will not have solved the core problems I have addressed above.

Traditionally it has never been Apple's priority to address the enterprise and business space, because they've made so much money in consumer. They have in excess of $114B in net tangible assets to prove it.

But now Apple is being faced with the realization that growth in the consumer market for the iPad has effectively peaked, to the amount of a 16 percent Year over Year slowdown.

If it wants to stave off that slowdown, then it has to change the recipe. Or at least add some new dishes to the menu.

First, they need a device that is actually built to handle the rigors of day to day use within enterprise and vertical.

The current aluminum, ultra-thin form factor is a total disaster in the making for a managed IT asset and plenty of organizations have stacks of dead iPads to prove it.

Don't get me wrong, I think OtterBox, Griffin and a number of other firms do a great job for keeping consumers out of trouble, but Apple needs to start thinking more along the design lines of Panasonic Toughbook, Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet and Surface's VaporMG construction and a more serious piece of glass if they want big business to really pay attention.

I'm pretty sure a bright guy like Jony Ive can figure out a nice balance between fragile art object and butt ugly indestructible. If he can't then there needs to be a separate design team for enterprise products put in the place that can.

Let's talk about hardware. Enterprise tablet apps need more screen real estate, so we need an iPad with a display that is more along the lines of 12" or larger. It needs an active digitizer with pen and handwriting support. It needs a OEM keyboard accessory that will allow for typing for extended periods. It needs better speakers and cameras for unified communications.

And it needs a powerful CPU and enough memory to handle more demanding applications, and can withstand closer to four years between upgrade cycles rather than one or two.

I realize, of course, I've effectively described the Surface Pro 3, which has a basic configuration that starts at about $800. 

Honestly though, if Apple does come out with a similar product, whether it is tomorrow or a year from now, that is exactly what market segment they will end up shooting for. Not the "Prosumer", but the professional itself.

For a number of years, I've been talking about the possible convergence of iPad and Mac. An enterprise tablet, an "iPad Pro", if you wish, would be the perfect place to start testing the waters with this strategy.

The first iteration of this would be likely some version of Yosemite ported to ARM, with an iOS compatibility layer.

Now that iPads have 64-bit chips and we are likely to see quad (or more) processor cores on the A8X, an initial converged Apple OS on a tablet that can run a selection of Mac apps ported by vetted Apple ISVs participating on the App Store alongside iPad apps isn't unfeasable today, especially if the memory specs are bumped up to 4GB of RAM on the SoC.

Sounds familiar? This is not entirely different from the way Modern applications run within the WinRT subsystem in Windows 8.1 on the Surface and on other Windows-powered tablets, and ultimately across a single version of Windows running on all form factors, with a single store in Windows 10.

Platform convergence is Apple's future, if it wants to play in the enterprise sandbox. The question is when the company makes its move, not if.

Will Apple release a professional grade iPad this week? Or is it a few years off? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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