Why one company bought 4,500 iPads

At tech conferences, no shortage of Apple's tablet

ORLANDO -- The increasing ubiquity of Apple's iPad is evident in airports and technology conferences, especially. The tablet's use is so widespread that an army of hands was raised when Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff asked on stage at a Gartner conference here how many people were using the tablet.

"The computer wasn't even available a year ago," said Benioff, who was making a larger point about the pace of change in the tech industry. "I never have seen anything like what's happening now."

"The level of innovation that I see coming from this next generation of leaders is awesome," he said.

Many iPad sales are likely being driven by corporate spending, which includes people such as Michael Hedges, the CIO, vice president and head of global IT at Medtronic, who has purchased 4,500 iPads for his company. Medtronic employs 40,000 people.

Hedges may have been among the first corporate users to find an interesting use for the iPad. The device was released on April 3, a Saturday, and Hedges quickly arranged to buy 10 iPads and then ship them out for a trade show in Germany the following Wednesday.

Normally, Medtronic would have had large and very expensive displays at its booth, but in this case it loaded up its iPads with product information and then put them on display.

The iPad wasn't being sold then in Europe and the devices were an immediate hit, Hedges said.

"It was such a huge success because people came to our booth not to look at the Medtronic product but to look at the iPad," he said at Gartner's Symposium/ITexpo. "I didn't care -- I just wanted them at the booth."

But Medtronic is also buying iPads because they offer instant access to data and video, a particularly important attribute when showing product information to customers. Hedges said instant-on was a key business value, for the iPad or any tablet.

Hedges is trying to buy iPads without increasing the incremental cost of IT. One option being considered to acomplish that is the possibility of extending a three-year refresh rate for some desktops and laptops to four years, he said.

If the iPad seems like it is everywhere, market numbers released by Gartner back that perception up. It forecast worldwide media tablet sales, including iPad, to reach 19.5 million units this year and 54.8 million units in 2011, an increase of 181%.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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