Whether IT is ready or not, enterprise iPad apps are coming

Some skeptics say the device is unsuitable for use at large companies

Apple Inc. software developers have moved quickly to adapt enterprise applications for the company's new iPad, even though some analysts and IT managers say they don't find the iPad to be enterprise-ready.

Apple's App Store today says the top four iPad paid apps are related to "productivity" functions. They include a word-processing app, a spreadsheet app and a presentation app built by Apple developers that sell for $9.99 each.

Those Apple-built applications were long expected. But some third-party enterprise application developers have acted quickly to join the iPad gravy train with offerings that, though sometimes free, will give iPad users an application to link back to corporate databases provided by those same third parties.

One company that has developed an iPad app is Blackbaud Inc., which makes CRM software used by thousands of nonprofit organizations, said Blackbaud Chief Technology Officer Shaun Sullivan in an interview. Apple has not yet approved the Blackbaud iPad app for release on the App Store, but a similar Blackbaud Mobile app is already available for the iPhone and Android smartphones at no charge. The app is designed to give charities and other groups mobile access to precise data on donations and donors.

"We felt it was important to have a native iPad app as well," Sullivan said. Blackbaud makes its money by selling organizations its specialized CRM back-office software, and it expects that CRM vendors such as Salesforce.com Inc. will embrace the iPad as well. (Salesforce.com already has an iPhone app.)

In another example, Mobile Iron Inc. announced a software product for the iPad called the Sentry App. Now available for free in the App Store, Sentry is designed to give IT managers and workers an iPad-based mobile command center for monitoring and reacting to smartphones, including rogues, that access enterprise e-mail accounts. With the application on the iPad, an IT worker could identify a rogue device and deny it access to corporate e-mail, according to Mobile Iron. Like Blackbaud's app, Sentry App for the iPad will work with Mobile Iron's back-office software.

MobileIron's Sentry App for iPad
Mobile Iron's Sentry App for iPad, is an enterprise app that's available for free in the App Store.

Despite the rush to build iPad enterprise apps, some analysts have declared that the iPad is not ready for enterprise use, partly because of security concerns.

Even so, those analysts recognize that the iPad will enter the enterprise through the consumer door, just as the iPhone did. As a result, enterprise application providers are trying to take advantage of the iPad's popularity by building new products for Apple's tablet.

Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney said today that there will clearly be some IT support for iPad applications "just because there is [worker] enthusiasm to support it."

One IT manager at a large nonprofit group based in New York said he's taking a wait-and-see approach to the iPad for use in his organization. "Other than the 'cool factor' I don't really see many enterprise uses for the iPad yet," said the IT manager, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak for the organization or take a position on new products.

"I'm sure there will be some great apps developed for it, but I suspect it will be a while before it's a must-have device," said the IT manager, noting that "VPN support would be a major concern."

Dulaney said he expected some companies, such as Disney and Nike, will likely use the iPad to promote a high-tech image for their brands. In contrast, the nonprofit IT manager said that, because of the economy, "we are not spending as much on things just because they're fun or cool."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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