How will the enterprise respond to the Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch tablet?

At an even next week, Apple will likely debut the iPad Pro 9.7-inch or something similar (like the iPad Air 3). Will it finally be enterprise ready?

ipad pro smart keyboard
Credit: Apple

What qualifies as a “business” product?

In many ways, it’s how a company decides to market their gear, the sales channels they use, the price, and the way the business world reacts. However, there is one clear determining factor that can never be missing from the equation.

Before I get to that, you should know that next week is a pivotal point in how Apple has positioned the iPad as a consumer device. While the iPad Pro 12.9-inch tablet released last year is beefier, uses a faster processor than the iPad Air, has a cover keyboard for typing on a plane, and uses a stylus for taking notes, it’s essentially a consumer product.

Meanwhile, the Mac has always been seen as a consumer device as well, but it’s also starting to pop up in business meetings more and more. Once viewed as a high-end device that is too expensive, something only a student would love, or even as a graphics workstation, the Mac has slipped out of this narrow market definition. Major companies like SAP and Uber now deploy them en masse.

Apple has captured the imagination of the consumer market, to be sure. What we’re seeing now is a bold move into the enterprise, and they are bringing IBM along for the ride. The one major factor in flagging a product as “business or “consumer” in the world of gadgets is whether there is robust support. It’s not enough to create a new Twitter account for responding to customers.

Apple is essentially one for two in this regard. We know there is an emerging support channel for the Mac. Companies like IBM offer support for the device. JAMF Software helps with deployment. Code42 does cloud backup. There are a host of cloud backup companies that work with the Mac. And, you can expect an enterprise-grade app running within Chrome to work on a Mac as easily as a Windows PC.

Just because the iPad uses the new Pro naming convention doesn’t make it a commercial product, however. There are many enterprise-grade iOS apps, but here’s my concern. It’s impossible to do real work on an iPad. Believe me, I’ve tried and tried over the years. Just this past week while I was in Austin for the SxSW conference, I brought along an iPad Pro and a laptop. I never touched the iPad. I felt a little annoyed by the fact that I even carried it around.

It’s an amazing reading device (I also had a normal book along, and read that instead). It works great for magazines using the Texture app (which used to be called Next Issue). I watch movies on the device, and I have been known to bring one to meetings and take notes. But it is not a commercial product, with apologies to Tim Cook who claimed it would negate the need for a notebook. Not quite. Every soft keyboard cover I’ve used pales in comparison to even the most basic laptop keyboard, but the truth is -- Windows 10 is still my go-to OS. It's what I use for real work.

In a real business setting, too many things come up where you need to do real work and then need real support if things don't work. You get a massive slide deck and need Microsoft PowerPoint, but it crashes constantly. You need a keyboard and mouse, but they are busted. You have to edit a photo, and not just to resize it or save it under a new file format. You need to adjust the aspect ratio and the pixel size, two things that pretty much require Photoshop these days running on the desktop, and you need the support desk to unlock the new version. Editing videos is possible on the iPad Pro but not easy or powerful and not something many users can do without tech help. The iPad is an amazing, useful mobile device, but it still runs as a basic viewer tool.

The workflow is just off for me. I need to have Chrome running with multiple tabs open, Photoshop at the ready, a word processor or at least Google Docs available to do detailed editing work, a few custom apps -- all running at the same time. For that, I still need an actual laptop with about 16GB of RAM, an actual hard disk for storing the files, and a real processor. I need power and flexibility, two things that the iPad Pro doesn’t quite provide. In a corporate setting, there's staying connected and then there is working. To work, you might need to call in the IT gurus. 

How about you? Have you figured out how to make the iPad Pro do everything for you? Do you agree that real work needs real support? I want to hear what you are doing to make that work and how you make it viable. Post in comments.

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