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iPad lures business users in law, medicine and other fields

It's still not seen as a laptop replacement, however

August 30, 2010 06:01 AM ET

Computerworld - Apple's iPad tablet is being used by doctors, lawyers and businesspeople to ease their workloads, but many believe the popular touchscreen device can't yet replace a laptop for functions such as writing long documents.

The IT shop at Chicago-based law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal allows the firm's lawyers to use iPads, and up to 100 of the 800 attorneys around the globe are already doing so -- at their own expense.

"The iPad has real value for attorneys servicing our clients, of being able to access corporate data and document libraries immediately and [doing so] a lot quicker than on a laptop," said Michael Barnas, the firm's director of application services. "They take iPads and iPhones everywhere."

Traveling attorneys, especially, appreciate the fact that the iPad boots up faster than a laptop, he said.

But because many attorneys write long documents subject to many revisions, that work is still better suited for a workstation, he said.

A typical laptop at the firm can cost $1,500 to $2,000, while a low-end iPad goes for $499, so lawyers next year might be offered iPads instead of laptops, he said.

The firm currently gives lawyers a choice of a workstation or a laptop, but if they want an iPad, they have to purchase it themselves without reimbursement.

The firm's IT professionals have OK'd the iPad's security and manageability and can provide limited support to a road warrior having problems logging in, authenticating or using Citrix Receiver. But the IT department can't fully provide remote support for the iPad itself, Barnas said.

Sonnenschein did not allow lawyers to use the first versions of the iPhone. But with the second version, it was possible for IT to design and install security certifications for a second layer of password authentication, and it was possible to do remote wipes of data on iPhones that were stolen or lost. The iPhone 3GS allowed the firm to add Citrix Receiver for another level of security, Barnas said. In all, about 300 lawyers use iPhones, while the firm still supports about 800 BlackBerry smartphones.

All of the security and administrative capabilities added to the iPhone made it easier for the firm to accept the iPad, which uses the same operating system as Apple's smartphone, Barnas added.

Another professional who uses an iPad is Dr. Jon Wahrenberger. A cardiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., Wahrenberger said he and four other cardiac surgeons use iPads. The iPad offers a "low profile" that doesn't seem intimidating to patients during exams, he said.

But the bigger value comes from the fact that he's able to use his iPad to interact with patients' electronic health records -- functionality made possible by an app from Epic called Haiku, Wahrenberger said. He said his medical center also recently completed installation of a Microsoft Exchange server with extensions to the iPad.

"There's huge excitement for this stuff," he said. "People are loving it."

Still, experts such as Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research, have noted that several things must happen for the iPad to gain more acceptance as a business tool.

For one thing, Schadler said in a recent blog, Microsoft needs to build apps that create and edit common documents across platforms like the iPad. He noted that he has used Keynote to make a presentation, but he would rather use PowerPoint on his iPad. "Until we get that, the iPad will never replace a laptop," Schadler wrote.

He also said that the iPad needs a Bluetooth-enabled mouse, in addition to the already-offered Bluetooth-enabled keyboard.

Generally, Schadler wants to see many more business apps for the iPad. About 500 of the more than 11,000 iPad apps are focused on business uses, including Citrix GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx, he noted. "But until we get access to corporate applications, employees will still have to lug around their laptops," he said.

Despite those reservations, Schadler said via e-mail that he personally knows of "dozens" of businesses that are testing the iPad, since their IT shops want to be ahead of the curve for their users, instead of behind the curve, as they were with the iPhone.

The iPad has the "same security model and administrative model as iPhone, so they've done due diligence on that already," Schadler added.

Health care provider Kaiser Permanente has reportedly been testing two iPads for viewing X-rays. And Mercedes-Benz Financial has reportedly equipped some car dealerships with iPads so sales personnel can take customers' information for credit applications without having to sit down at their desks. Officials at both companies did not respond to requests for further comment.

Schadler outlined three scenarios for business iPad uses. One is for salespeople in the field who want to scroll through slides or demonstrate a Web site. Another is for executives on short trips who don't need full laptops but might use iPads to do things like access their e-mail, calendars or Keynote slides. The third scenario is for doctors, retail sales staff, warehouse workers and other people who need access to applications while on their feet.

"IPads are a tremendously empowering technology that any employee can buy," Schadler added.

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

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