iPads in the enterprise: Apps and architectures

When you plan corporate apps for the iPad, here's what you need to keep in mind

The iPad's impressive consumer success aside, some can't help but wonder if there is a serious place in the corporate arsenal for this device. Questions that IT has been focusing on lately are related to how its unique handheld form factor, instant-on capability and all-day battery life might support or even spawn a whole new set of applications within the enterprise.

On the flip side, there has obviously been a considerable amount of discussion about the potential risks and limitations of the iPad for business use. Concerns relate to connectivity, security, deployment costs and the depth (or lack thereof) of Apple's commitment to enterprise IT. Some early users also report that the iPad can't replace a laptop for heavy-duty work tasks, such as writing long documents.

The debate continues: Will the iPad get into the corporate environment in a big way? Apple and third parties alike are doing all they can to attract enterprise customers with a bevy of apps geared to corporate use. (See sidebars.)

Success in a new product or market segment attracts more than customers. It invites bitter competition as well. And that is exactly what's happening with the iPad. It seems to have given a new lease on life to tablet computing more broadly, and now we see a decent lineup of old and new competitors readying their own tablet offerings.

Most notable among the new ones is Cisco Systems, which recently announced the Cius, an Android-based device that's primarily designed for the enterprise. Combined with Cisco's Telepresence high-end videoconferencing systems, the Cius could add a whole new dimension to virtual meetings.

Another potential challenge comes from a German company called Neofonie, which announced a Linux-based device called the WePad (now renamed WeTab), which features USB ports and supports Flash.

As these devices continue to come on the market, I believe the iPad is likely to succeed in the corporate world, and in a big way, especially for customer-facing applications. IT should seize the opportunity to develop a whole new breed of enterprise applications that would enable non-intrusive use of computers in certain business interactions. These applications would enable people to use an iPad in much like the way that pen and paper are used now.

To support internal deployment of enterprise applications, Apple has set up an enterprise program for companies with 500 or more employees and a valid Dun & Bradstreet number. Likewise, there is a free program for higher education, called the University Program, to develop educational materials based on the iPad.

Security's already baked in

Before we look at cases of business transformation that are helping the iPad garner immediate attention -- and at others that might be forthcoming -- let's examine the level of security that enterprise use requires and see how the iPad ecosystem is addressing security.

When it comes to using the iPad at work, IT's biggest security concern is the need for stronger authentication tools and data privacy safeguards.

The iPad supports the use of IEEE x.509-standard digital certificates, which are used to authenticate users and back-end servers on VPN or Wi-Fi networks and via regular e-mail connections. The iPad also supports over-the-air self provisioning for enrollment and configuration of devices and distribution of certificates through Simple Certificate Enrollment Protocol.

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