iPad for the enterprise? Maybe

Analysts are split on whether the new device will fit in at work

If Apple Inc.'s new iPad is going to make its way into large business settings, IT managers will first need to do some careful evaluations, because even tech analysts are split on the idea.

Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., blogged yesterday that the iPad will most likely enter the enterprise through the consumer door -- just as the iPhone did.

"Make no mistake, this is an attractive business tool," Schadler wrote. "Laptops will be left at home."

But Phillip Redman at Gartner Inc., and Steve Hilton at Analysys Mason, disagree. In separate e-mail comments, both said that the iPad doesn't fit into the enterprise at all.

"Not enterprise material," Hilton wrote, noting that the iPad lacks common office productivity tools, uses a custom chip set and lasts only 10 hours on battery when Wi-Fi isn't running.

Schadler's case in favor of using the iPad in big business settings was fairly detailed. He noted, for instance, that 20% of companies already support iPhones, and the iPad is "just a big iPhone to them."

Citing Apple's historic ability to time its products for the market, Schadler said the iPad is designed for information workers who have taken to equipping themselves with the tools they need, rather than simply using what their employers provide. Schadler calls that trend "technology populism."

Noting that mobile professionals make up 28% of the workforce, Schadler added that the iPad "offers some superior characteristics for the things that mobile professionals care about." And the things they care about include messaging and collaboration; a full Web experience -- which the iPad offers with its 9.7-in. screen; access to business media -- which users will get with features like the iPad's New York Times app; and full-size document tools -- which the iPad offers with its support of iWorks.

He even suggested that Microsoft start building iPad software into the Office format. "This thing will take off among high-net-worth mobile pros," he said.

Au contraire, Hilton said in an e-mail. "I don't see a fit at all [with enterprise users]," he said, arguing that the iPad really will be a niche product that fits into the netbook market generally.

"It befuddles us that Apple seeks to kill the netbook segment," added Hilton. "The netbook was committing hari-kari just fine without the iPad."

The good news for techies trying to decide whether the iPad will do well in the enterprise is this: There's time to make a decision. The Wi-Fi-only model doesn't go on sale for 60 days, and the pricier Wi-Fi-plus-3G model won't hit the streets until the end of April, according to Apple.

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

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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