The iPod Touch: A business tool, too

If you want the CFO to sign off on buying one, this checklist should help

Apple Inc.'s new iPod Touch is a revolutionary device, much like its iPhone cousin. It offers in one svelte package a host of cool features, everything from Web browsing over Wi-Fi to VPN access and a host of enterprise-useful apps. Sure, you can listen to music, but there's also a practical side, the side that makes it a perfect tool for business. (I know what a lot of you are thinking: In your dreams. Just stick with me a minute.)

Having spent some time with Apple's latest iPod, which hit the market in September and starts at $299, I think there's a lot of on-the-job use you can get from this little guy -- so much so that you might even be able to expense it at work. Not only does it arrive out of the box with useful software, but apps that can be added to it with a little tweaking make it feature-filled enough to keep almost any road warrior happy.

Not convinced? Let me break these down by application, and feel free to file this list away for any future iPod Touch purchase order justification. That way, when you sit down with the CFO to explain why you want, er, need one, you'll have a ready-made checklist handy.

The Web. First and foremost, the iPod Touch has a darn good almost-full-featured Web browser -- not just a mobile browser, but a real browser. Safari on the iPod Touch is much better than anything else out there. The scrolling, panning and zooming around that's possible put it in a usability league with far larger devices like tablet PCs.

While it doesn't do Java or Flash (yet), it will still handle 90% of the business Web apps out there. And you can open up eight or more different Web windows at a time. That's great for multitasking productivity.

Mobility. It sounds obvious, but it's worth repeating: The iPod Touch can go with you everywhere -- in the conference room, at a client's office, in the car, tucked away in your shirt pocket, even in the bathroom. It weighs just over 4 oz. and is 4.3 inches long, 2.4 inches wide and less than one-third of an inch thick. And it still boasts the best 3.5-inch screen I've ever seen.

VPN. As more office apps move to the Web, the browsing functions make this device more valuable. It's not just for public Web apps, either. For companies with a VPN, Apple has included some of the most widely used VPN software out there -- Cisco notwithstanding -- to allow you to connect to Windows and Mac VPN servers. Once connected, you'll have access to all of your internal Web applications. Talk about an ultraportable office!

Contacts. A few years back, companies bought contact books for their employees. As the digital age progressed, those contacts got rolled into laptops and smart phones.

The iPod offers yet another extension of that evolution, allowing users to browse through contacts on a large but mobile screen. With touch-screen ease, just tap, flick, tap again and your contact info is staring you in the face. It is also easier to add contacts from a business card to the iPod Touch than to a typical phone because of the iPod's QWERTY keyboard, large screen and large tapping area.

Clock and Calculator. The world clock is extremely useful when traveling across time zones, crucial for the jet-setting international exec. The same is true for the built-in alarm clock.

iPod Touch and iPhone
The iPod Touch (left) offers many of the same great features as the iPhone (right).

And while it's as simple as they come, the Calculator application works just as you'd expect, whether calculating mileage reimbursement costs or figuring out the tip on that two-martini business lunch. Everyone needs one once in awhile -- the calculator, not the martini.

Photos, videos and music. The iPod includes a great photo viewer for finding and quickly displaying image files for clients. It also offers relatively high-resolution playback of videos, whether commercial, instructional, artistic or just plain fun.

And the music software is great for listening to audiobooks and language tapes -- being a recent Paris transplant, I can attest to this! -- and frankly, there's a lot of learning that can take place during the inevitable downtime between business meetings or flights.

Calendar. While Apple handed iPod users a major blow by disabling the write functionality in its calendar app -- you'll need an iPhone for that -- the scaled-back software on the iPod Touch is still a useful tool for taking your desktop timetable on the road -- even if you can't edit or sync it on the fly.

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