Read this before you hand out an iPad Pro to anyone in the office

Your business users may be clamoring for Apple's high-end tablet. Take these steps before deploying.

Virtual keyboard and Split Screen
Michael deAgonia

Good things come in big packages, right?

The Apple iPad Pro is a monstrous tablet with a 12.9-in. screen and the fastest tablet processor Apple has ever made (the A9X). It's thin, mobile and powerful enough to run enterprise-grade apps.

Several companies, such as Logitech and Otterbox, make keyboards and cases specifically for this model. And hell has officially frozen over now that IBM has developed myriad iOS apps and services, including one that is intended to provide enterprise-quality support for the iPhone and iPad.

Clearly, the iPad Pro has become a desirable office product. In some ways, this is the device that makes the most sense for some business users -- even more than a MacBook, an iPhone or a smaller iPad. Starting at $730 (Amazon price), the iPad Pro is more portable than a laptop yet fast enough for enterprise apps, has a big enough screen for stunning sales demos, boasts a 10-hour battery life and supports genuinely useful keyboard cases including Apple's own Smart Keyboard ($196, Amazon price). There's even a stylus called the Apple Pencil ($119, Amazon price) for taking notes at meetings.

All this is not lost on business executives, who may be clamoring for an iPad Pro. The question is: How do you make sure your organization deploys the device effectively? I asked two industry experts to weigh in with some tips to consider before releasing the device into the wild.

Test Microsoft apps

Microsoft, like IBM, has given iOS devices the nod. The company recently refreshed its Office 2016 suite with apps that not only work well on iPads, but that include features specifically tailored to the iPad Pro.

But that doesn't necessarily mean they'll run well in your environment. Apple does not have a good track record in the enterprise, says Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies -- so if your organization is Microsoft-centric, it's important for your IT team to conduct compatibility tests on the iPad Pro for all the Microsoft apps your company uses.

Check other key applications

Chances are your software needs don't begin and end with Microsoft. Prior to deployment, make sure the iPad Pro can run all your key enterprise applications. This is more than just finding out if there is an adequate app available, says Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT. It means running each enterprise app on this specific device and making sure there are no compatibility, processing or memory problems that might cause crashes or slowdowns.

The temptation is to assume that the faster iPad Pro can handle high-end apps, but that might not always be the case. There could be something in the 64-bit chip architecture of the iPad Pro or in the screen size that causes conflicts, notes King. The only way to find out is to run tests as part of the deployment process.

Choose a flexible MDM

Not every mobile device management system supports the iPad Pro, which is still relatively new and not as common as the iPad Air. The first step is to make sure your MDM supports iOS 9 and Apple programs, and if not, look for one that does. But don't stop there, says Kay. It's important to have an MDM and a technical staff that can support a mix of devices and platforms.

"Most companies have complex environments," he says. "In all likelihood, if they have iOS they also have Android. And if at any point they want to switch from one to the other, they need the skills to manage the transition. Sometimes a new capability arrives in one platform and not the other, at least for a while. That capability may be a key competitive advantage, requiring a move to that platform. It's best to keep as many options open as possible."

Large-scale deployment? Consider IBM

"Enterprises and other businesses considering large-scale iPad deployments would do well to look into the services and solutions that IBM offers for Apple products," says King. It may seem odd to ask this old-school tech giant, long associated with DOS and Windows, about iPad Pro deployment. Yet IBM has already developed more than 100 apps for the iPad and iPhone in 2015 alone.

"[In 2014] the two companies announced a partnership in which IBM is Apple's preferred partner for iOS products in business environments," King adds. "IBM now provides onsite deployment, support and repair/replacement services (which Apple had lacked prior to that point) for iPad and iPhone business customers."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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