iPad for the Enterprise - Is There a Fit?

By David Needle

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It wasn't until a year after Apple unveiled the iPhone in 2007 for consumers that it started talking seriously about promoting the device to businesses after it added software support for Microsoft Exchange as well as security features favored by IT.

Consumers are still Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) prime focus, but a growing ecosystem of software and support has evolved for the iPhone. The iPad seems to be following a similar pattern in terms of Apple's early marketing emphasis on consumers. But business and enterprise support is coming much faster to support the device.

"Apple was looking for early adopters and we said 'sure,'" said Joel Reed, senior vice president of product management for Sterling Commerce, an AT&T company.

Sterling Commerce hasn't announced any applications for the iPad yet though Reed sees a logical progression from the apps it already offers for the iPhone that give retail sales associates instant access to real-time inventory information and provide IT managers with the ability to constantly monitor data levels from anywhere. Customers include big name retailers like Best Buy, Nordstrom, Target and DSW.

"The iPad gives us a larger display to work with and opens up opportunities like warehouse management and retail applications," Reed told InternetNews.com. For warehouse applications he notes there could be an opportunity for a third party to ruggedize the device.

Communications giant Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) jumped on making its WebEx meeting and collaboration service ready for the iPad right at the launch date. The free cloud-based service lets users attend WebEx meetings that can include audio conferencing with a headset connected to the device. Other standard WebEx features are available such as screen-sharing with live annotations and chat with individuals or group chat during the meeting.

"The iPad is a great example of innovation from a mobile device standpoint," said Cisco marketing manager Alex Hadden Boyd in a blog post. "I’m sure many other vendors will follow suit and we’ll see rapid advances on tablets."

Minority Report

User Christopher Thompson commented on Boyd's blog that "in two short days the iPad has changed the way I think about computing. I’m wondering how it is going to change the way I interact in meetings."

"Already I can see the need to show gestures and be able to manipulate or emphasize content with touch," he added. "I also like the iPad metaphor of grouping photos and documents and I can see how this might be really beneficial in a WebEx meeting. Think of being able to toss around content the way Tom Cruise did in Minority Report, while your colleagues can work with you in WebEx. Very cool."

iPhone developers like MeLLmo, which has attracted 50,000 licenses to its Roambi client business intelligence visualization for the iPhone, is excited about what it can now offer on the iPad.

The iPhone knocked down the barriers after three years to get IT departments to patch it in. Now that's done. That cleared the way kind of like a wildfire for the iPad which I think a lot of enterprise customers are going to want," Quinton Alsbury, president and co-founder, of MeLLmo, told InternetNews.com.

Roambi adds a range of stunning visualizations to Excel spreadsheets and for data from other enterprise sources including Salesforce, Cognos and SAP. "The interfaces and animations we offer gets people using the software companies may have paid hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on. All that money is wasted if the reporting system is dreadful," said Alsbury.

"The iPad offers a whole new opportunity to take the interfaces and enhance them and make the applications even easier," he added.

Sybase (NYSE: SY) was quick to announce support for the iPad via its Afaria mobile management set of services that already supports iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian devices.

Afaria 6.5, set for release by this June, adds mobile device management and security solution for both the iPad and Android devices. Features include the ability for IT to perform a remote "kill" on the iPhone, iPad and Android devices via Exchange Server to protect the content should the device be lost or stolen.

"The popularity of highly functional smart mobile devices, such as iPhone, Android and now the iPad, is significantly impacting enterprise mobility support requirements as these devices increasingly cross over from consumers into the corporate setting," said Jack Gold, principal analyst of J. Gold Associates, in a statement.

"The extensive communities currently established around mobile development will enable a near term and dramatic growth of data-rich deployments of enterprise-class applications where security and manageability are key requirements," added Gold.

Consumers said the primary reason they might want a device like the iPad is to be able to work when mobile, according to a recent Zogby survey commissioned by Sybase.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. It wasn't until a year after Apple unveiled the iPhone in 2007 for consumers that it started talking seriously about promoting the device to businesses after it added software support for Microsoft Exchange as well as security features favored by IT.