- E-readers are becoming business tools and the iPad looks like one heck of an e-reader. Some business users will buy an iPad just to read newspapers, magazines, and books. And that use alone might justify the purchase.
- Custom reference material will doubtless be loaded onto the iPad, making it a carry around service and support library in some applications. Video content could also be loaded for use in the field.
- In reference and education applications, the iPad is likely to be a big win. But, those are merely business extensions of the consumer applications for which the iPad was designed.
- iPads, as noted previously, could be excellent presentation tools. This is another extension of entertainment apps, but making presentations is core to almost all businesses. I can imagine many salespeople carrying an iPad to use with customers.
- iWork, Apple's business productivity suite for Mac, will be offered as iPad-enhanced versions of its three individual apps, Keynote, Pages, and Numbers. I have a bit of an imagination gap as to why I'd want to use an iPad to create presentations, documents, and spreadsheets. But, I can see editing and sharing them on such a device, with the iPad being much easier to pass around at meetings.
- Runs existing iPhone apps. This will give people something to do until real iPad applications are developed.
- With the SDK easily available, some enterprises might develop their own apps for the platform or buy commercial software for applications like Point-of-Sale.
- Existing apps, at least the ones shown on Apple's web site, look like they are intended for the visually-impaired. Not different or better, just bigger than on the iPhone/iPod touch. Not sure there is any gain if you already have an iPhone or iPod touch.
- Will Apple sell enough iPads to make the platform interesting to developers of business apps? Probably, but sales may be slow compared to iPhone and iPod touch apps. My bet: iPad apps will be more expensive than iPhone software.
- The lack of a real built-in keyboard is an obvious issue that probably prevents the iPad from ever being a real business device. The outboard keyboard options are nice, but the idea that lots of people will use these to turn the iPad into a notebook/netbook-like device seems far-fetched.
- Handwriting recognition was the bane of Apple's Newton handheld, so it's not surprising the iPad doesn't even make an attempt. Still, written notes and forms are a big part of business and a business tablet needs to support them. Apple would be wise to offer a fine-point stylus for use with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. The one I've seen isn't really suitable for handwriting.
- No real GPS (it appears from the specs) nor will the 3G wireless work for voice calls, though I suppose VoIP is a possibility.
Steve Jobs' claims aside, the iPad is not a revolutionary, third-category device. Apple needs people to think it is, but it's really not that different from a really big iPod. As a business tool, it has some possibilities, but they won't be realized until iPad-specific business apps become available.
And even then, the iPad's inherent limitations will likely make it a business tool only for its most dedicated fans.
By David Coursey