Government // Mobile & Wireless
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1/28/2010
09:12 PM
Jake Widman
Jake Widman
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iPad And SMBs, Take Two

Now that we've all found out what Apple has had up its sleeve all these months, we can start to assess the iPad's usefulness for business more confidently. At least one possible use case is clearly out the window -- at least for now -- but the demo introduced one no one had thought about.

Now that we've all found out what Apple has had up its sleeve all these months, we can start to assess the iPad's usefulness for business more confidently. At least one possible use case is clearly out the window -- at least for now -- but the demo introduced one no one had thought about.In a column I wrote last week, I posited three business uses for an Apple tablet for which I thought it would be better than what's available now. How did I do?

1. Video conferencing. I thought it would make a great video chat tool, a function that had been mentioned in what seemed to be a knowledgeable leak. But for video conferencing, you need a camera, and the iPad as demonstrated doesn't have one. It's got a fairly large bezel around the edge of the screen, though, that could provide room for a camera in a future model. But for now, that business use is out the window.

2. E-reader. One of the major features of the announcement was the introduction of iBooks and the iBook Store, and pages from the New York Times were shown twice. As an e-reader, the iPad beats the Kindle and others by having color and a Web browser, and as one of the Times demo showed, it can play video inside a "printed" page. And the device can handle not just its own books but a wide range of business-oriented document formats: the specs say viewable document types include ".doc and .docx (Microsoft Word); .pdf (Preview and Adobe Acrobat); .ppt and .pptx (Microsoft PowerPoint); .txt (text); .rtf (rich text format); .vcf (contact information); .xls and .xlsx (Microsoft Excel)." Performance and display quality remain to be seen, but so far it sounds like the odds-on favorite.

3. Presentation tool. I envisioned someone holding the tablet up in front of a small group rather than making them crowd around a laptop. That hasn't changed, but there's also a Dock Connector to VGA Adapter that will enable the iPad to drive a standard projector (albeit at only 1024x768 resolution). Not only that, there's an iPad-oriented version of Apple's presentation software Keynote in the works that will enable editing of a presentation right up until showtime. What will be ideal is if the device supports a speaker's display on its own screen while sending just the presentation to the projector -- we'll have to wait and see about that. But score two, for its presentation capabilities.

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But there was another, almost overlooked element of the demo that I think raised some of the most intriguing possibilities. My colleague Fredric Paul wrote today about how the iPad Keyboard Dock turns the 'Pad into a "real computer" -- I agree and (pardon me while I pat myself on the back) have been touting the value of a dock, or at least keyboard support, for a few months now. But I was struck by the moment during the iWork Numbers demo when Phil Schiller brought up a special keyboard for data entry and mentioned that there were other purpose-designed keyboards as well. As he said, one of the advantages of using soft keyboards is that you can display whatever's most useful for what you're working on. We've grown used to contextual menus and toolbars that offer only the relevant options for the selected tool or item -- how about contextual keyboards? Besides data entry, I can think of a keyboard that changes depending on what language you're typing in, one that easily converts to a DVORAK layout, ones with programmable macro keys for Web development. The physical Keyboard Dock will support doing business tasks the way we already do them; the soft keyboard could open up entirely new, more efficient ways of working.

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