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3/7/2012
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iPads Don't Work For These SMBs

Some entrepreneurs and small business owners say the iPad and other tablets don't serve their business needs. Here's why.

10 iPad Annoyances, Solved
10 iPad Annoyances, Solved
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Some small business owners won't be lining up to buy an iPad 3 any time soon. In fact, they're just skipping all tablets altogether.

Their reasons differ, but they share a common thread: Despite the hype and the skyrocketing adoption stats, tablets don't meet their business needs--at least not yet. It's certainly not a lack of awareness--they've heard the hype and the success stories like the rest of us. But they're not about to carve off a slice of their already slim budget for a device that doesn't work them. Here are three small businesses that have skipped the tablet trend thus far--and their reasons for doing so.

1. Industry-specific applications aren't available. Much is made of the vast menu of mobile apps and the increasingly competitive race between Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market. But while there are plenty of legitimate tablet business apps out there, there aren't nearly as many as on the consumer side of the equation. Software designed for specific vertical industries--particularly when it becomes a standard-issue application in that segment--is a good example of the occasional availability gaps.

Sam Lazarus, who co-owns a 30-person ServiceMaster Clean franchise in Wichita, Kan., said he loves new technologies because they help set his firm apart from other cleaning and restoration businesses. Lazarus has deployed a variety of current platforms for things like inventory, communication, time-keeping, and record-keeping. He'd like to add tablets to the list, but there's a critical roadblock.

[ Tablets work well for some businesses. Read Tablets In Business: Hard Lessons From Early Adopters . ]

"The software in our line of work has not quite caught up with the hardware, such as iPad or other tablets," Lazarus said in an email. "As they get there, we will implement."

That problem could present a major opportunity for Microsoft and Windows 8. If Windows 8 tablets offer a more robust menu of business apps--including industry-specific software that has zero crossover appeal for consumers--then they could become a popular enterprise choice.

2. Tablets don't suit their day-to-day work. Some jobs, such as sales or field operations, are simply better matches for the tablets than other roles. The form factor doesn't work for everyone--the lack of a keyboard is perhaps the best example. For some, when the tablet doesn't offer them a clear advantage over their laptop, they don't see the point in plunking down hundreds of dollars for one.

"I don't own an iPad. I just don't think it's a tool that I need for my business," said John Paul Engel, CEO of Knowledge Capital Consulting, via email. Engel is also founder and global executive director of the nonprofit Project Be The Change and its 20-person board. "A significant portion of my day is spent writing or researching. I feel the laptop is still the superior tool for these tasks."

But, c'mon: It's much, much cooler to tote around a tablet instead of lugging that clunky old notebook from meeting to meeting. Maybe so, but Engel makes a point that applies to just about every small company. "As a small business, I have to be very careful how I deploy my capital," Engel said. "It has to go to things that will either immediately impact my productivity or reduce my costs."

3. Broadband and wireless challenges. This one's sure to produce dystopian nightmares among the gadget-addled masses: Some businesses still struggle with spotty or altogether unavailable broadband and wireless service. It can be particularly true in rural areas, though it's by no means limited to them. There's not much point to an iPad or other tablet if it can't go online. Technophiles probably can't fathom it, but there's still such a thing as a dial-up connection; needless to say, tablet makers aren't developing for that use case.

"I would love to have and use the iPad," said Beverly Solomon in an email. Solomon and her husband run musee-solomon, an international art and design business, from a 156-year-old ranch north of Austin, Texas. They can't get high-speed internet. It gets worse: "We even have to drive up the nearest hill to use our cell phone. And for some strange reason satellite service is very spotty--it may have something to do with the 300,000-acre military base, Fort Hood, nearby."

Solomon said there's a fiber-optic cable deployment underway that they'll eventually be able to tap for broadband. In the meantime, they're stuck with the internet equivalent of a black-and-white TV.

"Unfortunately, we run the business on 28k dial-up," Solomon said."Unbelievable, isn't it?"

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Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/24/2012 | 5:22:24 PM
re: iPads Don't Work For These SMBs
While there are keyboards available for tablets - when I ordered my Android-powered unit, I opted for the case with the keyboard - it's quite true that they wouldn't be a great fit for someone doing a lot of data entry, etc. But, for simple research, web surfing, e-mail and calendaring, they're great. I use mine more as a personal information manager and eReader as opposed to using more serious applications.

For those who raise the (very valid) claim that managing tablet systems for a corporate environment can be an IT challenge, this is quite true - but there are vendors working on these sorts of issues. Dell's KACE product (in the interest of full disclosure, I don't work for Dell, but have implemented KACE for a couple of enterprises) allows for management of iOS powered devices, RIM's Mobile Fusion is an attempt to manage Blackberry, Android and iOS powered devices and there are other vendors out there with competing products. That's a very active space these days.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
StLH2O
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StLH2O,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/16/2012 | 2:09:25 PM
re: iPads Don't Work For These SMBs
While the tablet looks like fun, there's no way I can see using it to prepare tax returns and financial statements. Just the thought of somebody unauthorized getting access is enough to give me the shivers. That, plus all the data entry without a keyboard or numberpad - totally impractical for accountants!
DFLETCHER000
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DFLETCHER000,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/8/2012 | 11:02:00 PM
re: iPads Don't Work For These SMBs
Hard to imagine a world in which the only real player in the tablet space is Apple, but I also thought that about the MP3 player space in 2005/2006 and to this very space the only true player there is Apple.

MS, or Google, or Apple would do well to create "micro" stores in which companies can manage enterprise specific apps securely that cannot be accessed by anyone who doesn't have credentials to do so. This would streamline setting up enterprise tablets as the necessary apps could be pushed to them as long as they were connected and placed in a silo from the non-work related apps.
Jeremy Jakubek
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Jeremy Jakubek,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/8/2012 | 5:16:12 PM
re: iPads Don't Work For These SMBs
"they isn't as nearly many as on the consumer side of the equation. " Some needs to go back to grade school.
EVVJSK
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EVVJSK,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/8/2012 | 3:58:18 PM
re: iPads Don't Work For These SMBs
You mean "one size doesn't fit all" ?
Glad someone finally realized this. Happy for others if iPads really meet their needs (if email is 80% of what they do for work), but also glad to see that some people are realistic in seeing their limitations.
SASS000
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SASS000,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/8/2012 | 2:54:29 PM
re: iPads Don't Work For These SMBs
Apparently grammar is optional these days
datadoctor
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datadoctor,
User Rank: Strategist
3/8/2012 | 2:53:37 PM
re: iPads Don't Work For These SMBs
And there is no easy way to image multiple tablets, which becomes a big problem when multiple apps are added simultaneously to differing app groups. Each unit must be individually set up.
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