The iPad is sexy, fun, and portable. Apple cannot produce enough of the devices to meet demand. The arrival of iPads in an office definitely is noticed and draws interest. But can the iPad meet your needs?

Perhaps you need devices that are capable of multitasking. The word on the street is that the iPad applications do not have multitasking capabilities. But that is simply a red herring that iPad critics have latched onto to divert user interest to other solutions. The truth is that Apple has included multitasking in their applications on iPhones and iPads from the very beginning; however, multitasking isn’t available for all of their applications.  Multitasking was not made available to all developers over concerns of running down the battery and impacting the user performance.  Under the new version 4, Apple has addressed these issues.

Printing availability is also an issue that business owners question. Last month Steve Jobs replied to an email asking why the iPad doesn’t print documents. His reply, “It will come.”  And it did, there are now over a dozen applications available that support wireless printing, including Remote Desktop iPad applications such as Desktop Connect and PrintCentral.  

Data security is another concern to business owners. The iPad is a very secure device because the vast majority of the information viewed on the iPad can exist on a remote server or from the Internet.  There are few (if any) actual files that stay with the iPad.  If an iPad is lost or stolen, no data is lost or has the potential to be compromised.  The iPad will only work within the office area, restricted by use of passwords.  Also, the iPad is a very low risk for viruses and malware; its operating system is more secure than Windows.

The iPad runs a very large and increasing number of applications specifically designed for it, capable of running the 200,00+ iPhones apps and over 5,000 iPad specific apps. There are inexpensive applications for displaying movies and photos located on your servers, for viewing and editing in Word, Excel, PDF documents for your servers or the Internet, and for showing co-workers, clients or patients information. There are even inexpensive applications to access Windows Application servers (Terminal Services and Citrix). But the applications that the iPad must run are the ones that are most important for the business.  Testing the applications on an iPad before fully investing in multiple devices is a good rule of thumb. 

 Other iPad strengths have to do with the physicality of the iPad. Weighing only 1½ lb., the iPad wants to be carried around. As a tablet, the iPad can be taken into meetings, carried by nurses and doctors, and used virtually anywhere. The bright 1024 x 768 screen is the iPad’s most striking feature. The display technology uses liquid crystal to present a vivid image.  The wide viewing angle provides a more immersive experience, giving the user more of a TV experience than a laptop experience. 

Probably the iPads most thrilling strength is its price tag. For $500 you can purchase the 16 GB WiFi iPad model and be on your way to a whole new way of computing. But before you fork over the dollars, make sure the iPad makes sense for your business.

The iPad is not perfect; let’s look at the weaknesses of Apple iPads. First of all, the iPad is not a replacement for a notebook or desktop computer and was never designed to be one.  It is not intended for large amounts of data input.  It is a small format tablet, not a PC.  If a user needs to type or enter more than a few lines of text, use a PC.  While the iPad will work with any Bluetooth keyboard, it starts to bog down the key feature of the iPad, its portability.

Some businesses that need to run full version of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel) will be very disappointed in the iPad. Although there are iPad apps that allow for the viewing and editing of these documents, Office does not run on the iPad.

Going online and exploring the Internet just seems more exciting when using an iPad, as long as you don’t need to see Flash. This situation is not unique to the iPad however, just about all mobile devices have issues displaying Flash. Adobe is planning to release a mobile Flash product in a couple of months. Until then, if the web sites you need to access have Flash (and there is no other alternative to using these sites) do not use any mobile device for viewing – use a PC or notebook that is plugged in for power and a wired Ethernet connection. In addition, if your business depends on ActiveX enabled web-based applications, requiring Internet Explorer, the iPad is not going to work.

What about competitors of the iPad? Is there another tablet product worth integrating into your business network?  Not really. Windows tablets are not new, but over the past 5 years they have failed to draw general acceptance within businesses. Currently the iPad stands alone in its form factor and application support.(Which would explain why there have been over 2 million iPads sold since its release, about 60 days ago). 

The HP Slate is not going to happen, at least not as originally announced back in January.  HP scrapped it about 30 days after the iPad was released. They are going back to the beginning to design a product that will more closely match the features/capabilities of the iPad.

The Dell Latitude XT2 is a small notebook PC that can be used as a tablet, but it does not compete with the iPad.  The XT2 costs $2,000, runs Windows 7 (a desktop user interface rather than a touchscreen interface), weighs almost 4lbs. and has a battery life of 3-4 hours. The iPad, remember, costs $500, weighs 1½ lb. and has a battery life of 10-12 hours. XT2 is a good notebook (not great) and a good PC tablet (there really are no great PC tablets available right now).  If you need a PC that requires the use of a stylus on the screen, then it is worth considering.

Since the introduction of the iPad, a number of manufacturers have announced that they will be releasing their own tablet devices, typically running the Google Android operating system and setting a release date of “by the end of the year”. The question now is: will the competing devices be worth the wait?

There is no question that the iPad does several things very well.  If its features and capabilities are a good fit for your business, then go ahead and give the iPad a shot in the office.  But before determining if the iPad will work well for your business, I strongly suggest buying one or two iPads and test applications, websites, and any user authorization information. Just don’t make the mistake of trying to fit the iPad into a solution that is better intended for a notebook or full desktop PC.

If you need/want a highly mobile display that can access photos, videos, documents and websites for your staff , clients, doctors or patients, the iPad is the best solution available today.  However, this may change by the end of 2010.