by Tom Kaneshige

iPad in the Enterprise: A Dirty Little Secret

Mar 26, 20124 mins
Consumer ElectronicsTablets

How important are computers to our jobs? The iPad has shown us that the answer is not so much, and a whole lot.

Shhhh, here’s the dirty little secret exposed by the iPad’s use in the enterprise: People don’t use computers very much at work.

Sure, we need computers to get email, surf the Web, tap, read Office documents and PDFs and such. But those powerful, towering computers sitting on your desk? Underutilized would be an understatement.


You can thank Microsoft for selling complexity to us. I’ve lost track of the number of Outlook plug-ins and Word features. We don’t use that stuff. All we want to be able to do is check email, calendar and maybe write a memo or look at some slides.

The iPad makes things simple again, which is why executives love it. They brought their iPad to work. They demanded IT support it. Now others want it, too.

Nearly all the companies in the Fortune 500 are actively using iPads to improve workflows, business processes, and customer engagement, claims Apple. And the device has only been around for two years.

Apple has sold some 60 million iPads so far, which includes a record-breaking 3 million on the opening weekend of the third-generation iPad earlier this month. UBS analyst Maynard Um predicts 12 million new iPad sales this quarter, if supply can keep up with demand.

Okay, we get it, lots of iPads out there. Not all of these iPads are on the job, right? Well, the iPad and iPhone together have ignited a startling IT enterprise trend called bring-your-own-device, or BYOD. Cisco Systems, for instance, has seen its BYOD program grow 52 percent in 12 months. All tallied, Cisco employees collectively carry around 8,144 iPads and 20,581 iPhones.

Slideshow: 15 Ways iPad Goes to Work

Perhaps the most alarming stat:  Apple sold 15.4 million iPads during the fourth quarter last year, beating out the PC sales of Hewlett-Packard, the top Wintel PC maker in the world. 

So what the heck are workers running on their iPads?

Check out some of the most popular productivity apps in the App Store: Dropbox, a simple cloud storage service; Office apps such as Quickoffice and iWork (Pages, Keynote, Numbers); GoodReader for PDFs; and built-in iPad apps such as Calendar, Contacts, Mail and Safari.

Fact is, all of these iPad apps – basically, mini-versions of their desktop cousins – work just fine for the vast majority of us.

Ah, I can hear the whining from non-iPad users already. (For the record, I am not on Apple’s payroll.) They’ll counter that the iPad is a toy that lacks the computing power to run, say, the full Adobe Creative Suite or simulation software or whatever. That’s true, unless you’re on a VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) setup with fast connectivity.

But this goes to show just how insulated Silicon Valley and other technology hubs are. Most people don’t work on complex computer simulations at NASA or collaborate on stealthy Google projects or make digital movies at Pixar. Most of us aren’t software programmers or computer engineers or graphic designers. Most of us just want our email.

Critics also shake their head at the iPad’s virtual keyboard. They can’t imagine anyone writing emails without a physical QWERTY keyboard. The iPad is not a good content-creation device, they say.

Yet the iPad’s adoption in the enterprise is pretty impressive, so maybe the answer is most people don’t really write long missives at work. Or this could mean, as I happen to believe, that the iPad’s virtual keyboard is pretty darn slick. (I’m almost just as fast on it as I am with a physical keyboard.)

The rise of the iPad in the enterprise gives us a glimpse of what we do at work, which, let’s be truthful, isn’t much on a computer. But this doesn’t mean that computers aren’t important. On the contrary, the iPad shows just how important they are.

While we don’t need a lot from a computer, what we do need, we really need. That’s where the iPad hits the mark. The iPad makes the essentials of a desktop readily available and is mobile in the sense that we can throw it into a backpack or briefcase and take it with us more regularly than a clunky laptop, and much more often than an immovable desktop.

Workers want the iPad not just because it’s simple to use and gives them apps without the frills and complexity. They want it because they need it.