Only a few weeks left until the Apple iPad--the Wi-Fi version at least--will actually ship and be available in stores. Reports suggest that Apple sold more than 120,000 iPads when pre-orders began last Friday, and it seems safe to assume that the early adopters are not looking to revolutionize business computing.
Apple seems content to let the iPad stand on its own merits as a unique device, but that hasn't stopped competitors, media, and the rest of the world from drawing comparisons. The iPad is being compared to both e-readers and netbooks, as well as tablet PC's based on standard operating systems like Windows 7.
The iPad is a distinctive device, carving out its own niche. The smartphone-like instant-on, combined with a fast processor, multitouch screen rivaling notebooks in size, and the vast library of 150,000-plus apps make the iPad a unique, if not ideal, business tool.
Here are five features the iPad is lacking which would make it a much better-rounded device for business use:
1. Expandable memory. The iPad comes in three flavors: 16Gb, 32Gb, and 64Gb. If your storage needs grow beyond the limitations of the device you choose, you will have to sell it on eBay and buy a new one. If your data needs exceed 64Gb, you are just out of luck. Almost all smartphones-- aside from the iPhone--have expandable memory via a mini or micro SD memory card slot. The iPad is not a smartphone, but Apple should have included an SD memory card slot on the iPad to allow for expanded memory if needed.
2. USB ports. Notebooks and netbooks offer tremendous flexibility via the USB ports. There are USB thumb drives, external USB hard drives, USB webcams, USB headsets, etc. A USB port--along with the right software and drivers--would greatly extend the functionality of the iPad, and enable business professionals to use it for a variety of purposes that it can't support without them.
3. Video camera. A front-facing camera is perhaps one of the most-speculated features of the iPad. Following the launch, developers and media analysts noted that the iPad Steve Jobs used to demonstrate with at the launch event seemed to have a spot for a camera, and the SDK from Apple contained camera references.
Alas, as we come down to the wire it appears that there will, in fact, be no camera in the iPad--at least in the first-generation iPad. Hopefully, the iPad 2.0 will have it though, because the ability to conduct video conferencing from the iPad is arguably be one of its best potential business functions.
4. Multitasking. The iPhone OS, which the iPad uses as well, does not allow for true multitasking--at least not yet. The OS is technically capable of multitasking, but Apple has limited or restricted which apps are able to access that functionality. The need for true multitasking on the iPhone is debatable--there are alternate solutions that can be just as effective without the issues introduced by multitasking.
However, a display the size of the iPads allows for multiple windows to be open and displayed simultaneously--implying an obligation on the part of Apple to allow multitasking. Fortunately, this is a matter of software and is a feature that can be added with a simple update of the iPhone OS.
5. Alternate browsers. Apple has its own browser--Safari--which the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch all use by default. Unfortunately, Safari is not the most functional, or popular browser in the world. Dragging in fourth place with less than 5 percent of the browser market, Safari is simply not the browser of choice for most business professionals. Many businesses rely on Web-based tools and applications that are built for Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, and may not display or render properly in Safari. Allowing alternative browser choices is also an iPad tweak which can be accomplished via software, so it's something we might see before the next-generation iPad hardware is developed.
The iPad is a device built for media consumption by the general public. It is designed to be a mobile infotainment platform, and it is primarily a consumer gadget. That said, there are plenty of business uses for it, and a growing library of apps aimed specifically at integrating the iPad (and iPhone) with the enterprise.
Let's be clear, though, to try and stop the extremist hyperbole from both sides. I am not declaring the iPad the greatest thing that ever happened to business computing. I am simply suggesting that it has business uses, and that with a few additional features it could have greater business functionality.
Maybe in iPad 2.0?
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.