Apple’s iPad is on track to become the fastest hardware platform to reach $1B in sales. We continue to get questions about our thoughts on iPhone and iPad for Enterprise Mobile Applications. From a platform perspective, the numbers make it hard to ignore.
Where does the iPad fit in an Enterprise Mobile environment?
There have been a number of articles on this subject and most have considered the iPad an alternative to a laptop for traditional business users. As an Enterprise Mobility company, we have a slightly different perspective and suggest there are two types of Enterprise Mobile users.
There are traditional corporate mobile users who access corporate data – spreadsheets, presentations, email, etc. This is the market most often discussed.
The second market is mobile users who complete business transactions in the field – delivery drivers, inspectors, field service techs. This class of user typically has a dedicated device configured for their specific functions. Everything else is locked down. Think ‘FedEx handheld’.
For the traditional corporate user, we’ve already started seeing personal use of iPad’s. We presented at Intermec’s Seattle Tech Days in May of this year and had a couple of audience members taking notes on iPads. For this type of user, iPad’s have some nice advantages:
- Lightweight, small and portable
- Easy access to email
- Less likely to break as they are in an office or nicer travel environment
- With a dock and Bluetooth keyboard, you can easily handle any correspondence such as email or word processing
- Better battery life than a traditional laptop, although comparable to a netbook
- Able to connect to Exchange for email
- Most iPhone apps run on the iPad, and many new iPad apps have been released
The most common reason cited for lack of Enterprise Mobile apps on iPhone is security and device management. What this means to enterprise users is the ability to lock the device, restrict what is loaded and what is run, and remotely kill the device if it is lost. Corporations that purchase laptops almost always provision this type of lockdown security.
For the second type of Enterprise Mobile User – the one who completes business transactions in the field – the question becomes
Is the iPad a good platform to target specific line of business mobile apps?
Our answer is, “It depends.” When you compare the iPad to rugged devices like the Intermec CN3/CN4/CN50 or Motorola MC55/MC75, each platform has some benefits and better candidate applications.
Considerations for rugged devices
- Can be used outside in the rain, snow, hot or cold.
- Can be locked to only specific applications and functions (access to set apps, the phone, turn on/off wireless, etc.)
- Have integrated barcode scanners
- Support printing to mobile printers like Zebra or O’Neil
- Easy integration to corporate applications
- Development in .NET with C# or VB.NET. Visual Studio tools are well known in the enterprise and just require a Windows PC.
- Multiple choices for local databases – SQLCE (Compact Edition), SQLite , Sybase SQL Anywhere/Ultralite, etc.
- Small screen – mobile forms need to be optimized
- Designed for stylus, so signature capture with Proof of Delivery is easy but less finger friendly
- All in one design
- Can be dropped to concrete or in water and keep running
- Available on multiple carrier networks – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.
- You can install any applications you want – no App Store requirements
- No App Store – automated software updates require an external package like SOTI MobiControl or Airwatch
- External backlit keypad – if you enter data at night for things like fleet fueling, this makes entering numbers much easier
- One-handed operation and the ability to store on your hip in a holster
Considerations for an iPad
- Large screen – you can show a lot of information and the input controls are tailored for fingers
- Less rugged, but protective covers are available. It is too early to tell how fragile an iPad is. While a lot of vendors push the TCO for rugged handhelds, the reality is that a lot of business people and consumers have iPhones – and they have dropped iPhones – and the iPhones are still running. Yes, they can break; however, they don’t always break.
- Requires a Mac for development.
- Built in database support with SQLite and file stores.
- No ability to lock the device. iPads are not able to be locked to set features or apps. I remember a training session to a group of union truck drivers. The first question was “Does this device get on the internet?”. YES…second question “Can it get to porn sites?”. While this may be humorous, we had one medical courier customer that had an $800/month bill for one device because a driver surfed the net, downloaded porn and watched YouTube.
- iPad will alert you that you are about to go over your monthly data usage. You receive multiple alerts so there is no excuse. This does not exist on rugged WinMo devices.
- Full size HTML and PDF reader. PDF’s are pretty difficult on smaller WinMo devices. Even though it is able to read them, it often not practical. If you have manuals to read to do your job, the iPad is much better suited.
- If a device is lost, you can clear your Exchange related info but any other data such as line of business transactions are not covered. Functionality to wipe or disable those will have to be built into the individual app. Sybase has announced iPad support with Afaria, although it is not available currently.
- Less expensive – rugged devices usually start at $1500/ea and go up to close to $3k. The iPad starts at $500 and goes to $900.
Where does the iPad fit in the Enterprise?
The iPad will make its way into the enterprise with personal use, just like the iPhone did. We know one outsourced bill/records processing company that is giving the iPad to some key customers as a promotion and to help them visualize transactions and lookup history. This is really a marketing effort versus field data collection.
As for use in field data capture, the iPad will likely follow in the iPhone’s footsteps here as well. iPad will have good success where data visualization is important and data transactions are less of a focus. Some examples include:
- Customer sales lookup – you could easily lookup and graph customer history or product history. It would be easy to enter basic orders, but for someone with a large parts catalog, they would certainly want barcode scanning to confirm the product.
- Surveys and inspections – many surveys or inspections are basic forms that need to be captured. Our goRoam.Inspections app runs on WinMo and supports barcode scanning and printing. We could definitely see customers that just need mobile forms using goRoam.Inspections on an iPad. Examples would be customer surveys, merchandising, etc. Some forms still require barcode scanning, such as operator rounds, safety audits or vehicle inspections. For those forms, scanning in the inspection is part of confirming you are inspecting the right item.
- Customer kiosks – the iPad could easily have a shell built around it and be used for in public places for a nice touchscreen kiosk. While Windows touchscreens are available, the iPad may have a good fit in this situation as a lower cost, better looking appliance.
- Fields apps that involve reading or lots of lookups – applications such as mapping or work orders that require a lot of access to manuals could be a good fit for the iPad. While not rugged, it could complement other devices as the tool for PDF’s, manuals, etc.
Let us know what you think. Is there a good fit for the iPad in the Enterprise. Is there a fit for mobile forms to capture field data?