Of all the personal technology advances over the past five years, the tablet PC has to rank among one of the most significant. And thanks to marketing clout behind Apple’s iPad, the form factor is starting to receive a lot of recognition. With business and social lifestyles becoming more demanding, many industry sectors are adapting their workforces to embrace tablet PCs due to the increase in productivity among workers and lower administration costs compared to pen and paper.
Juniper Research predicts that tablet shipments will reach 81 million a year by 2015. The significant growth will be due to an increasing number of consumer electronics players and handset manufacturers entering the market. But not all tablet PCs are created equally and the current crop of devices have limited business appeal. As a result, the majority of workers will not be able to replace their laptops with a tablet and, since they typically already have smartphones, a tablet would be a third device for which most organisations will be reluctant to pay. Is Apple’s iPad 2 any different?
What is it and who is it for?
Few companies can disrupt an entire industry with a single product launch. But Apple, whose history is filled with such game-changing moments, did it with the iPad. Rattling the technology world by causing many consumers to think twice about buying new personal computers, Apple’s second generation uber-gizmo is now bringing the fight to businesses.
Far and away the best thing about the iPad 2 is its mobility and ease of use. Its form factor and touchscreen display means you can take and it anywhere you go, the same way you would a notebook and pen. That means that when your boss bumps into you in the hallway and asks for a sales update, you can log into Salesforce and deliver on the spot. The iPad is also useful in meetings or customer interactions, especially if you’re giving a product overview. Let’s not forget that it doubles as an outstanding personal entertainment device, offering a huge range of affordable (from 59p) games, music, reference and education applications.
The second generation iPad is a revision of the original, and at first glance you’d be hard pushed to notice a difference. Play with it for a few minutes and you’ll soon notice it’s slimmer (242x186x9mm), lighter (601g), faster, and sports two cameras—the front-facing one is particularly interesting as it allows video chats to other iPad 2s, iPhone 4s and Macs using Apple’s preinstalled FaceTime application. It has exactly the same 9.7-inch (1,024×768) panel as the original and battery life is maintained at an excellent 10 hours or so. It’s not the overhaul many were expecting, but Apple’s an expert at rolling out product updates on a yearly basis to keep customers hooked.
Pricing & setup
Apple keeps the decision making process simple and the iPad 2 is no exception. Comprising the same options as the original iPad, the choice comes down to 16-, 32- or 64GB of storage, whether you want built-in 3G, and whether you want a black or white finish. Fantastical news is that prices for each model remains the same as the original iPad—starting at £332 (ex. VAT) for the 16GB (non-3G) model and rising to £549 (ex. VAT) for the 64GB 3G model. If you order the 3G model from the Apple store, you can also select the network provider (Vodafone, Orange, O2, or Three).
Don’t close your wallet just yet—Apple is the king of upsell. The iPad 2 isn’t supplied with a protective case, and boy does it need one! Our advice is to skip the hyped Smart Cover (from £29.17 ex. VAT). Sure the clever magnetic gizmo is cool the way it automatically wakes the device when you open it and also puts it into standby when you clip it back on and close it, but its microfiber lining does a poor job of removing fingerprints and smudges off the screen, plus you need to be an origami expert to convert it into a usable stand. Fatally, the Smart Cover doesn’t protect the sides or bottom of the iPad 2—a necessity the moment the precious device leaves the comfort of your sofa.
The Apple Digital AV Adapter will cost you a further £29.17 (ex. VAT), should you want to mirror whatever’s on your iPad 2 screen no your HDTV or any other HDMI-compatible display at up to 1080p HD (movies play at up to 720p), and the iPad Camera Connection Kit (£20.83 ex. VAT) gives you two ways to import photos and videos from a digital camera using your camera’s USB cable or directly from an SD card. There’s also a rather pointless iPad 2 Dock (£20.83 ex. VAT) to store your iPad. There’s more paraphernalia, but you get the point…
Does it do it well?
The iPad 2 is the best looking tablet out there and just holding the device will fill you with childish excitement. But it’s not until you use the device that you’ll understand what all the fuss is about. Apple’s iOS is incredibly easy to use, with neat and clear icons to launch your apps, and a single home button to navigate. The whole user experience is slick, from zooming in by pinching to navigating in Google Maps. And the screen is just gorgeous.
The iPad 2 is a lot faster than its predecessor, thanks to the dual-core 1GHz Apple A5 processor which has potentially twice the power of the single-core 1GHz A4 chip in the old iPad. RAM is doubled from 256MB to 512MB, and Apple says that the graphics are up to 9x faster. We certainly noticed Web pages loaded faster, apps opened quicker, and switching from landscape to portrait is even smoother.
The three-axis gyroscope―the same as the iPhone 4’s―works with an accelerometer for better detection of the iPad 2’s position in space, but this will mostly be used in games. The Wi-Fi model lacks a GPS receiver, so geo-tagging photos and videos can only be done via Wi-Fi positioning, but the digital compass is still present.
Engineering aside, the biggest advantage the iPad has over its competitors is the App Store. Accessed directly from the iPad or from a computer running iTunes, it allows you to browse and download applications from a choice of thousands. Beautifully presented and conveniently categorised, shopping for software has never been so addictive. And the apps are so affordable, ranging from free up to around £14.99 (ex. VAT) for specialist business software. In case you’re wondering, 30% of revenue from the store goes to Apple and 70% goes to the producer of the app.
Where does it disappoint?
Using an iPad all day is difficult if you have to type documents on a touch-screen, and it’s relatively difficult to switch between applications. Sure it might suit the creative industries, such as media, film and photography, but for enterprise-level functionality out in the field―such as managing spreadsheets, formatting documents, form filling, reporting, sending and receiving lengthy emails―it’s not there.
The iPad is flawed in meaningful ways. It is a computer without a keyboard, it is a digital reader with poor battery life and a high price tag, and it is a portable media player that does not fit in a pocket. Various improvements to the iPad could boost uptake in the business market considerably, but a tablet designed as a business workhorse has to be designed from the outset for this role―both in terms of hardware (features and ergonomics) and software.
Road warriors will snub the complete lack outdoor viewing options that mitigate the effects of glare, although there are already a huge number of third-party durable cases that help protect the iPad from inadvertent drops or jostles. There are no data encryption options for greater file security either, an essential feature for workers in vertical markets such as healthcare, government, and education.
Unlike a tablet running Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system—which isn’t a great OS—the iPad doesn’t allow for personalisation. Customers can’t opt to cram in the latest low-voltage Intel processors, gigabytes of RAM and even solid state drives (SSD). And then there’s the lack of support for the vast majority of business applications which are being used my millions of companies around the globe. Finally, while the rear camera can technically shoot video in 720p at 30fps, quality is nowhere near as good as the iPhone 4 and should only be used on occasion.
Would we recommend it?
As with any technology, tablet PCs have advantages and disadvantages. Thanks to the last few years of development and enhancement, the disadvantages are shrinking in number and the perks are becoming more and more enticing. If you’re a highly mobile person and have never considered getting a tablet PC, now is as good a time as any to start checking them out—the technology is cutting-edge and the usability is superb. If you’re thinking about a new laptop and data access and entry on the move is a key factor, a tablet PC should be at the top of your shopping list.
However, unlike a regular laptop/tablet PC, the biggest limitation of the iPad is that it doesn’t provide the full power of computer. Sure you can have all your phone numbers and schedules after synchronising with iTunes on your regular PC, but you can’t have access to all your standard software and files. The iPad isn’t designed to provide durability where high strength is required, so you can forget about using it near water or in harsh weather conditions. In fact, the screen isn’t even practical for use outside on a clear day.
Google’s increasingly popular Android operating system poses the biggest threat to Apple’s iOS. Devices using BlackBerry’s QNX operating system, Windows Phone 7 and MeeGo will also enter the fray this year, but none of these have the iPad’s ease of use or app support. And while Microsoft’s Windows 7 might have the functionality and support for off-the-shelf business applications, the operating system just isn’t optimised for tablets.
The iPad 2 is a wonderful device that’s easy to use, fun, and runs some excellent applications—a good number which are business related. It’s not versatile enough to replace your laptop, and it certainly can’t match a Windows 7 tablet for power, but the iPad 2 is a different type of product. If you can find a need for it in your business, it could be a good asset. Otherwise, it’ll end up as a luxury toy on the MD’s desk. With a product this appealing, Apple is likely to dominate the tablet market for the next couple of years at least—certainly in the consumer space and trendy customer-facing verticals such as retail, entertainment and hospitality.