Review: How will the iPad fare in the enterprise?

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Anthony Caruana takes the iPad inside the corporate LAN.

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Like it or not, Apple's iPad is going to find a way into your business. But how does it fare in the office?

We took one of the first iPads in Australia for a spin in a real enterprise office and found that while it was good enough at a lot of things, it's going to cause some headaches to users and admins.

To be fair, Apple isn't pushing the iPad specifically as a business device. But like the iPhone before it, there's no doubt that it will worm its way into the enterprise. A C-level exec is going to bring one into work as start asking why it doesn't work on the LAN and connect to the Exchange server.

Apple recently updated iPhone OS Deployment Guide [PDF] to include the iPad - a sure sign that Apple is expecting the iPad to do business.

Is the iPad ready for the big end of town? We've had a close look at connectivity, battery life, applications, security and communications to see how it would stack up in a real corporate environment.

Powering Up

The iPad ships with a USB cable and a 10W power supply. The cable is the same as any iPod but the iPad requires more juice than an iPhone and that brings us to a significant issue.

Our observation is that most people use the USB port on their computer to charge their iPhone. After a few hours of work we connected the iPad to the USB port on our Dell Latitude E6400 to give it some power. However, we were greeted by an annoying "feature".  The iPad needs to suck a full amp of power in order to charge. The problem is that most USB ports only deliver 500mA. On our Dell, we tried the ports on the device and on the powered docking station but none would charge the iPad.

Apple has issued an advisory specifying that the iPad requires a "high-power USB port". While this covers all the most recent Macs, it is certainly not universal across all computers and certainly not everybody in the office uses a Mac.

Despite the charging issues we were able to get through a workday between charges with the WiFi enabled. Most workers will be able to get through a day's work but charging will require carrying a small power brick as well as a the cable. The iPhone power supply, despite only being rated at 5W, works albeit more slowly than the supplied 10W unit.

Connectivity

We tested a WiFi iPad and there were many times when we would have killed for the 3G version. What really irked us was the lack of tethering options. The ability to use Bluetooth to make an Internet connection would make the WiFi model a great travel companion. Is it too cynical to think this is a way to get people to buy the dearer 3G model and generate income for Apple's carrier partners?

The most active thread on Apple's iPad discussion boards is about poor WiFi signal. Apple has issued some advice including the incredibly useful "Move closer to the Wi-Fi router or hotspot". We did see the WiFi strength fall in our use for no apparent reason - although we were moving between multiple access points on the one network so its possible that the iPad wasn't switching to the stronger signal quickly. However, we didn't note a significant drop in connection speed while this was happening.

Many businesses provide remote access for staff through Outlook Web Access. The first thing to note is that OWA only works in Light mode in Safari. That's the same as any browser that isn't Internet Explorer but it's worth knowing as staff may have expectations before using OWA on an iPad.

Far and away the most popular way to remotely connect to corporate networks is through a VPN. We tested the iPad by connecting to a Cisco VPN with SecurID authentication [see attached photo gallery, top right].  Our biggest gripe was the configuration had to be entered manually as Apple doesn't support the standard PCF file system. It also means that changes to the VPN will require some manual changes to the iPad.

Internet Apps

One thing we noticed during our testing was that some sites detected iPad Safari as a mobile browser while others thought it was a desktop browser.

It was no big deal for us, but would be if you're running important applications through a browser that serves up different functions depending on what it detects as the type of device you are using.

On the email front, the iPad's mail client lacks a single inbox view so that you can have a consolidated view of multiple mail accounts. That should be addressed in an upcoming update when the iPhone OS is updated to version 4. We configured mail accounts using Exchange, POP and IMAP without any hassles.

Mobile Office?

Productivity applications for the iPad are still thin on the ground. Apple has released versions of its iWork applications for the iPad but there are some serious limitations, particularly with regards to output and file formats. We purchased Pages [see gallery] to see how it would fare as a business class word processor and found that it was fine for tapping out simple documents. However, it has limited font support so you may find that some layouts are altered.

We've asked Microsoft if they planned to create a version of Office for the iPad, but we were told that nothing is planned just yet. Stay tuned on this.

Using iWork, exporting to Word, sharing documents by email or collaborating was straightforward enough but there's no way to connect to the office's file servers for depositing documents, which is somewhat of a disappointment.

Ergonomics-wise, typing on the soft keyboard was OK for short periods of time but the display's hard surface can get a touch painful. And let's not even get into how poor the ergonomics are of tapping on a keyboard on some the ridiculous angles the iPad encourages you to consider.

I should also mention - despite promises of paperless offices we all know that printing documents is a fact of life in the office

On the iPad, Apple has decided that we don't need to print. There are some third party solutions for printing over a LAN but it would be nicer if printing was built into the operating system rather than being retro-fitted.

Read on to page two for more on security features and third party apps...


 
 
 
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