The iPad is Apple’s latest gadget, intended to revolutionize the future of mobile computing. Released in the United States on April 3, the iPad allows users to browse the Internet, answer email, display an extensive photo collection, watch videos, listen to music, read e-books, use global positioning software to get directions, take notes, keep track of a calendar and contacts, and use iWork productivity applications such as Keynote, Pages, and Numbers. It retails for $599. And now other manufacturers are coming up with iPad knock-offs that do many of the same things that an iPad will do. But — is the iPad (or some other iPad-inspired computer tablet) really a revolutionary development in computing, and does your small business need one?
The answer is yes only if the iPad allows you to accomplish more in less time: the essence of productivity. The iPad offers certain advantages and disadvantages to small business owners, depending on your particular business and your particular needs. Self storage owners who own just one facility are not likely to need an iPad. But operators who travel back and forth between several facilities, and small businesspeople who travel frequently and who use self storage units to hold inventory and archives, may find an iPad to be a useful tool that enables them to be more productive while traveling.
The iPad excels at entertainment. It plays video, shows pictures, makes it possible to read the newspaper and books without carrying around a pack full of paper. It may be a worthwhile investment if you travel frequently and must carry with you vast amounts of information in the form of catalogues, technical specification sheets, and newspapers and industry publications. It can also be very helpful if you must spend a lot of time visiting websites, as the iPad allows you to spend more time staring at a screen without eyestrain than a computer monitor or laptop screen does. The iPad makes a fabulous tool for salespeople, for executives, and for anyone else who works in a profession that involves a lot of travel and day-to-day, back-and-forth contact with colleagues, clients, and customers.
Portability. The iPad is even more portable than a laptop — making it potentially useful for businesspeople who travel constantly.
Visuals. The iPad is a wonderful tool for displaying visuals, such as photos and videos. If you are a salesman with a catalogue, or if you need to make business presentations at meetings in restaurants or coffeeshops, the iPad is a natural. If you are a small business owner storing your inventory in a self storage unit, the iPad might give you the capacity to make a slideshow presentation of your catalogue using digital photos or video that you made prior to storing products. For example, if you are a representative from a pharmaceutical company, you could keep a presentation for each medication stored on an iPad, and pull a presentation up much more quickly than you could pull out the sample and take the manufacturer’s insert out of the box. You can also keep health data and statistics, as well as the results of new clinical studies, at your fingertips, and pull them up instantly in response to questions.
GPS Capability. The iPad, like many cell phones, will allow you to use global positioning software to find your location and get directions — which is very useful if you have to make deliveries or find your way to a new client’s office. You can also use the iPad to find nearby restaurants, city offices, and specialized businesses such as self storage facilities.
Focus. The iPad will only allow users to have one application up and open at one time — there is no bar at the bottom of the screen, as Windows has, to allow users to toggle back and forth between different applications. Depending on your work style, this can be either an advantage or a disadvantage. Productivity experts say that multitasking actually saps time from most people’s days, rather than truly allowing them to do two or more things at once. Academic studies show that multitasking impairs performance. “There’s no question whatsoever that multitasking, especially among those who do it the most, is at the very least ineffective, and at the worst, harmful,” Stanford professor Clifford Nass told NPR last August.
The iPad does not excel at receiving information directly from a user, via camera, video camera, microphone or keyboard. If you are a writer, a lawyer, an accountant, or anyone else who works in a profession where you must input information into a computer all day, the iPad may not do much for you — except to be a useful supplementary tool when you have a lot of reading to do and are tired of staring at a computer screen.
Lack of multitasking. The iPad does not multitask with nonApple applications (it will play music in the background, but won’t allow you to work in a spreadsheet and a text document at the same time). Although researchers say that multitasking impairs productivity, for some kinds of work, having several computer applications open at once is helpful. Sometimes, for example, it might be necessary to refer to a spreadsheet in one window in order to answer a client question by email in another. However, Apple claims that the iPad soon will support multitasking. “We weren’t the first to this party, but we’re going to be the best,” Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, commented in USA Today on April 9. Apple has its own agenda for developing iPad multitasking capabilities — Jobs wants to be able to advertise on nonApple applications. The same day that he made the multitasking announcement, Jobs unveiled iAd, which will allow Apple to sell ads that can run on nonApple applications. “This could be a whole new avenue for the advertising industry in the digital world,” Jobs predicted, noting, however, that Apple “is not going to be an advertising agency.”
No camera. The iPad does not include a camera (either a webcam or a camera for taking photos). The iPad is camera-ready, but to use a camera with it, you have to buy an iPad Camera Kit separately. The iPad Camera Kit will connect easily to an iPad Dock (which works just like an iPod dock), but then the Camera Kit and Dock add to the expense of the unit.
Touchscreen keyboard. The iPad uses a touchscreen keyboard, which can take some getting used to. It is possible to attach a USB keyboard to use with the iPad, however.
Less user control over content. The iPad enables Digital Rights Management (DRM). Protesters at Defective by Design are complaining that the use of DRM combined with the “always on” connection in an iPad will allow Apple and its corporate partners to “disable features, block competing products (especially free software), censor news, and even delete books, videos, or news stories from users’ computers without notice.” DRM does not completely take away a user’s control over the content of a device — but it means that the user may have to become more creative, streaming content to the iPad from a laptop, for example (which means using the iPad as a second monitor for the laptop). Some hackers have even gone to the trouble of jailbreaking their iPads, allowing them to use third-party applications that were not approved by Apple. Jailbreaking voids the iPad’s warranty, however.