iPads in Business...Scenarios, Use Cases, and SharePoint

By Rich Blank posted 10-05-2010 09:37


A brief tangent from my previous posts on I wanted to capture some recent discussions I had with a few people on the use of iPads in the business world. 

Generally, there are a few use case scenarios you might consider. One is for salespeople in the field who want to access slides or documents, or perhaps deliver a presentation to a customer or demo something on a web site. Another is for executives on business trips who don't need full laptops and might use iPads to access their e-mail, calendars or presentations and documents.  Or perhaps you have a monthly Board of Directors meeting and are looking to move away from paper and digitize the meetings, notes, and documentation to ensure accurate record keeping.  iPads and SharePoint might provide a good solution.   Apple does provide some profiles of a few business use case examples:

And another good link with some real world examples I found is here:

I also recently read about health care provider Kaiser Permanente has reportedly been testing two iPads for viewing X-rays. And Mercedes-Benz Financial has reportedly equipped some car dealerships with iPads so sales personnel can take customers' information for credit applications without having to sit down at their desks.  Of course doctors, lawyers, retail staff, warehouse workers and other people might use iPads while on their feet and mobile.  We'll no doubt be seeing iPads at a restaurant near you very soon:    VERY COOL STUFF!

No matter what the use case, there are a few considerations when thinking about iPads in a business context:

Browser support. Most web apps only support specific browsers -- and unfortunately Safari on the iPad is not always supported. So if you have existing web apps (or even client-server apps) they wish to access via an iPad, there may be supportability issues depending on what the web app requires on the browser side or the client-server requires -- which in most cases is Windows and Internet Explorer.  For example, SharePoint 2007 supports Microsoft Internet Explorer specifically (and is limited in its functionality when you access via Firefox or Safari on a MAC). And SharePoint 2010 is a little more open with browser support but doesn't explicitly support Safari.  However, there are 3rd party iPad apps recently released this year that can enhance the SharePoint user experience on the iPad.

Wireless Support and Security.  Another concern is wireless support and security. It's a wireless device -- and an iPad would be dependent on the performance, security, supportability, and accessibility of the wireless network.   So you better test the dead zones and accessibility in the physical environment where the tablet devices will be used.

Hardware concerns.Well documented out RAM (256mb), no USB ports, etc...   So make sure you understand the hardware limitations.   If iPads hardware doesn't cut it, perhaps you need to consider the upcoming Blackberry Playbook or other vendors.

User experience. Think about for a minute. Access it on my cell phone, I get a store locator presented to me. Access it via a web browser, I get a different experience. The point here is that what you see via a normal web browser may not work for mobile devices or iPad tablets.  So think about the user experience and you may have to present different information in different ways.

UI Design. One of the challenges with iPads involves the UI design. Because the iPad is a touch device, "normal web pages" may not work best for end users. For example, a contact of mine is actually customizing the site UI of SharePoint a little with larger buttons for users to touch the large buttons and open files more easily. Additionally there is the ipad "pinch" to shrink and enlarge the screen -- and some other UI considerations there as well.  Fortunately, there are a few third party ipad apps that enhance the SharePoint experience. I haven't spent enough time testing them to provide any insight here -- and there are more come out as time goes on. Just Google "SharePoint on iPad" for specific apps and vendors.

The bottom line is that any business should identify specific use cases in which they envision potential uses of iPad devices. Look at the business process or value chain, document it, and develop a plan for deployment, process improvement, and change management. Start small with a low risk pilot. Maybe it's order/inventory on the factory floor or maybe they start by using iPads for internal training just as academia has adopted iPads before the mainstream. At the end of the day, iPads are a hand held device -- they're portable, easy to use with a large enough screen to actually conduct business or transact something. It's really no different than other technologies and there should be some tangible benefit gained by using iPads (as opposed to using them because they're cool). While the iPad is definitely the innovator -- you might look at competitors like Blackberry Playbook recently announced. More RAM, faster processor, wifi and hooks to uses your existing blackberry mobile phone for wireless data access.   Of course, as much as it's about the device, the apps are equally as important to drive adoption.  And Microsoft really needs to step up its game and start developing apps specifically for these iPad-like devices to enhance the Office and SharePoint experience.

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