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Happy Birthday iPad: How Apple’s tablet revolutionized business computing

by Doug Drinkwater

April 3 2013

Apple's iPad helped popularize the BYOD (Bring-Your-Own Device) to work trend.
Apple's iPad helped popularize the BYOD (Bring-Your-Own Device) to work trend.

Three years ago today Apple released the first iPad, and it’s fair to say that Apple’s tablet has had a profound effect on how people, especially in business, now use computers.

‘Cool’ Apple brought about the BYOD era

The iPad has only been with us for a short time, and yet it has already changed how computers are being used in the workplace.

The days of your IT department solely deciding what device you can have and when are diminishing as knowledge workers increasingly get to choose which devices they want use at work.

So, what brought about this shift in workplace dynamics? Well, it was the rise of consumerization and more specifically, an increasing desire for employees to use their personally-owned devices, like the iPad, to become more productive - the so-called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work trend.

Apple’s iPad and iPhone have been the big winners of this, largely at the expense of BlackBerry, although researchers believe that Android is winning in some business verticals and in developing regions.  

As covered extensively on TabTimes, there are some clear advantages with BYOD, the main plus points being that employees become more productive and even work longer hours while businesses – in theory at least – save on costs and training while embracing the latest technology.

Arguably the only loser in this is the IT departments charged with managing this chaos, especially with concerns around data security if an iPad becomes lost or stolen. That said, there are plenty of signs that companies are becoming better at managing these devices through BYOD policies and Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solutions.

Businesses have started thinking big on mobile

Apple’s iPad has quickly become a business tool to the point where deployments have ranged from four or five in SMBs to tens of thousands going into Fortune 500 enterprises, schools and healthcare establishments.

All of this has led researchers to claim that businesses will spend $24 billion on iPads through to 2014 (that figure was as high as $10 billion in some quarters for 2012), and say that around 27 million tablets will be used in the workplace in 2013.  

One analyst even suggests that the iPad will replace the laptop as the enterprise's mobile computer of choice this year.

These deployments have sped up businesses' plans to implement mobile strategies and roll-out mobile business apps.

Enterprise app developer Mubaloo, for example, said that business apps will be all the rage in 2013, and said recently that it is increasingly consulting business on introducing mobile strategies.

It is no wonder then that mobile apps are expected to increase in worth from $25 billion in 2012 to almost $50 billion by 2017.

Cloud computing becomes the norm

As the iPad has risen in popularity so has the popularity of cloud-based productivity apps like CloudOn, Quickoffice, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive and Box.

The rise of both is no coincidence. For starters, the iPad still comes minus Microsoft’s Office suite – the go-to software if you have work with Office files like Word, Excel and PowerPoint that may have originated on a Windows-based PC.

Then there is the absence of a microSD card slot or USB port for saving files, which means that saving on iPad is limited to the tablet's relatively limited storage or saving to the cloud.

The rise of cloud computing has been projected for some time, among consumers and businesses, and the ability to store files on one device and access them on another, e.g. the iPad, is a big benefit to today’s “always-connected” user.

Some of these solutions take care of different things. For example, business users may use iCloud for syncing contacts and photos, Amazon for book reading in their spare time, and perhaps Dropbox or Google Drive for locating and encrypting important documents. In business, users may often use software-as-a-service tools like Salesforce.com and Concur.

“The flexibility that comes with cloud storage "is not just a nice thing to have, but a necessity when you're dealing with storage-limited devices," said Avi Greengart, a consumer devices analyst at research firm Current Analysis.

“If you have a device based on flash memory, you don't want to sync everything."

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi adds to this point.

“An important trend that I think is somewhat ignored is the impact iPad is having on software like Office and the acceleration to cloud-based offerings such as Office 365 and Evernote.

“Linked to that is how people find a way around what they used to do and what they can and cannot do on a tablet. This gives them a more open mind to what a computing device will be in the future.”

Apple changed the way businesses gather and show information

“The iPad created an opportunity for businesses to adopt computing technologies in roles that are primarily about gathering information,” said ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr.

“Often these 'clipboard' jobs were driven by paper and pen, and with the introduction of touch-based tablets like the iPad much of this can be automated into digital systems.”

As Orr notes, the iPad has become a leading tool for collecting data out in the field, completing sales orders, even checking people in at events or evaluating sports injuries.

That’s not to say that the iPad isn’t used for content creation -- several Tablet Leaders show that there is more to Apple’s tablet -- but it clearly is simplifying and speeding up processes which were previously paper-bound.

iPad has made people think differently about touchscreens

Whether you buy the view that iPads can become your primary mobile device or not, there’s no doubting the effect Apple’s tablet has had on the more conventional computer types.

Studies show PC sales to have remained flat from 2009 figures, the most-famous Wintel relationship no longer holds the power it once did, while the rise of the tablet has effectively killed off the netbook.

This much is clear -- Apple's tablet has helped the rise of touchscreens and got people thinking differently about computer control (and sure, let's give the iPhone credit for getting the touchscreen craze rolling). Even Microsoft, the perennial campaigner of the mouse and keyboard, says that it can’t imagine a Windows 8 PC without touch.

Around the same time the iPad was introduced, touchscreens were largely confined to some digital signage displays, the fledgling all-in-one (AIO) PCs and the iPod Touch. Multi-touch functionality was barely mainstream, and yet today it is the norm (gesture control is now seen as the next part of the touch evolution).

Indeed, touchscreens are now so popular that young children are increasingly more accustomed to operating a computer via touch rather than the QWERTY keyboard. That signals a big change in how tomorrow's workforce will use computers thanks largely in part to Apple which, in typical fashion, wasn't the first to create a new technology, but sure knew how to popularize it. 

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.

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