Critics' Choice: Review Roundup of iPad as Enterprise Mobile Computing Device

The question about the Apple iPad tablet isn't whether it's cool or not. You don't even have to see one to know the answer. The real question is: Can someone who works in an enterprise actually get work done on this crazy thing?

Based on reviews from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, PC World, Macworld, CNET, and others, the answer is a qualified 'yes.' Jason Snell in Macworld sums it up nicely:

"For me, the iPad excelled at tasks where I could lean back and read, watch, or listen. When I needed to lean forward, things got a little more complicated," Snell writes. He adds that Apple's iWork applications for the iPad ($10 each), for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, "seem good for light editing and displaying files, but using them to create important business documents from scratch seems much more daunting."

Here's a look at what reviewers are saying about the iPad as a mobile computing device and productivity tool.

No User-Accessible File System

Unlike a computer, the iPad doesn't have a user-accessible file system or file explorer, which is the device's "biggest limitation for productivity use," writes Avi Greengart, research director for consumer and mobile devices at Current Analysis. (For a complete report on Greengart's review, see "iPad Review: Can the Multimedia Mobile Device Handle the Job?")

"It is not even possible to save documents to external drives or most file storage Web sites," Greengart adds. "There are e-mail workarounds if you have Web access to your files, but the process is so clunky that it is really only usable as a last resort."

Other standard things you'd find on most portable computers but not on iPads: USB ports, support for Flash, a removable battery, a Webcam, the ability to multitask, and a choice of Web browsers.

Word Processing Gets the Job Done in Style, But Lacks Some Features

Unlike Microsoft Word and most other computer text editing software, Pages, Apple's $10 word processing app, doesn't allow you to track your changes, "which means that it does not fit into a standard editorial workflow," writes Greengart. Word count is missing in action, too-but you do get spell check and a dictionary.

While Pages lacks the sophistication of word processing software, "it packs plenty of punch when you just want a way to produce nice looking documents on the go," writes CNET's Jason Parker, who gives Pages for the iPad four out of five stars.

Parker and other reviewers note Pages' many document templates and the ease of importing and resizing images using the iPad's touch screen. For example, once you insert an image into a document, text automatically wraps around it. In typical Apple style, the iPad makes it super easy to create great-looking documents.

When you're finished with a document in Pages, you can e-mail it; share it to iWork.com (a beta file sharing service from Apple, currently free for iWork users); or export it to Pages, PDF, and Word's .doc format. But be forewarned: Importing and exporting documents to and from the iPad can cause font and other formatting changes.

Also, because the iPad doesn't currently offer native printing support, you'll need to e-mail documents to a computer connected to a printer. Or you could sync Pages documents with the iPad's host computer via iTunes, but that's a bit cumbersome, as reviewers have pointed out.

Google Docs, which includes a text editor as well as spreadsheet and presentation apps, isn't currently a good alternative for creating and editing text documents on an iPad, notes Harry McCracken writes in "Eleven Things I Now Know About the iPad" on Technologizer. While Gmail is optimized for the iPad, Google Docs is currently read-only, except for the spreadsheet program.

Nick Mediati, writing in PC World's Business Center, adds that an $8 app, Office2 Pro, lets you read and edit your Google Docs on an iPad.

Touch Typing: Better Than You Might Assume

Speaking of word processing, how easy is it to touch-type on the iPad's virtual keyboard?

So far, McCracken writes, "I'm having trouble typing and looking at what I'm typing at the same time. With any luck, I'll get confident enough that I won't feel like I need to stare at the keys as I type." The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg took to the iPad keyboard right away. "In fact, I found the iPad virtual keyboard more comfortable and accurate to use than the cramped keyboards and touchpads on many netbooks, though some fast touch typists might disagree," Mossberg writes. "Apple's $39 iPad case, which bends to set up a nice angle for typing, helps."

Alternatively, you can use a Bluetooth external keyboard with the iPad, such as Apple's Wireless Keyboard ($69). Another option is Apple's iPad Keyboard Dock ($69), which, as its name implies, combines a full-sized keyboard with a charging dock.

Spreadsheets and Presentations -- Limited But Still Useful

Apple's Numbers app for iPad, part of its iWork suite for the tablet, is for creating and editing spreadsheets on the go. The app "works well for creating spreadsheets and organizing data while away from your desktop, with a multitude of useful tools and a smart interface design to make your spreadsheet work easier," notes CNET's Parker.

Numbers' many intuitive features "almost make any spreadsheet work easier on your iPad than working on your desktop, but more complex spreadsheets that draw from many different sources might still be relegated to your main desktop computer," Parker writes.

You can share Numbers files with others via iWork.com or e-mail, and you can export spreadsheets as Numbers documents or PDF files. But you can't export them as Excel files, which could be a deal breaker for many mobile professionals.

On that note, the first thing you should know about Keynote, Apple's iWork app, is that its files are not compatible with PowerPoint, as Greengart points out. Finished Keynote files can be shared on iWork.com, sent via e-mail, or exported to PDF or the Keynote file format.

Greengart also notes that the iPad doesn't include a VGA port, though Apple sells a $29 VGA connector.

Like Pages and Numbers, Keynote is easy to use, especially with the iPad's touch screen. Notes CNET's Parker: "The touch screen interface is very intuitive, with slide navigation on the left side of the interface, and close-ups of the slides in your main working area. In the left navigation you can add, delete, duplicate or reorder slides all with a few taps of your finger."

Summing It Up: Pondering the Bottom Line

So, given the iPad's various pros and cons, would it be reasonable for an enterprise worker to leave the laptop at home on his or her next business trip and just take an iPad? Here are a few more quotes to ponder.

The iPad "is not a laptop," writes David Pogue in The New York Times. "It's not nearly as good for creating stuff. On the other hand, it's infinitely more convenient for consuming it - books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on. For most people, manipulating these digital materials directly by touching them is a completely new experience - and a deeply satisfying one."

"After spending hours and hours with it, I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop," writes Mossberg in the Journal. "My verdict is that, while it has compromises and drawbacks, the iPad can indeed replace a laptop for most data communication, content consumption and even limited content creation, a lot of the time. But it all depends on how you use your computer." Mossberg adds that "if you're mainly a Web surfer, note-taker, social-networker and emailer, and a consumer of photos, videos, books, periodicals and music-this could be for you. If you need to create or edit giant spreadsheets or long documents, or you have elaborate systems for organizing email, or need to perform video chats, the iPad isn't going to cut it as your go-to device."

USA Today's Edward C. Baig wonders if a high school or college student could "get away with using an iPad as a primary computer." (We think the question applies to enterprise workers when they're mobile as well.) Baig's answer? "With the iWorks suite, a keyboard dock accessory, and a 'can do' spirit, it's certainly possible, but a similarly priced Netbook, though not as sexy, will offer more flexibility and better typing and editing performance."

James A. Martin has written about mobile technology since the mid 90s. He's the author of the Traveler 2.0 blog.


mobile, iPad, Apple, mobile computing, iPad review