The iPad has been embraced as a business tool despite some very vocal naysayers proclaiming it a mere consumer toy with no place in the business world. The iOS 4.2 update -- expected to be released later today -- includes a variety of features that make the Apple tablet even more suited for business use.
Apple's iPad is not a productivity workhorse, but it is a more than capable device for the vast majority of mobile business computing tasks. You probably don't want to use it to create a multi-faceted spreadsheet, and I doubt you'd want to write a lengthy white paper on it -- but you could if you really had to.
The reality is that most mobile users have simpler needs anyway. A device that lets users get and send e-mail, surf the Web, and perform light content creation or editing tasks fulfills the role that most users need a mobile device to fill. The fact that it is significantly thinner and lighter than your average notebook PC, and that it has the battery life to survive an entire day on a single charge make it an ideal mobile business computing platform.
The iPad is not without its handicaps. The lack of any SD memory card slot or USB port limits its business functionality to some extent. The absence of a front-facing camera renders it useless for FaceTime video chat, or for video conferencing. Those are hardware-based issues which may or may not be resolved with the next generation iPad, but there are also some oversights that can be fixed with software -- and those are addressed with iOS 4.2.
Some of the improvements -- like the addition of multitasking capabilities, a unified e-mail inbox -- improve the iPad from the user perspective. Many of the updates, however, appeal more to IT admins and make the iPad a more viable mobile business tool by making it easier for admins to manage, maintain, and protect it.
With iOS 4.2, IT admins can host and wirelessly distribute custom in-house apps over either 3G or Wi-Fi. Apps can be updated over the air when necessary, enabling changes to be delivered to iPads without requiring the device to be physically connected to a PC.
For better security and data protection, iOS 4.2 includes support for SSL VPN connections. SSL VPN connections let remote users access company resources securely. iOS 4.2 also enhances data protection by using the device passcode as an encryption key to protect e-mail messages and file attachments.
Finally, Apple introduces new Mobile Device Management APIs that enable third-party developers to create solutions to configure and update settings wirelessly, monitor compliance with corporate policies, and remotely lock or wipe the iPad.
Thanks in large part to the success of the iPhone, the iPad has already been accepted as a mobile business tool in many organizations. The features and enhancements in iOS 4.2 make the iPad an even better business tool -- both for the user's, and from the perspective of the IT admin.