iPad 2 in the enterprise: One company's upgrade strategy

When the iPad 2 hit Apple stores, people couldn't wait to buy. Lines stretched around entire city blocks. At the Apple Store in Walnut Creek, Calif., a shopping mecca 30 miles east of San Francisco, people at the front of the line said they'd been waiting since 6 a.m. for the iPad 2 to go on sale at 5 p.m.

Imagine the kind of pressure that executives toting original iPads are now exerting on IT departments to upgrade to the iPad 2.

Jeff Letasse, VP of IT for Conceptus, a Silicon Valley medical device manufacturer, says that pressure isn't all bad news. In fact, he says the Apple upgrade cycle has some advantages over the old PC refresh cycle. Despite the fact that iPad 2's features haven't wowed him, he's already ordered 30 iPad 2 3G devices for top sales executives.

Here's the back story:

Conceptus began replacing laptops with iPads for its salespeople late last year. IT staff also use iPads for training purposes and remote access. Some 220 iPads are dispersed in the workforce. (See Why One Company is Ditching Sales Laptops for iPads.)

With an iPad in their hands, salespeople show presentations to doctors and use a custom enterprise iPad app that taps into a back-end CRM system. Conceptus is also moving toward using a Citrix iPad app to give users a Windows desktop in a virtualized environment.

"They have to be able to do everything on their iPad," says Eric Simmons, Conceptus director of IT operations and ERP solutions.

[ What happens when a CEO gives iPads to all? | Check out 3 must-have iPad productivity tools, reports CIO.com. ]

iPad Peer Pressure

The iPad's burgeoning status as the presentation tool of choice has resulted in many C-level executives demanding iPads at work, not just at Conceptus but across a variety of industries. These execs can pressure enterprise IT departments to upgrade to new models ASAP.

Letasse is fully aware of this pressure, but he says the lifecycle of the iPad actually benefits companies. With PCs, Conceptus was on a three-year cycle. This caused not only technical problems with older and newer models, he says, but also "a little PC envy." No one wants to be the exec still stuck with the old PC. With iPads, he expects Apple to come out with a new model every nine to 12 months. He's hoping to refresh iPads every two years -- much like a cell phone.

"The wait time isn't as long as it used to be with a laptop," Letasse says.

So why buy 30 shiny, new iPad 2s for senior executives who've only had their original iPads for a few months? Answer: Conceptus is growing its sales force over the next couple of quarters and needs to give iPads to new recruits. Of course, they'll be getting hand-me-downs.

"Otherwise, to be honest, we wouldn't be buying the devices," Letasse says.

iPad 2's Top Selling Point: Picture Perfect Projection

That's not to say the iPad 2 doesn't bring anything new to the table. Everyone from sales to legal to the IT staff is excited about the iPad 2's video-mirroring feature that lets users mirror the iPad 2's entire screen on an external high-def display, he says.

One of the drawbacks of the original iPad is the inability to do this, Letasse says. While the video-mirroring feature comes in the newly released iOS 4.3, only the iPad 2 supports it. Using a Digital AV Adapter from Apple ($39) that plugs into the iPad 2's docking connector port, users can mirror the iPad 2's display on an HDTV or any video projector using an HDMI cable. The iPad 2 can output video at up to 1080p resolution.

Along with the iPad 2 order, Conceptus purchased 50 Digital AV Adapters.

Charles Edge, author of Enterprise iPhone and iPad Administrator's Guide and director of technology at IT consultancy 318, is quick to point out that HDMI projectors aren't all that common today compared to VGA-based projectors. But HDMI video does set up the iPad 2 nicely down the road. "Our customers see iPad as the presentation tool of the future," he told CIO.com.

Letasse says senior salespeople make the most presentations, which is why they'll be getting the iPad 2s. He also plans to use the high-def video mirroring feature during his training sessions and demos. "The ability to project is a biggie for all of our iPad users," he says.

FaceTime Face-Off

When word got out that the iPad 2 would have a front-facing camera, industry watchers predicted enterprises could also take advantage of video chat. Apple's FaceTime software enables video chat between Apple devices (iPhone 4, iPad 2, Macs) over Wi-Fi, not 3G.

"FaceTime will be appealing to a lot of enterprises that may look at it as easy, entry-level video teleconferencing," Dan Hays, partner at management consulting firm PRTM, which focuses on operational strategy and execution for C-level executives within Fortune 2000 organizations, told CIO.com.

But that wasn't the case at Conceptus.

"There really isn't a reason for our salespeople to use FaceTime," Letasse says. "I tried FaceTime with my daughter at the opposite ends of our house. But as soon as she saw me on it, she said, 'This is kinda creepy, I don't really care for this.'"

That creepy FaceTime feeling doesn't just come from young people, either. Letasse used FaceTime with another executive at Conceptus recently, and after the novelty wore off in the first minute both men just couldn't see the point. "I didn't want to keep looking at him," he says.

Video calls, though, do come in handy when communicating with offshore partners, especially if there is a language barrier to overcome. While these opportunities aren't common, video chat can go a long way. "There's a level of humanizing with the other group," Simmons says.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkanshige@cio.com

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