Apple's just-launched iPad might be the must-have gadget of the season -- or perhaps the entire year -- but it's more than just a tech toy. Hundreds of dedicated applications ("apps") are already available to help small and mid-sized businesses remain productive on the go.
Already a consumer success with more than 1 million units sold within one month of its U.S. launch, Apple's iPad (from $499 is also gaining traction among mobile professionals looking to remain productive on the go.
Not everyone agrees on whether this "magical" tablet was built for business, of course -- be sure to read our discussion here -- but those who do use it work now have many dedicated applications ("apps") to choose from at the App Store (part of iTunes).
This includes Apple's own iWork offerings, such as Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets and Keynote for presentations ($9.99 apiece), and dozens of inexpensive third-party apps (see below).
"Not only is the iPad built for travel -- it's just a pound and a half and with a battery pushing 12 hours between charges -- but its stunning 9.7-inch screen makes it a convincing showpiece to display media, online content or a visual presentation to a client or customer," says Scott Steinberg, CEO for the TechSavvy Global technology consulting firm in Seattle. "And its online, on-demand apps can transform the device into a portable language translator, note taker, personal digital assistant, information hub, voice recorder, invoice tracker, CSM tool, and so on."
Not only does the iPad feature many dedicated apps for the platform, but out of the box it works with most of the 200,000 apps designed for iPhone and iPod touch.
Tim Doherty, research analyst and mobility expert for small and mid-sized businesses at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm, believes the iPad is still "pricey" for widespread deployment in a company, the tablet form factor lends itself well to data capture type applications, such as replacing a traditional clipboard.
"Business executives may be drawn to the devices because of its 'wow' factor, and what I find compelling is the pricing of the mobile broadband for iPad, which is certainly more attractive than the traditional $60 a month mobile broadband card," says Doherty. "But ultimately they probably won't ready to ditch their laptops for this first iteration of the device."
Doherty thinks competition will help drive the price down. "In the future, increased competition from vendors offering Android tablets, a possible WebOS tablet from HP and potentially a BlackBerry tablet from RIM can help drive pricing down and adoption up," adds Doherty. "Like iPhone did in helping to drive the smartphone market, iPad can do for the tablet market, to the benefit of multiple vendors."
Recommended iPad apps for business
The iPad apps you need for business depends on your specific needs, naturally, but along with the aforementioned Apple iWork offerings, the following are five excellent tools to consider.
Dragon Dictation(free) Nuance's easy-to-use and accurate app will transcribe your voice into text like a personal secretary. Once transcribed, you can save the work, e-mail, or send as text message. Also consider Nuance's free Dragon Search, which lets you ask a question into the iPad's microphone and you'll see the relevant answers and/or websites pooled from online sources.
WebEx for iPad(free) Need to attend an online meeting but nowhere near your PC? No worries, as you can join the WebEx conference call, brainstorming sessions or presentation on your iPad. Experience live, real-time data and audio wherever work takes you -- and save time and money on traveling for meetings.
Evernote (free) Got a million dollar idea while on the go? Figured out how to fix your sales hurdles? Type, draw, or speak it inside of Evernote, a powerful tool available for iPad, and so long as you're online it'll immediately synchronize with your Mac or PC for safe keeping. The simple interface and powerful options make this app an ideal one for mobile businesspersons.
LogMeIn ($29.99) Don't fret if you forgot an important document or presentation on the office or home PC (or Mac). Use your fingertip on the iPad to remotely log into one or more computers, anywhere on the world, to access what you need as if you were in front the other screen(s). LogMeIn can also be used to troubleshot a colleague's computer or play Flash-based games if you find some downtime.
Square (free) With Square Inc.'s clever software, small and mid-sized businesses can quickly and securely accept card and cash payments on the spot. When the transaction is completed, use this app to generate e-mail and SMS receipts on the spot. Features include itemized lists of sold products or services, adjustable sales tax options, and more.