This is a collaborative post with Nick Hamm (@hammnick), Director of Technology at Infowelders and David Schach (@dschach) from X-Squared On Demand. After a conversation via twitter, we decided to collaborate on a blog post (via Google Docs, of course) and are publishing it in our own blogs simultaneously.
With all of the hype around the pending release of iPad2 and how it has firmly moved us into the “post-PC era”, we had to take a step back and evaluate for ourselves whether all of the hype is justified, or if Steve Jobs’ mastery of the emotional sell has hypnotized Apple fan-boys and non-fan-boys alike into believing that we are in a reality that isn’t quite real, or even realistic.
The Case for iPad
The iPad is a game-changing device in many ways, but it’s main impact is as a consumer/personal technology. Apps are the primary driver that sell the hardware (or at least allows Apple to charge a premium for the hardware), and Apple’s AppStore is mostly consumer-focused. I’m sure Jobs had the vision that these devices could be used by business, but that was not their primary target with iPad Gen 1, and is still not their primary market with iPad Gen 2. However, Apple has quickly started to build a story around business adoption, and has started to gain adoption in businesses from startups to Fortune 500 companies. More on that later.
We have to remember that it didn’t start with the iPad – it started with the Palm. Stylus-input devices were the first widely-used mobile hardware, and one of the Palm Tungsten models had a phone built-in. Then Blackberry entered the marketplace and dominated the business mobile device market. The Blackberry could be standardized and controlled by IT. But with iPhones being purchased in the homes of business people, and those folks taking their newly found iPhone addiction back to their IT department, Apple has definitely made up for lost time. In fact, even though IT has lost most of its control over the company’s devices, the iPhone has gained grassroots traction to become the new standard-issue phone for many organizations. Why is this important? For two reasons: 1) The iPad is a giant iPhone, and 2) The same consumer-to-business adoption path is happening for the iPad.
Our companies consult businesses that have 20 employees and > 2000 employees. So we see a pretty wide array of IT cultures and standards. We also get to see how some of the decisions to use device X over device Y are made by the business. Very few of our clients are “.com tech companies” – most are traditional businesses that do anything from conduit manufacturing to healthcare facility management to spirits distillation and distribution. One would think that the larger companies would be slower moving and less likely to adopt new technologies, and in some cases that is true, but overall we are seeing a higher adoption rate of iDevices at the larger companies. This is somewhat counter-intuitive until you learn the reasons why. We have seen more than one instance where an executive either bought an iPad for personal use or received one as a gift, and within weeks (or days) mandated to IT that his/her field reps also use the device. This is a powerful demonstration that Apple has not had to focus marketing toward businesses in order to gain adoption within the enterprise.
Based on these comments so far, you may be asking why we even asked the question of enterprise-wide adoption in the first place. Well, there is an important caveat in these examples. The largest job role for business iPad adopters are mobile users. For most businesses this translates to sales and biz dev reps, who do a lot of presenting (slideshows) or data consumption (charts and graphs) and not as much data entry. The iPad’s focused functionality makes it ideal for less-technical users, and it’s stylish caché make it ideal to put in the hands of the guy or gal representing your company because it is a recognizable device that those who don’t yet have one are intrigued by and envious of. But those are not the benefits that are going to drive the business to collect the desktops and laptops from the rest of the employees and replace them all with iPads tomorrow. In fact, Apple has seen spikes in sales of their other more traditional hardware offerings to businesses since the iPad has been released, and in a lot of cases the iPad is only acting as a complementary device to the desktop/laptop for these users.
The majority of in-office workers at our clients interact with their computers in two ways: data entry (including, using Salesforce CRM as an example, writing notes from sales phone calls) and wizard-driven tasks (such as a call-center service representative). Both of these roles require efficient information-entry (using a keyboard or a mouse) and a powerful browser. The iPad has neither; yes Safari is good, but it cannot display Salesforce perfectly or deliver Flash, and that’s a deal-breaker.
iPad doesn’t have what it takes to root out the traditional PC/laptop from most business users and become their primary work device. At least not yet.
The Case for the Google Cr-48
We’ll start by saying that Cr-48 hardware is not game-changing – it’s little more than a netbook with a bigger screen. It’s the OS and concept of a cloud-only device in a familiar form factor that give us a glimpse into what the business devices of the near future could look like. Google knows as well as anyone that cloud adoption is happening at an exponential pace right now, both by consumers and by businesses. As more and more business applications are being moved to the cloud, including email, document creation, CRM, and other core biz apps, the need for a thick-client PC or laptop is quickly going the way of the Palm Pilot.
The main difference behind a cloud-based OS device like the Cr-48 and the iPad is that it comes in the same form that we are all used to – a laptop with a tactile keyboard (data entry), VGA (display) and USB (mouse/thumb drive) ports, and a browser that performs all of the full feature functions that we are used to performing. Users don’t drastically have to change the way they are used to interacting with this device. For anyone who has to do a lot of data entry, graphic design, document editing, or even just general typing, the choice between using the Cr-48 and an iPad as a primary input device is very simple – type on your Cr-48 while you’re watching The Hangover on Netflix with the iPad.
But for what the cloud OS brings to table as far as utility, it falls behind in the areas of flashiness and ultra-portability. It’s primary purpose is to do more with less hardware and IT infrastructure, not knock the socks off of the executives to which you are trying to sell to your widgets. The entry point to businesses for the cloud OS will be through the IT department, not through the executive team, which means that adoption could happen at a slower rate. You also need to have most or all of your business applications available in the cloud to replace your PC/laptop with a Cr-48, a scenario which is not yet reality for most companies today. We should also point out that the Cr-48 is just in the beginning stages of pilot, and probably won’t see the light of day in a production-ready device until late 2011 at the earliest. So it’s a little bit of an apples and oranges argument to compare the two devices. Which leads to our conclusion…
The Net-Net: Can’t we all just get along?
If there are two things that are clear from this debate they are: 1) The iPad is not ready to become the primary computing device for most business users, and 2) The cloud OS is still an emerging technology that will most definitely have an impact on the business computers of the near future. In our view, it’s not an all or nothing proposition. The iPad is the perfect device for certain types of business users that are mobile, have customer-facing responsibilities, or consume data/metrics (salespeople and executives), but even those two groups of users are unlikely to give up their desktops/laptops/netbooks. The cloud OS is the perfect solution for business users who require computing utility and still need a mouse and keyboard to effectively perform their tasks. This would seem to point to the conclusion that neither device has the potential to become an enterprise-wide standard. The advantage we can see with the cloud OS scenario is that one gets more utility for approximately the same price point. To IT, the iPad will be accepted because the mandate has been handed up-then-down; however, to that IT department itself, one that has spent blood, sweat, and tears moving the business to the cloud, the cloud OS will be a very logical choice. The war for standardization one way or the other (or a compromise to adopt both) will be decided in the board rooms between CITOs, CFOs, and CEOs over the coming months. And while Apple’s iPad has all of the unchallenged hype today, Google is quietly waging a campaign to take over the market share that Microsoft is losing due to Apple’s “post-PC” marketing pitch.
What are your thoughts on enterprise adoption of iDevices, cloud computing, and cloud OS? What are your thoughts on enterprise maintenance of traditional computing (OSX/PC/Linux) devices?