Businesses put iPads to work

SAN FRANCISCO — The billboards promoting the iPad have a simple message: The tablet is a device for leisure, to be held on one's lap while lounging on a couch in casual clothes, to watch a film or read a magazine.

But plenty of businesses have something stodgier in mind. Companies as diverse as General Electric, Wells Fargo, Mercedes-Benz and Medtronic are putting Apple's iPad to work in their offices. And as a string of devices tailored for the office enters the market — from the likes of Motorola, Research In Motion, Samsung and Hewlett-Packard — tablets are all but certain to flood America's workplaces.

Ted Schadler, a vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research, said he expected that tens of millions of tablets would be in use in America's workplaces by 2015.

''That's huge growth," Schadler said. "It will be the fastest uptake of any device in the enterprise ever. Faster than PCs, faster than laptops and faster than smart phones."

The new tablets are also expected to give the iPad, which has had the market largely to itself, a run for its money. RIM, which makes BlackBerry phones, and HP have long relationships with corporate technology buyers. For its part, Apple is hoping to stay ahead of competitors with a new version of the iPad, which may be unveiled as soon as next month.


The company, which sold nearly 15 million iPads in the nine months after the release of the device, won't say how many were bought by businesses. But during a conference call with investors and analysts in January, the company said more than 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies were using or testing the iPad, an increase from 65 percent three months earlier. Among those companies, said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's chief financial officer, are JPMorgan Chase, Sears Holdings and DuPont.

Meanwhile, data from makers of business apps suggest that use in corporations is widespread. The tablet's road to the workplace has been conventional at times, with technology departments buying them for employees. For example, Life Technologies, a California company that makes products for the biotech industry, has handed out iPads to some 600 executives and salespeople. But the tablets are also walking in through the back door, as employees bring their favorite new tech toy to work and demand access to their corporate e-mail, calendars and other applications.

The trend, which the industry calls "consumerization," represents a significant shift from the last few decades, when the most advanced technologies were first available in the workplace and eventually migrated into consumer products.

''We can't tell people not to use this technology at work," said Brandon Edling, director of workplace technology at NBC Universal. "If we did, they would continue to use it and we would be in the dark about what they do."

For all its inroads in the workplace, neither the iPad nor any other tablet has displaced the PC, the workhorse of information workers for three decades — at least not yet. But that hasn't stopped Apple's perennial rival, Microsoft, from fretting over the tablet's intrusion into the world of business computing, which it has dominated.

In a series of PowerPoint slides for its marketing partners, Microsoft recently raised questions about the viability of the iPad as a business tool.

''How do you secure your corporate I.P.?," referring to intellectual property, read the slides, which appeared on ZDNet, a technology news site. "How do you demonstrate compliance to auditors?"

To a large extent the iPad's entry into the business world was paved by the iPhone. When Apple first released the iPhone, it lacked capabilities to link up securely with corporate e-mail systems. But as executives tried the device, they often preferred it to their BlackBerrys and other smart phones, and soon began demanding support for them.


Apple gradually added capabilities, and the iPhone became standard issue in scores of large businesses.

Companies that waited two or three years to support the iPhone began adopting the iPad just weeks after its release.

''It was a very natural extension to provide support for iPad because it runs on the same operating system," said John Prusnick, director of information technology innovation and strategy at Hyatt Hotel & Resorts, which is based in Chicago. Prusnick said that at first Hyatt executives asked to use iPads at work. Then the company began giving them to its salespeople, so they could have easy access to interactive presentations about all the company's properties when making pitches to business customers.

Now, in some of its hotels, Hyatt is giving iPads to "lobby ambassadors," who use it to expedite guest checkouts when there are long lines, and who can offer concierge services on the fly.

General Electric has distributed approximately 2,000 iPads internally, and it developed a series of applications both for its employees and for its customers. One app allows employees to approve purchase orders on the go, while another allows utility service personnel to monitor GE transformers in the field.

''It is remarkable how fast the iPad has spread in our business," said Linda Boff, global director of marketing communications at GE.

Citrix, which makes an iPad application that gives users access to their Windows desktop, says its app has had some 700,000 downloads. The software maker said its Chatter iPad app, which lets users gain access to data from corporate software programs, had been downloaded more than a million times. Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, said Chatter was being used in more than 60,000 businesses.

''Of course, I still have a PC," Benioff said. "But I am using it less and less and I am using my iPad more." He called 2011 "the year of the tablet" and added: "If you call me next year, I will say it is also the year of the tablet. And if you call me in 2013, I'll tell you it's going to be the year of the tablet."

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