I’ve had some iPads for two weeks now, and after some serious daily use, I wanted to write a “initial impression” post about how I see the iPad in the corporate world.
First off, I had a fairly clear definition of what I wanted the iPad for in the company : to enable all of our “first contact” employees access to our network through a secure VPN. A touch screen interface was preferred, and this tablet would work “on site” only. The initial test run would be 1 iPad per store location with a few additional iPads reserved for executive use.
Unless you go through Apple corporate sales, you’re restricted to two iPad purchases total. Even though I ordered all of the 21 iPads through the corporate channel, it took about a week for the initial batch to arrive since demand for iPads is still very high. Once the iPads were unboxed, the rollout was fairly straightforward.
Setting up profiles for the iPad is done with a free application from Apple called “iPhone Configuration Utility”. With that application, I just clicked to “activate” the policy areas I wanted to modify, made the changes to each section, and then saved the config file to the local Mac. Then I attached each iPad to the Mac, uploaded the config file to the iPad, and the changes were locked in. Easy and done.
The only catch is that I found it easier to use a utility called “Libra” to set up an iTunes library for each iPad. That way I could customize which apps go to each location/end user by choosing a specific iTunes profile to attach each iPad to. (I’ve got some more thoughts on how Apple could make a iPad rollout easier in a few paragraphs.)
Anyhow, the VPN integration looks like it would be great with the 3g iPads, but since I just needed the local wi-fi versions for my purposes, it wasn’t any trouble to tweak the company network to allow secure access through the iPad’s built-in ability to connect via WPA2-PSK.
MobileME is also a good idea to put on the iPads. The ability to remotely track and wipe the iPad makes the $99 price tag a fantastic insurance policy, and I think Apple messed up by not making MobileME part of the “iPhone Configuration Utility”.
Setting up MobileME was a bit tedious. I had to go to me.com and sign up for the demo, then login with each iPad identity. Then, going back to each iPad, I had to go to the SETTINGS app, choose MAIL, then MAIL, CONTACTS, CALENDARS, then go to the ADD ACCOUNT area, then choose MOBILE ME, and then key in all the information I entered on the mobile.me website.
Also setting up the address book was a bit of a pain as well. I had to define a sub-set group in the address book on the Mac that I wanted the iPads to access, and then only SYNC those group’s addresses to the iPads as they were being configured.
Setting up the initial iPad was a little bit of trial and error, but once the “master” was complete, the remaining 20 iPads in the initial rollout were a snap to configure and deliver. With just slight changes to duplicate copies of the original config file, more iPads can be added to each store location in the future, and far more easily than the initial batch was.
I highly recommend adding a iPad keyboard dock if you’re going to be configuring multiple iPads. A physical keyboard saved me tons of time on the prep and release, and the keyboard works just like any other Apple dock. Drop it in, and it works. You can even pass-through the iPad’s connection to the Mac on the back of the dock with another dock/usb connector cable.
Apple’s “iPhone Configuration Utility” is nice, but it needs a lot more teeth. And calling it the “iPhone Configuration Utility” just confirms the iPad is just a giant iPhone without the “phone” part. Come on Apple. At least call it a “mobile i-device configuration” utility!
Now for the bit giant “dammit!” bits…
- There’s no way to lock the SETTINGS application on the iPad. I don’t want anybody launching in the SETTINGS application, period, but Apple has no way to lock this down.
- There is no way to lock specific applications. I don’t want some key applications I installed on the iPad deleted, but Apple has no way to provide for this in the “iPhone Configuration Utility”.
- There is no way to hide certain pre-installed applications from Apple. I don’t want some built-in “Apple” applications there at all, but the “iPhone Configuration Utility” just won’t let me hide certain items. As an extra bonus, you can’t manually delete certain applications on the iPad either.
- There’s no “real” handwriting in notepad. Seriously. The iPad, a $499 touchscreen device, doesn’t have any kind of handwriting capture capability on any of their own built-in applications.
- There is no cleaning cloth to wipe the pad! Now come on, Apple. My $50 Speck SeeThru case for the MacBook Pro had a cleaning cloth. This $499 piece of hardware doesn’t?
- There is STILL no more than ten pages allowed for applications on the iPhone. If you have applications installed that don’t appear in those ten pages, you have to go to the SEARCH area on the iPad for them to show up.
- I’ve said it earlier, but there is no MobileME configuration option in the “iPhone Configuration Utility”. Only IMAP or POP are available in the email configuration settings section. Having the option to cut and paste the MobileME information into the configuration utility would have saved me a lot of time.
- There is no folder organization. You can’t group applications aside from dragging them to the same “page” that similar applications are on. There’s also no spacing between icons and no way to change the default icon layout. Folder organization (and hopefully icon management) is supposedly coming in the iPad 4.0 update “later” this fall, but I tend to stay away from any new OS releases until the update patch comes out 4-6 months later.
- And finally, there is no “master” server option (like Microsoft Terminal Services). I would LOVE to have a “master mold” that rolls an image out to every iPad on every boot. I would LOVE for every corporate iPad to look for a specific server (via IP) to retrieve an image to boot with. (again, like Microsoft Terminal Services does). Maybe a future update can tie it in to the XServe? Or maybe there should be a iPad PRO model?
Once again, Cydia and the other online “jailbreak” sites are years ahead of Apple on creating applications and utilities that should have been bindingly obvious and that should have been part of the iPad on launch day. I know of five key Cydia utilities that would tweak the iPad to do exactly what I want it to do, but I would have to jailbreak the iPads to install these “extras”. Since this is just the beta phase of the rollout, I’ll wait to see how the iPads perform before moving any further.
Overall, I would easily recommend the iPad if certain network and needs conditions were met for company access. An iPad that costs $499 beats a PC tablet that run $900 and above. And even though you do lose a PC’s “under the hood” tweaking and functionality, you do have to ask who these tablets are meant for. Customer service and initial contact personnel are a perfect match for the iPad, plus these personnel are genuinely happy to receive them and do take much better care of them than they do a PC laptop (in my experience, anyhow).
Plus, like it or not, the iPad itself does impress the hell out of clients and prospective business partners.
One final plus is that the iPad is an exponentially more closed system than a “regular” PC. I’ve received far fewer support calls from these “first contact” individuals during this rollout since they really can’t tweak their devices too much.
Overall I would rate the iPad corporate experience a (barely) 4 out of 5 star experience. Having said that, with a few tweaks, it could easily be 5 stars.
Now, as for personal use, and based on my initial experience with the iPad, I would rate the iPad a solid 5 out of 5 stars.
I went ahead and bought my own iPad two weeks ago as well, and have installed a few applications and utilities. After my initial “meh” reaction, I have to admit Apple really does have something here. The touchscreen is fluid and amazing. A few hours working on the iPad and you’ll want a similar touchscreen on all your PCs and Macs.
Reading on the iPad with the free “books” application has absolutely killed every other ebook reader. I can finally read all my technical PDFs, pinch-zoom and expand the schematics, and see everything in color. That alone is worth the iPad purchase price for me. Extended reading on the iPad is slightly more wearing on my eyes than the Sony 505 I have is, but the tradeoff is worth it.
The gaming experience on the iPad has also been top notch. It’s graphically around the PS2 era, but some games are almost Wii caliber. That’s pretty good for a portable device! The iPad has definitely shelved my PSP and NDS for the foreseeable future. It’s not any Xbox360, but it’s large screen makes playing games on anything aside from a HDTV screen seem absolutely puny in comparison. And the games the iPad has are unlike anything else I’ve played on any platform. Apple needs to run hard with this feature, and pull in the “arcade” developers from the Xbox360 and PS3 platforms to make this a prominent selling point of these devices.
Oh, and my wife loooooves the iPad. Absolutely loves it. It’s a pick-up-and-do-whatever device. Read. Play games. Surf. Email. Remote Control. It’s ridiculous all the uses we’re coming up for with this thing. And this is only the wi-fi version. Maybe our second iPad will have to have the 3g connection… strictly for testing purposes, of course.
The only complaint I have personally is the “hold” of the iPad. You do need a case so the darn thing doesn’t slide down your hands. I prefer Apple’s iPad case for home use but InCases’ iPad case for corporate use or high-contact personal use. (I’ll put up some photos and compare the two cases in a future post).
That’s all I have for now. For the most part, I highly recommend the iPad in both the corporate and personal world.
Oh, and for the record, everything that has “Mac” mentioned in the above review also works with a PC or has a PC version as well.