After getting an iPad recently, I evaluated its usability for small and mid-sized businesses in a blog titled "Five Factors to Consider in Deploying the iPad in your SMB." In light of the iPad's Exchange capabilities, I wanted to see if SMBs could benefit from getting the iPad for staffers who only require access to e-mail. Hosted Exchange provider Intermedia was kind enough to enable Exchange ActiveSync for my paid account, which made it possible for me to spend some time exploring the iPad's Exchange support.
So how does the iPad with its tablet-sized display fare as an e-mail-access terminal? It does look as if the iPad have a few things going for it on that front. I list out some of them below.
More Robust Security
Apple opted to implement SSL for Exchange ActiveSync on the iPad, which offers good protection against network snooping. In addition, the iPad can also be nominally secured by configuring a password and enabling automatic deletion of all onboard data after 10 unsuccessful login attempts.
Detractors will argue that the above measures to protect the iPad against unauthorized access are mild and easily circumvented. Certainly, I completely agree that the controls are nowhere in the same class as that of BlackBerry smartphones or a workstation protected by full-disk encryption. Ultimately, I consider the basic security barriers here to be much better than no security.
Excellent Usability of Mail App
As noted earlier, the iPad comes with a much larger display than your typical smartphone. In my opinion, the superior screen real estate, together with the ability to view HTML e-mails and images make it an excellent e-mail viewer. Specifically, Apple has gotten its Mail app just right, bestowing it with an interface that is simple and intuitive. Advanced users will find that a search of e-mails completes relatively quickly, though it only works on the folder level at the moment. Overall, the other strengths of the iPad platform, such as its instant-on ability and long battery life, also contribute to its usability.
The Safari browser bundled with the iPad lends itself well to viewing the occasional Web link that colleagues or friends might send via e-mail. Of course, you're out of luck if the site contains Flash content, though Safari makes good Web browser otherwise.
Support for External Keyboard
Unlike initial versions of the iPhone operating system, now rebranded the iOS, the iPad comes with support for Bluetooth wireless keyboards from the get-go. In addition, Apple also sells a keyboard dock specially created for using the iPad at the desk. Both external keyboard options essentially allow users to respond to e-mails far faster than using the on-screen keyboard, making it that much more suitable as a desktop replacement for e-mails.
While there are versions of the iPad with 3G support, I would recommend that SMBs considering the deployment of iPads as an e-mail terminal to use a faster and more reliable Wi-Fi network. On this front, you can read more about Wi-Fi in "Common Mistakes SMBs Make When Deploying Wi-Fi" and "Selecting the Right Wi-Fi Hardware for Your SMB."