How iPad Potentially Drives Employee PC Ownership Trend


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The iPad, as with all Apple products, isn't really focused on business use yet. Much like the iPhone, it will find its way into corporations through employees who buy them, though.


Over at our CTO Edge site, writer Wayne Rash thinks you should be ready for these things. Given that it will be better at rendering Web pages and forms than most any phone, including the iPhone, and that companies continue to shift corporate applications to the cloud, I wonder whether it eventually would start to make sense for many to use employee-purchased iPads, or similar devices, instead of laptops.


Employee Purchase Trend

In preparation for our Mid-Market CIO Forum in mid March, we asked 140 IT executives if they were actively considering employee purchase and 31 (or 22 percent) indicated they were. This is higher than I've seen in prior surveys, suggesting this trend may be increasing. The increasing needs to cut capital expenditures and to better contain support costs are driving this trend. The latter happens because the employee, upon purchasing the hardware, becomes directly responsible for the break/fix part of hardware support, potentially lowering the related corporate expense significantly.


Given that many of the programs being considered include Macs as options and that iPhones increasingly are being allowed in corporations, why not kill two birds with one stone and approve iPads?


The iPad Option

TechRepublic did a survey of CIOs asking whether a business case can be made for a tablet like the iPad, and the majority said yes. If you think about how much is currently offered on the Web and how much is forms-based, a product like the iPad could provide the core portable technology that most employees need without the risks or costs of a company-purchased laptop computer.


This idea of a computing appliance is hardly new. Oracle and Sun came up with the idea of a thin client more than a decade ago, but the cost of the devices and the idea that they would have to be hardwired and not portable was wrong-headed during a time when laptop computers were ramping to displace desktop PCs.


It is kind of amazing that the concept has effectively been reborn in a product that is vastly (based on the media coverage) more appealing to consumers and apparently (based on this survey) also vastly more interesting to CIOs.


This last is likely because the product can be purchased by employees and uses the existing PC-based ecosystems, but doesn't require millions in network and server upgrades to make them work.


The Evolution of the Mobile Chubby Client

The iPad isn't really a thin client because many of the initial applications and content will run locally. It's more of a chubby client, thinner than a traditional PC operating system and more appliance-like, but vastly more capable than the machines that Oracle and Sun initially imagined.


The question is: Will Apple, Google, or Microsoft initially move on this opportunity successfully? This is Microsoft's market to lose, but the internal Windows 7-embedded effort is under fire and likely will go the way of other products, as this New York Times article highlights. Google still needs to pick a platform because conflicts between Chrome OS and Android are confusing the OEMs who are trying to embrace the offering. Meanwhile, Apple is still solidly focused on the iPad as an entertainment device, which managers and CIOs will hardly find endearing.


Wrapping Up

Indicators still point to a fundamental change over the next decade favoring employee purchase of hardware and a hardware shift to more appliance-like devices. The cell phone model has been very successful and costs for products like netbooks are often even less than some smartphones today. Companies increasingly will find it hard to justify the capital outlay for new employee hardware given that employees will increasingly buy their own, better hardware anyway.


iPads might start the employee-purchase wave, but it is unclear which of the major vendors will finally benefit. With the OEMs working with Microsoft and Google, and Apple clearly getting most of the initial interest, this is still anyone's game -- one Microsoft could win if it got around its fiefdoms, as IT Business Edge's Ann All put it. But we need to consider whether it is time to either embrace or fight this employee- and Apple-driven change. Employees will be showing up with these things in a few months regardless.