Deploying the Apple iPad in the SMB


Finally, the secret that we all knew about has been officially unveiled. Apple announced the iPad tablet earlier this week at a media event that ground the tech news stream to a near standstill, gave Twitter a bad case of hiccups, and singlehanded slowed the Internet for the rest of us. The verdict? Well, many appear to love it, though some hate it, calling it nothing more than an oversized iPod Touch. Pretty strong opinions for a product that most of them have only seen in pictures, I'll say.


But jokes about the sanitary merits of Apple's latest tech product aside, or allusion to how this particular tablet differs from certain stone ones that came replete with carved commandments, can businesses expect to gain anything from the iPad? After all, this is a consumer-level device primarily designed as an entertainment gadget for coffee tables, right?


Today, allow me to present a couple of practical uses that the iPad might just hold for the SMB.


Dedicated Web Terminal/Desktop

I guess it's me, but I like taking a peek at the displays of various computer terminals you often find at restaurants and shops. No, I'm not trying to acquire any confidential information, but am merely curious about the software stack or backend systems that are used. From my decidedly unscientific survey, I've see my fair share of terminals connected to legacy UNIX backend systems, as well as a smattering of customized solutions implemented on Linux.


Not surprisingly, more companies are moving toward CRM and ERP systems that are entirely Web-based. The result is that new functionalities are always implemented in this format, which further lends itself as the de facto standard.


My first suggestion is this: Get an iPad and use the Safari browser as an access device. If there is a need to input more data, just snap in the handy keyboard stand and type away. This takes away the need to purchase workstations that can be troublesome to maintain, expensive and prone to all manner of malware infections.


The built-in 802.11n wireless should work just great with new access points from vendors such as Netgear. And since the iPad uses a touchscreen interface, there is no need to buy a mouse yet. There are some caveats, of course, with the primary one being that Flash is not supported. And the deluge of free games available for download might just prove too tempting for staffers.


Self-Service Kiosk

Another possible business use for the iPad would be to use it as a self-service kiosk. Already, I've seen cinema chains and boutique stores create custom iPhone applications that allow users to shop from home. Why not bring it further, and have a number of iPads in your office to run sanctioned applications for users? If the iPad works like the iPhone or iPod Touch, it is a relatively simple matter of creating a case to block access to the power and menu button to keep users in your selected application.


Feel free to comment, or add your own suggestions for using the iPad to benefit businesses.