Regardless of whether or not Apple’s iPad is the future of computing, do you, as a small business owner, need one now?
Each new innovative Apple product appears to be appealing for small business owners. Quite apart from the impressive design of the things, they always seem to offer endless possibilities for busy people.
To many, the newest device—the iPad—resembles little more than a larger iPhone.
This seems to be a fair criticism at first, but slightly misses the point:
Tom Perkins, Director at web design firm Oberon Media, says the most important application of his iPad is as a web browser.
‘It may sound like an anti-climax, but the most valuable application for us is probably just Safari,’ says Perkins.
‘We’re a web design consultancy, and essentially we use it to display existing work (ie websites in progress). We’ve got a working portal, and run most of our business off the cloud. So a web browser is more or less what we need; we find the device most useful as a presentation tool.’
Perkins dismisses the criticism that the iPad is little more than a larger iPhone as irrelevant.
‘The user interface and the scaling make it more practical to use than the iPhone. I’d much prefer to use a laptop than the iPhone, so when I was on the road, I’d generally delay making notes until I could get to the laptop. It’s more of a small laptop than a big iPhone
So, one selling point is that it’s less cumbersome than a laptop and as immersive and functional as an iPhone.
Copywriter Sally Bagshaw was concerned that the iPad wasn’t more geared towards content creation, but found it quite effective after living with it for a while.
‘Initially, I was concerned that the iPad wasn’t going to meet my word processing requirements (as a copywriter I need to produce content, not just consume it). But I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I’ve found that with an iPad I am truly mobile. I can manage my email, contacts, and files without lugging around my heavy laptop. I can write in a cafe, show clients projects, and keep up with my blogging. I’d say it’s iPad an essential business tool for anyone on the go who is sick of working on a smartphone but doesn’t want to take a laptop.’
Michael Haywood of Quiet Acoustics found that the inflexibility of the device caused him to work more efficiently with his almost entirely cloud-based business.
‘All my business resources are online, so I run a dropbox, and I have my marketing, business, and accounts materials in there. My marketing contains all my testimonials and video demonstrations, so much of the appeal of the iPad is being able to show these to clients at restaurants and cafes, etc. I also have business docs online, and my book-keeping and payroll are entirely online. I don’t even have to communicate with my bookkeeper anymore, she just accesses the information herself.’
When asked about the weaknesses of the device, Haywood responds promptly: ‘It’s terrible for graphic design and not very powerful for word processing. You can do basic editing on word docs and spreadsheets, but you can’t do anything complex. It forced me to document templates for every step of the entire business. It’s made me systematize everything I do.’
Marcus Field, Managing Director of Evolution Media, and Evo TV, also finds the device is useful as a presentation device, especially in a sales context.
‘It’s been a really good tool for us, to be able to use the iPad in one on one meetings to present rich media stuff, especially for small group engagements, rather than carting a projector to a meeting,’ says field
‘Our sales meetings are often one on one, and we prefer to keep them interesting and informal. The iPad is quite a powerful tool in terms of that one-on-one sales process, in terms of demonstrating something that’s visually engaging and exciting. It casualizes the sales process.’ he says.
‘Video is a challenge (especially for a rich-content agency) in terms of formats. Evo TV doesn’t deliver video in a format that the iPad can stream (it’s flash),’ admits Field.
‘We worked around that by reformatting the video footage. Also, Keynote doesn’t directly translate to PowerPoint. Using the iPad for sales presentations, there is some labor required to refit presentations. Also, the audio is not all that loud. Which is a problem over lunch or in a café. So we have to take speakers.’
All of these perspectives bring the primary function of the device into clear focus. If your business makes extensive use of cloud-based software, then it makes sense to invest in an iPad. Though it may require you to restructure how you collate your business data, it means that you can access this data anywhere you are without having to deal with the comparative bulk of a laptop. It also functions well as a portable interface for giving presentations.
Beyond these two applications, however, most of the appeal of the iPad is still vested in content consumption. One of the biggest selling points was that the device could be used as an e-reader—not an application that justifies its use in business.
In conclusion, the iPad isn’t for everyone—at least, not yet. If your business isn’t heavily cloud-dependent, and you don’t find yourself constantly on the way to meetings, then the current business appeal of the technology is very limited. For greater functionality in a business that isn’t cloud-dependent, operating from a laptop is worth putting up with a slightly bulkier device in your briefcase.