Why iPad is conquering the workplace

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United-Continental-pilots-use-ipad-on-flight-deck

Since the iPad first shipped in April of last year, the tablet has been slammed by critics as a content consumption device, a feature-limited Tablet PC and a pointless plaything for rich yuppies.

Apple itself positioned the iPad as a living room knee-top device, something for mindlessly flipping through apps or games while watching Comedy Central. Steve Jobs even introduced the iPad while sitting on a padded living room chair.

All this spin makes our friend, the iPad, come across like some kind of lazy slacker. In fact, the iPad has become a hard-working professional. But why? 

Continent, Delta and United Airlines have replaced their (heavy, expensive) pilot flight manuals with iPads. All pilots now just carry an iPad instead of a bag full of books and binders.

British Airways is using iPads for cabin crews to access the airline’s database of customer data, including who’s traveling with whom, executive club status, special meal requests and other information that makes flight attendants seem like they care about the passengers.

While official implementation of iPads at hospitals is slow, doctors are buying their own and bringing them to work. It replaces the clipboard they used to carry, but brings a universe of highly usable data access.

A sub-industry of medical apps for doctors has emerged in the past year.

Schools all over the world are replacing textbooks with iPad-based curriculum. Apple told the Associated Press that they are aware of more than 600 school districts in the United States that have initiated “one-to-one” programs, where each student is given an iPad to use all day.

Yale Medical School is replacing its entire paper medical program with iPad-based curriculum.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team distributed an iPad to each of its 90 players, complete with the team’s playbook as an app.

A new iPad app called Directors Desk is designed for anyone who sits on a board of directors. It’s for taking notes, presenting, voting and tracking meeting schedules.

These are just a few examples that illustrate a huge cultural movement toward the use of iPads in professional workplaces.

So what’s happening here?

It used to be that professional mobile devices were specially designed, purpose-built vertical devices that cost four times as much as comparable consumer devices. They came as part of an integrated front-end, back-end “turn-key” “solution.”

I think that what companies and organizations are discovering is that it’s more important for professional mobile devices to specially designed for the user, rather than the task.

iPads are ideal for many professional applications because they’re cheap, they don’t require much training, they’re easy to build apps for, they’re small and light and everybody loves using them.

The concept that mobile devices should be human compatible, rather than purpose built is incredibly threatening to the entire IT industry, which is built on the concept of high-margin, low volume products — not cheap consumer gadgets available at BestBuy.

It also raises something of a philosophical issue regarding whether interface devices like the iPad are part of the organization or part of the user. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say Janet works in the marketing department of Company X. She uses a variety of tools to do her work. And there’s an invisible line between the tools that are part of Janet, and the tools that are part of Company X. The server that Janet accesses when she searches the company intranet — that’s on the company side of the line. The eyeglasses she wears in order to read the document she’s searching for — that’s on the Janet side of the line.

So which side of the line is a mobile tablet on? Is it an enhancement to the company or an enhancement to the user?

IT pros might say it’s all about the company. Tablets have to support the primary goals of IT control, security and customizability.

The iPad-at-work phenomenon, however, asserts that tablets are user enhancements, and that their most important qualities are usability and user empowerment.

But there are also major benefits on the IT side. The biggest two are cost and speed of implementation. The airlines, for example, were able to buy iPads by the truckload, and also ready-made flight bag apps from the leading aviation supply company, Jeppesen.

The time from evaluation to implementation can be measured in days, rather than months.

An iPad eliminates most of the hassles associated with testing, rolling out and training for a new platform. A huge number of employees are probably already using them. Apps make upgrades painless. And they’re cheap.

The use of iPads in professional workplaces is one of the most under-appreciated phenomenon in technology today.

This consumer appliance designed, sold and marketed as a fun way to play games, watch movies and read vampire fiction around the house is being relied upon by people with lives in their hands — doctors, pilots and others. Professionals are turning to this consumer toy as a way to enhance their careers and serve their customers. And everybody seems to be very happy with it.

So here’s my question for you: Do YOU use an iPad in your professional career? If so, please tell us how!