Cheap apps: This is the biggie. The iPad's most innovative feature is pinch and zoom, and it wasn't new with the iPad. The App Store? It's the $10 price point for typical applications that makes the iPad so desirable, because at 10 bucks or less, iPad owners can buy a useful-looking app without it being a difficult decision. Even when PC software was cheap, it wasn't that cheap -- except for all of the open source software PC owners can download and install without paying a cent.
Native apps: The thing about iPad apps is that they're iPad apps. You install them on the iPad, and they run locally on the iPad. Some integrate information they get from the Internet (which I suppose means they're cloud-enabled apps, given that "the cloud" has become synonymous with "everything"). But that doesn't change the essential fact.
The iPad as centerpiece for user innovation
When the subject is PCs, the answer is to lock 'em down and run everything in the data center. When the subject is iPads, the answer is that there's an app for that.
If, instead of computing, we were talking about transportation, iPads would be Vespas, PCs would be cars, mainframe computers would be trucks, and IT's "best practice" for managing PCs would be to park them permanently on the trucks that car manufacturers use to haul their product to their dealerships. In open-minded companies, the "drivers" would get to vote on their destination.
One more thing: You wouldn't be able to drive your Vespa until after you'd towed it, very briefly, behind your car. In case it's escaped your attention, you can't use an iPad until after you've plugged it into a PC or Mac with iTunes installed on it. Brilliant!
Last week's column suggested using iPads as the centerpiece of your end-user innovation program. There are some good reasons why this might make sense. First, their shininess (aka their newness) is more likely to trigger imaginative thinking than the familiarity of the personal computer. Second, both iPads and their typical apps cost less than anything you're likely to want to buy in the PC realm.
And third, with iPads you have no lock-it-down "best practice" thinking to overcome -- at least, not yet. You can be sure this is just a matter of time.
The power of the PC
Before you decide the iPad is your platform, though, consider the factors that favor the PC.
First, it's a sunk cost. Whether you encourage end-users to innovate with it or not, you've bought their PC. You already have a support system in place. In many respects, this makes PCs cheaper than iPads.
Second, it's more capable. How long a list do you want?