Apple's iPad has pitfalls for enterprise users

The iPad appears to lack manageability and security features that could make it a hazard for enterprises

Apple's iPad tablet could be an attractive business tool, but it lacks security and manageability features that enterprises need, analysts said on Wednesday.

Apple's new iPad is a handheld device that is designed for browsing the Internet, playing games, reading e-books, and viewing video content. It fills a product hole between the iPhone smartphone and MacBook laptop, said Apple CEO Steve Jobs at a press event on Wednesday.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Get the key information on the new iPad in Galen Gruman's "What you should know about Apple's tablet" and Paul Krill's "New iPad means iPhone developers need to think different." And find out "Why the iPad will kill the netbook (and the Chrome OS)" ]

Priced starting at $499, the device may have a broad appeal that could bring it into enterprise environments, analysts said. However, it could create a new set of challenges for IT departments.

Apple offers a customized version of the iWork suite for the iPad, which includes word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications priced at $10 each. The iPad also includes the Safari browser, which can be an effective client for Web-based applications.

However, the device has limited manageability and security features, which could be a concern for enterprises looking to manage the device remotely, analysts said.

For example, if the device gets stolen, there appears to be no way for IT administrators to deploy a push policy that locks it, said Chris Hazelton, research director for mobile and wireless technologies at The 451 Group. That feature is available on the iPhone, but Apple's documentation for the iPad says nothing about such policies. Hazelton predicts that such capabilities could be implemented in the iPad over time if enterprise use of the product grows.

Hazelton also suspects that the iPad lacks support for features like VPN (virtual private networks) and push email. Because the iPad doesn't seem to support Microsoft Exchange (which Hazelton suspects is the case, due to Apple's zero mentions of it in the iPad documentation), it may be difficult for IT administrators to manage email on the devices, Hazelton said. (Apple did not respond to InfoWorld's requests to clarify whether the iPad had the same Exchange, VPN, and management capabilities as the iPhone. Its Web site doesn't say either way.)

But third-party vendors like Sybase or Mobile Iron may deliver enterprise applications for the product, which could oblige Apple to step up its focus on security and enterprise readiness of the device, Hazelton said.

Software for the iPad can be downloaded through the App Store, but that doesn't provide for applications to be deployed in a uniform way across an enterprise, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. That could result in different versions of software being deployed across different devices. "If [companies] are going to have their employees commit to an application, they have to make sure it is readily available," King said.

Apple's App Store is a proprietary software distribution model that enterprises resist as it doesn't support volume purchases, among other things. That could have a negative effect on iPad's enterprise adoption, King said. "I don't see a whole lot here that would interest the enterprise in the short term," he added.

But over the long term, the device could find its way into the enterprise. The iPad could be attractive for mobile workers who need large, portable touch screens, analysts said. Salespeople may be able to leverage the iPad's rich graphics capabilities to make presentations, Hazelton said. It could also be attractive in sectors like real estate, where strong visuals are critical for product sales.

The iPad's enterprise effectiveness is questionable, but that may not stop employees from bringing the device to work as an alternative to the MacBook or iPhone, said Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research. The device's support for iWork could allow business users to leave tablets at home, while the iPad's browser functionality would be better than the iPhone.

And like the iPhone, if iPads make employees successful at their jobs, the devices could be permitted in enterprises, Schadler said.

At the same time, Apple is making progress on security and encryption features in its mobile devices, which it could deploy through software and hardware upgrades.

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Additional reporting by InfoWorld's Galen Gruman.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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