Can I use my iPad as a replacement for a laptop?
By Dan Gordon, IT Pro since 1992, Intivix.com

The iPad is great for viewing data using its beautiful display, but not necessarily for creating it (unless you are editing photos/short videos, making music, or painting some cool art.)  Essentially, the iPad is an iPhone with a larger, stunning display (but minus the phone part).  The new iPad is certainly an impressive device but is not meant or designed to run high-powered corporate line of business applications at this point in time.

Many businesses run specialty software designed to run on a full blown server infrastructure, not on a phone operating system (It’s true that the iPad is running the same operating system as your iPhone).   Check with your application vendor to see what mobility applications exist for syncing or accessing your data using an iPad/iPhone application.   Some vendors have them, but many do not.  For example, a quick check on Legal billing software found that Lexis Nexis does have a mobile option for ProLaw but nothing for Juris.  Many applications have undergone 10-15 years of dedicated development effort, so don’t look for full applications written for iPads anytime soon.  Testing, creating and updating sophisticated software can take years.

What can you do if your vendor does not have a native app yet for iPad or iPhone?

One option folks have tried is to use Terminal Server or Citrix to connect to a remote desktop running the business application.  There are several remote desktop applications available for the iPad and iPhone. With these applications, coupled with a manual VPN option, it is possible—albeit complicated and certainly not as easy as launching a web page— to connect to a remote system and run the application there.  But then what?  Well, with no mouse it’s  cumbersome to move around within the application, so you’re left with a less than ideal working environment.  

So what can you use your iPad for in your business?

Email/Calendaring:  Connect to your Office Exchange email system to do email and calendaring (essentially the same interface as an iPhone).  While not the same as a full blown Outlook client, you will be able to access multiple folders, contacts, notes and other items. This is more than sufficient for quick viewing, composition and replying to email messages.  Use the iPad’s new built-in dictation and transcription feature for easy data input. The larger iPad screen makes typing email messages a lot easier than the small iPhone display.

Document Editing: There are several document editing programs that are available for iPad/iPhone that you can use to edit documents and Microsoft Office files.  One of the most popular is called Documents-To-Go.  The application can be purchased for as little as $10 and can edit a Word or Excel file.  We are still waiting for Microsoft to deliver Office for the iPad (but there are rumors that Microsoft is working on such a version).

Displaying Photos and Viewing Portfolios: This is great way for architects, engineers and other designers to display their work. There are AutoCAD apps available for quick viewing  and editing of drawings out in the field, as well.

SSL-VPN Remote Access:  Several options are available for connecting to the office network using an SSL-VPN connection. You can download, view, update and upload documents to the corporate network and peruse corporate Intranet web sites.  Sonicwall makes a great appliance for this that is compatible with PCs, Macs and iPad/iPhone devices.

Taking Notes:  Use the iPad to take notes at meetings (a very common scenario).

Other uses:   Many small businesses have come up with creative ways to use the iPad from ordering food at restaurants, to collecting data in the field, to displaying presentations (for example, the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco uses iPads for its new insect exhibit, showing video and other graphical info in a fully interactive format). 

So can I use my iPad as a replacement for a laptop?

The short answer is no. It is not designed to be a laptop or desktop replacement.  However, it is a very useful complement in certain scenarios.

  • No mouse option (not designed that way and never will be.)

  • No Java/Flash: needed to run many web-based applications and some SSL-VPN components

  • No USB, eSata, or other connectivity beyond Bluetooth

Despite these restrictions, the iPad is a great tool for business. It’s a must have for the road warrior, but just don’t leave the laptop at home yet if you have serious work to do. 

Also, don’t forget to set a password on your iPad! If it’s lost or stolen, you don’t want that confidential company data going along for the ride!

For lawyers, please see this article for specific iPad applications that may be of interest:  http://www.iphonejd.com/iphone_jd/2012/03/advice-for-lawyers-new-to-the-ipad.html