The whole world is on the edge of its proverbial seat in anticipation of the big Apple iPad unveiling today. There is ample speculation about a higher resolution display, Siri capabilities, and 4G/LTE connectivity. All of those things would be nice, but there are some very specific things that would make the iPad 3 a better mobile computing platform for business use.
Android tablets thus far have failed to grab much market share, or slow the momentum of the Apple iPad. Other rivals like the HP Touchpad and BlackBerry PlayBook have fared even worse. But, tablets built on Windows 8 are on the imminent horizon, and they have the potential to integrate more seamlessly with the networks and Windows PCs that most businesses rely on.
If Microsoft delivers, the progress the iPad has made in the business arena could be reversed, and the Apple tablet could become marginalized as the consumer toy many proclaimed it would be when it first launched. But, if Apple chooses to be more aggressive, it could take the wind out of the sails of the Windows 8 tablets before they even launch.
Here are some things that would make the iPad a more effective business tool:
1. Join Windows Domains
Apple has done a decent job so far at providing management and security capabilities for the iPad through Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. It would be even better, though, if the tablets could actually join the Windows domain, and be managed and protected using the same Active Directory and Group Policy settings as Windows PCs.
There would need to be some translating and accommodations for the differences in the OS between Windows and iOS, and the different security controls and conventions available. But, IT admins would prefer to manage all devices from one console and set of policies rather than trying to maintain two separate platforms.
2. Native Remote Desktop
There are plenty of third-party apps out there that let you access a Windows PC through a remote desktop. There is also the recently launched OnLive service that lets you stream a Windows PC environment to the iPad from the cloud.
The iPad would be a more powerful business tool, though, if it had native remote desktop capabilities that didn’t require any third-party apps or services. Apple should simply give the iPad the ability to be used as a mobile computing platform with the inherent ability to connect back to the Windows desktop if necessary.
3. Multi-factor Authentication
Apple has provided comprehensive policies to enable IT admins to control password parameters on the iPad through Exchange ActiveSync. Admins can establish minimum password length, password complexity, password refresh frequency, and enforce password history among other things.
In many cases, though, a password is simply not enough. Apple should add the ability to require a second authentication method such as a randomly generated PIN sent to the user’s smartphone.
4. Remote Access for Admins
Businesses need access to their data. For a variety of reasons ranging from compliance to simply protecting proprietary information, admins need to have the ability to access and search the data on remote devices--including iPads.
Apple should integrate the iPad with the Windows domain, and provide a mechanism for domain admins to be able to remotely access and/or search the data on iPads connected to the network.
5. Office on iPad
OK, this one is not in Apple’s control, but it would go a long way toward making the iPad a clear winner as a mobile business tool. There are apps out there now such as the Apple iWorks apps, or Documents To Go which are capable of creating, viewing, or editing Microsoft Office files. However, they all pale in comparison to the real thing.
Office on the iPad would be a win-win of sorts. Microsoft can’t deny the current dominance of the iPad. Even if Windows 8 tablets prove to be a tremendous success, the iPad will remain a dominant force in tablets for the foreseeable future, and Microsoft has a vested interest in making sure that business users continue to rely on Microsoft Office no matter what device or platform they choose.
From Apple’s perspective, having Microsoft Office apps available on the iPad would be a tacit endorsement of the Apple tablet as a mobile business platform, and a significant seal of approval.
I’m not suggesting that any of these things will be revealed at the Apple iPad 3 (or iPad HD) unveiling tonight. I do expect Office for iPad to materialize in the near future, but the rest of these features are simply wishes--pipe dreams that would be nice for businesses that choose to embrace the Apple iPad as a business tool.