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Responding to the top three iPad complaints in the enterprise

The iPad is making its way into the enterprise, so you're bound to encounter difficulties with it. Here are the top three complaints you might come across and ways to resolve them.

The iPad is here to stay. As of June 2011, Apple indicated that it had sold more than 25 million of its tablets. The advertising is everywhere, and people are flocking to the lightweight devices to handle on-the-go tasks with ease and speed.

But all is not nirvana with the iPad -- in particular, in a corporate setting. How do you respond to the top three complaints you'll have as a result from your users clamoring for the iPad? Here's a quick guide.

  • Limited application support. The Apple App Store boasts over 425,000 individual applications right now, and that number keeps growing. Your IT department is likely used to supporting fewer than 20. That is a pretty big deal to overcome. How do you manage and support the range of applications that your users will download from the App Store? How do you handle reimbursement for app purchases?

    The answer is you can't, so don't try. Instead, focus on a core group of iPad applications, including iWork, perhaps an expense-reporting app and some apps that allow users to access their office machines from anywhere via Remote Desktop Protocol connections. Users will expect help with some other apps, by popular demand. Also, be prepared to support email, calendars and address books. Your department, however, simply cannot be expected to support a random wine-tracking application on the chief financial officer's iPad anymore than that same CFO can expect you to debug his homemade recipe database written in Visual Basic.

  • Inability to manage the devices effectively. The chief complaint about iOS devices in general is that they weren't built to fit in with Windows management tools. You can't touch them with Group Policy. They can't join a domain and be subject to the common security policy that comes with Active Directory. They can't generally be managed with agent tools such as System Center. To get a comprehensive view and control of iOS-based devices, including iPads, you need to shell out for third-party management tools.

    The latest version of iOS adds support for a lot of these external products, like AirWatch, MobileIron and Sybase Afaria. These tools will let you set up simple configuration policies and enable users to activate their devices over a cellular connection, touch those devices regularly for management and, most importantly, wipe user data off. The key here is to be able to confidently offer services to these devices while ensuring that security and management policies continue to be enforced, even as new designs emerge.

  • Lack of quality accessories. Many users of the iPad and iPad 2 will find themselves craving some sort of dock or, at least, an external keyboard. Many companies make combination case/keyboard units, but road warriors will find them imperfect at best. The hard shell cases make resting your palms on the built-in keyboards difficult, the device often sits at an awkward angle that makes viewing the screen difficult while typing, or the entire unit makes the tablet combination heavier.

    There's always a tradeoff. Just last week, I sat beside someone at a conference who probably thought he had the ultimate in travel convenience for his iPad. He unfolded a Bluetooth-based keyboard with keys far too small to be effective, an external battery the size of a very thick mouse pad and a folding case to stand the tablet up. I had to wonder, what advantage did he have over a lightweight notebook, like a MacBook Air or ThinkPad? Not much, in my opinion.

    Instead, recommend that users choose the appropriate device for their needs. For casual e-mail glancing and quick responses, keeping up with a calendar, and surfing the Web during travel, the iPad is nearly perfect. For intensive writing or note-taking, significant number-crunching, or tasks where two monitors would make a non-trivial productivity difference, advise users to carry their notebooks.

The important thing to remember is this: iPads are a convenience, not a desktop replacement. Once you have a policy for secure device management, assist with a standardized set of iPad apps, and counsel users about the right times to select a tablet over a regular PC. You'll find that you have an excellent story for your enterprise customers.

Read more from Jonathan Hassell

Jonathan Hassell
is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. His books include RADIUS, Hardening Windows and, most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.

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