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Emerging Technology: Is the iPad in my Future?

First published in January 2011

Introduction of new technology is occurring at a fast and furious pace. For most of us, it is a situation that we are forced to figure out. It's not that there isn't a deep wealth of information about all of the new hardware and software. The challenge is distilling the flood of information and making sense of it all. Today we are going to take a look at small form computing devices.

When we think of small form computing devices there are two that come quickly to mind; the iPad and netbooks. If you can remember 


back when the "first" portable computers were introduced, it was in 1981 by the Osborne Computer Company. It was the size of a small suitcase with a keyboard that doubled as the top and a huge 4" monochrome screen. In just 19 years we have come a long way. Today, the need for 24/7 availability to the Internet is a basic requirement for any portable device. The screen must be crystal clear and display millions of colors. And the keyboard must be responsive and provide a great feel. The speed of innovation in this segment of the market has been in hyper mode and looks to continue at this frenetic pace.

The first question that we hear from many distributors is "so what?"

Well, if you are still reading, in a moment we'll share a few key thoughts about these devices that will get you to say, "how quickly can we deploy them?" Today, it is not good enough anymore to look the other way when it comes to emerging technology. The world of business has changed and distributors are feeling the harsh effects of that change.

Let's start with some of the key differences between tablets and netbooks. Tablets typically do not have a traditional keyboard. The keyboard appears on the screen when the device recognizes that you are ready to input data.  The tablets have a mode that allows the screen to go black and the device to "go to sleep", but with a single touch of a button, the device is on and ready to go...instantly. The third difference is the availability of new applications. The number of applications that are available either in the iTunes store or the Android Market are in the tens of thousands and growing every day. Tablets are also "tablets", there are no hinges because they don't open up and they are always open. These devices also have flash memory which is typically considered more durable and faster than traditional hard drives.


Now netbooks have some excellent features, as well. The first is that they have the look and feel of a traditional laptop, but in a smaller size. This can be a key decision point for those of us that prefer a tactile keyboard and something that "opens up" on our lap or desktop. If you travel in coach, it can be a life saver when the traveler in front of you decides to quickly recline their seat. The small format of the netbook won't have its screen caught by that seat back flying towards you! There are also the tried and true applications (Microsoft products and others) that can be loaded (albeit, with an external DVD drive) onto the netbook. Netbooks are now coming with solid state hard drives (SSD) instead of the traditional spinning drives. This change adds much needed durability and speed to the newer netbooks.

We know what you're thinking, all this information is fine, but why do I or my business need these new devices? "Our laptops are working just fine."

Let's take a look at a couple of examples of how distributors are taking advantage of these devices and leapfrogging some of their competition.

Nxtec Sales Group Inc. is an MRO distributor with over 1 million different items. Their president, Mike Jespersen, provided iPads to the sales force so that they can be more knowledgeable when they are in front of a customer. They have instant access to all 1 million items wherever they were in the country. Their ability to show a customer their inventory, place an order, and confirm a shipment created a key differentiation for them. Many of their competitors could gain access to their respective systems, but the process was clumsy (laptop balanced on an arm or on a counter) and very slow. The reality is that most of their competitors lean over the shoulder of their customer while helping them navigate through menus on their website or system at the home office using the customer's computer. Nxtec would probably also admit that there is the "wow" factor when their sales people walk in with the iPad under their arm.

Markley Enterprises is a manufacturer who focused on their supply chain to improve their competitiveness. They recently brought iPads to their warehouse floor and immediately realized improved efficiencies. The President, Tim Markley, found that his people are able to take orders and answer packaging instruction questions quickly without having to get to a traditional computer. By using the built in WIFI capability of the iPad, they are able to access a wide range of business information right from the forklift. He found that by affixing the iPads directly to their forklifts he eliminated one of the concerns of their "all screen" devices, which was breakage from dropping them. He said that you would be amazed at how much time you can save by not having to make that 30 foot walk to a computer terminal in the warehouse. In addition, there was a significant cost savings realized by going with iPads versus a ruggedized laptop. The iPads were 1/5 as expensive.

Distributors need to provide their sales people with access to account information from anywhere in the world. Most have been providing their people with laptops for a while now. The two biggest issues we hear regarding laptops from road warriors are the weight and the wait...the time it takes to start up their devices. The iPad and many net books have virtually eliminated these issues. As a matter of fact, this article has been completely written on an iPad over the course of a few days. The ability to just start writing when I felt the urge made the time incredibly productive.

Here are some of the things you should consider when thinking about these new devices.

What software will you be using with the device?

Will you need Internet access when you are not within range of your network?

What is our method of securing the devices and the data that the devices will have access to?

Do we need to store a great deal of data on the device?

Where will we gain the most competitive advantage?

Who should be the first to "test" the device?

What physical protection do we need for the device?

How will we measure the value that we receive from this technology?

If you would like additional help in determining which technology would be best for your particular company, feel free to contact us. We help distributors make the best decisions with a wide range of technologies that encompass every aspect of distribution. Let us help you make clear business decisions regarding your technology.

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