Sure, your iPad is cool. But my netbook is better for business.

By: John McGarvey

Date: 30 March 2011

iPad with keyboard

Add a keyboard and perhaps your iPad will be more useful. (Photo: Stefan Evertz)

It's hard to deny that the iPad 2 is cool. And if you weren't one of the crazy enthusiastic punters who queued up last week to get one, demand for Apple's new gadget means that if you want one, you're probably in for a bit for of a wait.

Maybe we should all use that time to step back and ask: is the iPad actually much use for business? And, for that matter, do other tablet and slate-type devices like Motorola's Xoom or Samsung's Galaxy Tab really deserve a place in your company?

Limited business applications

I don't own an iPad, nor any other kind of slate or tablet computer. A few years back, I used Toshiba's M200 Tablet PC as my main work computer, but although it was one of the best laptops I've ever had, I rarely used the tablet features (you could fold the screen over and use a pen to write on it).

Sure, there's a big difference between Microsoft's clunky attempt to adapt Windows for a tablet device - which was running on that computer - and Apple's super-slick interface. But ease-of-use alone is not enough to establish the iPad as a must-have business tool.

The business applications I've seen for the iPad so far have been limited. I've spotted people at events using them to sign people up to mailing lists. And I can see how they'd be useful for people who need access to information but are on their feet all day. iPads could replace clipboards in warehouses, dentists' surgeries and the like.

My netbook is better and cheaper

But what about the sort of repetitive business tasks you take care of every day? Writing letters and emails. Running accounting software. Accessing your customer relationship management system.

For these sorts of jobs, my distinctly un-glamorous netbook (a cheap, cut-down laptop) is far better than an iPad. Here's why:

  • It's not as small or as light as an iPad, but it's small and light enough to go everywhere with me.
  • It has a proper keyboard, so I can type documents accurately and quickly.
  • It has USB ports and doesn't need extra adaptors to plug into a proper monitor, so it's easier to use with my existing IT kit.
  • The battery lasts about eight hours. That's probably less than an iPad, but plenty for a day on the road.
  • There's plenty of space for my files and I can switch from web browser to spreadsheet to whatever in seconds.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems that the only advantage that slate devices offer is that you can use them standing up. If there's a desk or space where I can sit and type at my netbook, it's the better option. Although, to be fair, I won't look as cool.

What's more, a netbook like mine is cheap. Figure £250 or so for a very capable netbook, compared to £399 for the entry level iPad.

Is it just me who can't see the point of the iPad for businesses? Do you use one in your company? Leave a comment and let me know.