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Is Apple's iPad Pro ready for work?

Apple's iPad Pro has many appealing features. Consumers likely will love it, but will it find a place in enterprises?

Apple's new iPad Pro, with its 12.9-inch screen and keyboard cover, will start shipping in November. It will likely be a hit with millions of Apple-loving consumers, but what about the enterprise? Is Apple's iPad Pro just another big-screen tablet? Or is there more to the iPad Pro that makes it suitable for work?

The answers are not clear, due in a large part to the overwhelming consumer appeal of the iPad. Many workers have brought their own iPads into the workplace, where IT departments have supported them through BYOD access policies.

And yet, allowing BYOD is far different than actively purchasing devices for enterprise use. And when it comes to these sorts of acquisitions, how might the new iPad Pro affect industry adoption?

Start with the iPad Pro specs

The new iPad Pro boasts a 12.9-inch screen, which means it can now compete with the screen real estate on many standard laptops. Where the iPad Pro really shines, though, is inside: Apple's new 64-bit A9X chip boasts desktop-class performance that, according to Apple, is faster than 80% of the portable PCs shipped in the past 12 months. Its CPU performs 1.8 times better than the iPad Air 2, and when it comes to graphics, it boasts a mind-boggling GPU performance that's 360 times better than the iPad Air 2, which also bests 90% of those same portable PCs. Ultimately, the performance boost means that even intricate apps -- such as Autodesk AutoCAD 360 -- will run smoothly. And with the addition of Apple's new split-view, multitasking feature in iOS 9, enterprise workers can use two apps at the same time, side by side.

There is more, though: Although third-party manufacturers have made iPad-ready keyboards for years, Apple created the smart keyboard for iPad Pro, which is a cover, as well as a mechanical keyboard. For work that requires a precise touch, Apple also created a stylus -- the Apple Pencil.

Does all of this mean that the iPad Pro is ready for work?

"With the multitasking environment in iOS 9 and the large screen, we expect that iPad Pro can serve as a PC replacement for workers who spend a lot of time on the road," said Eric Smith, senior analyst of tablet and touchscreen strategies for Strategy Analytics Inc., based in Newton, Mass.

"In the same way that Surface Pro 3 competes for PC replacement dollars, so too will iPad Pro and the rest of the professional-grade large tablets," he added.

iPad's are more than laptop replacements

According to Gartner research analyst Mikako Kitagawa, a growing enterprise trend is to tap a tablet for a particular business purpose, rather than picking out one type of hardware device to replace another device.

"For instance," she said, "some applications can be useful for the warehouse floor, for retail or in manufacturing facilities that have specific applications -- it's not just for checking email or content creation, but for specific functionality that businesses choose tablets."

The choice of an enterprise device often has more to do with the apps than the hardware, and those apps bring into play the operating system. "There are a lot of vertical applications available on iOS in the U.S. at the moment," Kitagawa said. "But if you go outside of the U.S., Android is stronger."

As for the Microsoft Surface Pro, which has a PC-class processor, runs Windows and can use a keyboard cover -- sharing a similar form factor with the iPad Pro -- adoption in the enterprise has been slow. Kitagawa connects the slow adoption of the Microsoft hybrid -- and similar 2-in-1 devices that have run Windows 8 on up to Windows 10 -- with enterprises that have been reluctant to jump into the next generation of Windows just yet. Greater adoption will come, she noted, as Windows 10 begins to be rolled out.

The IBM mobile app connection

In late 2014, Apple partnered with IBM on an effort to build 100 enterprise-focused apps as part of IBM's MobileFirst for iOS initiative. The apps are designed for specific industries, including banking, energy, government, healthcare, retail, insurance, transportation and industrial products.

To date, IBM has delivered 32 of these apps. Although some apps cross industries, so far, IBM and Apple have delivered two apps more specifically suited to manufacturing environments: Safe Site for Forepersons, which is a safety app, and Rapid Handover for Forepersons, which makes it easier to share information with incoming shift workers. It includes elements such as data for production goals, equipment maintenance and crew lists. Additionally, when incoming forepersons start their shifts, they can sign into the app on an iPad and see where the previous shift left off.

Our intent, with Apple and IBM, is to truly transform the enterprise -- to transform how work is done.
Shannon Todd-OlsonApple partnership leader for North America

"Our intent, with Apple and IBM, is to truly transform the enterprise -- to transform how work is done," said Shannon Todd-Olson, Apple partnership leader for North America.

"We are always focused on an industry and a profession and a person who is doing the work -- so you'll see that with the apps," she added. Remember the two apps noted above? Their names include who they are for -- forepersons. The same goes for other apps, such as Passenger Care for Gate Agents or Hospital Lead for Charge Nurses.

One of IBM's core efforts is to connect iOS apps to enterprise systems of record and analytic systems within an organization, Todd-Olson said, noting that a recurring theme in many of the apps is to provide built-in analytics and tools to help a more junior worker with less experience understand the many nuances of an on-the-job situation that a senior employee could handle with ease.

With the iPad Pro's split screen multitasking, for example, it's possible for such an employee to use one side of the screen to consider analytics while using another app on the second side of the screen to apply a decision or log a transaction.

Interestingly, Todd-Olson said that IBM is actively recommending iPads and iPhones over other devices to its customers for their mobile initiatives. At the same time, IBM's partnership lets it resell iPads through its business channels, enhancing easy acquisition, support and replacement of iPads in the enterprise -- an area were Apple has lagged its consumer reputation.

Meanwhile, Apple is approaching the at-work angle beyond apps and fancy new devices: In August, Apple partnered with Cisco to create a "fast lane for iOS business users." The two companies will work together to optimize Cisco networks for iPads and iPhones. Cisco networks are used in 95% of Fortune 500 companies.

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