Parag Katrodia has been selling appliances for more than two years at the Mississauga, Ont., branch of Goemans Appliances. For the past few months he has been doing so using an appliance of his own, one more commonly seen in the livingroom than the showroom: Apple Inc.'s new tablet computing device, the iPad.
Katrodia wields his iPad as he would a clipboard when serving customers, and he says it makes him a more effective salesperson than he would be if he were only armed with paper sales sheets.
"While selling a stove recently, I used the iPad to get on the internet to show the difference between two particular brands," Katrodia says by way of example, "and my customers chose to go with my advice."
Katrodia has ditched paper brochures in favour of his iPad, which he uses to show up-to-date PDF versions of brochures as well as to access manufacturer websites, print invoices, set up deliveries, create quotes and access his company's systems.
And it wasn't a corporate initiative — Katrodia simply figured his personal tablet could help him make more sales, so he asked his IT department to hook it up to the store's wireless network and inventory system.
Seeing the competitive edge it gives him, some of Katrodia's colleagues are now pressing management for their own iPads.
"When it gets busy there aren't enough computers on the floor, and customers still want to be taken care of as quickly as possible," he explains.
From consumer toy to business tool
Katrodia is part of a cohort of Canadians who acquired iPads before they were officially sold in Canada. While the iPad continues to be marketed primarily to consumers, there's growing interest from business and other companies seem set to follow Katrodia's example.
Mercedes-Benz Financial, for one, plans a pilot program for iPads loaded with its MB Advantage software to see if representatives can use it to sell more cars.
Third-party applications, or "apps," are the secret sauce in Apple's iUniverse. There are more than 200,000 already available for the iPad and its smaller smartphone cousins. The iPad can run apps built for other Apple products, the iPhone and iPod Touch, albeit at either iPhone size or at a blown-up and grainy resolution. But many developers are starting to release iPad-tailored apps that take advantage of the slate's distinguishing features, like the larger touchscreen and the integrated microphone.
Chances are that people will need to buy a few of these apps to ready an iPad for the workplace. Katrodia, for instance, uses the GoodReader app to view brochures.
"I'm still exploring the world of apps," says Kim Moody, managing partner of Moody's LLP Tax Advisors in Calgary.
The ABA Journal app is one of his favourites. "It's important for me to keep up to date in law, specifically tax law. I send articles from my iPad to staff and interested clients."
Apps aside, the device itself has won plaudits and outsold expectations because of its innovative design. Stephen Smith, principal of Cambridge, Ont.-based technology consultancy Oakbridge Information Solutions, notes the importance of designing appealing technology versus gadgets that simply get the job done.
"For some people, that makes the difference between wanting to use an app and just putting up with an app," he says.
"I've gone through three technical reference manuals already in iBooks [Apple's e-reader software]," Smith adds. "I like having manuals with me, and it's better than lugging books around."
Both Moody and Smith use the iPad to deliver presentations.
"It isn't as clunky as dragging around a laptop and a projector for a presentation to three people," Smith says.
Finding the right fit
Still, tablets aren't for every workplace.
Few question the iPad's chops as a content consumption device, but complaints arise among those who create content, for example. When users need to type, a virtual keyboard appears on the screen itself. Opinions on this feature are mixed at best.
Apple mitigates this matter by selling a custom-made keyboard and enabling pairing with Bluetooth keyboards. Third-party dictation apps also help people avoid the onscreen keyboard.
'For me personally, the efficiency, the portability, the amount of material it [the iPad] holds is just amazing.'—Kim Moody, managing partner of Moody's LLP Tax Advisors in Calgary
"I can't see myself writing proposals or documentation on the iPad," Smith says, "but I can use it for documentation review."
The first question Smith fields from his clients is whether an iPad can replace a laptop. "My answer: probably not, though it could complement your laptop," he says.
"There will be situations where instead of having to take your laptop out of the office, you'll be able to take your iPad instead and do the same things that you would have done with your laptop."
Moody pushes the iPad's boundaries as a laptop replacement during business trips.
"For me personally, the efficiency, the portability, the amount of material it holds is just amazing," he says. "I find it better than a laptop. Email is just there. I don't have to log into remote access. I can easily read attachments. It syncs to Microsoft Exchange."
Criticisms of the iPad also commonly target what Apple left out, besides a physical keyboard.
"A camera would be nice," Katrodia says. "If I'm with clients comparing two stainless steel fridges and they want to match to a stove, it would be nice to take a picture of the fridge and match it to the stove."
For his part, Moody would like to see email folders in the Mail app.
But these early adopters aren't put out by what the iPad doesn't yet have. They focus on how a tablet computer helps their productivity.
"We're still early in the game," Smith observes. "As iPad versions of business apps are released, I'll be working on the iPad much more in the future."