How tablets are changing business

How tablets help firms get creative with mobile aps.

Call me crazy, but I don't want an iPad.  

I really don't.  As far as I'm concerned, they look like over-sized iPods — awkward and clumsy.   Didn't want the first version, couldn't care less about the new, slimmer, faster version that had people lining up last week, overnight and in the cold!  For me to do that, front row seats to Lady Gaga would have to be included. 

(On second thought, not even that would get me in line overnight….)

My colleague Kevin O'Leary from Dragons' Den and The Lang and O'Leary Exchange has been quite tiresome with his raving about the fabulousness of his iPad.   I just nod politely, and think to myself "boys and their toys…"

But I have to admit, the darn things are revolutionizing business.

iPads can be taken on the road by sales-people instead of a heavy catalogue, they can be presentation tools, menus or wine lists — even cash registers.  I paid for the iPod I bought my daughter for Christmas at the Apple store on an iPad, and said yes when the clerk asked if I'd like the receipt sent directly to my e-mail.  I was quite happy to not a have yet another paper receipt cluttering my wallet, and a more efficient way to find the e-receipt if I needed it.

No surprise that Apple uses its own products in innovative ways — but it's catching on.  I heard recently about a couple in California that didn't bother with a $3000 cash register when they opened their bakery.  They used a $600 iPad and employed 'Square', a free app and reader that turns the device into a credit-card payment system.  No contracts or merchant account required.

Presumably all the new tablet devices — from Hewlett Packard and Samsung and of course, the one we Canadians are most interested in, the Playbook from RIM — will offer similar features.  But being the first out of the gate, Apple is setting the bar for new competitors to meet or surpass. 

Already, Cundari, an advertising agency with offices in Montreal and Toronto, is using the iPad for all of its presentations to clients.

"You can zoom in, zoom out, jump to pages," says Sylvain Pereira, who runs Cundari's Montreal office.  "It looks so dynamic, clients love it."

Pereira's only complaint is that the iPad won't take a USB stick, so presentations have to downloaded via PDFs, and that means going to the iTunes store to get the iBook program.  But it's not enough of a problem to take away from the ability to look cool and wired-in to potential clients.

"We're often pitching social media strategy as well," says Pereira.  "so using the iPad shows clients 'we know what you're thinking about because we have tools'."

The more I think about it though, it's not the iPad or any other tablet that's driving the revolution.  These devices are just enabling it to another level  People have been embracing mobility and technology in more ways for quite a while now. 

"Nobody wants to talk on the phone anymore," says Mark Kostel of Port Credit, Ont.  He and his wife run a photography studio, specializing in weddings.  "Most brides are between the ages of 25 and 35, and they all want to communicate via  e-mail and skype and texting.  So we created an on-line gallery."

Kostel finds his young clientele is very techno-savvy.  He used to carry his portfolio on an iPod, and before that, on a laptop.  Now he's loves his iPad.

"Images show really beautifully on the screen," he raves.  "And you have to keep up with the technology.  That's business."

Apparently doctors are also jumping on the iPad bandwagon, to increase their efficency and revenue.  And a firm based in Saint John, New Brunswick has designed an application that will allow doctors to "e-prescribe".

"Right now we've been piloting for two and half months," says Jackie Howatt, VP of Marketing for MedRunner Health Solutions.  "It's been going amazingly well.  We've been trying to contain it a little bit, because we have a lot of demand coming from doctors wanting to come on board."

Once the service is up and running, doctors will be able to keep their patient files on their iPads, and be able to see what other doctors are prescribing for the same patient.  Then when they prescribe, they can use the iPad to send the details directly to the pharmacy, instead of scribbling away on a slip of paper. 

MedRunner's application is free to doctors.  Pharmacies and insurers pay for the service, since it cuts down on paperwork and improves efficiency for those companies - and that means money saved. 

"We're starting with 400 doctors in St Johns, but by next year we intend to roll it out nationally," says Howatt.  I can see it happening.

What I can't see is craving one of those jumped-up steno-pads myself  in the near future — although I admit, in the early 90s I thought people with cellphones were a bit too taken with their own importance.  Needless to say I'm a cellphone convert now.  But I'm not convinced that I'll be desperate for an iPad or any other tablet device any time soon.