Photo: Dan Frommer, Business Insider
Apple’s iPad is a consumer device, first and foremost. (And it’s a good one, at that.)But a few recent events have illustrated how the iPad could also potentially become an important device for business and enterprise users, as a lightweight, reliable, powerful — and most important, easily programmable — touchscreen tablet.
And that could be a big opportunity for Apple.
First, there’s the restaurant check-in and queuing system we saw getting tested in San Francisco last month at the 21st Amendment Brewery restaurant.
When you check in to the restaurant, the host puts your mobile phone number into an iPad via an app called Tablewait. That information gets sent from the iPad into a server somewhere (over wi-fi, we assume, but potentially over 3G). This sends your phone a text message letting you know that you’re in the system. Then, when your table is ready, it sends you another text message telling you to come to the host stand for seating. And that’s it.
Instead of dealing with one of those complex, expensive systems where they hand you a plastic thing that buzzes and blinks red lights when your table is ready, it’s a $500 iPad, the buzzing mobile phones everyone already has, and whatever the Tablewait app’s monthly service fee is. Probably a lot cheaper, and much simpler and more powerful. The opportunity is also potentially there to let people take themselves out of the queue for a table (if it’s easier to get a seat at the restaurant across the street), edit their table request (five people instead of four), or whatever, all via text message commands.
Second, we saw something similar in action — but even simpler — this week at a tech industry party held by NextNY at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.
At the check-in table, reps from Brew Media Relations were checking people in using an iPad and the Eventbrite app. (If you’re not familiar, Eventbrite is a ticketing and invitation service based out of San Francisco.)
Photo: Dan Frommer, Business Insider
The iPad had a searchable list of everyone who had RSVPed, so the door staff could quickly type in your name to search, and check you in. This instead of 15 sheets of paper, losing pens, multiple copies of the same list, etc. (They were actually running the Eventbrite iPhone app on the iPad in 2X magnification; it doesn’t look like there’s a focused iPad app yet.)It was quick and waste-free, and probably saved printing and dealing with 50 sheets of paper. And now they have a digital list of who showed up to the party and who didn’t, synced to the Eventbrite servers (and other devices) in real-time. Imagine being an event organiser and knowing who has checked in from across the room.
Sure, the iPad wasn’t free, but if a company already owns one, or runs a lot of events, it could actually be economical and not just cool and useful. (You could potentially use a laptop for this too, but the iPad has a longer battery life, touchscreen, 3G access if you need it, etc.)
So that’s one potential area for disruption — the iPad as an inexpensive, touch-based computer terminal, with free or cheap apps to run business functions. Sure, yes, most retail or dining establishments already have point-of-sale systems. But have you ever tried using one? Or programming one? We’ve never met an employee or manager who wouldn’t love to destroy theirs.
Meanwhile, the other potential iPad use case is just as a lightweight, touch-based computing device within the corporate environment.
We’ve all read the tweets and blog posts from VCs about how everyone in the boardroom is using an iPad to take notes, etc. And surely every CIO worth their title is “testing” the iPad within the company’s environment. (And people are bringing personally owned iPads to work, etc.)
It doesn’t strike us as something that most companies will rush to implement — more of a luxury use case — but tablets could eventually be really big in the workplace. We’d much rather have an iPad for mobility, and two strong desktop computers with big displays at work and at home, instead of a heavy laptop with a small screen that we have to carry everywhere. In our testing, we haven’t been able to get that much work done on the iPad yet. But of course, the right software could change all of that.
Either way, it’s clear that Apple is onto something here, and that the iPad has strong potential to be a useful device for the corporate world, and not just a shiny toy. And that could be a big opportunity for Apple. And it’s obviously a big reason why RIM is so excited about the tablet market — and why it could be so costly to Microsoft if it doesn’t get its act together here quickly.