Apple tablet won't mean business

If you run a small business and want to avoid wasting money and brain cells on superfluous technology, forget the iSlate

Attention Apple fan-boys and -girls: Read no further. But if you run a small business and want to avoid wasting money and brain cells on superfluous technology, forgot about the iSlate or whatever Apple is going to call its tablet computing device. It's going to be too expensive, it does things you don't need to do, and it will add a messy layer of complication to your company's computing infrastructure.

Sure, the tablet we expect Apple to launch on January 27 will probably have more than its share of cool factor. But do you want to spend US$1,000 or so for bragging rights? For that price, you could buy two perfectly serviceable Windows netbooks, four iPhones, or -- if you want to go the Apple route -- cover most of the cost of a 13-inch MacBook Pro, getting proven technology that's useful right out of the box.

Let's think about the form factor.

It's designed like a clipboard. I don't know about you, but I find it much easier to enter data sitting down with a keyboard rather than standing and writing.

To be fair, there are jobs that require the user to enter data while walking around. And if that's something one of your employees does for much of the day, a tablet could make sense. But whether an Apple tablet could be the right choice for that job remains to be seen.

It's quite likely that the iSlate will use an on-screen keyboard. That's fine for a quick text message or a short e-mail, but what a crummy way to do any real data entry -- text or numbers. It's no accident that business people who rely on a phone for heavy email access still tend to use a Blackberry or other smartphone with a physical keyboard,

The iSlate is rumored to run the new iPhone 4.0, and while I can't wait to upgrade my iPhone 3GS, it is a really bad choice for a business computer. Unless Apple bites the bullet and supports multitasking in the new version of the OS, think how hamstrung you'll be. It reminds of the old DOS days, when the best you could do was use a task switcher. But hey, this is 2010, not 1985.

What's more, building a computer based on a mobile OS throws out one of the biggest advances Apple has made in recent years: the ability to run Windows programs natively. And that means that none of your Windows software will work. For that matter, your Mac apps won't run, either.

Then there's the problem of security. The iPhone has had a tough go breaking into businesses that use Exchange, because it falls far short of acceptable business security standards. So why would you want to carry around a device that's nearly as big (and twice as expensive) as a netbook, but doesn't run your business applications, isn't very secure, and is awkward to use?

Business technology should contribute to efficiency. A real laptop or netbook does real work that helps a business succeed. So does a Blackberry, a Pre or an iPhone. But cool as it may be, the iSlate fails that crucial test. Ignore the frenzy, save your money.

San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net.

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Bill Snyder

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