Is Your Office Preparing For an iPad Insurgency?

Bosses may hand out tablets along with smartphones in the near future.

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With the new iPad going on sale Friday, around-the-block lines at Apple stores are sure to be a common sight. Somewhere in those lines might be the head of your workplace IT department.

There are plenty of statistics that illustrate the iPad's reach into the business marketplace. Apple has bragged that more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies are testing or using iPads, according to the New York Times. Nearly three-quarters of small- and medium-sized businesses plan to purchase tablets this year, with the iPad being their top choice, according to a December survey from market research company NPD Group. And in a survey of more than 1,000 consumers, 67 percent say the tablet can be used for professional purposes, according to Baird Equity Research.

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"IPads are having a considerable uptake in the business community," says Michael R. Levin, the cofounder of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, LLC. "Businesses are looking for ways to apply this really cool new gadget into their business."

Tablets are becoming so useful for businesses that they could soon distribute iPads to employees in the same way that they distribute smartphones for work purposes, says Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for NPD Group. "Why not? If they gave you a smartphone or money to buy the smartphone, you still have a desk phone in most cases, too. People want multiple tools," says Baker.

The iPad's new reach into workplaces bolsters Apple CEO Tim Cook's view of the "post-PC world," as he described at the announcement of the new iPad last week, where he also revealed a startling figure: 15.4 million iPads shipped in the last quarter of 2011, more than Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Dell, and Acer sold of their own PCs.

While there is some evidence that tablets have cannibalized PC sales, the world hasn't quite moved into a "post-PC" society. In Baird's survey, 83 percent of consumers said they could not part ways with personal computers.

"PCs and Mac computers are productivity tools­—people use them for writing documents and creating Powerpoints," says Levin. "It's going to be a lot slower for [tablets] to displace PCs in the workplace."

Instead, with the iPad, Apple has found a workplace niche between the smartphone and the PC. In the context of business, Baker sees the tablet as more than a supplement to the desktop computer, but less than a replacement. Rather, he says, it's an equal, just with different strengths.

A plethora of available applications—as well as the ability to create unique apps—allow businesses to use iPads as catch-all mobile devices that do a variety of specialized tasks.

Tablets are also competing with low-tech options in some industries. Levin uses airline cockpits as an example, with some pilots using iPads to replace paper flight manuals.

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"Filling out forms, for example, or just looking at an x-ray or a picture or someone's signing something, like a FedEx guy" are other cases in which the iPad is changing well-established business processes, says Baker.

So while iPads may never replace PCs entirely, Levin says tablets are moving to eliminate older forms of technology. "The iPad is replacing paper and pencil, or clipboards," Levin says.