iPad: 10 reasons feds should be eager

The GCN Lab finds 10 reasons why feds will love the iPad, starting with a couple of things it doesn't have.

Early adopters of technology are in some ways like real estate speculators. They tend to feel comfortable ignoring the risk side of the risk/reward equation. It’s not for the faint of heart. I still flinch every time I remember how much I paid for Microsoft Windows ME or how long I waited in line for an iPhone, ignoring the fact that a couple of months later I wouldn’t have had a problem finding one.

To early adopters like yours truly, the only thing riskier than not being the first to own a new gadget is buying one that’s a complete and utter dud. With Apple’s recent release of the iPad, I chose to get out my tent and camping gear and go buy one, despite the fact that my office at home is now riddled with the relics of past camping trips to technology retail stores.

If you’re a federal agency user with a tech-geared, pioneering heart, here are 10 things about the iPad that will tip the balance for you. In a companion article, I identify 10 things that might make you pass on this adventure.

The first couple of factors in favor of using an iPad in the government sector might sound strange to consumers, but they make sense if you work for an agency, especially an agency that requires a high level of security.

1. and 2. The lack of an embedded digital camera and USB port are good things, because information technology managers won’t have to worry about having to disable your camera. And transferring items to the iPad is complicated without the aid of USB, which can prevent employees from carrying sensitive information out the door.

Of these two, the one that bothers me, personally, is the lack of USB. Apple has a track record of being stubborn when it comes to standardizing, and in my opinion, even though it’s initially good for the federal IT manager, it’s bad for the user who buys the unit. Nevertheless, feds should not have any trouble easing the worries of security-minded managers about the iPad.

3. Another pro for the government user is the long battery life. I have been using my iPad at home and in the office all day, and I only have to charge it once in a 24-hour period. Recently on a business trip from Charlotte, N.C., to Brunswick, Ga., I was able to work and watch a movie for five hours while draining less than half of the battery. A typical charge lasts more than 10 hours.

4. And then there is the iPad’s size. Measuring 9.56 inches by 7.47 inches by 0.5 inches and weighing only 1.5 pounds, the iPad hits the balance between the perfect travel technology and a technology large enough to be used when at home.

5. Along the same lines, one of the best traits of the iPad for the government worker is the keyboard. I’ve heard a lot of negative comments about the keyboard and its placement of characters and lack of ergonomics, and most of those comments are right. However, the ability to have a responsive, complete and accurate keyboard on the fly without having to take out any cables or assemble a keyboard as if it’s a Transformer action toy is a strong plus. It adds in a big way to the unit’s portability.

6. Apple’s iPad e-mail, like its integrated keyboard, has also taken flack for not being more user-friendly in terms of browsing old and new e-mails from multiple accounts in an easy-to-use interface. It also has taken criticism, which I agree with, for not having the ability to attach a file to outbound e-mails once you have started to write an e-mail. You have to initiate the attachment from the program you use to produce the attachment and then write the e-mail. Yet despite these flaws, the e-mail is a cinch to use and is compatible with Exchange, POP3 and IMAP4 e-mail accounts. Plus, users can set the device to sync e-mail at regular intervals and with multiple accounts. I was able to add two different POP3 e-mail accounts and an Exchange account in about eight minutes. The e-mail client is a strong improvement from the iPhone, and I am confident future patches will provide the ability to explore your desktop for an attachment within an e-mail.

7. One of the most important features in a work environment is collaborative software. Happily, Cisco Systems has released an iPad app for WebEx, and Citrix Systems has followed with its Go-To-Meeting software. Now you can give a presentation or meet with co-workers remotely and share data and collaborate on projects.

8. Perhaps the best feature of the iPad, and the one that surprised me the most, is performance. Maybe it’s just the fact that you can’t multitask (see cons), but everything I do on the iPad works well and executes effectively. I’ve reviewed several ultralight and portable PCs and tablets before and I have yet to find one that runs as smoothly, quietly (solid-state hard drive) and stays as cool as the iPad.

9. The iPad has one of the nicest 9.7-inch LED backlit widescreen touch-screen displays I have ever seen. The 1,024 x 768 pixel resolution offers 132 pixels per inch for a crystal-clear display that even makes white papers a joy to read.

10. A pay-as-you-go 3G embedded technology is one of the smartest moves Apple could have made with this product. It’s not available for another month, but Apple will offer these affordable plans via AT&T -- which can bring different issues into the mix, but that’s a whole other article -- for as low as $14.99 for 250M per month, or unlimited data transfer for $30 per month. There will be no penalty for canceling your contract or not renewing it. It’s truly pay-as-you-go. Other cellular companies take note: once consumers find out that this is a valid and wonderful business model, they are going to demand it from all carriers. This may revolutionize the market more than the iPad itself.

11 (Bonus). Although this might not come into play for years, the iPad is environmentally friendly and made of degradable materials.