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Jim Turner has bought 15 iPads that he'll get in April, when Apple (AAPL) starts shipping the tablet-style computer designed for book reading, game playing, and video viewing. Yet Turner won't be using the iPad for entertainment.
"It's for business," says Turner, who runs Hilltop Consultants, a provider of information technology services to law firms and other companies in the Washington (D.C.) area. Turner says he'll use the computer for checking e-mail on the go and taking notes while setting up client computer systems.
The iPad, billed by Apple executives as a digital book reader, video player, and gaming platform, isn't just for fun and games. Many companies and employees are buying the iPad to use it as a tool for business-related communications and keeping employees productive while they're on the go, says Charlie Wolf, an analyst at Needham & Co. "Clearly, the iPad has a role to play in the business market," says Wolf, who has a buy rating on Apple stock. "The demand appears to be far more diverse than I originally expected."
More than half of mobile-phone users surveyed recently by Zogby International said they would use a tablet device such as the iPad for working outside the office, according to mobile software maker Sybase (SY), which commissioned the survey of 2,443 adult cell-phone users.
Of respondents, 52.3% said they would most likely use a tablet for work, compared with 48.2% who said they'd use an iPad-like device for watching movies and TV, and 35.4% who said they'd play games on their tablet. The findings reflect "unexpected emphasis on the iPad's suitability for work-related activities, and…the iPad's potential value to information workers," Dublin (Calif.)-based Sybase said in a Mar. 23 statement.
Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs and other officials of the Cupertino (Calif.)-based company have not ruled out the prospect that customers would use the iPad to conduct business. Apple has created an iPad version of its iWork suite of productivity applications, which include a word processing program called Pages, a spreadsheet program called Numbers, and a presentation application similar to PowerPoint called Keynote, which Jobs has been using in his own presentations for years.
Still, Apple's public remarks have tended to emphasize the iPad's more consumer-friendly features. "It's a way to share photos like you've never had before," Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said at the Goldman Sachs Technology & Internet Conference on Feb. 22. "You can watch videos. You can listen to music. You can read books on it." Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris and spokesman Tom Neumayr didn't respond to requests for comment.
Don Donofrio, a New York-based IT executive in the publishing industry, ordered an iPad and plans to use the device to create graphics. "In my work, I draw a lot of work-flow charts," says Donofrio, who is based in New York. "I like the idea of being able to sit in a meeting and draw."
Of 12 chief information officers surveyed by tech news site TechRepublic in February, 10 said they see a business case for the iPad and other tablets. Of 3,171 consumers surveyed by research firm ChangeWave in February, 13% said their top uses for the device would include working away from the office, and 7% said they'd use it for working on spreadsheets and presentations. "You can see everyone carry it in their briefcase in two or three years," says Paul Carton, vice-president of research at ChangeWave, pointing to findings that 68% of people plan to use the iPad for Web browsing and 44% for checking e-mail.
Professionals in health care and education, as well as students, will probably be among the biggest purchasers of the iPad, says Wolf at Needham & Co. More than 30% of 178 health-care workers surveyed in January by Software Advice, an online software vendor, said they were "very likely" to buy a tablet. George Fox University in Newberg, Ore., says on its Web site that it will give each incoming freshman the choice of an iPad or a MacBook, also made by Apple, starting with the 2010-2011 academic year.
Some companies took time to warm to Apple's iPhone in part because of long-standing loyalty to Research In Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry. Unlike the iPhone, the iPad may not be replacing an entrenched device or technology, Wolf says. The iPad "is not going to run into the kind of resistance in the business market because it's a new category," he says. With companies, "it could do better than the Mac or the iPhone. It could do surprisingly well."
With Arik Hesseldahl in New York.