When the iPad was first introduced, there was a lot of speculation around what its role would be in the enterprise. It’s undoubtedly proven itself as a coveted and effective device for the C-suite, but the question still looms in other areas of the business — like field service. Some companies have deployed it for such applications, others are researching it, and some are of the opinion that a consumer-grade device would never work in their operation. As the debate rages on, I thought it would be interesting to talk with some of today’s rugged tablet computing vendors to get their take on the issue.

I, for one, didn’t anticipate the iPad to be the game-changer it ended up being. I figured it’d be popular, but not to the degree it’s become — especially in the business world. I was curious if the vendors I spoke with saw this coming or were equally surprised. “Leading up to the launch of the iPad, I had a natural fascination with what the next innovation from Apple was and a professional curiosity about the features and functionality of the device, says Matt Miller, president of MobileDemand. “There was no doubt the iPad would be a success, but I don’t think anyone anticipated the rapid mass adoption that occurred. We can thank the introduction of the iPad for truly validating the form factor.”

This is a common response from rugged tablet vendors, actually. You might think they’d be cursing the iPad, but instead they’re thankful for the attention it brought to the tablet form factor. “It took Apple introducing the tablet to the public for the consumer to actually adopt the platform,” says Mark Holleran, president of Xplore. “Apple has created several technological revolutions, so it’s not surprising the iPad has had the impact it did, but no one could’ve predicted the magnitude of the impact the iPad would have on the popularity of the tablet form factor.”

What’s the iPad’s Role?

So the vendors are thankful for the increased awareness of the tablet, but where do they see the iPad fitting into the enterprise? “The iPad is useful for storefront, front office, sales and other applications where the device isn’t likely to be dropped, jostled, mishandled, used in inclement or dusty environments, or operated with gloves, explains Khalid Kidari, director of product management and marketing and DAP Technologies. “Out in the field, in warehouses, distribution centers, utilities, manufacturing, resource exploration and mining, and any other challenging environments, a more rugged computer is necessary. The iPad simply isn’t designed to be treated roughly.”

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Field Technologies Online provides is a resource for the optimization of field workers, service and assets. The publication's goal is to provide companies in the field service, transportation/distribution, government, public works and utilities industries with information on mobile technologies that can be used to improve productivity and drive efficiency.