The iPad & the End-User Computing Revolution

With more than 2 million units sold in its first two months the Apple iPad is clearly a phenomenon. And with at least three competing thin neo-tablets — the WebOS-based iSlate from HP and the Android tablet from Google, both promised for the fall, and the eeePad running Windows 7 from Asus, due early next year — this clearly is the next generation in end-user computing. And while these are being sold initially as consumer devices, they are going to hit the office with the speed and at least the impact of the original iPhone.

These devices are changing end-user expectations about computing, and that definitely includes the expectations of your CEO, CFO, and board of directors. The big appeal of the iPad is that it is not a computer at all in the sense of a laptop of desktop computer. It is an appliance on the model of the TV. You turn it on and it is on. To do something you tap the screen. You turn it off and it is off. You never have to call the help desk. It just works.

This is exactly what end-users have always wanted — computing without the tears. For most users tech issues are not fun, it is trouble on a par with a car problem. The iPad eliminates those problems, the need for special skills starting with touch typing, the little surprises of Windows computing. The iPad is changing expectations — users expect the iPad to work just like the TV, not like a computer, and that is the experience it delivers. This is the real impact of the neo-tablets.

So when those consumers come into the office, they are going to bring that new expectation with them. Every time they have to wait for their office laptop to boot up, every time it kicks up one of those famous Windows error messages that basically says, “you can’t do that — Okay?”, and especially when they have to call the help desk, they are going to ask, “Why do I have to put up with this crap?” And when the CEO or CFO starts asking that, the CIO can expect a phone call.

The message is that IT needs to respond quickly to this new set of end-user expectations. And as challenges tend to be, this is both opportunity and problem. It is an opportunity for IT to recentralize all business computing and data and regain the control over the technology that it lost in the PC revolution of the 1980s. The problem is that this will require a significant restructuring of computing and a new service-oriented mindset in IT, and it will require leveraging Cloud computing services while redesigning internal computing on the Software-as-a-Service model. This change should not be underestimated. It is a revolution, and while it has been coming for decades, and IT shops have been evolving in this direction for years, the changes are going to be huge. The good news is that you are not alone. Your vendors are in this as well, and you need to harness them to help you.

Over my next few blogs I will explore this new vision of end-user computing and what it means for IT at the strategic level.