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The history of tablet PCs is littered with products that didn’t deliver, lackluster sales and poor software and hardware integration. It’s not surprising that consumers never went gaga for the tablet PC. Business has been a different story.

Simply put, you can find tablets in industries such as healthcare. And there are business applications for tablet PCs. Vertical industries may be the only place where you’ll find more than a dozen tablet PCs in the wild.

Now Apple’s iPad enters the picture. The iPad’s snazzy design and selection of apps could make it a hit with the enterprise. Will the so-called “consumerization of IT” carry the iPad to a business near you? Like the iPhone, it’s quite possible that workers will bring the iPad to work. The business case is a bit unclear at the moment, but TechRepublic has been putting a lot of thought to the iPad and business implications.

Here’s a look at a few ideas from TechRepublic’s Erik Eckel and Jason Hiner, the business arguments for the iPad and my take.

Eckel at the 10 Things blog makes the argument for the business user based on the iPad’s features.

Email, Internet access, ease of use, integrated keyboard, apps, iWork and calendaring and contacts make the iPad a no-brainer for traveling business users.

Of Eckel’s points, the biggest one may be the apps. He writes:

The true value of any computing platform is largely dependent upon the number of third-party applications written for it. Programs written for the iPhone will run on the iPad, and upon the release of the iPad SDK, iPad-specific applications will absolutely flood the market. If the iPhone is any barometer, just keeping track of available tools, utilities, and programs will prove mind-boggling. Already some 140,000 applications have been produced for the iPhone and downloaded some three billion times. Expect the same fervent energy to surround the creation and consumption of iPad applications.

What’s the business use here? In a word: Dashboards. Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM), Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) and others all have iPhone apps showing sales, dashboards and corporate data. However, the screen is kind of small. With the iPad, you can check out a full dashboard of data, track sales and get your corporate health check on the go. Simply put, screen size matters for corporate dashboards. You can envision multiple business intelligence applications on deck.

Hiner goes with the following business use cases:

  • Replace 200-page business documents
  • Business reading and audiobooks for road warriors
  • “Back of the Napkin” sketches
  • Small-scale presentations
  • Conference room computing

Among those points I’ll take door numbers 1 and 4. The paperless office has never happened, but if the iPad can search and scan 200-page documents you can see applications in the legal sector. Perhaps lawyers will carry iPads to the court room—of course most trials I’ve been to ban wireless access. And I know of a few Apple sales folks that are pitching legal firms to replace BlackBerries with the iPhone. When I heard this, I was surprised that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was devoting time to corporate sales. The iPad is a natural extension for law firms.

As for door no. 4, the iPad is a no-brainer presentation device. You prop it up and the iPad can be your presentation machine. Sure, the folks in the meeting will probably be drooling over the iPad, but at least it’ll look like they are paying attention.

Taking that presentation argument further, the iPad would be a good fit in retail environments. Customer service, inventory checks and mobile kiosks are all potential uses.

Add it up and there are a bevy of vertical industries where the iPad would apply. Watch the health care, retail and legal verticals closely.

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Source: Will the iPad Succeed in the Enterprise?