Apple iPad Dominates Partner Conferences

Apple iPad Dominates Partner Conferences

As I wrap up a week in San Francisco and San Jose -- visiting a range of channel partner conferences and meeting dozens of MSPs -- one thing is clear: It's impossible to ignore Apple's iPad as a business device. From the SugarCRM SugarCon conference to the NetSuite SuiteCloud partner conference, I saw dozens of business-centric applications demonstrated on the iPad. And quite a few VARs and MSPs were carrying iPads at the events. Here's some perspective.

More than 800 customers and partners attended SugarCon in San Francisco. The big talk at the event involved VARs and solutions providers promoting hosted SugarCRM applications to customers. Microsoft also talked up the Windows Azure cloud for running open source applications.

iPad Steals the Show

But as I watched on-stage demonstrations and visited vendor booths, it seemed like Apple's iPad was everywhere. And yes, SugarCRM has native application support for iPad.

Next, I traveled a few blocks to the NetSuite SuiteCloud conference, where the SaaS provider declared 2010 as The Year of the Channel in the Cloud. NetSuite also talked up OpenAir, its PSA (professional services automation) platform for VARs and service providers.

But once again, the silent winner at the NetSuite conference was Apple's iPad. While on stage, NetSuite's executive team used the iPad to demonstrate mobile SaaS applications. And visits to multiple vendor booths revealed iPads everywhere.

During one booth meeting, Aman Manik, channel programs manager at Box.net, told me about new Box.net integrations with NetSuite and Google. Oh, and of course, Box.net -- the cloud content management (CCM) specialist -- now runs on iPad.

iPad Reality Check

I'm not suggesting that 'everyone' will use the iPad. But I do think many MSPs and some members of the media are underestimating how the iPad will impact business.

Strong demand in the U.S. has triggered international iPad sales delays, according to Apple.

On the business front, Cisco says its WebEx application for the iPad has been downloaded more than 15,000 times. Not a huge figure, but it's still impressive considering WebEx for iPad is brand new. (Side note: Contributing Associate Blogger David Courbanou was impressed when he tested WebEx on iPad.)

Meanwhile, MSP industry pundits are starting to use the iPad. From Exigo Group's Brett Martin to Nimsoft's Gary Read, I'm receiving emails about their early iPad experiences -- which are overwhelmingly positive.

People Assume Apple Means Quality

Why is iPad catching on? Marketing helps. But generally speaking, Apple's products are known for their quality.

People are willing to bet on new Apple products -- sight unseen -- because they've already  had good experiences with existing Apple products. Also of note: The iPad concept isn't all that radical -- my kids have been running around with the iPod Touch for about two years. I'm oversimplifying the discussion, but to the average consumer the iPad is a larger version of the iPod Touch.

Now, let's shift to the world of Windows. No doubt, Windows 7 has earned strong, upbeat reviews from multiple folks. But as Windows-based tablets begin to flood the market, some folks will surely wonder if the software truly is reliable.

Many of us had bad experiences with Windows Vista, Windows ME, and other Microsoft products that missed the mark. So we worry about quality with Microsoft, instead of just assuming the products will work as advertised.

Bottom line: People will want to "test" and "try" Windows tablets at length before making a purchase decision. Fair or not, Apple gets the benefit of the doubt from customers and media during new product launches. iPad is an impulse buy. And apparently, plenty of people have had the impulse to buy iPads.

Business ISVs Target iPad

With iPad, business software developers aren't waiting around to see if Apple's tablet will be a hit. Instead, those business software developers are jumping on the Apple bandwagon and, ironically, helping to ensure iPad will be a hit.

If you check the halls and sessions at major partner conferences, you'll see many VARs and MSPs already carrying iPads. The device was everywhere at this week's partner conferences in San Francisco. And I do mean: Everywhere.

Waiting on Apple

Despite all the hype, I'm not an iPad user ... not just yet. I'm still waiting for the 3G support (initial iPads were limited to WiFi support).

And of course, I need to point out: The iPad still faces that "next" challenge of moving from the early adopter stage to the mass adoption stage.

Is iPad merely a niche device? Or will it go mainstream in businesses?

It depends on your definition of mainstream. It won't replace PCs or notebooks. But I suspect for 5 to 10 percent of Apple customers, iPad will become a "tween" device that fits somewhere between smart phones and notebooks.

And that's a huge market, no matter how you define it.

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