Posted by Marc Pitcher ● Thu, Mar 08, 2012 @ 07:49 AM

New iPad: Customer Insight from Small Business Owners

marc pitcher silicon valley research groupWith the recent announcement regarding Apple's latest iPad offering, (named not the iPad 3, or iPad HD, but quite simply, "iPad") and our recent market research regarding iPad vs. PC behaviors, I've been looking for some comment regarding small business iPad use. I stumbled upon this interesting take on the conundrum some small business have when facing the iPad question by Kevin Casey over at Informationweek. I've posted his article below. You can link to the original article here. 

iPads Don't Work For These SMBs

Some entrepreneurs and small business owners say the iPad and other tablets don't serve their business needs. Here's why.

By Kevin Casey    InformationWeek

Some small business owners won't lining up to buy an iPad 3 any time soon. In fact, they're just skipping all tablets altogether.

Their reasons differ, but they share a common thread: Despite the hype and the skyrocketing adoption stats, tablets don't meet their business needs--at least not yet. It's certainly not a lack of awareness--they've heard the hype and the success stories like the rest of us. But they're not about to carve off a slice of their already slim budget for a device that doesn't work them. Here are three small businesses that have skipped the tablet trend thus far--and their reasons for doing so.

1. Industry-specific applications aren't available. Much is made of the vast menu of mobile apps and the increasingly competitive race between Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market. But while there are plenty of legitimate tablet business apps out there, they isn't as nearly many as on the consumer side of the equation. Software designed for specific vertical industries--particularly when it becomes a standard-issue application in that segment--is a good example of the occasional availability gaps.

Sam Lazarus, who co-owns a 30-person ServiceMaster Clean franchise in Wichita, Kan., said he loves new technologies because they help set his firm apart from other cleaning and restoration businesses. Lazarus has deployed a variety of current platforms for things like inventory, communication, time-keeping, and record-keeping. He'd like to add tablets to the list, but there's a critical roadblock.

"The software in our line of work has not quite caught up with the hardware, such as iPad or other tablets," Lazarus said in an email. "As they get there, we will implement."

That problem could present a major opportunity for Microsoft and Windows 8. If Windows 8 tablets offer a more robust menu of business apps--including industry-specific software that has zero crossover appeal for consumers--then they could become a popular enterprise choice.

2. Tablets don't suit their day-to-day work. Some jobs, such as sales or field operations, are simply better matches for the tablets than other roles. The form factor doesn't work for everyone--the lack of a keyboard is perhaps the best example. For some, when the tablet doesn't offer them a clear advantage over their laptop, they don't see the point in plunking down hundreds of dollars for one.

"I don't own an iPad. I just don't think it's a tool that I need for my business," said John Paul Engel, CEO of Knowledge Capital Consulting, via email. Engel is also founder and global executive director of the nonprofit Project Be The Change and its 20-person board. "A significant portion of my day is spent writing or researching. I feel the laptop is still the superior tool for these tasks."

But, c'mon: It's much, much cooler to tote around a tablet instead of lugging that clunky old notebook from meeting to meeting. Maybe so, but Engel makes a point that applies to just about every small company. "As a small business, I have to be very careful how I deploy my capital," Engel said. "It has to go to things that will either immediately impact my productivity or reduce my costs."

3. Broadband and wireless challenges. This one's sure to produce dystopian nightmares among the gadget-addled masses: Some businesses still struggle with spotty or altogether unavailable broadband and wireless service. It can be particularly true in rural areas, though it's by no means limited to them. There's not much point to an iPad or other tablet if it can't go online. Technophiles probably can't fathom it, but there's still such a thing as a dial-up connection; needless to say, tablet makers aren't developing for that use case.

"I would love to have and use the iPad," said Beverly Solomon in an email. Solomon and her husband run musee-solomon, an international art and design business, from a 156-year-old ranch north of Austin, Texas. They can't get high-speed internet. It gets worse: "We even have to drive up the nearest hill to use our cell phone. And for some strange reason satellite service is very spotty--it may have something to do with the 300,000-acre military base, Fort Hood, nearby."

Solomon said there's a fiber-optic cable deployment underway that they'll eventually be able to tap for broadband. In the meantime, they're stuck with the internet equivalent of a black-and-white TV.

"Unfortunately, we run the business on 28k dial-up," Solomon said. "Unbelievable, isn't it?

Topics: Customer insight, Voice of the Customer, Customer Intelligence, focus research group, customer dynamics, steve jobs

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