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Small business: iPad use expanding

The purchase of iPads, which escalated this past

The purchase of iPads, which escalated this past year, is due to the tablet's utility for small businesses. This man bought two when the latest version came out this past month. (March 16, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

The use of iPads among small- and midsized businesses nearly quadrupled in 2011, according to a recent study from The Business Journals.

This year, nearly three quarters of those businesses have plans to purchase tablets, with the iPad most often considered, according to a study released in December by The NPD Group in Port Washington.

Citing ease and portability, small businesses are increasingly incorporating the iPad into operations with uses ranging from taking orders to managing sales contacts, say experts.

"Because it's got access to thousands of downloadable apps and tremendous multimedia capabilities, it's effectively a Swiss Army gadget," says Scott Steinberg, chief executive of TechSavvy Global, a Seattle-based high-tech consultancy.

Excitement has grown with the release of the new iPad, which has enhanced features including improved retina display and graphics performance.

For businesses that deal with a lot of visuals this can be an added bonus, but not a necessity, says Steinberg.

"It's got more horsepower and a better screen," he says. "At the end of the day the original iPad or iPad 2 will do you just fine."

The original iPad doesn't have a camera, notes Shara Karasic, co-founder of Harris+Karasic, a Calif.-based mobile app strategy and development consultancy. "If you need that functionality, you need an upgrade," she notes.

Device has multiple uses. You can use your tablet for functions including processing credit cards, taking orders, tracking inventory, and customer relations, she notes, adding she recently went to a new neighborhood cafe that was using its iPad as a cash register via an app called POSLavu Client.

Other helpful business apps include Dropbox, which allows you to access PC files remotely; Salesforce, for customer relationship management; Square, which allows you to accept credit cards; and Keynote, a presentation app, says Karasic.

Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty in Cold Spring Harbor has used Keynote to create a customized presentation for sellers about its company, history, marketing efforts, global reach, etc., says Susan Poli, vice president of technology.

Last year, the 25-person management team was given iPads and many of its sales associates have invested in iPads, she notes, adding the company has its own free app, SIR Mobile.

"It's just so portable for an agent that is on the road all the time," she notes, adding the iPad's visual capabilities are key for presenting to buyers and sellers.

It's much easier to transport versus a laptop, says Poli.

"It's smaller, easier to carry around, and getting more versatile every day," agrees Bob LeVitus, an Austin, Texas-based technology consultant and co-author of the "iPad For Dummies" series, noting "it's great for selling anything visual."

Why it won't replace laptops. But that doesn't mean it will replace the laptop or PC, says Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for NPD.

"Most people are integrating their tablets into the computing they're doing now versus replacing one device over another," he says. Some prefer a PC/laptop with a physical keyboard for certain tasks over the iPad's virtual keyboard, particularly if they're typing a lot of data, he notes.

Like any investment, businesses should assess whether the iPad and available apps work for them, notes LeVitus.

For Island Associates, a Massapequa landscape design-build firm, it was a no-brainer. The company saved thousands on lost invoices by going paperless and uploading contracts via the iPad, says president Douglas Connell.

They have six iPads and may consider buying the new one.

"They usually break them about once a year," he says, referring to staff. "When they break them, they get new ones."

Fast Fact

On average, businesses with fewer than 50 employees plan to spend less than $2,000 on new tablets in the next 12 months, compared to close to $39,000 for larger firms (500+ employees).

Source: The NPD Group

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