Apple's iPad 3 and your IT department

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By now it's no secret that Apple will be announcing the iPad 3 shortly after this column appears, and that you will be able to buy one by mid-March. Despite Apple's attempts at secrecy, the global rumor mill is already reporting that shipments are massing at airports in China. The real question is whether you should care.

If your company needs iPads, you probably already have them. The iPad 3 isn't going to change how your IT department interacts with its tablet devices, and it may not change your cost structure. Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) normal practice is to hold the line on the prices of its new products. The one bright spot is that the iPad 2 is already dropping in price, and may drop further once the new model arrives. This is consistent with the pricing on the iPhone 4S when it launched in late 2010--the older versions are still sold, but at a much-reduced price.

This could mean that if an iPad 2 meets your needs, you can cut the pressure on your budget by buying the cheaper version. But chances are that your users, especially those who are the most senior, will want the new model, which likely will cost the same as the iPad 2 did until just before the announcement. So your hardware budget won't suffer.

Unfortunately, you can't say the same thing about your telecom budget. Even if the iPad 3 doesn't ship with LTE, the new higher-resolution display and the better cameras will raise the bandwidth demands of an already bandwidth-hungry device. This means it'll cost you more to operate your new iPads, even if it doesn't cost more to buy them.

But there will be some significant benefits to some users. The higher-resolution display will improve images for a diverse set of users, including medical personnel and workers in the graphics arts. A faster processor may also make the apps your employees use perform better, although it's not yet clear how much better.

This means that your IT department may be besieged by users wanting the iPad 3, even some who have a perfectly good iPad 2. Before this happens, it would be a good idea to develop a policy about who gets to upgrade and who has to wait. It might also be wise to develop a policy about how your company handles iPad hand-me-downs. After all, if someone gets a new iPad 3, you're going to want to issue the older iPad to someone else.

Some points to keep in mind when making your policy are these:

  • Why do they need an iPad 3? If it's for high-resolution imagery, such as X-rays or engineering drawings, it might make sense. But maybe not if all they want is to watch HD movies while traveling.
  • Will they need 3G or LTE data? If not, buying and using a new Wi-Fi iPad 3 will cost about the same as it does for any other iPad.
  • Do they already have an iPad 2? If they do, and they don't have a real need for the new version, maybe they would just wait for a while. On the other hand, if they have an original iPad and that's limiting the work they can do, maybe it's time to upgrade.

The best thing you can do with a policy once you figure out what works for your company is to get the CEO or CFO to sign off on it and then publish it. That may not stop the complaining, but at least your employees will have been warned.

But there is one other thing to worry about--once the CEO and the CFO are alerted to the arrival of the new iPad, you can assume they'll want one too. - Wayne

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