iPad pilot – The saga continues

I have received some great comments and excellent feedback on my previous iPad related posts. Thanks to everyone who visited my blog here or on govloop and provided comments and expressed interest. Apparently a lot of you are interested in the iPad. Who woulda thunk it. Either many of you share my love of all things geek, or many of you are interested in leveraging mobile technology in your business. Either way, Glad I could help.

I havent found the time in the last couple of days to write extensively, but do have a couple of exciting updates to share.

1) In my previous post, I had lamented the fact that many corporate systems, including the ones we use within DCGOV don’t play nice with webkit based browsers that most modern mobile platforms employ. Well there is great news. I was directed to a couple of fantastic apps by, who else, Bryan Sivak (CTO District of Columbia) which have completely transformed my usage experience, namely, Perfect Browser and Atomic Web (I am sure there are others like them). These apps are actually alternate web browsers that can be used in lieu of the bundled Safari/WebKit browser within iOS. They both offer several options like ad blocking, search engines, themes etc. However, the one and only feature I care about is browser emulation. Either of these apps can be configured to emulate any of the most popular desktop or mobile browsers including Opera, Safari, Mozilla, and yes, even the venerable Internet Explorer.

In IE emulation mode, I was able to login and fully utilize the functionality of our procurement/AP system to process procurement and invoicing activities. I was able to login to our HR/Payroll system to enter and approve time. I was even able to login to our Cognos BI system to run (and even create) reports, access dashboards, and perform business analysis. The universe of iPad use cases just exploded for me. I can’t tell you how powerful it is to be able to create and run my own financial reports from a budget meeting, showing up to the minute spending/expenditure information. Trust me. thats real business utility.

A word of caution here. Remember that these apps are just emulators for other browsers. Emulation is never fool proof. Use at your own risk. They cannot magically make your iPad run deep windows ActiveX heavy web pages, hardcore java apps, or quirky IE hacks. Browser security is another unknown. I am still investigating risks associated with using these apps while browsing the public web as possible browser vulnerabilities may exist and may not be well known since these apps are built and supported by third parties. So far, I am using these apps to access internal back-end systems for utility, but still use the standard Safari/WebKit browser for general purpose browsing.

2) Further thoughts on the Sharepoint apps I mentioned earlier (SharePlus and Moprise). I have noticed some limitations here that are worth mentioning. Namely, these apps are designed for SharePoint’s core strengths. Namely, document libraries, sites, and lists. As long as your sharepoint site is pretty vanilla and utilizes the standard Sharepoint lists, sites and document libraries, it all works pretty well. If you stray outside these boundaries with exotic or customized web parts, or a wiki library, things turn pretty poor pretty quickly to the point its not worth exploring these things via these apps. Our internal wiki is hosted on SharePoint for now (out of convenience more than anything else). Both of these apps crashed and burned trying to do anything with the wiki. It was, however, usable, accessible and even editable using the browser emulators I mentioned above. Problem solved.

(I need to write a separate post about the nightmares I have thinking about ever having to migrate our wiki onto a different, better wiki platform)

3) The FileBrowser app is coming in more and more handy every day. I have actually set up a link to my office Mac’s home folder. This gives me secure access to my entire filesystem that is quick and easy to navigate via bookmarks, etc. I find this much more convenient than to access the computer via Wyse and then access files. This really gives me the feeling of carrying my work computer in my hand.

I have heard from several of you regarding shortcomings of the iPad, including limitations of HootSuite, etc. I am not a hootsuite user so I can’t comment on that. However, I do recognize that many apps still need to mature considerably. In my experience, with some changes to my workflow, I am able to use the iPad exclusively as a replacement for my laptop 90% of the time. Keep in mind though that my workflow is generally fairly generic most of the time. I do not code every day, or use a lot of custom apps during my work day. If you do, a laptop is definitely a better solution for you.

My biggest annoyances remain inability to seamlessly open and view/edit Visio and MS Project documents. Anyone feeling adventurous to come up with a solution to this? :)

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Christina Pierro

Sonny, do you know if apps as a service exist? Is there a way to pay for a subscription fee for an app instead of a one-time fee? Do you know which apps offer this?

Sonny Hashmi

Christina, from an iOS perspective, apple started what they call “in app purchase” in iOS 4.1, which continues in iOS 4.2. There is talk about including subscription services in the upcoming iOS 4.3. From what I have heard, the typical business cases for leveraging subscription based apps are things like online magazines, newspapers, etc. Is there a particular type of app or application you were curious about? A few of the providers who use a subscription services currently use a different model. For example, Bloomberg. If you have a Bloomberg subscription, you pay for it separately. The bloombery mobile app is free, but requires a login name/password to access the content, which is only usable if you have a current subscription.