Why the iPad mini is an essential business tool

20th Nov 2012 | 10:11

Why the iPad mini is an essential business tool

Using the Apple iPad Mini and iOS 6 in your business

iPads are already a familiar sight in Business Class and boardrooms, and with the launch of the iPad mini, Apple's tablet range has just become even more business-friendly. The iPad mini is as powerful as its predecessors but it's significantly more portable and much cheaper too.

The iPad mini: key specifications

The iPad mini is very similar to the iPad 2. It has built-in Wi-Fi and optional cellular connectivity, a 1024x768 touch-screen and a dual-core A5 processor. There are twin cameras, speakers and a microphone, a digital compass (plus GPS if you go for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model), a battery that's good for around ten hours of everyday use and Apple's latest operating system, iOS 6.

There are some crucial differences, though, and the most obvious one is that the mini is much smaller. It's just 200mm high, 134.7mm deep and 7.2mm thick, and it weighs in at 308g (312g for the Wi-Fi and cellular model). That's half the weight of a normal iPad.

The mini is much more portable than other iPads: it's half the weight of a full-sized tablet.

The secret to the mini's small size is its display, which is a 7.9-inch panel rather than a 9.7-inch one. It isn't a Retina Display like the iPad 4's, but it does offer the same resolution as the iPad 2. There's also a smaller connector, called Lightning, instead of the familiar Dock connector. Lightning connectors are smarter and smaller than Dock ones, but compatible devices and cables are still relatively rare and Apple's own cables and adapters are pricey.

For many, the most important difference between the iPad mini and its bigger siblings is its price. A 16GB iPad mini is £269, compared to £329 for the equivalent iPad 2 and £399 for the iPad 4. The Wi-Fi + Cellular model is £369, compared to £499 for the iPad 4 (the iPad 2's cellular model supports 3G mobile data, but not 4G).

Those prices include VAT and are for models with 16GB of storage; if you want more memory, the 32GB iPad mini is £349 (£449 for Wi-Fi + Cellular) and the 64GB £429 (£529).

The iPad mini and iOS 6: business-friendly features

iOS 6's VIP Inbox for email enables you to mark contacts as VIPs and then see only messages from those people, and the VIP inbox also works on the lock screen - so you can see if colleagues or clients have contacted you without being notified of every junk email.

You can also flag messages for later action, and the improved attachment system makes it much easier to attach multiple items to a single email. For example, you might use the iPad mini's 5MP camera to take several pictures of a location and then send them all in a single email.

There's no shortage of big-name apps such as Adobe Reader for iPads, and the mini runs all of them

The iPad mini also has iMessage - Apple's alternative to SMS messaging - and FaceTime, its video conferencing service. iMessage works across multiple devices, enabling users to receive messages on a Mac, on an iPad or on an iPhone, and FaceTime now works on mobile data networks (if you have the Wi-Fi + Cellular iPad mini) as well as Wi-Fi ones.

Like the larger iPad 4, the iPad mini gets Apple's voice control system Siri, which now supports local business searching as well as commands such as "text Chris to say I'm running late", "invite Karen and Craig to a meeting at 9am on Friday" and so on, and you can dictate directly into applications such as email and word processing.

As with other iPads the iPad mini boasts PC-free activation and updating; encrypted email; secure private networking; location-based reminders; Microsoft Exchange and IMAP email, calendar and contact information; mobile device management to monitor, lock or even wipe managed devices; wireless app distribution for businesses who want to create and distribute their own internal apps; and an App Store full of software covering everything from time management to presentations.

The iPad mini's wireless and 4G options

All iPad minis can stream audio, photos and video wirelessly using Apple's AirPlay technology (wired cables such as Lightning to VGA adapters are available too), support AirPrint wireless printing, and have the latest Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity for wireless peripherals. Wi-Fi support is extensive: iPad minis can connect to 802.11a/b/g, 2.4GHz 802.11n and 5GHz 802.11n wireless networks, and they support channel bonding for download speeds of up to 150Mbps.

In addition to Apple's own FaceTime video, iPads can be used with services such as Skype and WebEx

As with the iPhone 5, the Wi-Fi + Cellular iPad mini can connect not just to 3G mobile networks, but to 4G LTE ones. That should deliver real-world speeds roughly four times faster than current 3G networks, and it should mean better video conferencing, faster mobile networking and a vastly improved mobile browsing experience.

That's the promise, at least, but reality is a little more complicated. 4G is very new to the UK - EE's network only went live at the end of October, and the other operators won't have 4G networks running until early 2013 - so coverage is very limited. Even when other services launch, the iPad mini won't recognise them: different operators will use different frequency bands, and for now the only UK frequency band Apple supports is EE's one.

The UK iPad mini currently supports LTE bands 1, 3 and 5, which means that you'll be able to connect to 4G networks (where available) throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia and Africa. US and Canadian operators use different LTE bands, so you'll be stuck with 3G when you roam in those countries. For details of which worldwide 4G standards the iPad mini supports, visit http://www.apple.com/ipad/LTE/.

With the exception of the 4G LTE radio, the differences between the Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Cellular models of the iPad mini are minor: the Wi-Fi + Cellular loses an hour of battery when you're browsing mobile broadband (it gets 9 hours of web browsing, compared to 10 for the Wi-Fi model), weighs four grams more, and gets both GPS and GLONASS, which is the Russian alternative to the GPS system.

The iPad mini's Maps

Let's not mince words here: Apple's maps app is hopeless, and while executives' heads have rolled the service hasn't significantly improved since it was launched. Better offerings are available, both for free - Google Maps' web-based version works happily on the iPad mini, as does Nokia's Here - and as paid-for apps such as the excellent TomTom Western Europe.

In the longer term businesses might want to be on Apple Maps, however: it integrates with Yelp for local business reviews, so if you deal with the general public (or anyone else who might search for you using Maps), it's a very good idea to ensure that your business is registered there for when Apple finally fixes its mapping service. You can register your business, write a description and upload photos at biz.yelp.co.uk.

Electronic ticketing on the iPad mini

One of the more interesting features in iOS 6 is Passbook, an electronic ticketing system that can potentially replace airline boarding cards, concert tickets and even coffee shop loyalty cards. For now it's more about potential than delivery - the list of Passbook-using companies is minimal and overwhelmingly American - but if it's widely adopted then your iPad mini could not only store your boarding card but tell you what gate to go to and when to be there, alerting you instantly of any issues such as delays or gate changes.

Passbook may also be relevant if you want to publish e-tickets and coupons for your own business. Passbook tickets can be sent via email or delivered directly from websites or apps, can be tied to specific time periods or locations, and can replace anything you might normally print on a ticket, as a barcode, or on a gift, loyalty or membership card.

It's not difficult to create Passbook items - Apple has published extensive documentation explaining how to create them and sites such as Passsource.com can do the whole thing for you.

Managing employees' iPad minis

Apple offers a good selection of management features for business owners, although to get the most from them you need a Mac so that you can use the free Apple Configurator app.

Apple Configurator is ideal for relatively small organisations who need to control multiple iPads (and other Apple devices) but who don't necessarily have dedicated IT departments to take care of such tasks. The app enables you to put devices into Supervised Mode, which in turn enables you to load them with pre-defined packages of applications, data and system settings. Such packages can have a time limit, so for example you could give a temporary employee access to important company applications, systems or data for the duration of a particular project or contract, with that access automatically revoked once the project or contract is over.

Apps such as Oracle Business Intelligence are designed to connect to large firms' information systems

Apple Configurator can set everything from the simple to the serious, from specifying the images that appear on employees' lock screens and wallpaper to backing up users' data, blocking social networks or routing all their internet traffic through your own servers to prevent them from accessing or uploading anything they shouldn't.

You can disable access to specific applications and hardware features, for example by limiting use of the camera, blocking iMessage or Game Center or preventing iPads from being synchronised with non-approved computers, and you can also use the program to automatically update devices when a new version of the iOS 6 operating system is released.

Business apps on the iPad mini

One of the iPad mini's key selling points is that it runs the same apps as a full-sized iPad, and there are plenty of business-related apps to choose from. Such apps [https://itunes.apple.com/gb/genre/ios-business/id6000?mt=8] tend to come in two flavours: stand-alone apps that do something useful by themselves, such as office programs and productivity software, and apps that connect to bigger systems, such as remote control apps and customer data apps.

In the former category you'll find Apple's own Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet and Keynote presentation program as well as Adobe Reader for digital forms, countless Microsoft Office compatible applications, business card scanners and productivity applications.

Remote control apps such as LogMeIn enable you to use the iPad mini to control faraway PCs and Macs

In the second category you'll find remote access apps such as LogMeIn, which enables you to remotely control a Mac or PC from your iPad, Cisco WebEx Meetings, which connects to Cisco videoconferencing servers, and Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile HD, which connects to Oracle systems.

The gap between Apple's selection of apps and Google's isn't as large as it once was - where Apple boasts more than 700,000 apps, Google says its Google Play store has the same amount - but Apple has more tablet-specific apps, and while both stores have their fair share of pointless applications, Apple vets apps and Google doesn't. The result, inevitably, is that Google's platform suffers from malware (malicious software): security firm McAfee says that malware writers are transferring their attention from PCs to mobile devices, and that Android is their main target. Meanwhile iOS apps currently remain malware-free.

The iPad mini: verdict

The business sector may traditionally belong to Microsoft, but it seems Apple has an advantage in this market: Windows 8 and Windows RT are currently targeting the market for larger tablets, not seven-inch ones. That means that for now, the iPad's main rivals are Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and Google's Nexus 7. For businesses, Amazon's tablet isn't really a contender - it's designed primarily for content consumption - and while Google's small tablet is much cheaper than the iPad mini it lacks a 4G version, the same number of tablet-optimised apps and Apple's brand awareness and familiarity. By delivering the full iPad experience for the price of a netbook or cheap laptop, Apple looks like it's onto a winner here.

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