If there is one thing that spending 15 years writing about software has taught me, it is that it is important to get over the honey-moon period with any new technology before trying to make an accurate assessment of its benefits.
For some years, I have operated a self-imposed, six-month cooling-off period before evangelising products in this column.
A suitable period having passed since the UK launch of the iPad, I am in no doubt that my passion for Apple’s tablet device is more than just a short-term crush.
Over the last six months, the load I carry to most meetings has become a great deal lighter. As someone who was a loyal Windows tablet PC user (having owned four such machines in the last eight years), I am now well and truly converted to the iPad as my tool of choice for note-taking. Since last June, you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have used my tablet PC in a meeting. Typing on the iPad’s glass keyboard is both silent and comfortable.
Carrying a device that weighs 1.5lb as opposed to one that weighs 5lb is an obvious improvement but when you add the fact that you can be emailing in seconds rather than waiting five minutes for Windows to fire up and add the fact that it almost never crashes and you have a very compelling proposition.
I have not given up on my laptop. If I am travelling for a couple of days, it will go with me for more complex work but it rarely leaves the hotel room.
For notekeeping, email, web browsing and other basic tasks, the Apple device is a dream. In essence, what you are getting with an iPad is a reliable, quick to start up and easy to use netbook. Admittedly, it is overpriced if you break down the under-lying components but the simplicity, portability and functionality make up for this many times over.
This is not a product without its flaws. Pages, Keynote and Numbers, the equivalent of Word, PowerPoint and Excel, are still limited in the extreme compared with their Microsoft counterparts but then Seattle has had 20 years to evolve the Office suite to its current state while the iPad apps are still in their infancy. But if you are trying to do something quickly on the road, they are simple and easy to use, so minor limitations are for the most part forgivable.
I consider Keynote too frustrating for any real use. Apple should urgently attend to its tendency to totally deconstruct complex PowerPoint files. I would love to be able to use Keynote just as a presentation tool for files built using its progenitor but in practice this is not viable.
With large numbers of powerful apps available for free, such as Dragon’s voice recognition, and paid-for apps usually only a few pounds, trying new software is hardly an expensive experience.
Safari may not be the most sophisticated browser but it is more than adequate and it is vastly easier to read articles on the 9.7-inch diagonal screen than any mobile phone.
There are lots of great leisure uses for the iPad which are a bonus but there is no doubt that this is a serious piece of business kit. If more IFA software firms follow True Potential’s lead of making their adviser software available for the iPad, I can see iPads becoming mainstream adviser tools. I am also aware of a number of providers planning to replace their field salesforces’ laptops with iPads, which makes a lot of sense.
In the wider context of our industry, it is worth considering what devices such as the iPad and its sister iPhone mean. I do not see them as a computer or a phone, both are personal lifestyle organisers.
Every week, I speak to people who use either device and have a common view – that Apple products enable them to do things they never realised they wanted to do before they owned them which make their lives easier and better organised. This shows that if you make things really easy for consumers, they will do things they might previously have thought too complex.
I believe there is a really important message here for the financial advice community. We can either embrace the opportunity that lifestyle devices offer us to articulate the benefits of our services and deliver new and innovative consumer propositions or ignore them until someone else uses the plat-forms to make themselves a far easier to use alternative to traditional advice.
In the future, a key part of financial product marketing will be to have the tools deployed to be able to identify what our customers want before they realise they want it. This is not rocket science. Supermarkets and other industries have been doing it for years but the emergence of financial apps provides this opportunity for even small advice firms.
Small parcels of information can provide the opportunity to educate and inform consumers on financial planning issues and capture the information needed to be able to give them the right advice when they need it. Having spent a considerable amount of time exploring how this market can be developed in recent months, I am convinced it will rapidly become a new and significant channel for financial services product distribution.
But that is for the (near) future. In the meantime, the iPad has the potential to be a powerful business tool for anyone who is not totally desk-based.
With details of the iPad 2 already emerging, anyone who has not bought one might want to wait until the next version arrives. Alternatively, get the best of both worlds by buying an iPad 1 today for the immediate productivity improvement it will give you and work out who you can pass it on to as soon as version 2 arrives.
Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre