iPad as Virtual Desktop: 3 Reasons to Avoid

Adam Bookman | October 27, 2011 | Mobile Strategy

As iPads proliferate into the Enterprise, and as business people (who mostly bought these devices as consumers) bring their devices into the workplace, demand is being placed on the shoulders of IT to business enable these iPads, essentially integrating them into corporate systems and processes.

Why Using the iPad as Virtual Desktop is So Tempting

There is no doubt that using the device as a virtual desktop is tempting to IT. It alleviates a number of potential headaches.
We see two obvious reasons:
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  1. Security: The ultimate way to bypass security risks associated with allowing enterprise data to proliferate on mobile devices outside of the corporate firewall is to use the iPad simply as a screen, securely connected to data and applications residing in the corporate data center. Doing this allows business users to not have to lug around their laptops and still provides them with the ability to view corporate data on their iPads. Again, from a security perspective there is limited risk because the data never makes its way onto the device. If an iPad user is leaves the company or misplaces the laptop, access to the remote desktop can quickly revoked.
  2. Cost: When the iPad is used as a virtual desktop, through tools like Citrix XenApp or Citrix XenDesktop, there is no need to build iPad specific apps. This can save the organization a lot of money in terms of IT development costs. Costs savings come from eliminating the need to hire / train developers in the skills needed to build iPad apps, reduces the time to market in terms of getting apps out into the field, and bypasses the constraints of the absence of certain features on the iPad (Adobe Flash, Microsoft ActiveX, etc.).

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However, we feel that these short-term benefits are greatly outweighed by the benefits of a long-term iPad strategy for the organization.

3 Reasons Why Using the iPad as a Virtual Desktop Should be Avoided

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  1. Doesn’t Make Use of Native iPad Functionality: What I believe is the largest downfall of virtualizing is the inability to tap into the native functionality that makes the iPad such an innovative device. Apps that reside on the device can use features such as the device location, orientation, camera, caching, print, and connectivity to contacts and calendar. Apps running on a remote desktop can be functional on the iPad, but cannot tap into the features on the device that make it so attractive. citrix on the ipadUsing the remote desktop approach also significantly detracts from the “wow” factor. Business users and their customers are drawn to the iPad because it is so usable, because it is not a laptop replacement. Using it as a remote desktop virtualization device turns it right back into a “laptop lite”, just another screen. There is no quicker way to suck out the “wow”.
  2. Requires Constant High-Speed Connectivity: You’re on a plane, you’re in a sales meeting at client’s office, you’re out in the field servicing a customer. You have no internet access. You quickly realize that the iPad as a virtual desktop is not working for you. This is not a minor issue. To make use of virtualization you need to be connected. You can’t make use of the caching that is natively available with the iPad. If you are going to use a mobile device, use it on the road, requiring connectivity in our opinion is extremely limiting. In addition the bandwidth required to make most Virtual Desktop applications useful is more than simple 3G connectivity. If a wifi network is required, you may as well bring your laptop.
  3. Virtualized Apps are Not Optimized for the iPad: Virtualized apps are primarily designed to be used with a mouse and keyboard. Trying to use them on the iPad is not always a pleasing proposition. Screen size is an issue, these applications are not built for the small screen, and apps designed for the mouse and keyboard are extremely clumsy in a touch interface. There are many issues abound with apps presented though a virtual server. It is often very difficult to utilize even the simplest controls like closing or minimizing an app. While the apps try to allow you to use the iPad keyboard, they are not prepared or positioned to deal with the touched focused interface. Virtualizing key apps on the iPad is a kluge. A workaround. Sub optimal.

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Companies going down the virtual desktop path are missing out on the attributes that Propelics believes will create a competitive advantage. This is not to say that there are no use cases for using virtualization. There are very good reasons to use tools like Citrix for one application or another. But putting all your eggs into the remote desktop basket is a losing proposition in the long term and you risk your competition passing you by.

Adam Bookman

Adam has been the brains behind many new product and program launches. He has advised companies on marketing strategies associated with new ideas, as well as worked with Fortune 500 companies in various capacities. Being a savvy marketer, with the ability to jump on new trends, he has helped companies make the most of new channels to reach the right audience. Previously, he has been involved in companies from a founding stage to successful exits. Adam can be reached at adam.bookman@propelics.com or on twitter at @adambookman.

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