Technology Update

Thinking of picking up an iPad? Here's a few things to consider

The device is a charmer, but it has limitations and lots of competition

Oct 3, 2010 @ 12:01 am

By Davis D. Janowski

Because of the near-mania over the Apple iPad, I've been bombarded of late by advisers who want to incorporate the device into their practices but aren't really sure what it can do for them.

It can do a lot, which we'll get to in a moment. But let's not forget the basics: The iPad runs Apple Inc.'s iPhone operating system, while more than 95% of advisers work on PCs running an operating system from Microsoft.

That Apple-Microsoft divide means that many file types used on a PC are not completely compatible with the iPad. Sure, you can import and export a lot of things between the two worlds, but you'll wind up seeing the seams.

In terms of what the iPad or its many competitors can do for advisers, let's start at the macro level (for the micro look, see my blog at InvestmentNews.com/technology).

First and foremost, the iPad is a great presentation device for working with clients. I wrote a few months ago about how SageView Advisory Group was buying iPads to replace its paper-based quarterly reports.

Think of the iPad as a tool to share slick Adobe PDF reports with your clients.

To get to most of your web-based advisory applications when on an iPad, use the onboard Safari web browser — unless, of course, those applications require Microsoft Explorer, as a few applications still do.

Nevertheless, don't think of the iPad as a laptop replacement, although many advisers use it as such. For one thing, the iPad lacks printer support.

Point No. 2 is the keyboard: Even if you're a fast typist (say, 40 to 60 words per minute), using the iPad's built-in touch screen can slow you down to maybe 20 to 30 words per minute. There is an add-on physical keyboard, but then you've lost the advantage of using a single device.

Those negatives aside, the iPad represents a whole new way for advisers to interact and work.

“I'm in the minority, but I think this is going to have a huge impact on the industry,” said Sean Cunniff, research director at The Tower Group Inc., a research and advisory services firm that covers the financial services industry exclusively.

“I can think of a variety of ways advisers are going to use this,” he said. “For example, say you're researching a mutual fund with the client or working on a retirement plan enrollment. Instead of giving them paper and then having to get back in touch with them, you walk them through it right there and drill down as deeply as they would like.”

Advisers smitten with the iPad who want to run out and buy a fleet for their firms should consider a look at the competition, or at least the about-to-come-to-market competition.

Principal among these is the new BlackBerry PlayBook, and to a lesser extent, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which currently are being evaluated by the technology press.

The PlayBook runs an operating system that Research in Motion Ltd. bought this year and which you likely never have heard of: QNX. Given BlackBerry's dominance in the business and finance sectors, chances are good that RIM will work very hard to make the device as compatible as possible with applications native to it.

My friend and former colleague Sasha Segan (who also happens to be the best mobile-technology journalist out there) wrote just last week in his column at PC Magazine that the future of PlayBook “depends, in large part, on sales, marketing and app developers.”

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s Galaxy Tab runs a version of Google Inc.'s Android operating system, which has attracted application developers.

Advisory technology providers now must consider which tablet system to develop applications for.

“Financial guys don't really understand the tablet market,” said David Kaufman, founder and chief executive of Voyant Inc., which builds web-based platforms for financial planning applications.

The company works with big financial services providers, most recently with Axa Wealth in the United Kingdom.

“It's great that you have early tech adopters among advisers who say that they want to adopt the iPad,” Mr. Kaufman said. “But we are tending more toward the other operating systems at this point — most of the folks we work with have no interest in having their applications go anywhere near the [Apple] App Store.”

For those unwilling to bite into the Apple, other devices are on the way, including the ExoPC Slate, from Canada's ExoPC, and an as-yet-unnamed device from Hewlett-Packard Co., both running Windows 7. These could be game changers.

Another factor that could alter the tablet world is the level of adoption and industry support for HTML 5, the next major revision of the HTML standard for structuring and presenting content on the web. How quickly the new standard is rolled out and adopted will make a big difference in how well many applications might run on devices that use any operating system.

Rather than asking how the iPad or another tablet device will fit into their practices, advisers should consider whether they would like to start having client meetings in new places and how the “touch factor” — being able to manipulate hypotheticals, for example — could help them evolve the way they do business.

An anecdote from Voyant's Mr. Kaufman sums this up well:

“Recently, I was sitting with a client who has a 60-inch monitor on his wall, and he asked why he needed a tablet if he had one of those monitors. I told him that the monitor is great for meetings in the office, but what would happen if he met at the coffee shop around the corner? But it's even more than that; it's about the level of interaction and client involvement you have with these devices.”

Related stories:

iPad has some staunch supporters

Finantix Wealth-X for iPad — the most beautiful financial planning program ever

Morningstar quietly adds QuoteSpeed to its advisory menu

Advisers with iPhones, meet the Cinemin Swivel micro projector

iPads taking SageView green, the trees say thank you

Reuters Insider technologically impressive [see the last few slideshow images]

Thomson Reuters begins the drip of iPad apps

The iPad is here, almost

Financial application for the Droid

NetExchange and iPhone make connection

Morningstar application available for iPhone

E-mail Davis D. Janowski at djanowski@investmentnews.com.

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