Bill Simmons, aka the Sports Guy on ESPN/Grantland, is probably my favorite writer on the planet. In the last decade, I've read more words by him than anyone besides myself.
There are several reasons for this. His stuff mostly appears on the Web. Like every guy I know, I stopped reading actual books around the time DSL replaced AOL. Simmons also writes incredibly long. His trademark mailbag columns, where he answers his readers' off-kilter questions, are 10,000 words of Jack Kerouac-style-stream-of-consciousness - if Kerouac had a MacBook and grew up obsessed with 80s movies and the Red Sox.
Finally, Simmons has a gift for spinning fantastical theories that make total sense despite not being grounded in anything resembling scientific rigor, like his 16 Levels of Losing (rating the psychic pain of fans depending on the scenario) or The (Patrick) Ewing Theory (teams play better after losing a superstar).
One Simmons-ism that I find particularly applicable to tech is his notion of something being, not over-hyped, not under-hyped, but properly-hyped. It's like the Gartner Hype Cycle, but applied to jocks, as they go from overhyped college star to underhyped, struggling young pro to properly-hyped veteran.
Take Lebron James. When he was a high school freshman with a bodybuilder's physique, he was already overhyped. The hype only grew when James skipped college and instantly became an NBA star. By year 4, though, James began taking heat, from nitpickers who latched onto his (occasionally) poor dribbling and (relatively) weak 3-point shooting, to critics who pointed out his inability to win an NBA championship.
When he messily switched teams, gave up his Alpha Dog status to teammate Dwyane Wade, and still failed to win a championship in his first year, the naysayers seized on every opportunity to call him a choke artist, a waste of talent, a loser. By the end of that season, James was stupendously under-hyped.
Then what happened? Not only did James win the NBA's Most Valuable Player for the third time, but he finally carried a team to the championship this past June. That's the sort of season that anyone not surnamed Bird, Jordan or Bryant can only dream about. But it's a requirement for a player with the nickname King James to live up to his billing, answer his critics, and, finally, reach the state where his achievements match the hype.
The iPad is the LeBron James of tech. Like LeBron, it is incredibly successful (85 million sold in 2.5 years, 70% of the tablet market) and incredibly hyped.
Only in one area could you argue that the iPad is underhyped, and that is in the enterprise. There's no shortage of critics charging that the iPad is incapable of 'real' business work, that it's not manageable and insecure, and that it will be dead meat once Windows 8/RT comes out.
For sure, some companies stumble when they blindly jump onto the iPad bandwagon. Like the enterprise that returned 40% of the 14,000 iPads earmarked for its managers because, according to a Gartner analyst, "they don't have a clue what to do with them."
In other organizations, the iPad has simply failed to make a dent. In the City of Minneapolis, an attempt to encourage iPad deployments and BYOD usage resulted in just 170 of its 3,600 workers using them, according to a recent article in CIO magazine headlined, "Is the iPad Over-Hyped in the Enterprise?" Still other organizations like Seton Hall University are consciously eschewing the iPad in favor of Windows 8 tablets.
Personally, I think it's great that stories like these are emerging and being aired publicly. No CIO would expect a unplanned ad hoc deployment to succeed. Why should iPads be any different? And if you combine super-strict BYOD policies along with super-tight budgets, as happened in Minneapolis, would you expect many workers and managers to bring/deploy iPads?
Not the Holy Grail
The critics are right: there are many things that the iPad isn't. It isn't the Holy Grail of mobility. It isn't the Jesus Tablet. It's not even a 100% laptop replacement.
But the facts are this: 94% of Fortune 500 companies are rolling out or testing iPads, according to Apple. Thousands more have deployed them. And some of these deployments are massive: 32,000 by Korea Telecom, 26,000 by the San Diego Unified School District, 18,000 by the United States Air Force, 11,000 by United Airlines, etc.
For many companies, the iPad is proving to be a useful business tool that is as easy to manage as Windows PCs and secure enough for top-tier banks. In others, it is a wedge for the next generation of technology to make its way into enterprises. It is an enabler for many companies to overcome the inertia of naysayers to experiment with scenarios where tablets can make add plenty of value (like field service, like sales, like meetings, like healthcare, like HR and general worker productivity). And it is helping companies earn real ROI today.
It's not only possible to reconcile these opposing views and facts, but desirable that we do so. To ignore one or the other would be to over-hype or under-play the iPad. To properly hype/assess the iPad, we need to match expectations with reality, link hype to actual impact.
Want to see some more examples of companies improving their operations using apps and tablets like the iPad? Check out the infographic below created by the SAP Mobile team, which references companies like Vodafone, CSC, Asian Paints, Charite Berlin hospital, Verizon Wireless and Standard Bank of South Africa: