Apple's iPad Luring Small Businesses

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- While the grape fields of Northern California may be the last place you would expect to see one of tech's hottest-selling gadgets, that's not the case at Jordan Winery, where the company recently gave iPads to all 97 employees.

The iPad is used by sales managers of the Healdsburg, Calif., winery to pitch customers, train sommeliers and educate guests at wine festivals.

"Five years ago you'd go in with pictures in a book, flyers and magazines -- everything was done with paper," said Lisa Mattson, Jordan Winery's director of communications. "Now we're at a point where we can have this really cool dynamic presentation that people can move with their fingers, and see beautiful imagery that goes way beyond the two-dimensional world."

Jordan's winemakers also use the iPad to remotely monitor quality control and temperature of its wine tanks, and the company plans to transition design of its fermentation tank maps from Macs to the tablet sometime next year.

While the iPad's slick interface for watching videos, playing games and reading e-books makes it ideal for consumers, the device is increasingly being adopted by large corporations like JPMorgan ( JPM) and SAP ( SAP) -- as well as by small businesses.

The enterprise trend even caught Apple ( AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs by surprise, who said during a recent earnings call that the company hadn't pushed the iPad into the corporate market, but "it's being grabbed out of our hands."

Almost half of the most popular paid iPad-only apps are business programs. And according to a recent survey of Citrix Systems ( CTXS) customers, 62% said they plan to buy an iPad for work.

Small businesses are an increasing part of this trend, said market research company Techaisle, which found that more than 2 million iPads have been purchased by mom-and-pop sized shops for data capture, demos, presentations, e-mail and Internet surfing.

Compared to large corporations with structured IT departments, technology deployment at small businesses is typically more ad hoc. A small business exec or sales person with a personal iPad may look to make use of it in the workplace, said Mark Tauschek, an analyst at Info-Tech Research Group. That could drive acceptance from the IT group, which might look at pushing out the device more widely.

The iPad, priced at $499 in its most basic version, is less expensive than many laptops companies buy for their employees. iPads are also cheaper to maintain, because they don't require the constant security updates and patches that laptops do. Small business IT execs have also said it's easy to wipe out data on the iPad if it is lost or stolen.

While some companies may be concerned about entrusting highly sensitive data to the iPad -- particularly after a data breach this summer revealed the contact details of 114,000 tablet owners -- its level of security is "good enough" for many small businesses, said Nelson Saenz, director of information technology at Active Interest Media, an El Segundo, Calif., magazine publishing company that has rolled out 15 - 20 tablets to its employees.

"iPads are compelling for us because they're very easy to secure, administer and manage," Saenz said. "We're definitely seeing a shift in how our work flows internally."

In addition, the iPad's fast startup time and long battery life give it a boost over the laptop for workers who are giving demonstrations at sales meetings and trade shows.

Lensbaby, a camera lens manufacturer in Portland, Ore., equips its sales people with iPads rather than laptops, which they found too cumbersome, said general manager Ron Khormaei. "The iPad is something that two people can look at, point at and manipulate what's going on in the screen in a more natural way than PCs," he said.

But despite the iPad's many advantages for companies, its small screen and lack of a physical keyboard aren't expected to replace traditional PCs -- yet.

At Dreaming Code, a Boston-based web design and marketing firm, employees use iPads for taking notes during meetings and delivering client presentations, but they still rely on laptops and PCs for creating large proposals and dealing with attachments.

"Basically, we still see the part of our workforce that is in the office using laptops and PCs ... for now," said CEO Akshay Vazirani.

--Written by Olivia Oran in New York.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/Ozoran.

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