Why the iPad Won’t Get Traction With Business Users

In the wake of Apple’s (s aapl) iPad unveiling yesterday, some are speculating that the device will find early success as a tool for mobile workers. There are several reasons, though, why that is unlikely to be the case, and why Apple won’t focus on this as an early goal.

Ted Schadler, writing on the Forrester Research blog, says:

“It will catch on quickly as an employee-provisioned third device, particularly for Mobile Professionals, 28% of the workforce. IT will support it in many organizations. After all, it’s just a big iPhone to them and already 20% of firms support them.”

Regarding the iPhone, Apple officials noted on the company’s earnings call this week that 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies are trying iPhones. However, the word “trying” is key, as the iPhone has never been taken anywhere near as seriously as a business device as, say, the BlackBerry (s rimm), which sports both a physical keyboard and the ability to very easily access multiple email accounts.

In his review of the iPad, Om noted that while it is reasonably good for checking email, “the iPad’s primary purpose is to help you consume the ever-expanding amount of digital content on offer.” That’s one big reason why the device will be a much bigger hit among consumers than business users.

One very telling clue to how focused Apple itself will be on the iPad as a consumer device as opposed to a business device is that it’s only making its iWork set of productivity applications available on a piecemeal basis. iPad owners can get Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheets) and Keynote (presentations) for $9.99 each, but they won’t get a bundled suite, as one would expect if Apple had designs on the iPad’s early success among business users. (The iWork apps are also redesigned for the iPad, and have less functionality than the desktop versions.) I could see some limited use of the iPad as a tool for delivering slick Keynote presentations, but not as an all-around workhorse business device.

I’m inclined to agree with CNet’s Rafe Needleman that the iPad may, in some ways, be to the MacBook as the netbook is to the PC. The $499 iPad will be Apple’s lowest-priced computer, even lower priced than the Mac Mini. It may very well be popular as a device that sits in a family room or kitchen.

Microsoft tried to champion tablet computers as The Next Big Thing years ago, but the category never quite took off. Few of the early tablets were positioned as connected devices for content consumption, but rather as handwriting recognition-centric working tools, and they even failed to live up to the promise of that goal. As far as the iPad’s place among business users, it’s unlikely that Apple itself — a company known for skillful, targeted marketing — will make significant attempts to position it for them.