Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

The iPad Decision: What CPAs Should Consider When Weighing a Purchase of Apple's Popular Tablet as a Business Tool

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

The iPad Decision: What CPAs Should Consider When Weighing a Purchase of Apple's Popular Tablet as a Business Tool

Article excerpt

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

* Tablet computers such as the iPad are content-consumption devices, not production devices. As such, CPAs have varying opinions on the iPad's usefulness as a work tool.

* Accessories and apps are key to success with the iPad. Keyboard cases top the list of accessories, while there are a number of crucial applications, among them Documents To Go Premium, which allows you to edit and create Microsoft Office documents on the iPad, and cloud-based, note-taking apps such as Evernote.

* iPads, because of their size and design, travel well and are best suited for use away from the office. Among the tasks they handle well are note taking, accessing and reading documents, making presentations to clients and serving as a second monitor. The devices also turn on instantly with no waiting for boot-up.

* The remote access of client data with numerous applications through a new device raises security concerns. IT departments need to establish security protocols for the device, with a focus on passwords, data-access policies and remote-wipe procedures.

* Limitations of the iPad include the lack of a mouse, which can make navigation cumbersome; the device's incompatibility with Adobe Flash; and the relative scarcity of applications that handle data-heavy CPA tasks such as audits and tax returns.

* CPAs considering whether to buy an iPad should factor in the total cost of the device (including apps, accessories and any data plans) and what tasks the CPA wants to perform.

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Ask one CPA, the managing partner of a 160-employee firm, what he thinks of using the iPad in his work, and he tells you "there's no other way to practice right now." Ask another, the IT head of a 400-employee firm, and he tells you that his iPad is no more useful than a paperweight.

Such is the range of opinions on the iPad as a tool for CPAs. There's no doubt the iPad can be a useful weapon in the CPA's tech arsenal, in the right situations. There's also no denying that the device, as currently designed, has limitations and isn't right for everyone.

Is the iPad right for you? This article looks at what the iPad does well, what it doesn't do well, which apps iPad users absolutely have to have, and what factors CPAs should consider when weighing whether to buy an iPad for professional use.

Numerous companies have come out---or are coming out--with tablet computers to compete with Apple, but this article focuses on the iPad because it is by far the dominant player in the space and is expected to remain so through at least next year (see sidebar "Apple Dominant in Tablet Space").

THE IPAD IS AN APPLIANCE

The first thing to understand about the iPad is that it's not simply a smaller version of your laptop.

"It is an appliance, not a computer," said Greg LaFollette, CPA/CITE director of product strategy for CPA2Biz, the for-profit arm of the AICPA.

LaFollette has been teaching a CPE session this year for CPAs called "iPad for Practice." During the course, he emphasizes that the iPad is "a wonderful tool that can be used in your practice. It is not a tool that you say, 'I have this problem in practice, and I'm going to go out and buy this tool to solve it.'"

That's because the iPad and other tablets are designed for consuming content, not creating it. For the CPA, that means the iPad is good for tasks such as reading PDFs, reviewing financial statements, going over material with clients at meetings, sending email and synchronizing Microsoft Outlook through services such as Microsoft Exchange.

What you aren't going to be able to do easily on an iPad are tasks that require heavy data input.

"Tablets are pretty pathetic for data entry," said Randy Johnston, a technical consultant to CPAs and executive vice president of K2 Enterprises and Network Management Group Inc. …

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