Are Apple iPad, iPod Touch More Ready for Enterprise?

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced a number of products during his company’s Sept. 1 presentation in San Francisco, devoting asubstantial chunk of time to the now-annual refresh of the iPod line. In particular, the revamped iPod Touch—which Jobs joked was an iPhone “without a phone”—will receive a number of features already present in the iPhone 4, including the FaceTime videoconferencing application and the high-definition Retina Display.

But do those additions make the iPod Touch, traditionally the most “consumery” of consumer electronic items, ready for a boosted role in the enterprise?

That question may not make or break Apple’s fortunes with its newest products, but it could affect how some companies choose to procure and distribute devices to their employees in the coming months.

Some of the new iOS features—notably Game Center, a multiplayer-centric gaming platform—remain firmly in the consumer realm, and thus outside the consideration of business mobility. Three other aspects of the iPod Touch, though, have possible relevance: FaceTime, Retina Display and HD video recording .

HD video recording and FaceTime could increase the iPod Touch’s use as an “in the field” device for workers, while Retina Display would certainly boost the visual clarity of work-centric apps. Chances are good, however, that the potential audience already owns devices capable of video- and image-taking; and the WiFi-powered FaceTime and Retina Display, while certainly selling points for Apple, may not offer enough utility to justify a mass device-purchase for an office.

On top of that, the new iPod Touch’s price point—the 8GB version will retail for $229, the 32GB for $299, and the 64GB for $399—could prove a sticking point. Although business IT spending has increased in recent months, in the wake of the global recession, it may be hard to justify that sort of spending on a device when the 16GB iPhone 4 retails for $199, and the 32GB version for $299.

However, Apple’s Sept. 1 announcements surrounding the iPad may make that device an even more viable option as an enterprise item. Jobs told the audience that the upcoming iOS 4.2 will give the tablet new features: wireless printing, multitasking, apps folders, a unified e-mail inbox, stronger security and device-management capabilities, and tweaks to the keyboard and dictionaries.

Apple may intend those tweaks to head off an all-but-certain challenge from other manufacturers, some of whose upcoming tablet PCs may attempt to target the enterprise. During Microsoft’s annual Worldwide Partner Conference July 12, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said his company was developing Windows-equipped tablets designed to appeal to a variety of demographics.

“They’ll come with keyboards; they’ll come without keyboards—there’ll be many devices,” he told the audience. “But they will run Windows 7, they will run Office, they will accept ink- as well as touch-based input.”

Hewlett-Packard is developing tablets with its recently acquired Palm webOS,and company executives have indicated that an enterprise-centric version running Windows 7 is in development. Manufacturers such as Samsung and Dell have either released, or are preparing, similar hardware that runs Google Android. That means the coming months will see iPad competitors with more robust productivity options.

Those competitors’ moves, combined with any tech company’s urge to constantly improve its product lines, likely led Apple to the particularimprovements in iOS 4.2. The question now is how hard the iPad, having already made inroads in a business context, will need to fight to hold onto the majority of that might.