What initially might have been viewed as nothing more than an attention-grabbing gadget useful for reading electronic books and mail, mobile Internet-capable computing devices – or tablet computers – have become a convenient and practical tool for accountants. Managing Editor Bill Grabarek reports.
With Apple generating much of the buzz, global tablet sales could reach nearly 20 million units by the end of the year, and nearly 55 million units by the end of 2012, according to Gartner Inc., an information technology research and advisory firm. In addition to Apple's iPad, other manufacturers have developed their own versions of the tablet, such as BlackBerry's PlayBook, Dell's Streak, and Toshiba's Journe Touch.
Not without its limitations, the iPad, which is larger than a mobile phone but smaller than laptop and netbook computers, has become rather indispensible for some accountants.
"I got it because I work here in Arizona but I have 50 percent or more of my business on the East Coast back in Maryland where I originally came from," said N. Mark Freedman, who has been a CPA for nearly four decades. "I had a netbook but it was too slow. Then the iPad came out and I started looking into it. For travel purposes, it's phenomenal. It works faster than any computer I have worked with in the past."
Freedman works off of a Citrix server that stores all of his programs; nothing is stored on any of his computers. He knew a Citrix application was available for the iPad and tested it before purchasing the device.
"By loading in that application, [the iPad] became a PC. I can open up my Citrix server [in Maryland] and use it to get to all my programs. I just couldn't believe I could get my desktop on my iPad," he said.
What's more, Freedman recently purchased the latest generation iPhone, which he is able to use as a mouse when working his iPad.
"I am able to use this thing when I travel. It's so light," Freedman said. "When I see clients, I pick up my iPad and everything is there. It works wonderfully."
Initially intrigued by the iPhone and how Apple devices manage data and information, Kathleen A. Carolin, CPA, of Scottsdale, AZ-based Kaiser & Carolin, P.C., purchased an iPad the day they went on sale.
"I just got done with tax season and had extra money in my bank account so I bought a toy I hoped I could justify buying," Carolin told AccountingWEB. "I love that little toy."
What she affectionately refers to as a toy, however, became much more.
"I am using my iPad to take notes at client meetings. It certainly beats walking into a client's office and trying to hook up a laptop, wait for it to boot up, and then have it block my view of my clients. The iPad is much more unobtrusive," Carolin said.
"I am able to get my e-mail on the iPad. So, unlike my BlackBerry, I can see attachments in full and living color," she said. "I use [my BlackBerry] as a phone, but that's all I use it for now. The screen is so small. Opening attachments on a BlackBerry is nuts. It's barely worth doing."
Carolin took her iPad to a recent American Institute of Certified Public Accountants conference in Las Vegas, using it with a wireless keyboard to take notes during three days of seminars. "It's better than dragging a laptop with you."
Using an app called LogMeIn, Carolin connects to her office computer with the iPad. "I was talking to an investment advisor and I said, 'Oh yes I got a copy of that tax return today.' He asked what that entity owns, so I was able to [access] my office computer and say, 'Here's the property that's in that LLC.'"
Not only is the iPad useful for accounting tasks and handy for reading books and news publications, it also is quite the conversation starter.
"I have met so many people by carrying it with me and reading it at lunch," Carolin said. "I went to the doctor and the nurse said 'Oh, I have one of those,' and we talked about the apps we have."
Despite what Apple idolaters might say, the iPad has its drawbacks – at least for accountants.
"I wouldn't want to use it on a day-to-day basis as a regular computer. It’s a little more cumbersome to work [the iPad] with the mouse," Freedman told AccountingWEB. "I fully recommend it as a backup, as a secondary computer, as a travel piece of equipment. For travel and going out to clients on a regular basis, it becomes your computer. I would imagine that if someone got skilled enough at it they could use it to perform audits out in the field."
Freedman added that using the iPad's virtual keyboard can be a bit problematic as it takes up nearly half of the device's screen.
Although, the iPad has relegated Carolin's BlackBerry to just-a-phone status, she said the Apple device isn't ready to supplant her computer.
"It won't replace my laptop yet, probably due to the size of it. I do audits and tax returns. If I go out to do an audit, I don't think it will feel right to me just yet to use it to do Excel spreadsheets," Carolin said. "I'm not there yet, but I'm not ruling it out, either."