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/CITP, 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.
"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. "You can do a little casual email, but the types of tasks where you do data entry for audit work or data entry for tax work or for accounting work, it's probably not going to do those well."
Despite its limitations, the iPad has gained some traction among CPAs. Literally hundreds of the devices were spotted at the AICPA's Practitioners Symposium and Tech+ Conference in June, and consultants such as Jim Boomer, CPA/CITP, MBA, the CIO of Boomer Consulting, are seeing more and more of their clients carrying the tablets.
Boomer tells a story regarding a pair of annual meetings with 100 members of his firm's Boomer Technology Circles. At last year's meeting, held soon after the iPad's debut, attendees were asked if they owned one. Only two did. This year, at least half of the members at the meeting had an iPad or another tablet with them -- an impressive showing, Boomer notes, given that CPAs generally are not considered early adopters of new technology.
Early evidence indicates the number of accountants using tablets for work is small but growing. A survey of 1,377 AICPA members completed in January found that 10% owned an iPad or another tablet for personal use, while 6% owned one for business use. A Thomson Reuters survey completed in May found that, among 1,951 users of the company's UltraTax CS software, 7% already use tablets, with another 5% planning to use them and nearly 20% planning to investigate their use.
What can an iPad do for you and your business? As with almost everything with the iPad, it all starts with the apps and the accessories.