[IMGCAP(1)]I am frequently asked the above question as I teach courses about using this tablet, so I think it’s important to have a deeper understanding of how the iPad and other tablets can be used in a business role versus the standard PC or even a laptop.

Let’s start by reframing the question and instead ask “How can I use the iPad as a business tool?” The answer to this question will be a good indicator of whether or not you still need your PC.


Consider your work tasks

Let’s begin with a review of your daily work tasks. Whether you’re a CPA in public practice or you work in a small or large business organization, review the following list of daily activities and ponder how they relate to your typical day. The list is not prioritized in any particular order.

  • Processing email messages
  • Browsing the Web to research various types of information
  • Participating in meetings and taking notes, sometimes off-site
  • Reviewing reports and documents of all types, in both paper and electronic form
  • Marking up the documents you are reviewing
  • Talking on the phone
  • Creating a variety of spreadsheets to compile, analyze and report on financial information*
  • Working in your accounting, tax, payroll and other enterprise software to enter data and produce reports*

I’ve probably missed a few key activities, so feel free to expand the list as it relates to your workday. But as to the above list, with the exception of the two items marked with an asterisk, the performance of every aforementioned task can be significantly enhanced with an iPad. Why, because all of these tasks focus on communications or involve reviewing existing information in the form of documents, reports and Web content. The iPad (and the 375,000-plus apps that power this innovative device) does a superb job of handling these types of tasks.
Behold the iPad advantage

Compared to the PC, the iPad (and similar tablet devices) is much better suited for automating the tasks listed for three key reasons:

1.)    It’s more portable. Lugging your laptop to meetings is often impractical and distracting. Just think about the last time you sat in a meeting in a sea of open laptop screens. Did you wonder if others were hiding behind their screen, or perhaps busy viewing Facebook pages?

2.)    It has a superior interface that facilitates easier annotation of documents.The iPad greatly reduces the communication barrier, and, if you’re a note taker, is far less distracting. Check out the standard iPad Notepad and Notability apps for paperless note-taking. Even in-house, moving around the office, a laptop is awkward. Not so with the sleek iPad, which even allows you to view and make simple edits to MS Word files and Excel spreadsheets using the popular QuickOffice Pro app and others like it.

3.)    The device is fully prepped for video conferencing. Right out of the box.

Don’t ditch the PC just yet

On the other side of the equation, when you need to use various software applications that require intensive data entry, using an iPad can be a real challenge. Yes, it can be done, but there’s a reason why the full-sized keyboard and mouse have been around for such a long time.

Preparing a tax return, journal entries, creating a five-year cash flow projection spreadsheet, and composing a business valuation report are all examples of tasks that will seem more cumbersome on an iPad than on a PC.

So, my bottom line answer in this scenario is: don’t ditch the PC just yet. The iPad is rapidly becoming an indispensable business tool for every professional, and nobody fits that description better than a CPA.

I’m completely convinced that every CPA, regardless of specific roles, can justify the investment in an iPad. The question is whether the return on investment will come within six months or 12 months. For now, think of your PC as your production device and your iPad as your information-consumption device. They complement each other.

There’s no reason you can’t justify the investment in both an iPad and a PC. The iPad was never intended to replace the PC for business users; it is a significantly different device. It enhances our ability to get things done that the PC doesn’t accomplish as well. It’s simply a matter of form.

Unless you’re a salesperson

There are many business people who heretofore have used a PC primarily for tasks the iPad handles more effectively. Those folks no longer need a PC as they are primarily consumers of information, rather than producers. Salespeople are a prime example.

They’re mainly reviewing information such as inventory reports, product catalogs, websites and presentations, and managing appointments and contacts, and tracking meeting notes, etc. Most salespeople would happily turn in their PC for an iPad. So, in order to answer the overriding question here properly, it’s important to know who’s asking it.

Let’s ditch the question instead

My preference is to discard the question altogether. Focus instead on how the iPad can push you further down the paperless path. Over the past decade, CPA Crossings has helped hundreds of CPA firms and other businesses make the transition to paperless processes. The most difficult hurdle is getting acclimated to viewing and marking up documents on a vertical monitor with a full-size keyboard and mouse. Those devices are great for data entry, but not very natural for reading and marking up documents, such as reviewing a tax return.

I believe history will show that the iPad and other tablets served as the gateway to the paperless office. But don’t take my word for it; ask a CPA who has been using an iPad for a while.

John Higgins, CPA, CITP, is a strategic advisor and is co-founder of CPA Crossings, LLC in Rochester, Michigan. He is a nationally recognized author and speaker, and advises CPAs on how to effectively leverage technology. Look for John’s new book, “Ten Steps to a Digital Practice in the Cloud,” published by the AICPA. You can reach John at jhiggins@cpacrossings.com

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