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Corporate America Doesn't Love the iPad for Its Body, but For Its Mind

Businesses are racing to buy iPads, says the Wall Street Journal, thanks to its price, battery life and "tremendous form factor." But corporate IT departments aren't exactly the type to drool over new gadgets; the form factor has nothing to do with it.

Neither is it the quick startup time or the Exchange email that's luring enterprise buyers, as the WSJ says; and the fact that the iPhone has been a popular forerunner does not make the iPad "a known quantity from a technical standpoint." The reason business loves the iPad is cheap, bulletproof software.

Indeed, just last month Apple (AAPL) revealed that at least half of Fortune 100 companies were using or testing the iPad. But what's more impressive than the adoption rate is the incredible breadth of work that can be done on the device. The parsimonious feel of the hardware is just a nod to an entire ecosystem of simplicity that appeals to IT departments, whom Gartner (IT) says spend as much on help desk queries as they do on voice technology.

Most employees who are given workstation-type laptops use them for Web, email and a few proprietary business apps. In fact, the employee rarely has the privileges allowing them to install anything else. But the range of things that can go awry on a laptop is staggering when compared to its relative impotence. Viruses, drivers, crashes, software updates and memory leaks (from overuse) arguably account for many more IT headaches than broken screens or lost keys.

The "locked down" nature of the iPad, which Google (GOOG) and its allies like to condemn as antithetical to the "openness" of the Internet, is what makes the iPad perfect for enterprise users. Of course, having a closed environment doesn't necessarily make it a good IT choice. But that closed environment also happens to house a collection of powerful business apps, all centralized in the iTunes store, making them easy to find and compare. They're are cheaper than normal desktop licenses, easier to use, and (like the iOS itself) nearly idiot proof. They don't crash, they don't require drivers, and even in their simplicity they replace most of the functionality of their desktop versions.

Take QuickOffice, which does nearly everything that Microsoft (MSFT) Office does on the desktop, but only costs $15 for iPad. Or there's Jump Desktop, which allows the iPad to share the screen of your work PC, whether Windows or Mac: it's $20. FileMaker Go, one of the pricier business apps in iTunes -- there are over 500 -- is only $40, which is about the starting price for a desktop app. Some established software companies like Citrix (CTXS) have also been aggressive about iPad development, using it as cutting edge cred and offering their apps free to enterprises already using Citrix systems.

As I wrote yesterday, these apps are made even more powerful by the fact that many of them interconnect, using next-gen collaboration systems like as a hub. For Apple's competitors, the form factor won't be hard to copy; Google Android OEMs like HTC have arguably matched the iPhone in the hardware arena. They'll have more trouble imitating the iTunes App Store and its enthusiastic, well-paid software developers.