Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the Apple iPad has been available for the past couple of months—available for consumers to buy, but also available for companies to find innovative uses for it. Behind its pretty face, the iPad holds a wealth of interactive design potential, and innovative CIOs will ultimately determine how that potential translates to the enterprise.

I've been using an iPad since it arrived on the scene—and I'm hooked. It's a great media computer for video, newspapers, and books. Superb graphics breathe new life into my Kindle books. The internet browsing experience is great and, of course, the games are plentiful.

However, what isn't clear is how—not if—the iPad will infiltrate the enterprise. Many uses we haven't yet considered will make the iPad, and possibly other tablets, valuable to the enterprise, particularly in situations involving customer interaction. The device's form factor, accelerometer, graphics capabilities, and multi-touch interface make it ideal for simultaneous interaction with two or more people.

Does the iPad have a place in business?

This multi-touch input is exactly what could potentially make the iPad a game changer. Yes, a multi-touch interface allows a user to interact with his or her data. But what makes this capability truly special is its flexibility for new innovations.

Consider CollaboRythm, an interactive patient communication system developed at the MIT Media Lab that redefines the doctor-patient relationship. In a video demonstration, the system's creator, Dr. John Moore, discusses drug options with a diabetic patient by interactively using a single touch-screen display that both physician and patient use simultaneously. Integrating the doctor-patient conversation through this multi-user system precisely illustrates the sort of collaborative innovation the iPad can bring to the enterprise in a compact and cost-effective way.

Interactive Design is the iPad's killer app

As a young developer, I created life insurance illustration software for a small vendor. Agents use these apps to show the value of a life or annuity product over time by entering parameters on their laptops and generating reports. It was, and still is, largely a data-table-driven process—a lot of numbers and some graphs. Not much has changed since those Windows 1.0 days; the agent-customer product conversation remains fundamentally one-sided. This could change—soon. Imagine the differences in the same process if the agent and the customer could interact with the inputs and outputs on an iPad in a visual and iterative way. It could change the entire insurance-buying experience.

Some game developers have been early adopters of the multi-user model. The opportunities are limitless for experimenting with a multi-user application, because the true enterprise value of the iPad's collaborative design potential is that it can give the customer direct control with the benefit of an expert's input—regardless of industry. Here are a few ideas:

• Investment portfolio allocation - Drag various investment vehicles in and out of a portfolio while watching the mix and investment types change dynamically.

• Car configuration - Look at the sight lines with various options as part of a customer/salesperson collaborative design experience—and watch the price change, too.

• Interactive retail planning - Store managers and vendors could collaboratively design product displays and determine shelf placement on-screen in real time.

A recent survey of 500 companies by Citrix says that 80 per cent of companies plan to buy iPads. The big question is why? The iPad makes perfect sense as a personal laptop replacement, super media device, advanced remote control, and all-around home computing device. But for work, the rationale is less clear.

The iPad signals the start of a new wave of tablets.

Diamond's "Business Design 2010" study found that only 16 per cent of companies plan to grow through innovation. Moreover, innovation efforts of three out of four CIOs focus not on new products or services, but on internal business process or IT improvements, according to Diamond's third annual Digital IQ study. Could the iPad provide the impetus for these organisations to encourage their CIOs to focus on market-facing innovations?

It's not yet a great general business computing device that could replace laptops and desktop computers, but the iPad has already carved a niche for Apple. The ball is now in the court of CIOs and their counterparts on the business side to develop innovative applications that will help fuel growth.

About the author:

Chris Curran is Diamond Management & Technology Consultants' chief technology officer and managing partner of the firm's technology practice.