We've been covering the story of D7 Consulting for a while here on TUAW -- that's the company that originally won 20 iPads from Box.net through our comments section, and then became a showcase project for how the iPad can be used in real-life business. I called up CEO Joe Daniels for one final interview this week to see how things have progressed and what he and his company have learned from using their iPads while out and about.
He told me that even though the dust has settled on the initial program, the iPad implementation at D7 "is going to be ongoing forever." It's "an evolutionary thing," Daniels said. But it has gotten to the point where the company no longer uses paperwork to share files. "Everything I do when I go out to a job site is done through the iPad and Box. I don't even take a file with me any more."
I asked Daniels what kinds of apps the company has been using most, and the answers I got were somewhat surprising -- their choices tend away from some of the most popular apps we've heard about, and more towards the simple and effective. Penultimate is one of the apps he uses every day. "It allows me to draw, write, and then transfer that information back and forth to people that I'm working with," said Daniels. Office HD is another app the team has been using, and Daniels says that "the one that the quality assurance guys use, for the most part because it allows real-time manipulation of a file, is called Noterize." Personally, to make presentations, he's also used Fuze Meeting and of course Keynote as well.
There's a theme through all of these choices, and it's straight-up simplicity. Rather than a complicated proprietary solution or an app that requires certain formats or complicated steps, Daniels and his team have chosen apps that do just one or two things quickly (just turn a drawing into a PDF, or read and edit an Office document), and then get those files shared and out fast. He says the team did iterate a bit on its app choices, but they came back to these apps because they took the simplest path to what the team wanted to do. "Let's just say, as an example," he told me, "that if you're driving from your office to your house, and there's a standard route that takes 10 minutes, would you go on a different route that takes 25 to 30 minutes and you have to make 55 right turns? That's what we were doing -- we were doing so many steps, making too many right turns to get to the end result, versus how can you get from A to B in the quickest, most efficient fashion."
Daniels says the team is still looking for better solutions as well -- while he's very pleased with the Box.net service and expects to stick with that solution for file sharing, other applications may get replaced if better options come along. "There may be something in six months, an app that's ten times better than what we're doing right now. So we're always looking to be more fluid."
All of that said, would Daniels, as a business owner, recommend other businesses look at a transition to the iPad? "I wouldn't wait a second," he says. "I would say they need to get on board right away." Daniels cites the (relatively) low cost of entry as a reason to start using the iPad in a corporate workflow, and says that not making use of a tool like the iPad could cost businesses a lot more later. He shared with me that D7 had just picked up a big job in nearby Las Vegas, and "the reason we got the job, with all of the quality assurance -- and this is a huge contract for us -- is because of the iPad and Box." Daniels said that on worksites and in meetings, he was constantly being asked to demonstrate and show off his iPad, and just being on top of the innovative device has given him an advantage in his business.
Finally, I asked Daniels what, if Apple does announce a new iPad next year, he would like to see in a second revision of the iPad, and surprisingly, he had no real complaints. A camera is the one thing that a lot of potential iPad buyers have been waiting for, but Daniels says he's not all that interested. "I have a camera," he told me. "I have a way of getting the photo directly onto the iPad, and so on, very quickly. I can't take that iPad and get it underneath or around a corner, or hold it and click it or whatever." And that makes a lot of sense -- in many of the iPad use cases we've seen (with the glaring exception of FaceTime, of course), a camera just doesn't work. "Can you imagine a tourist in Paris," asked Daniels while laughing, "walking up and saying, 'Hey, can you take a picture of us,' and they hand you an iPad?"
The one change he'd like to see isn't hardware-related -- it's that constant iTunes account password popup. "That becomes tedious," Daniels said. "Every time you go to a new app, you have to download it, and it's always the password, and I've got to plug it in, and that becomes tedious." Apple's gotten some flak for streamlining the app installation system as much as they have, but it's true that typing in your iTunes password every single time is one of the last roadblocks to seamless app installation.
All in all, it definitely sounds like D7 has benefited greatly from integrating the iPad into their office workflow. Once again, it's interesting to see how such a consumer-oriented device has found such a terrific fit in the workplace as well.