A while ago, I interviewed Aflac's then-CIO Gerald Shields on the company's Launchpad application, an iPad version of its sales material that allowed distributors to have more dynamic, less paper-intensive meetings with prospects. One comment stood out to me: Shields said that in addition to streamlining things for its current agents, Aflac hoped that the iPad app would build intrigue around insurance distribution:
"Our associates have technology and tools that attract other top agents to come here, because they would see that our products, services and support for our field force far exceeds that of our competitors'," Shields said. "People coming up see that and think it's cool -- they want to be an agent for us when they might not have thought of that before."
What makes the iPad cool, though? It's big — much noticeably larger than its iPhone cousin, with a screen size competitive with many notebook computers. That real estate is what has made the device enticing to insurers: it makes insurance illustrations legible, helps to easily and elegantly arrange important policy functionality, and try new things that aren't as "insurancey."
Even in the tightest situations where an insurance company might want to use a mobile app, the size of the iPad hasn't been a hindrance. Chartis unit AIU was able to deploy full-size iPads to aid claims adjusters after the Tohoku earthquake.
Obviously there are other industries besides insurance out there, and different use cases for apps. But technologists across industries generally do have similar wants — and this new development from Apple isn't any closer to hitting those marks. Just look at Allstate SVP Jim Ditmore's list of wants, and compare it to InformationWeek's profile of the device — not much matching up, if anything.
One sign that a smaller screen isn't on insurance technologists' wishlist: Builder's Mutual CIO and 2012 Elite 8 nominee Graeme Boddy has been an Apple partisan throughout the several years I've known him. But even he told me that the device he was looking forward to wasn't the mini iPad, or the iPad 3 — it was Microsoft's Surface.
"I'm hopeful that as Microsoft brings its Surface tablet and its professional tools to market, given that it has such a huge investment in Microsoft Office, we'll see a bit more content creation capability in the tablet platform," he said. "That might lead to replacing some of the laptops with tablets."
That's what's missing, and where the opportunity lies in tablet computing: The ability to do more with the form factor, not less. After all, if a smaller screen was a killer app — wouldn't the plethora of smaller-screened tablets already dominate the enterprise?