In its first 14 months on the market, 25 million copies of Apple's iPad touch-screen tablet computer were sold. In the three months ending June 30, the company will likely have sold eight million of the devices, according to Piper Jaffray and other industry analysts.
This, even though Apple's Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook declared the "mother of all backlogs" on the no-keyboard machines in April.
Where is the tablet finding unexpected traction?
At the top of the pyramid in corporate America. The chief executives and boards of publicly traded companies and investment funds.
There is "greater inclusiveness in the board room," as a result of the tablet computer, said Joe Ruck, CEO of BoardVantage, which for years has tried to find ways to move corporate agendas, documents and communications onto the Web.
"We could never bridge the gap" between information and "papers" that could be constantly updated and the members of boards, until the iPad came along, Ruck told participants in a June 8 discussion on the Web on "The Impact of Tablets in Financial Services" held by the National Investment Company Services Association.
The tablet computer has, in the last 14 months, shown itself to be a device that provides "unparalleled freedom and opportunities" to access information from anywhere at any time, according to Dan Liliedahl, chief technology officer of TandemSeven, which helps companies design usable services for electronic devices.
In financial services, that means giving professionals trading and investment monitoring services at any time, anywhere. And fund distributors real-time reports on sales, as well as the results of face-to-face interactions with clients. And giving board members the information they need, with data revised right up to the start of a meeting.
BoardVantage has developed and deployed an "iPad Meeting Center," which keeps all information and agenda items of a board meeting at member's fingertips. Unlike in the paper era, the center, through the iPad, can give members first a timeline of prior, current and future meetings. Then, let the board member, at will, drill down into the books, background, arrangements and even attendees.
In the BoardVantage case, there is also a "briefcase." All documents that a board member needs are encrypted and made available for download, also as needed, to the iPad. Its software makes sure the latest version is delivered, whenever the board member is connected to the Internet. "Purging" of content is handled, without the board member needing to worry about it.
But board members are not the only individuals that asset management firms are trying to reach with this device that, so far, has become the machine of choice for consuming information (and entertainment) as opposed to producing it.
Clients also are targets.
Brown Brothers Harriman, the private bank formed in 1818, last year decided to deliver an application on mobile devices including the iPhone and BlackBerry that lets its customers keep track of securities they have lent out to other financial firms.
The company began developing the application concept in late 2009, with detailed development work beginning in early 2010. The primary challenge, according to Thomas Poppey, the chief operating officer for global securities lending, was to make it easy to share the company's proprietary trading commentary and research on the market with customers.
The target audience in the development of this application was executives at financial services firms who required immediate access to up-to-the-moment research on the lending of securities.
Brown Brothers Harriman at the time, chose to develop versions of the application for Apple's iPhone and iPad, because of their broad adoption by individuals, and the BlackBerry, because of its deep adoption by corporations.
So far, devices that run on the Google Android operating system are out of luck. But Poppey said the adoption rate is being watched closely.
Originally, the aim was to provide Brown Brothers Harriman clients with "high-level information" such as all loan balances, average fees and exposures to counterparties.
The app also would show trends in factors such as these, over as many as 12 months. And, in particular, deliver the company's proprietary research to its customers.
In the original design, the application also included features that could be used to market the company's services to new clients. But those were dropped.
"We elected to focus on existing clients, in order to bring the product to market in a reasonable time," Poppey said.
Brown Brothers Harriman also decided to deliver the application as a "native app" on the iPhone and iPad, which allows the app to take advantage of device-specific programs and features to present pages faster. This, as opposed to providing an interface to an app that ran entirely on a server somewhere remotely on the Web.
This approach would allow a better user experience, particularly in graphics and animation. If a user decided to touch a slice of a pie chart, that slice would pop out and show, for instance, the amount of securities lent out to that party, who the party was and what percentage of total lending that constituted.
The company is now waiting to see how clients embrace these devices as means of receiving, in particular, its market research. But, also, whether it needs to add devices running Android or other operating systems to its delivery.
The Brown Brothers experience underscores two key decisions technologists and general managers at fund firms must make, when they decide to deploy their own applications aimed at tablets.
These are, according to TandemSeven, whether the application should run "native" on the device or on the Web or a cross between the two. And whether the apps should only be aimed at Apple's iOS operating system, or also be built in the fifth version of the Web's HyperText Markup Language. HTML v5 is aimed at a wide range of devices, including Android machines. The language is capable, for instance, of rendering graphics "on the fly,'' which was not possible when the language was only concerned with the appearance of text and static images.
In any event, Liliedahl says, developers need to test the workings of their applications with the intended users, before going too far. "Persona modeling" is needed so that a financial services firm makes sure it knows how the application's "customers'' will behave, before the application is distributed widely.