It’s tempting to think of all tablet devices as some form of an “iPad,” or to look back to 2001 when Microsoft first promoted a “pen-based, fully functional x86 PC with handwriting and voice recognition functionality.” But in fact, the latest Mac toy can be traced back to pre-internet days in the 50s and 60s as “a large computer terminal attached to a receiver pad, which accepted electrical or magnetic input from a stylus.” (Here’s a great slideshow on tablets through the years.)
So the basic features of a tablet PC, since the 1950s, have included portability and a touch-screen operable via a stylus. Since then they have evolved to run on a variety of operating systems, come in a variety of sizes and memory capacities, and operate by voice recognition, touch and touch gestures. Previously linked to in-house databases and computers, they eventually became integrated with the internet, busting the bag of application possibilities wide open. All tablet computers today include a wireless Internet adapter and/or 3G data cabilities, purchasable through various mobile service providers. While some versions like the HP Elite Notebook PC include a key board and swiveling monitor convertible into a tablet, most of the tablets causing all the hype today have only digital keyboard applications. The screens available range in size from 4 in to 14 in, the most popular being the 7 or 10 inch screens.
Who’s using them?
Everybody and anybody. The police use them to check your license plate number, warehouse managers use them to monitor RFIDs, and toddlers enduring long car trips use one to watch Finding Nemo. What’s interesting is that tablets started out as mostly work-related, with specific applications that lacked fancy (or any) graphics and that helped get a certain job done (inventory, surveys, package delivery) and linked to one main computer source. They weren’t the multitasking leisure devices we see in the iPad today - they were an extension of central computing systems before laptops could be made the size of a MacBook Air.
Today, however, while companies who have been using some form of a tablet for decades see them as an essential piece of hardware, managers looking at the latest versions of tablets aren’t convinced the interactive games, eReader capabilities, and limited ability to input data only via your fingers can really fit into their work place. Some may be right. Others are terribly wrong. But all should explore their options before making that decision.
According to a recent article from Fortune magazine titled “iPads are booming in big business,”
a survey done by Good Technology revealed that “almost a quarter of all the corporate devices it activated in 2010 were iPads.” The best quote from the article was from venture capitalist John Doerr who described Apple’s iPad as the “product none of us knew we wanted."
Two great examples of companies employing tablets, in these cases iPads, include Mercedes-Benz and Wells Fargo. Shortly after the iPad was realeased, Wells Fargo noticed finance executives from some of its major clients accessing their corporate accounts via the new device. They developed an internal strategy for incorporating the devices and ensuring data security, and now account executives can approve multi-million dollar wire transfers and manage other aspects of the bank’s corporate accounts all with just their iPads.
Mercedes-Benz has been flaunting the visual media capabilities of the iPad by putting the device in the hands of sales representatives on the showroom floor. With immediate access to more details on the cars, necessary paperwork, and financing options, customers don’t get the extra five minutes it takes to walk to an employee's office to get cold feet. They’ve also created an app that allows customers to manage their accounts and payments on the go.
I have a smartphone and a laptop, do I really need another toy?
A smartphone is ideal for calls, quick messages and maintaining your ever-growing inbox on the go. But have you ever wished the photo could be displayed larger or that you could actually see the empty fields on that document? A tablet visually, gives you more room to work, and edit or create documents, PDFs, and presentations. Hook up a blue tooth portable keyboard and voila! it’s your laptop, only less bulky and with apps not available on your regular OS. You also have the added multimedia functionalities and applications that are frankly not as fun as on a laptop or the lower quality screen of a smartphone. You can view interactive magazines, watch HD movies, download your favorite ebooks - all better viewed on the larger screen of a tablet, and easier to transport than in the memory of a laptop. A tablet is also ideal for presentations and pitches to clients and coworkers - putting the information right in front of them without the awkwardness of carrying around your PC.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t valid arguments against purchasing a tablet. We recently did a survey on LinkedIn’s Q&A platform, asking our network:
“Do you own an iPad or other tablet device? If yes, do you use it for work purposes? If no, do you hope to own one? What is your motivation?”
Eighteen out of twenty nine responders said they own a tablet device (the majority owning iPads). Out of the tablet users, most purchased the tablet for their own personal use and ended up finding ways to incorporate it into their workday - via presentations, note-taking, document reviewing, etc. Most admitted to using the tablet primarily for media or productivity purposes - to do lists, ebooks, magazines, powerpoints - both at work and at home. While impressed with the variety of applications, innovative interfaces and graphics, and portability, everyone agreed that as an input or “creation” device, tablets were lagging behind. Viewing documents and files is much easier on tablet, they say, where you only tap one button as opposed to booting up a laptop or squint at a smartphone, but to edit, revise, or create your own files, the digital keyboard and slow maneuverability between applications is not very efficient. The battery power required to run certain applications is also not as resilient as some had hoped. Many stated it will never be a desktop or laptop replacement until the operating systems have much more to offer, but it is a handy device that hasn’t collected any dust.
There’s so many iPad apps, where would I start?
Here’s a list of general business applications we’ve collected from our LinkedIn network and other business contacts:
DocsToGo Premium helps manage almost any file type (Windows or Mac) and can be set up for 2-way file syncronization with other applications such as Google Docs and DropBox,
ToDo and OmniFocus are advanced task and schedule management applications.
BulletinXL pulls in RSS feeds from any and all sources you need to follow.
iThoughtsHD is a “mind mapping” tool for visualizing brainstorming sessions and project ideas.
AirDisplay lets you use your iPad as an extended monitor for your desktop or laptop.
KeyNote is everything you need to put on a great presentation.
The Wall Street Journal is one of many great publication apps that grant you full access to news content and bonus multimedia - and you can manage all your subscriptions with an app like Zinio.
CorkIt is much more effiicient and reliable than the bulletin board above your desk.
Evernote is for notes, snapshots, ideas, voice memos and any other thought that could possibly go through your head and need to be recorded.
While, like the ones above, there are hundreds of thousands of apps already available, companies are realizing that developing their own can be an integral part of their business strategy. As the tablet market grows, they are seeing that even if their employees have no need for an iPad, their clients do. While companies like Apple and Google are leading the charge in mobile application development, companies around the world are following suit to help customers interact with their specific service or product via their tablet devices. Along with many other IT services providers, we’ve added mobile application development to our services and recently developed an app that syncs our SmartBidNet construction software users’ contact and bid project database to their mobile device. AllState’s latest iPad app gives its clients access to their policy and account information. PizzaHut now allows you to make and order your pizza with your iPad. It won’t be long until all companies are calling for mobile application platforms - so don’t expect your list of app options to get any smaller.
So you’re saying I should just go with an iPad?
6 months ago, I’d be saying just that - but in true technology-industry fashion, the iPad’s competition is coming out full force and it seems like they are multiplying every week. As the Android operating system pushed to the top of the smartphone 2010 Q4 sales, tablet options running on the latest versions of Android have been very popular. The Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Motorola Xoom are probably the most widely known, but here is a list of 15 other tablets that run on the Android operation system. Many think that an investment in an Android tablet will be an especially good idea when the Android 3.0 Honeycomb platform tablets are released (though there’s debate about when that will be).
While they lack an overwhelming pile of trendy application options, tablets that run on the Windows 7 operating system are much more practical for those who use Windows OS on their PC and who want to employ full applications like Microsoft Office 2010 or Adobe Creative Suite. At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (the largest consumer technology tradeshow in the world), the Asus Eee EP121 and Lenovo’s IdeaPad were noted as two of the top five Windows-based tablets of 2011.
The upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet which will run on its own BlackBerry operating system is also looking like a promising option - especially for those who prefer a BlackBerry to an iPhone.
Do you already have a tablet?
Please leave a comment and share your thoughts or ask any further questions you may have. Do you like the tablet you chose? Are there any apps you can’t live without? Is there another tablet you can’t wait to buy and replace your current one? We look forward to hearing from you.