It’s not unusual for consumer-oriented technologies to work their way into business environments. But the big question these days is whether touch-screens and tablets, like Apple’s wildly popular iPad, truly have legitimate business applications.
The answer is yes — but don’t expect them to completely replace PCs anytime soon. At the moment, their applications are limited to a few specific uses. “We have seen tablets used in business environments before,” says Carolina Milanesi, research vice president for mobile devices at Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company based in Stamford, Connecticut. “What you see now, though, is much greater opportunity driven by the applications that can be used on these devices.”
Before you rush headlong into the tablet fray, it’s important to understand the key differences between tablets and traditional PCs, and their relative strengths and weaknesses in business settings. Here are three things you must consider when deciding whether to buy a tablet or PC for a particular business function:
The faster field performance
Tablets use what experts call “lightweight operating systems,” which basically means they boot up quickly, just like smart phones. This is a key attribute for one of the fastest-growing segments to use tablets for business applications: field sales forces. For sales representatives who are constantly presenting to potential customers, the ability to quickly boot up a machine and begin presenting can be a major advantage.
Another benefit of the lightweight OS is a longer battery life, again an advantage to sales reps, since they often spend all day in meetings. Traditional PCs can take several minutes to boot up, and they often require extra batteries to last through a working day.
The ability to manipulate data with the touch of a finger
Touch-screens (especially capacitive ones) completely change the way you interact with digital content. By touching, twirling, expanding and collapsing images with your hands, presentations take on new life — and not just for sales reps.
Professionals in fields from health care to appliance repair can use this kind of digital information presentation. For example, Luc, a restaurant in Seattle, is using iPads to handle its reservations and seating. Through an application called Rez, hosts and hostesses at the French eatery input reservations, assign tables, and even take reservations online that automatically update to the device.
It’s a PC companion — not a replacement
Tablets are not PCs, and they cannot replace PCs. On this point, Milanesi is exceedingly clear. “We position tablets as companion devices,” says Milanesi. “Are laptops going to go away? No. But maybe when you’re out of the office for a short time, you won’t need them. Tablets can help you stay connected, and be productive. But it’s not the 100 percent productivity device. And when you go back to the office, you want the big screen, the full keyboard, and all your Windows applications.”
Right now, tablets are being snatched up by insurance agents, real estate agents, architects, health care professionals and sales forces. But the average office worker has very little need for anything but a full-powered PC — and that is likely to be the case for a long time.