Tablets

Examine the two schools of thought for tablet computing

How do tablets fit into your organization? Patrick Gray believes you should consider the two schools of thought for tablet computing.

I've taken some criticism for frequently citing the fast boot times, purpose-built operating systems, and light weights of the current crop of consumer tablets as key selling points, even to enterprise customers. There's a conceptually sound counterargument that near-instantaneous startup times don't make much difference when newer laptops boot in a dozen seconds, and that "small" and "light" don't hold a candle to a full-fledged laptop at a similar or lower price.

There are arguably two schools of thought on tablet computing. The first sees tablets as a shrunken version of a desktop computer. They should have similar capabilities as the average desktop, with a smaller form factor and a longer battery life than the average laptop. This school of thought carefully reconciles the inevitable trade-off of portability and longevity for computing power and features, immediately dismissing tablets as "underpowered" for some applications or classes of users. Here, tablets -- especially in the case of non-Windows tablets -- seem more of a distraction. They're essentially incompatible devices that will require software rewrites and deliver more hurdles than benefits.

The other school of thought sees tablets as a different class of computing device. Rather than serving as a miniature desktop of sorts, tablets are more of a personal assistant or information delivery device. Here, information and data gathering are a priority, and since applications require different design and data, incompatibility with existing applications is less of a concern than how to most effectively present enterprise data on the device.

The priorities of both schools of thought and the conclusions they reach are obviously different. If you're in the "mini desktop" crowd, you're probably sitting out the current crop of consumer-driven tablets and waiting to see if Microsoft can deliver on the promise of Windows 8 -- iPad size and speed, with legacy compatibility and support for a Microsoft infrastructure. If you're in the "information delivery" crowd, the biggest benefit of the current crop of tablets is that they are unfettered by legacy software constraints and can be gathering or presenting data instantaneously rather than moments later. This is a truly compelling argument in field sales or service where seconds really do count.

I'm admittedly in the second school of thought, although a relatively recent convert, so I can sympathize with the other crowd's concerns. I've worked with tablets for over a decade, and when the iPad arrived, I was convinced that it would fail, since it couldn't do any "real" computing. However, after spending several months with the device and noticing an increasing interest among my clients, it's become apparent that this is an entirely new class of device that scratches a different itch than a highly portable desktop.

Regardless of how you view tablets, there are certain tasks that are better left to desktops. I have a highly portable laptop and rarely leave on a business trip without both devices, but I find myself reaching for the tablet rather than the desktop, unless I'm doing something computationally intensive or writing, where the various hardware and software keyboards are no match for a traditional laptop. In most cases, I grab the iPad, since it's a better device for tasks like reading articles, checking markets, browsing email, and posting quick updates. This is the traditional content consumption versus content creation argument, but for many workers, consumption is more prevalent than creation.

When considering tablet application, take a few minutes to look at the devices and how they fit into your organization from both perspectives. I'll make an effort to consider both schools of thought as I write, and like most good arguments, the happy medium likely lies somewhere in the middle.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

12 comments
bkindle
bkindle

I had an administrative assistant approach me and ask if using an iPad or Android tablet with a bluetooth keyboard could help her with taking notes faster. I said sure, as long as that's pretty much all that you expect to get from it. But wait, there's more. With additional apps you can connect to your desktop/laptop without lugging it into the meeting. You could also use it to record the audio, transmit/record video. All of these things are exactly what she was looking for. She plans on using it as a specialized tool, not expecting laptop functionality like most people I have been asked by about tablets. People need to realize what their actual computing needs are before making the switch. Some people probably could get by all day without ever touching a PC by solely using a tablet. My VP does and is relatively happier now.

don
don

I have an iPad 2 3G and I can do almost anything that I do on my laptop. I know alot of people will challenge that, but here is the trick. I use iTap RDP client to connect to a Windows virtual machine through RDP. Because the iPad has an XGA native resolution, there is no issue with scrolling around. With iTap the entire screen becomes a huge touchpad like you find on most laptops. I can still sue a bluetooth keyboard if I want to do a heavy amount of typing. So if your company can support a terminal services or Citrix type environment, you can have users that use their personal tablets and be fully productive and you can keep your highly managed and secured environment. The extra cost of the back-end infrastructure could be off-set by not purchasing and supporting laptops for all your employees. I have found one thing that is an issue through RDP. I cannot do the audio portion of Live Meeting because it's not supported through RDP. My work around is to dial into the Live Meeting from my cell phone for the audio and connect with my Windows RDP client for the presentation sharing. For email and web browsing I use the native iPad apps and Evernote to take notes and sync them with my laptop. Yes, I still have a laptop, but more and more I can get by not using it. I do like the Samsung Series 9 slate with Windows 8 approach. A Windws 8 slate with a docking station would fit my needs perfectly. For now the iPad with the RDP client for those few Windows apps I just cannot go without works fine.

Skruis
Skruis

I passed on Android tablets just because, well, I'm not an Android fan. I've used it and it just doesn't feel right for me. I was about to grab an iPad but then I saw the "promise" of Windows 8. Yes, I know they are in many ways completely different and built for different purposes...not an apples to apples comparison but I'm a user who straddles both sides of the fence (sometimes painfully ;-)). I want the casual consumption of an iPad but I also don't want to lug around a laptop but I do need the full Windows functionality. I bought a Samsung Series 7 Slate, installed the Developer Preview of Win8 on it and I haven't pulled my laptop out in over a month. Why? Because I have the the casual consumption of Win8 Metro and the desktop of Windows 7. Of course, the Windows Store isn't out yet so I don't have any apps other than what I've written or compiled with 3rd party code but the "promise" of the iPad experience is there and I'm pretty confident that shortly after Windows 8 is released, there will be a flood of apps for Windows 8 Metro. For now, I find myself pretty content using IE Metro, afterall, most of what I do casually is simply browsing the web. As far as the full functionality of Windows, it's there in "Desktop" mode. Touch has been "ok" on the desktop. It wasn't made for it but you can "get by" in a jam. To get serious work done in desktop mode, you need a keyboard and mouse. I bought a bluetooth keyboard, bluetooth mouse and a $12 stand that I lug around with me in a laptop bag which I bring with me when I expect to have to do serious "work". I know the hardcore tablet purists will say "then it's not a true tablet" because I'm using an external mouse and keyboard and that's fine, I agree, it's not a true tablet...it's something else, something different and something much more useful for me. When I'm at my home office, I set the slate in the stand, run my voip client (paired with bluetooth headset). chat software (spark) on the slate, use "Mouse without Borders" for sharing the keyboard/mouse, quick file sharing and adding the slate as an almost 4th screen. When I'm at a client, I set the slate in the stand, pull out my bluetooth keyboard and mouse, run all the normal communications software plus everything else I normally use on my desktop at home but of course, on a single screen, just like the laptop. When I get home and am sitting on the couch, I yank out the slate, turn off the comm software, switch to Metro and browse the web with IE Metro, run the custom software I've written for Metro (ticket browser, chat client, mail client) and eventually when the Windows Store is available, whatever apps are available. For me, Windows 8 slate's are a home run. When the store is available, I'll be in mobility heaven. I'll have the full desktop of Windows (so I don't have to lug around my laptop) and will have the casual consumption of a 'Droid tablet or iPad. Yes, the tablet "experience" will be different...as different as the experience of a 'Droid tablet to an iPad but I'm sure it'll be just as good, if not better in some ways. The only thing I miss about not using the laptop is typing on the couch. The laptop is much better if I'm cramped or sitting on the couch and have to type out a long email but when i can expect to have a desk, the slate works just as well and it runs all of my "desktop" apps so I don't have that particular limitation like i would with a 'Droid tablet or iPad. But that's an issue for with the form factor and not Win8 Slates particularly. Is there a place for these in business? Yea, in niche areas but I see it as more of a laptop replacement for salesmen, executives and everyone else that spends only part of the time in the office.

BobManGM
BobManGM

I'm in camp one; function over form, creation and versatility over consumption. But, for my purposes, I've been using a Tablet PC for years (Fujitsu slate). I get ports for keyboards, serial connections to equipment and a small form factor. We're testing this now in my company (use on raised floors, compatibility with all of our software, etc.). HP still makes a Tablet PC (a convertible and not a slate). It seems like a forgotten about platform...maybe because of the pen(?).

TNT
TNT

As predicted by the author, I'm sitting out the current crop of slate devices to see if Win8 will deliver the goods I crave. That doesn't make me anti-tablet, however. The main reason I haven't purchased a tablet yet is two fold, it can't do what I use a laptop for and it doesn't do anything my Android-based cell phone already does. Why add a third device to the mix when I've already got all the bases covered in two?

lastchip
lastchip

They don't! They're not even on the starting blocks. Over hyped and expensive for what they are. They have a niche market for certain industries - health springs to mind where hygiene is paramount and say consumer access in stores. No doubt there are plenty others that could benefit, but they remain niche. In the real world, for day to day business operation, they're a non-starter.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"I have a highly portable laptop and rarely leave on a business trip without both devices,..." I cannot fathom toting two devices around when one will do everything the other does, and more. Are you carrying the laptop as a 'Just in case' device? Would Teamcenter or some other remote connectivity app be an acceptable alternative? I'm in the first camp, the 'replacement for a laptop' bunch. I'm in it primarily because I can't see most people being able to afford two $500+ devices when one will do the job of the other. Those in the second, 'content consumption' camp almost always have a primary, full-function desktop or laptop and couldn't get by with just a tablet alone.

jonbill
jonbill

Ive found that, with practice, typing and editing documents on my iPad can be very efficient and perhaps even better in some ways. There are minimal distractions from extraneous functionality I don't need and it gives me pause to keep the content simple and straightforward and focus on content over form.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Someone, somewhere, is providing you a full-featured Windows machine to connect to. If the company wasn't doing it, you'd have to provide one for yourself.

YetAnotherBob
YetAnotherBob

If you haven't pulled out your laptop in over a month, then you don't need a laptop. You said you have basically just the Windows 8 basics installed. It sounds like you just need a web browser, and maybe a text editor. The pad can lay on your lap too. For me, I would like a fuller Linux version on a pad than Android usually brings. Give me a good console, and I could have everything I need on it soon. Slackware should work with whatever Google has underneath the Android shell.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

the Latitude XT. It also has a stylus; nice for those apps where fat fingertips don't have enough accuracy.

don
don

Many companies already provide Citrix or terminal services for non-company assets anyway. We are talking about tablets in a corporate environment. For personal use, users don't need to access applications like Live Meeting, SAP, CRM, etc. If I was only using a tablet for my presonal use, I wouldn't need to RDP into a Windows VM. It's those darn corporate apps that haven't been ported to iOS that make that a requirement.