I'm often asked for specifics of how a tablet can be used on a daily, productive basis, and thought I would share how I incorporate my Apple iPad into my work. For context, I own a consulting firm and my job entails a wide variety of tasks. In a light travel month, the majority of my work gets done in my office. Heavy travel months (which usually require 15-30 days on the road) have me working everywhere — airplanes, hotel rooms, spare corners in clients' offices, and local coffee shops.
At the office, most of my computing needs are handled by a Windows-based desktop. A large monitor and ergonomic keyboard make writing a pleasure, and nothing beats a massive amount of screen real estate. I frequently edit and encode video and audio, so a more powerful machine makes sense vs. just connecting a laptop to the monitor and keyboard. It's also beneficial to have two similar computing platforms, so when my laptop or desktop need service or upgrades, the other can take its place. However, the iPad still plays a key role when I'm in the office.
Organization and research
My tablet acts primarily as an organizational and research tool. I try to spend several minutes each evening and morning reviewing and planning my workday. I have three critical tools that I use, each of which synchronizes with all my computing devices. Most of this process is facilitated through my task list (the Toodledo app and web tool, set up according to David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology) and calendar (the iPad standard calendar, synced to an Office 365/Exchange Server). I also use Evernote, which acts as a free-form text-based note-taking utility, for jotting down future TechRepublic article ideas and other tidbits of information that I don't want to forget.
Note taking and file sharing
In addition to Evernote, I use Noteshelf for taking notes, and it even allows handwritten input with a rubber-tipped stylus or finger. It's not perfect, but there's easy conversion to PDF and exporting of notes to Evernote and Dropbox, which allows quick archiving and sharing. I keep a notebook for each project and gain some measure of insurance knowing notes are backed up should I lose the tablet.
The Dropbox app also serves as an easy way to share files, and I dump everything from PDF directions to an event, to documents and spreadsheets that I can rapidly view. Another app that I frequently use is SalesForce Mobile, which allows me to quickly log calls with prospects or review information before a meeting.
My tablet also serves as what the pundits call a "content consumption" device. For me, that content comes in the form of newspapers, RSS feeds, books, and web sites. I read The Wall Street Journal on a daily basis, and their iPad app does a nice job of duplicating the paper and allowing offline reading. And while I've used a variety of RSS apps, I stick with those that use Google Reader as a backend, so that my feeds stay in sync across all my devices.
I probably spend less time web browsing than the average user, but when I need to quickly look up information, the iPad makes it easier than booting a computer. Similarly, the built-in email application works well and makes for an easy way to "triage" email over my morning coffee.
When I travel, I usually include my laptop (currently a Samsung Series 7), because most tablets still fail to provide a decent document creation and editing experience. The iPad's on-screen keyboard is useless for anything beyond a short blog post, and all of the word processing applications I've tried have been lacking. In particular, much of what I write goes through a proofreader, and most of these applications do not support Microsoft Office Word editing and revision functionality. If the iPad had a moderately competent word processor, I'd be more willing to leave the laptop at home in favor of a wireless keyboard.
At the end of the day, my tablet is not indispensable for my job; however, I'd likely replace it if it were lost, since it does augment and enhance how I work. After trying an Android tablet, I went with the Apple product, mainly due to the broad application support (which is the same reason I continue to use Windows). I find some of the different form factors, particularly those with keyboards, interesting items in the Android camp, but without some of my critical applications, I'm staying with Apple for the moment.
The tablet fits a nice niche in my computing arsenal, although I'm well aware that my usage may be vastly different than yours or your employees. For me, anything that facilitates my time management and makes travel a little easier is a no-brainer. Others might think a $400+ notepad and task list replacement is laughable. In any event, consider how you and your colleagues work as you determine whether tablets would be beneficial.
How do you incorporate your tablet into your work day? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
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 over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.