Laptops

Tablets vs. Ultrabooks in the enterprise

Should you use an Ultrabook or a tablet? Base you decision on the business problem being addressed rather than working around technical shortcomings.

Just when many enterprise IT leaders felt familiar with the tablet marketplace and began to understand the interplay between tablets and more traditional laptops, tech manufacturers have brought us the "Ultrabook," an Intel-driven (and wholly-owned trademark) laptop-like form factor.

Photo credit: James Martin/CNET

On paper, the Ultrabook seems like a netbook and traditional desktop were combined to deliver a slim, long-life, reasonably powered laptop. Ultrabooks promise fairly thin and light computing, aiming to address the perceived shortcomings of netbooks that had child-sized keyboards, squint-inducing screens, and underpowered processors.

I've wondered how the Windows platform would answer Apple's MacBook Air, and the Ultrabook form-factor is a full frontal assault. On the positive side, the Ultrabook platform addresses consumer and enterprise demands for a reasonably light and powerful platform that can last from JFK to LAX with more than a couple of minute's battery to spare.

But how do Ultrabooks compare to tablets? I believe that Intel has been unable to grow beyond its desktop/laptop roots and is simply trying to rehash the netbook format while working out the kinks on its tablet and smartphone chips. On a larger scale, a common complaint of tablets is their lack of a familiar OS, keyboard, and capabilities for "real" computing. So, a quick-booting, full-featured laptop that comes within ounces of a tablet rather than pounds might make a great deal of sense for some users and enterprises.

Tastes great or less filling?

The above tagline was from a marketing campaign around the unquantifiable merits of whether it was more important that a light beer tastes great or is less filling. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Ultrabooks is that they address some of the gaps of a traditional computing device vs. a tablet with a specialized operating system. I've long held that the critical differentiators between tablets and traditional laptops were boot speed, light weight, battery life, and low cost.

While there were laptops that addressed a couple of these factors, they would frequently slight another. Frequent travelers could get thin and light laptops if they were willing to write an extremely large check. Fast boot and low cost were reasonably easy to acquire for people who were willing to settle for a boat anchor.

Ultrabooks don't break any new ground, but they seem to win on all these critical fronts, while maintaining a reasonable price point. Rather than defending the choice of a traditional tablet or laptop, the Ultrabook shifts the argument more toward how the device is used, allowing a compelling argument to be made for either device.

Tech that supports process

Except for very rare cases, a technology tool should never drive a business process; rather, the technology should enable a process to execute more quickly and effectively. Essentially, Ultrabooks eliminate some of the quantitative arguments for using tablets -- like light weight and longer battery -- and allow one to focus on the business problem being addressed rather than working around technical shortcomings.

While Ultrabooks certainly will not resolve the debate over whether tablets or more traditional devices are the best tools in the enterprise, they make an evolutionary step toward addressing some of the fundamental benefits of tablets. Whether Intel has an ulterior motive or the "Ultrabook" distinction is helpful to the discussion is debatable, but this platform certainly gives us more choice in addressing enterprise technology challenges.

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 ...

13 comments
DzafterKurafter
DzafterKurafter

Why? Because they're 0.8 inches thick or less, weigh less than 4 pounds and (generally) cost less than $1,000. I realy enjoy my new Ultrabook and i must say that ultra thin and light design was the key factor that made me buy it. Prices vary from model to model but if you have extra money don`t think twice. Very responsive little thing, plus you can add some accessories like the ones i stumble upon here http://www.ultrabook13.com/portable-blu-ray-disc-drive/ Thank you for this review. :)

psymmonds
psymmonds

I've not purchased a tablet yet simply because I cannot do one of the main things that I want a tablet for - e-mail. You see, all my mail is in Outlook. I have 4GB of .pst files. So, absent a tablet that will use Outlook or import my .pst files, with all the e-mails in their current folders, I've been left on the sidelines. An ultrabook makes the tablet moot. Oh, sure, I can't swipe the screen with my fingers or get all those Google apps from the Marketplace, but that's OK. I'd rather have all the functionality that a full-blown PC brings. Plus - you don't have to buy one of the protective cases that almost double the size of your tablet or an adjunct keyboard that makes it even bigger. Now - if they can just bring the price down to the level of a tablet....

myangeldust
myangeldust

I don't see a reason for these machines to have a cage match. A company should buy the devices that best suits their workers. Laptops for field command and tablets for tactical agents (or whatever your company calls their peeps). Your worker standing up in front of a crowd gets a tablet. That other worker at that convention table gets a laptop. Why is this so difficult to understand? If you make decisions based on bulk purchases, getting one or the other, you're just tying your hands before going for a swim.

ldieperink
ldieperink

I'm debating wether or not to upgrade my iPad or get a new Ultra light laptop. The PS3 covers gaming. The iPad1 and Kindle cover web browsing, email, watching video on the train and reading. But having a laptop that I can take anywhere, boots fast (one of my gripes with my current laptop) and with a decent processor and if I need it, battery life that will see me actually using it on the go. What more could I ask. I don't think this is purely about people who fly. When you can get a decent device for around $800 I'd rather my son has one of these to use at school than an iPad - designed primarily to consume content. Only wonder if they have the grunt that the i5 and i7 processors suggest. It will be interesting to see if they feature heavily at Computex (Taipei) this year as that appears to be a good measure of what the manufacturers think is going to be hot this year.

dogknees
dogknees

What percentage of employees in an enterprise would regularly fly as part of their job? It seems we are discussing a small minority of people and ignoring the majorities needs.

myangeldust
myangeldust

You're thinking about Windows 8 RT tablets. The tablets equipped with Windows 8 Pro will be able to use Outlook and have enough space for your PST files. The Microsoft Surface will have an integrated keyboard in the cover. Both ultrabooks and tablets have a place in the market as each one caters to a different kind of user: the typers and the swipers. The former exemplified by novelists and journalists. The latter made up of online consumers and the editors of the aforementioned journalists. PS: Don't let your PSTs get to 4GB. Split them up and keep them under 2GB to avoid file corruption, RAM suckage, and back-up restrictions.

mckinnej
mckinnej

then this discussion isn't about them at all. They need traditional desktop systems, which are dirt cheap for office machines. Unless you're trying to push up your capital expenditures, it would be a waste of money to buy any mobile device for an office worker.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

because it isn't worth the price for someone who only travels for two or three days quarterly or less. Those users are why I maintain a pool of loaner laptops.

dogknees
dogknees

is about "enterprise users", it doesn't say "only those that travel". Without qualification, it means all employees of enterprises.

Marc Jellinek
Marc Jellinek

When I've been chained to a cube, and only had access to a desktop computer; I would still have to go to meetings. While I enjoyed filling notepads with sketches and notes, I'd have to leave an extra 20-30 minutes after the meeting to transcribe my notes into my desktop computer. Why have both written notes and typed documents? So I could find the notes later. My pads would disappear or be misplaced, they aren't indexable or searchable. I find that taking notes on a tablet to be "not there yet", so I prefer a laptop. EverNote is great for this (when will we have OneNote for Android??) and with Skitch, I can sketch. The free version requires a network connection, but the Pro version lets you work with locally-stored notebooks that will synch to my EverNote account. I do find there's a lot of value in using my phone's camera to capture whiteboard sessions (although taking notes on the phone makes it look like I'm texting during meetings). Considering the power and the price of laptops, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me to supply desk workers with PCs. Give them laptops, docking stations, keyboards, external mice and monitors. If they need to have their computer with them, just undock and go.

dogknees
dogknees

is that the travelers are a small fraction of "enterprise users". The article makes general statements about these peoples (all enterprise employees from the CIO down to the junior mail clerk) that don't apply to the significant majority. If we talking about laptops vs tablet for "enterprise users", we should be looking at the full range of their requirements, not just those of regular travelers. Looking at that range would tell a very different story about what's most useful than the small number of travelers. While they might make the most noise, they are the minority and don't define enterprise requirements.

Marc Jellinek
Marc Jellinek

Check Android Market (or Google Play, or whatever they are calling it today).

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You'll see OneNote for Android the same time you see the rest of the MS Office suite for any Linux distribution: "When the moon disappears forever and the sun shines electric blue." I find transcribing notes to be a great way to refresh myself on what just happened, particularly as a reminder to follow up on questions I may have had. It's a habit I developed struggling through college for the fourth time. Just one idjit's opinion; I can easily see why others would regard it as a redundant waste of time. Desktops still make plenty of sense for those cubicle-bound workers who don't attend meetings; there's still plenty of them.