Tablets

Five business scenarios for the iPad and other tablets

Tablet computers have mostly been limited to niche verticals like health care. A new generation of tablets such as the Apple iPad could change that. See how.

When you talk to IT pros and business managers about tablet computers, the first question they tend to ask is, "Looks cool, but what I do with it?" This conversation has been happening for a decade since Microsoft's pen-based Tablet PC was introduced at Comdex 2001. There, Bill Gates declared, "Within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."

That turned out to be a false prophesy. Microsoft's tablet never attracted a mass audience, although it has gained some niche adoption in industries such as health care, field service, and hospitality.

However, the Apple iPad and the new breed of slate computers that are hitting the market in 2010 are looking to revive the tablet concept. They are doing it with a lighter, thinner form factor that uses a touch-based interface rather than pen computing.

It's way too early to predict whether the new tablets will be successful, but it's easy to imagine some of the usage scenarios for them in the business world. Here are five to consider:

5. Replace 200-page business documents

Large business documents waste a lot of paper. Most of these tend to be legal documents that people never read from cover-to-cover, but when you have meetings to discuss any kind of major business deal the piles of paper can quickly get out of hand.

While some of these types of documents have already moved to PDF, that requires people to bring a laptop into the meeting to read the PDF. That can sometimes stifle the intimacy of the meeting. Slate computers that can lay flat on the table could be more conducive to an open discussion. There's also a security implication. If a company has sensitive documents that it wants to share with a potential partner, but doesn't want to email the documents, a company-owned slate computer could be used to display the big documents for guests to flip through, but all the data on the slate would remain in company hands.

4. Business reading and audiobooks for road warriors

Frequent business travelers often have a briefcase full of newspapers, magazines, and books that they want to catch up during a trip. Plus, they also usually carry on iPod with a few audiobooks and/or podcasts on it. The new tablet computers could offer the opportunity to consolidate this media experience into a single device, if newspapers follow the lead of The New York Times and magazines follow the lead of Sports Illustrated. Of course, the digitization process is already in full swing for books, with ebook apps for Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Apple's iBookstore.

3. "Back of the Napkin" sketches

With his "Back of the Napkin" concept, Dan Roam has successfully convinced a lot of companies and professionals to draw simple pictures to help solve problems and sell ideas. However, integrating these pictures into standard business processes and communications isn't always as simple as it should be. It's easy to draw these pictures on a whiteboard, but then you have to take a picture of the whiteboard if you want to circulate it. With built-in drawing tools like the ones in the iPad, it's about to get a lot easier to quickly draw simple pictures and circulate them digitally.

2. Small-scale presentations

While projectors and slide presentations have their place - especially for large meetings - there is also the opportunity to bring those same types of powerful visuals to smaller meetings, even as small as 1-on-1s. With a slate computer in hand, an employee could go to another employee's office and quickly show off a PowerPoint file, a  Back of the Napkin sketch, a set of images, or several product mockups on a dev server. This kind of show-and-tell could streamline idea-sharing and amp up innovation. While all of this is possible with a laptop, the slim form factor of slates lend themselves to better portability and show-and-tell.

1. Conference room computing

One of the common behaviors in many of today's corporate conference rooms is to come in, sit down, and lay down your smartphone on the table. Smartphones have become our way to stay connected, send short messages, and look up information while in the middle of a meeting. The one thing you can't really do with a smartphone is to easily share any information you found with the rest of the people in the meeting, because the smartphones screens are so small.

That's why slate computers could become the conference room PCs of choice. People could use them to access documents, emails, images, and illustrations needed for the meeting. A presenter could send a PowerPoint file before a meeting and attendees could access the PPT from their personal slates during the meeting, and make their own notes on it. And, employees in the meeting could share visuals with the rest of the people in the meeting just by pulling up the data on-screen and then flipping the slate around.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

107 comments
Migration Expert Zone
Migration Expert Zone

I really think the forthcoming wave of Windows 7-powered convertible netbooks, which start at around $500, will beat the iPad to the boardroom. For business users in particular, there's every advantage to sticking with the Windows ecosystem, whereas the iPad shoehorns you into a limited platform.

borden3393
borden3393

of the 5 uses mentioned, I don't see the advantage for iPad (over a laptop) in 4 of them... at least not enough to warrant paying for (and lugging around) an added gadget. it seems odd to me that most communication is done via voice, text or pictures, yet iPad seems a step back in voice (from iPhone), in text (from a QWERTY device) and roughly the same on images.

Fretboard
Fretboard

There's a lot of potential for Apple's iPad in a lot of fields and markets. Time will tell how truly popular it will become, but it's pretty safe to say the iPad will be at least somewhat successful. iPad News and Updates: http://www.ipadlot.com

anitabe
anitabe

If there is ever a cell phone with a pull out expandable screen, which will happen eventually, I'd say that the iPad will be considered a great try, but it's a miss.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

As a citrix thinclient, some business uses open up. Not ones that justify replacing existing tablets but as a 500$ new terminal purchase it could be of use within IT.

paymankhoda
paymankhoda

Hey Jason, I usually agree with about 90% of your posts. On this one, I totally disagree. The iPad is as contrived as your scenarios. There is nothing there you can't do on a laptop, but it's beyond that. Actually, cool draw packages for notepads have been around for about 10 years. Alias/Wavefront (now Autodesk) has an amazing one called Sketchpad pro, or something like that. But you still need to be comfortable drawing. Most people aren't. There's a fundamental problem at play in the whole pad concept whether it be from Apple or from Acer or whoever. The pad as envisioned is a useless tool as has been proven by the notepad market in the past 10 years. the iPad will be cool, but it will fail just the same as the rest of them. I bet you a steak dinner anywhere in the continental United States that you'll write a post a couple of years from now describing five reasons why the iPad failed. I'll probably agree with 90% of that post!

fade2blackuk
fade2blackuk

I had a discussion this morning with the Head of the College I work for who was interested in the possiblities for the use of the ipad in FE colleges and Universities. He could see endless ways it would be made to work for students who aren't particularly IT savvy (I work for an Arts College) from quick access to the books on reading lists to lectures and digital media

wuchak
wuchak

The iPad is not going to replace anything. Other hardware has been around for a decade that could cover all of the given scenarios yet hasn't been adopted. In my book the iPod is a disappointing device for any use. If it's geared toward home users it has several fatal flaws: 1. The iPad does not have a memory card slot or a USB port so putting pictures on it requires emailing them. Want to email all those 10MB picture files to yourself? 2. It doesn't support Flash. That means no Club Penguin for the kids. No Farmville on Facebook for the wife. No watching Youtube videos for the husband. 3. It has a backlit LCD screen which is just as hard on the eyes and battery intensive as a laptop. Two of the main reasons dedicated book readers are so popular. Reading a book on my kindle with the eInk screen is light years better than reading it on any of my laptops. Plus I measure my Kindle's battery life in weeks, not hours. In my experience the main problem with laptops in meetings is they allow people to multitask so they don't focus 100% on the meeting they are in. Changing the form factor wouldn't solve this problem. IMHO the iPad is the end of Apple's homerun streak. For about the same money as the base iPad a consumer would be far better served with a Kindle 2 and a netbook.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Something else has been bouncing around in my head. Apple was pretty much screwed for this product launch. It was a true "damned if you do, damned if you don't" example. If Apple had not announced a tablet there would have been a noticeable PR hit. It's Apple so the effect would have been limited but still, not announcing a tablet would have been bad unless the replacement announcement was the path to rapture. Fans have been begging for a tablet since the second generation Newtons (where they got it right but too soon for the market). The media Buz has been madness and probably more volatile than in past years. Apple would have had to kill the rumors very early on (granted, that they didn't also said something). what we got: http://www.techeblog.com/index.php/tech-gadget/stephen-colbert-also-has-an-ipad So, damned if they hadn't. But they did. It smells a little like a product rushed to market with no clear target use but this is premature judgment. What has happened seems to be getting shredded.. dare I say.. potentially getting Vista'ed (has anyone else made that into a verb yet?). A huge media buz leading to a temporary geekdom feeling of disappointment. This is Apple, the original candy factory (pre-Google). I'm sure most including myself where expecting something a little more: http://www.techeblog.com/index.php/tech-gadget/axiotron-modbook-is-what-apple-s-ipad-should-ve-been And, if a guy in his garage can mod your macbook then imagine what Apple deliver. Geekdom was dreaming about the a full machine stuffed in a tablet. A macbook without the book hinge. So, cause they did.

Sysadmin/Babysitter
Sysadmin/Babysitter

I will be using mine INSTEAD of a laptop, by utilizing the "Remote Desktop"/"Terminal Services" of my at-home computer. The iPhone I currently have was a proof-of-concept device to me, as I used it to access my home PC. But, the screen was too small for my "Baby-Boomer" eyes, and fat middle aged fingers. The iPad (with its solid state flash based storage) is more rugged than a net-book with a spinning disk drive. I am MORE than willing to off-load the computing power & storage to my home machine with this access mode.

eschase
eschase

I am surprised that these are the best scenarios that "IT" professionals can come up with. Just for example, I work in the medical field and we use MS Tablets. They are horrid! They are difficult to use, the touch interface does not work well and they require a lot of support. Devices like the iPad would be perfect. Easy connectivity to the network, simple and easy to use interface. Oh, did I mention minimal IT support. What I really think is you guys are all worried you will be rendered OBSOLETE.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

I'd actually like to see this addressed by the TR CEO panel. I'm curious to see what the head honchos think of this device. Personally, the two best applications I can think of both involve delivering media content. Use this to eliminate the huge textbooks for students (I'd have to see it handle doc processing before saying it could be used to actually submit anything of substance...but maybe) and use it as an incentive to drive people to subscribe to newspapers via digital delivery. Truthfully, I would have been a little more optimistic about this product if it had gone with OS X as opposed to the Iphone OS. But maybe the CEO panel has a different take?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You haven't mentioned anything that can't be done with existing MS-based tablets. Massive .PDFs can be read on existing tablet models with screens that will rotate around to a flat position. Existing tablets will already play audio books and .MP3s, along with DVDs and CDs the iPad won't. "...if newspapers follow the lead of The New York Times..."; notice the first word. Sketches? With a fingertip interface and no stylus? Sorry, I don't see how one can produce anything beyond the quality of 'refrigerator art'. I realize such sketches aren't intended as blueprints, and I obviously haven't seen the tool in use, but how legible can they be? EDIT - Microsoft gave it's OneNote app away with XP Tablet edition. Since I use it on a desktop I forgot it was originally intended for tablets, including 'back of napkin' sketches, handwritten notes, etc. Of course, these were intended for use via a stylus and not fingers. END OF EDIT. Small presentations - again, this can already be done with existing tablets or even conventional notebooks. Large presentations - see 'Small presentations'. It looks like the only advantage an iPad has over existing tablet systems is the Apple name and the potential for content from traditional publishers. The former may drive the latter, but neither will put an iPad in my lap. It is less expensive than a conventional tablet, but the capabilities are too limited, especially the lack of multitasking. I doubt we'll put it on our list of supported hardware where I work, either.

MytonLopez
MytonLopez

"The iPad (with its solid state flash based storage) is more rugged than a net-book with a spinning disk drive." What are you talking about?

dtdalke
dtdalke

that the device is not designed to replace anything in the Business/IT World. The fact that this question was posed just leads everyone to bicker, and argue a bunch of invalid points. The iPad is designed and marketed to be a Consumer device. It's not designed to be a replacement for a Netbook or a tablet computer in the business environment. It is for the average home user who has a 4 or 5 year old desktop at home with Windows XP and 256 K of ram, and doesen't have a need for a laptop. He will buy an iPad because he wants a cool device to do fun stuff on and maybe read a book or two.

hal001
hal001

How do you know it is going to be easy to use and no support issue when nobody even has one to play with yet. This is purely speculations.

robinson
robinson

What makes you think there won't be support issues with the iPad?! Apple put it on the same network with the iPhone and that is already overloaded in large cities. This additional device will bring the proprietary AT&T network to its knees AND the device itself is of limited use. It's a glorified ebook device, nothing more.

vhall
vhall

for your Office but i do some consulting for an out patient clinic and the tablet pcs have saved them alot of time and money. The software they use was easy and they have no problems using the stylus touch screen. The only issue they have is that they can not us it with one hand. Plus they always have the option of docking. I am sure this thing will have great applications ( i hate the word apps). But i doubt this will make tech people obsolete. Infact i work in a 100 people office, Mac issues which is less than 4 people make up a huge part of our support costs.

jdb
jdb

I want one. I have used my iPhone to remote to servers to solve problems while not in the office, but the screen size is not so great. I also carry around a netbook (Lenovo) and I could reformat that and give it to someone else. If I need a real PC, I'll connect to my office workstation remotely. There is really only one thing I can't get done on an iPad: Play PC gamees (I'm not all about work). But I'll live with that.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I wouldn't have to worry about obsolescence; I could retire.

kevinbwood
kevinbwood

Actually this is one reason I got my netbook. most of my Grad School texts are now PDF (Huge, but PDF). Unfortunatley, becuase of rights management, I need a keyboard initially to connect to the schoold and authenticate - thus no ebook) But once authenticated, I can open and read the document on the airplane or anywhere I want to take my netbook. So yes Textbooks are a GREAT application for something with a keyboard (virtual or physical)

fvazquez
fvazquez

My first thought was "what's the difference between an iPad and a tablet... nothing", may be just the brand and the likeness with the iPod, so people who are "married" to apple/macs will be pleased to have another expensive toy to waste time with...

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Cost and UI. These slates are way cheaper than Tablet PCs (500 vs. 1500). The interface also lends itself much better to these types of light computing.

Sysadmin/Babysitter
Sysadmin/Babysitter

To get a solid state drive on a netbook, you will spend $500-$800 more than the ipad.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

even 256 M of ram would be a pig of a limitation. Especially for a device meant to hold most of itself in memory; all active data outside of the firmware. As a companion device, it has some interesting functions. With the hardware already here, it wouldn't be adding anything to the mix. Around the home as a spare terminal; sure. I may have no compelling reason to spend the money but I wouldn't turn away free gadget to explore. I'm also personally interested in what the hardware can do once released from the limiting OS platform. Heck, I'd almost sponsor part of an Ipad for the kid who's done the Iphone and PS3 then wait for the howto. Same for the HPs though, give me the hardware then let's see what it can do when liberated from the preinstalled OS. ChromeOS as a firmware for a Google Tablet took a slogging. Apple seams to have delivered ChromeOS without the root password. If I knew the full history of both devices, I might speculate on how much of a reaction Apple's product was to the fervor of an impending Gpad. As a former Newton user, I'm a little torn on this one.

interpoI
interpoI

It just seems like a big iphone that you can't make calls on! I also don't see any ports for USB or others. No easy way to carry it around, too big for a pocket. It seems to me that this won't do anything that a laptop can't do? Just because somethings different and no one else is making it doesn't mean it should be manufactured. I think it will go the way that netbooks are going and fade away after all the hooha. We'll see...

EliSko
EliSko

As I noted above, there seems a sound reason that Apple has chosen to use the minimal iPhone OS instead of the full-blown Mac OS X - MUCH less software support issues. And the lack of hardware interfaces also translates into much less hardware issues. You can't short out the device or break the connector or have it filled with crud, making a bad contact, or worry about having to install new device drivers, if you can't plug into it in the first place. And with an entirely solid state device, a whole host of mechanical difficulties fall by the wayside. No jammed or broken or burned out drives. No dirt buildup or overheating from burned out fans. And no cleaning means there's no chance of screws being stripped or pins getting broken when someone has to open it up to clean it.... Yes, it's "speculation" that this will largely be a maintenance-free device, but it is based on very sound considerations.

dwebb
dwebb

reading a lot of you crapping on this device sounds familiar to what I heard when iPhone came out... who's going to use all these silly apps.. there's no practical use... it's too expensive for a phone... now it seems like everyone has one. I have a feeling this will find it's place and do quite well. How many flops did Apple come up w/ over the years? ...and Microsoft? hmmm...

spaul940
spaul940

Take an 8-1/2" x 11" piece of paper and fold it so you have an 8-1/2" x 5.5" piece of paper. The diagonal is 10.1" or slightly larger than an iPad. Not much to share with someone else!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

What features of the iPad do you see as worth spending another $500 (or more) over what you already paid for the Lenovo?

kevinbwood
kevinbwood

The only way this device will render me obsolete is if it can replace the servers that you connect to for content, the routers that get you TO the internet and the myriad of other devices that you neve see because it is not in your hands. But I am willing to compromise, you can have your 'iPad' but when you call for support, I'll responde, you do not need my help. I am obsolete, remember? (Of course then the song will be 'customer support' instead of being obsolete.)

Realvdude
Realvdude

... doesn't necessarily mean easier, better, cheaper, etc... In medical IT, I've seen the table give way to netbooks or latops on dedicated rolling workstations, with enough battery power to put in a full shift. I also agree the list is nothing new.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

then these devices will suit that purpose. Who wants to do 'light computing'? How many business users want two devices, one for 'light computing' and another for what I will prejudicially call 'real work'? How many IT departments want to pay for two pieces of equipment for one user, iPad and 'regular' computer, one with a subset of the functions of the other? Where's the cost savings if I'm buying two pieces of equipment? A desktop or laptop plus an iPad will run as much as the tablet.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I don't remember ever reading that it had a platter drive. Sure, not 128 gigs of SSD but SSD none the less.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It was Thom or a post over at osnews that pointed out the past and current markets.

jfuller05
jfuller05

This provides the best rebuttal so far. Good answer. Thumbs up.

Turd Furgeson
Turd Furgeson

The old Straw man argument. You don't love the iPad therefore you hated the iPhone. But you have to love the sound reasoning of Apple has less flops therefore this can't be a flop.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

What brought them into the conversation? Incidentally, I don't an iPhone. Or any other cell phone, for that matter. That doesn't mean others don't find them practical, just that I still don't and I don't expect to find the iPad practical as currently configured. Future models will may change my mind, since Apple has a history of cutting prices and adding features to new models of hardware. (See the iPhone, again.)

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

A good article elsewhere pointed something out. When the Ipod was released, the market for portable music players was well established. Apple entered into a booming market with a compelling product. A bit of marketing magic and everyone wants to be seen with white earbuds. When the Iphone was released, the mobile phone market and smartphone markets where booming. Smartphone was mostly business folks but mobile phones where already a gotta-have. In both these cases, Apple only needed to provide a question to the answer. How do I play music when not at home? How do I talk to my friends and carry my calendar around without being at home? With the tablet, we have an answer missing a question. Not for lack of trying but there is no booming tablet market. There is no swarm of consumers thinking "gosh, I have a notebook and a phone but what I really need now is an in-between thingy." Consumers are left to wonder what to do with this device. What compelling whole in the technology menu does it fulfill? Is it more than a solution looking for a problem to justify itself? For me, the issues are the same as what other's seem to be thinking; a double sized Ipod touch.. Wow! And I get to limit storage and hardware functionality.. Oh.. where do I sign up?! Of course, all of this is before the device hits the market. I'm still saying we give it two weeks after the retail launch. The first is for the buz from the media high. The second week is a little buffer room. After that, we'll start hearing from hackers and consumers who've been home playing with it. Then we'll start to hear about how it works for average use and what the hardware can really do under the direction of hackerdom. Maybe the tablet will truly justify itself for more than niche and gadget collectors. Tablet specific apps are coming so maybe the double size Iphone apps will keep user interest until then. I'm also not the target market for the Iphone or Ipod devices though so I'm not likely to fit the target customer for this either. (I wouldn't turn one away if it arrived with the invoice pre-paid though either)

ganyssa
ganyssa

medical stuff going on at the end of the year, so I was out several weeks and am just now getting caught up. I haven't been on TR much, but am finally at a point where I can get back to normal - at least my version.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Even Blackberries are limited to a very short list of staff who can attached to the system. Beyond that, it's been home printer drivers for mobile staff and a highspeed dongle for one mobile staff notebook.

yattwood
yattwood

You are so right, EliSko@! Companies can bray about "standards" all they want ("thou shalt only have PC's/servers by XYZ manufacturer", "thou shalt only use Evil Empire OS/Real Operating System OS/Incredibly Big Machines OS", "thou shalt only have Larry's Database/Evil Empire's Database/Incredibly Big Machine's Database" - but you let some executive that just read something in First Class want a certain device, and you can _believe_ some IT manager will get a call: "How come _we_ don't have this device in-house?" and some IT minion _will_ be dispatched to said executive to configure/maintain it!

ganyssa
ganyssa

trying to walk a fine line of support-lite for private smart phones. We allow the use of Windows mobile devices and iPhones, with the agreement that if they are lost and stolen, we can wipe them. We help you set them up, and have to give a minimum of support if something goes wrong. Yes, that 'minimum' goes up as you go up the food chain. So far, it's working, but we also don't have very many people taking advantage of it. We also have an executive-only Blackberry server with full support. Things may shake out differently as we move on.

Turd Furgeson
Turd Furgeson

We support CrackBerry's. Of all the support people we have ever had come in IBM, Sun, Hitachi etc. Never seen an ipod or an Iphone. That doesn't mean they don't own them but my guess is their companies don't support them.

EliSko
EliSko

... you are VERY lucky. Most IT guys I know would better recognize the work environment I described than the one you (fortunately) seem to have.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

We don't, but I can't speak for anyone else. I've never seen an iPod in the building. That doesn't mean they aren't hear, but I feel safe in saying no one here is using one for file transfers. I don't see us ever supporting an iPod, any more than we'd support a Wii or a DVD player or any other device that has no business function. We don't support iPhones; all our senior execs have company provided Blackberrys. I refer all such requests to my CIO / CTO, who so far has seen no reason for us to support other smart phones. If she wants me to support an iPad, no problem. Until then, the answer is 'Nope.' But since she hasn't yet asked me to support any other privately owned devices, I'm not going to start preparing for it.

EliSko
EliSko

And how many users have them, anyway? And how many users end up using iPods / MPEG players for moving files around, too? To say nothing of the ubiquitous USB flash disks a/k/a "disk on key"? And does or does not IT have to support the issues when these devices are plugged into the computers that ARE approved by the company? You can have as much policy as you want, but when a senior exec calls the head of IT and says "I'm having trouble syncing my addresses in Outlook with my iPhone" I can promise you that some poor tech WILL be handling the problem. You can "refuse to support" the iPads, too, but when the CEO calls the CTO, you WILL be doing that support, however much you want to play ostrich and hide your head in the sand.

tracydel
tracydel

....How many IT departments want to pay for two pieces of equipment for one user, iPad and 'regular' computer, one with a subset of the functions of the other? How many IT departments want to troubleshoot another device only intended for "light use"

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