Tablets such as the Apple iPad might not completely replace desktops and laptops for business but the kinds of devices we use at work will change over the next few years, according to silicon.com’s CIO Jury.

Earlier this month, Apple unveiled its iPad 2, the second generation of its tablet device which has generated huge interest in what was until recently a niche form factor.

At the launch of the new hardware, Apple put greater emphasis on potential business uses, with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff saying: “This device is how we are going to run the future of the enterprise.”

But when asked, ‘Will tablets replace desktops and laptops for most business users in the next five years?’, silicon.com’s exclusive CIO Jury wasn’t convinced, voting ‘no’ by a narrow margin of seven to five.

Apple iPad 2

Apple may have recently launched iPad 2 to great acclaim but CIOs aren’t entirely convinced by tabletsPhoto: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com

Gavin Whatrup, group IT director at Creston, said: “The tablet is a very good format for media consumption, portability and some kinds of input, but is certainly not a panacea.”

He said the tablet format has some fundamental limitations, such as the touch-based input which, while offering advantages for navigation, also has some serious restrictions in what it allows.

“If portability is to remain a primary design factor then screen size will have to remain small, which necessarily restricts scale and therefore what purposes it can be used for.” In terms of processing power, unless all PC activity can be SaaS-based, “client processing power will still be required for certain activities, such as AV editing or database processing”, Whatrup added.

Gavin Megnauth, director of operations and group IT at Morgan Hunt, said the tablet user experience is enjoyable and there is undeniable “novelty value” surrounding it, but added: “We are already seeing the initial rush of execs bringing their tablets to all meetings and making all their notes on their iPad dissipate and returning to laptops. It’s hard to see heavy-duty typists or Excel workers migrating with the absence of a hardware keyboard.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Clarke, group IT director at Arcadia, said: “It will certainly be the preferred device for executives but for…

…desk-bound employees the laptop-desktop will be round for quite a few years to come.”

But it is clear that even if tablets don’t become standard hardware for office workers in the next few years, the devices will still have a significant impact on the workplace.

Mark Foulsham, head of IT and operations at esure, said tablets are likely to be part of a gradual move away from a standard desktop and even more so from laptops: “My view is we’re moving towards a device-independent service architecture – users should be able to access corporate systems in the most appropriate way for their role, whether it’s an iPad, smartphone, TV or fridge. The business should provide the secure service platform to achieve that.”

Neil Jones, head of IS at Newport City Homes, said: “Let’s look at this as an opportunity for some users – depending on the business and the sector – to pay a device allowance and allow users to buy their own devices which they also use in work.”

And Neil McGowan, CIO at J D Williams, said: “”Smartphone and tablet access is already hugely popular on consumer websites. It is bound to migrate to business use.”

Jeff Roberts, group director of IT Norton Rose LLP, said: “The iPad is a device that can work for the consumer and the corporate simultaneously. With the right infrastructure in place, it can be used to great effect but it cannot do everything. In a law firm, a very lightweight tablet that truly supports handwriting, just like working with pen and paper, and can convert even scribbled amendments to formatted text without having to faff about with drop-down menus, will have a lot of value and therefore a lot of take-up. All previous iterations of tablet PCs so far have not been good enough.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Potter, CIO at World-Check, suggested a future where different forms of hardware retain the best of both tablet and laptop: “I think it’s fair to say that a dockable tablet will increasingly replace the traditional laptop-desktop environment for enterprise users with some sort of mobility requirement. Screen size and keyboard requirements will continue to constrain the pure tablet form factor for enterprise users however, opening the door to hybrids that give the ease of use of a tablet with the ergonomics of a laptop.”

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This week’s CIO Jury was:

  • Andrew Clarke, group IT director at Arcadia
  • Mark Foulsham, head of IT and operations, esure
  • Adam Gerrard, CIO, Avis Europe
  • Paul Haley, director of IT, University of Aberdeen
  • Neil Jones, head of IS, Newport City Homes
  • John Keeling, CIO, John Lewis
  • Neil McGowan, CIO at J D Williams
  • Gavin Megnauth, director of operations and group IT, Morgan Hunt
  • Stephen Potter, CIO, World-Check
  • Jeff Roberts, group director of IT Norton Rose LLP
  • Gavin Whatrup, group IT director at Creston
  • Steve Williams, director of information systems and services, Newcastle University

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