Tablets vs desktops: Fun beats functional

The world of work is starting to understand the power of fun...

The rise of tablets in the enterprise shows that the world of business is changing in a fundamental way: it's starting to realise the power of fun, says's Natasha Lomas.

Anyone with even half an eye on technology will have noticed the full-blown tablet frenzy we are living through. The iPad may have kick-started this rectangular revolution but the contenders to Apple's crown are lining up. In recent weeks we've heard about the HTC Flyer, the LG Optimus Pad, the Motorola Xoom and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, to name a few of the iPad's Android-based competitors.

Then there's HP's webOS-based TouchPad, and RIM's QNX-based BlackBerry PlayBook. And let's not forget the iPad 2 - Apple's second-generation tablet is due to launch in the UK on 25 March but has already hit shops across the pond.

The tech world is also swallowing an awful lot of tablet-based predictions. Can the reality of tablets live up to the hype? Analysts don't pretend to have all the answers but they are betting on a few things: more tablets will be sold this year than next, and some of those sales will dent netbook and laptop purchases. Analyst house Canalys is predicting 52 million tablets will ship worldwide this year compared with about 17 million last year. For every 10 tablets sold this year, it reckons five netbooks or laptops will remain on the shelves.

iPad 2: Enterprises are eyeing tablets

Apple's iPad 2, demoed at the UK launch earlier this month, is part of a flood of new tablet devices in 2011Photo: Natasha Lomas/

As predictions go, these are pretty safe bets. More tablets are going to flood into the market in 2011 - helped by Google preparing a tablet-focused version of its Android smartphone OS: Android 3.0, or Honeycomb. Expect Honeycomb to do for tablets what Android has done for smartphones: usher in plenty of shiny new hardware.

RIM will also be hoping it can persuade BlackBerry users to keep it in the family by buying its PlayBook slate instead of any rivals. Trailed since last September, the PlayBook is slated for launch in the US soon, and elsewhere this year.

It's no great leap of faith to believe tablets will eat into sales of netbooks and laptops. Most slates don't run a full desktop OS but smartphone OSes can do many of the tasks people use their desktops for: email, internet browsing, word processing, watching videos and so on, not to mention apps. Tablets also often make these tasks quicker and - dare I say it - more fun. A tablet might therefore be just the upgrade your old PC is looking for, offering the chance to take a portion of work away from the old warhorse without retiring it altogether.

There are some distinct usability advantages to tablets versus desktops too. Portability, of course. Boot-up times are also generally faster. And touchscreen interfaces can speed up the process of scanning documents and flicking through emails. There's also the aforementioned fun factor. Don't underestimate fun: engaged workers are more productive workers so fun really is a business benefit, as gamification shows.

Where does fun come from? In a nutshell: reduced complexity. Having fewer barriers to use makes using anything more natural. Technology especially benefits from fun since it has so often historically been the opposite of fun to use. Tablets get all this. They are the next generation of computers - leaner, literally, and meaner in UI design so users aren't kept at arm's length by badly designed systems.

What's another word for fun? Intuitive. Tablet OSes have to be...