Tablets vs desktops: Fun beats functional

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

...more intuitive than desktop OSes because mobile users are time-strapped. More intuitive also means more fun - the interaction between user and software is more natural. Layers of complexity have been stripped away. Tablets are simply nicer to use.

Whether it's finger-based touchscreen interactions - tapping, pinching, prodding - or toggling through OS functions that have been pared back to icons and swipes, with perhaps just the one reassuring physical button, tablets are winning hands-down on the fun factor. Desktop OSes have improved over the years but compared with tablets they still get a big fat fail. They are functional at best, not fun.

Not everything is easier on a tablet of course - doing lots of typing on a touchscreen is not for everyone. As someone who does a lot of writing, I still prefer using a physical keyboard. But there are other speed and efficiency gains that tablets can bring which may balance out their lack of physical keys for lots of business users and uses.

As an aside, not all tablet OSes are equal. And it remains to be seen whether RIM's pairing of its tablet and smartphone by requiring PlayBook owners to fire up a Bluetooth link to access their BlackBerry email, calendar and messenger services on the slate will be fun or functional. We'll just have to wait and see.

RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook pictured next to a BlackBerry Curve

Owners of RIM's PlayBook tablet have to use a Bluetooth link to a smartphone to access BlackBerry emailPhoto: Natasha Lomas/

It's still early days for tablets but there is a growing sense they are going down particularly well with businesses. Late last year, Gartner predicted slates will find their way into 80 per cent of enterprises by 2013. Canalys is forecasting tablet sales growth of almost 5,400 per cent in the enterprise this year, versus a consumer growth rate of 200 per cent. Earlier this year, a Morgan Stanley study polled CIOs and found that half expect to buy tablets for employees this year. A fifth had already done so.

What are businesses using tablets for? Things you'd expect - presentations, in meetings, for tasks that fall into categories such as general productivity, sales and management. A survey of iPad-owning business users by global professional recruitment and IT outsourcing group Harvey Nash found popular uses for the tablet included a presentation tool, for browsing digital magazines and for taking notes in meetings. In short: for getting stuff done. It's not the tasks themselves that are revolutionary, it's how they are being done.

Customer-facing businesses are already plugging tablets straight in. Whether it's InterContinental Hotels using FaceTime on the iPad 2 to talk to guests, or Australian airline Jetstar Airways test-driving iPads as in-flight entertainment hubs, or retailers using iPads in store displays to show off their full product range on a device that shoppers are already familiar with. Businesses are already putting the fun factor to work for them.

Even the House of Lords is eyeing tablets as an alternative to paper notes used by speakers in the chamber. You can almost hear the digital winds of change ruffling the dusty tradition of ages. It may not be a revolution quite yet but it's pretty darn close.

Apple talked up business and vertical industry uses for its iPad during the launch of the iPad 2 earlier this month - with schools, hospitals and CEO Marc Benioff all featuring in a promo video. Benioff was gushing in his praise of the tablet. "This device is how we are going to run the future of the enterprise," he said.

Polled for their verdict,'s CIO Jury was...