Tablets vs desktops: Fun beats functional

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

...a little more measured. Asked whether slates will completely replace desktops and laptops for "most business users" in the next five years, seven CIO Jury members voted no, five voted yes. The prevailing view from the panel of UK IT chiefs was that tablets can do some things well but not all things, and therefore that tablets make sense for some types of - typically more mobile - workers but not all workers.

That's fine. For tablets to be a disruptive force in business they don't need to replace desktops and laptops entirely. If the most mobile executives in your business can be more productive with a slate under their arm, it matters not a jot that the spreadsheet-heavy finance department is still slogging away with breeze blocks under their desk.

CIO Jury members identified the tablet as a particularly good fit for mobile-working senior execs - opening up the possibility of a two-tier office where status is measured not by having your own office or assistant but by how shiny and keyboard-less your work PC is.

"Tablets 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," predicted Andrew Clarke, group IT director at Arcadia.

"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," said Stephen Potter, CIO at World-Check.

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

"With the right infrastructure in place, the tablet can be used to great effect but it cannot do everything," said Jeff Roberts, group director of IT Norton Rose LLP.

It's interesting to note that IT chiefs' reservations about tablets mainly focused on concerns about newfangled hardware not new software: the lack of a physical keyboard, the limited screen size and the light-touch processing power - rather than the slimmed-down OSes.

New form factors may take a bit of getting used to but considering office workers used to hammer away on mechanical typewriters or dip quill pens into ink wells and make marks on parchment, the shift from desktops to tablets is going to be child's play. Tablets can easily be docked when at rest, as World-Check's Potter notes - just add a keyboard and monitor and the stationary slate is effectively a nippy little desktop PC. And there's plenty of opportunity for hybrid tablet-cum-laptop form factors to help ease the transition, as other CIO Jury members noted.

On the power front, mobile chipsets are gaining ground, with several dual-core tablets in the pipeline or in the market. Apple has beefed up the iPad from a 1GHz processor to the iPad 2's dual-core 1.2GHz chips. Mobile chipsets are never going to be enough for some power users but many business users have reasonably modest performance needs. Speed and ease of use are what count.

Why, for instance, has software giant SAP rolled out thousands of iPads to its staff? Easy access to information - the ability to speedily scan data. I'll say that again: speed and ease.

For businesses and business users, tablets hold out that simple promise: fast, easy access to data on the move. We all know data will keep on growing, we all know people aren't going to stop moving. So yes, tablets are coming. It really isn't rocket science.

Is your business already using tablets? Are you planning a switch from desktops to tablets? Let us know by posting a comment below.