Patrick Gray shares his concerns that tablets have a long way to go before they are ready in the enterprise as a replacement device.
I'm writing this article from my comfortable old sofa, which arrived just yesterday in my family's new home. It's not exactly an "enterprise," but we spent the last eight months selling and packing our previous house, managing the construction process of our new home, and living six months in temporary housing nearly 1,000 miles away. During the process, I tried to use technology to keep on top of things — tablets, in particular. Here are my experiences with tablets and what is essentially a moderately complicated and geographically diverse project.
Light and fast rules
Despite fairly easy access to a desktop and quick-booting laptop, I found myself reaching for my tablet most frequently when I needed some sort of computing device, even when I knew the tablet might not be capable of fulfilling the mission at hand. In some cases, the tablet was superior to a desktop. For things like checking local maps, either from Google or listings of homes for sale, the ability to quickly zoom and change orientation was vastly superior to the desktop equivalent. For tasks like email or document browsing, the tablet was probably the least capable device, but the ability to grab it and immediately begin completing a task had me turning to the tablet more often than other devices.
Stumbling on software
One of the most compelling capabilities was where tablet software let me down the most. I attempted to keep a fairly thorough inventory of each box we packed, tracking the destination room for the box and an inventory of its contents. The inventory didn't always work (we spent 20 minutes this evening searching in vain for the BBQ tools), but the concept seemed like a surefire win for a portable device that would allow one to easily enter information while standing in front of a box.
However, the application I was using — Evernote — didn't allow complex formatting on the iPad, so I was unable to maintain the table-driven formatting I wanted (this has since been corrected). Instead, I ended up using an old netbook for the majority of the moving inventory, since I could easily tote it to where I was packing a box, and the battery was fairly capacious. Like many enterprise computing problems, current tablet hardware may look like a surefire win, but available software is sometimes lacking in fairly basic ways.
In particular, there's minimal project management software available for tablets, even the mainstream iPad I used with my move. While my wife considered it overkill, I've found a basic project plan to be a helpful tool for any project with several parties, dependencies, and hierarchical tasks. Tablets seem like they'd be the perfect tool for creating or adjusting a project plan, but I couldn't find anything that met even my basic needs.
The biggest problem
The biggest problem I ran into while attempting to use a tablet for my move was that tablets are still missing key functionality on the software front, and the fix often requires multiple devices. The iPad accomplished some tasks with aplomb and was capable for many others, but at least 20% of the time it was completely ineffective and necessitated firing up a traditional computer. Sure, that's acceptable for something like a personal move, but if an IT department can't replace a traditional computer with a tablet for its users, then tablets become an additional expense rather than a replacement device. The pool of users that could be served by a tablet as their primary computing device is growing, but when the industry-leading tablet can't be my sole device for a relatively simple move, it's clear that tablets have a way to go in the enterprise.