OK, I admit it I love all things gadgetry and certainly my tablet, whilst I have not had a lot of tablets in the past I have had a cross section, starting with the original iPad, an iPad 2, 10” Motorola tablet, and more recently a 7” Google Nexus, and in between these I have seen and played with various others, those with pens, those with connected keyboards and so on.
The common theme for all of these products and on which they are heavily marketed is that of content consumption (movie, books, email, web), and not so much the content creation. Yet time and time again I see articles about how tablets are going to be the next big thing in business, implying they will be used for content creation, but I think they are wrong. I think the the mobile phone with its stake already firmly in the office floor, will hang on in there and prevail, and this is why.
Content creation, it is only slightly easier to write on a tablet than a mobile phone, yes adding a keyboard makes it a lot easier but then you are back to a laptop, something akin the size of an ultra laptop. When I am not developing (which has to be PC based currently) I am writing documents and spreadsheets. Reading these on a tablet is OK (consumption) but with creating you can only confidently do the basics and then go back to a PC to finish it off with nice formatting and adding in images etc. Trying to do this on a tablet, is either impossible, too slow or in the case of formatting, you are never quite sure how it will look in full size via a different system. Another place where tablets are meant to steal the limelight in the future is taking notes, whilst there are lots of clever apps out there that are trying to replace the notepad and pen, I have yet to find one (and I have tried 10+) that works any better than the original combo. I hate this as I so much want to take notes electronically. Third party business Apps are also a problem, chances are the main app, that is central to your business does not have an equivalent on a tablet therefore you are drawn back to your PC.
But, do these problems not also affect using a phone? Er yes, but lets look at these closely. There is a want/need for people to be more mobile, on this basis alone applications that you need on a daily basis will need to change. Some of these changes are big projects, the suppliers are not going to spend time and effort in developing for one operating system or one size of screen therefore the applications will be developed to be delivered via systems that are flexible, currently this is the web so that only a browser is required. As I said earlier this currently is an issue, say for example with documents, as the interoperability between differing systems can make this an issue but this will go away over time. But, I have also said that content creation is better on a tablet, due to the screen size. This is true, but again over time these barriers will disappear. On my desk I already use a bluetooth keyboard, which can seamlessly connect to my phone and I have systems within my home environment that let me display whatever I am seeing on my phone on my 42” TV at the push of a button. I therefore envisage the day when I drop my phone onto the desk of any office space I am using and it connects to the keyboard and display. When I walk into a boardroom/presentation I expect my phone to connect to the screen to allow me to deliver the presentation, I will not have to take a laptop, connect it and make changes to the screen settings, everything will just happen.
So, if the content creation and delivery limitations go away, what becomes important is the mobility and there is nothing better and more powerful for its size than a mobile phone, these will only get more powerful and possibly smaller as the technology improves, think voice interaction (Siri on iOS and Google Actions on Android) and flexible screens that fold away to practically nothing.
So as a business what should you be thinking? If you have control over your workforce phones, look to standardise, this makes them easier to support. If you are looking to develop applications, consider web based systems, this does not necessarily mean a public Cloud offering but for internal use only, but it should give you a versatile system able to scale and change as technology and users do. Remember a bespoke application may have to last years whereas mobile technology is being replaced on a 1-2 year cycle so consider what you will need for the future as well as the here and now.
What do you think, Tablets in a business environment, here to stay or just a passing phase.?