Rumours of the demise of the laptop are greatly exaggerated.
With the popularity of tablet computers and more talk about how the post-PC era will change the way we communicate and do business, some people suggest the days of the laptop are numbered. While this may happen some day, it’s worth noting that desktop computers are still being sold and continue to be very much used in offices and homes.
The forecasted death of the laptop is no doubt overstated. Certainly the tablet is making inroads but, rather than seeing the tablet as a potential replacement for the laptop, the more appropriate question might be: “Will we be able to effectively integrate the tablet into our business?”
What Makes a Tablet a Tablet?
Although a tablet is certainly a mobile computer, the hardware, software and physical shape of tablets make them ideally suited to some tasks and rather poorly suited to others. Much like smartphones, tablets are at their best as a highly mobile supplement to the capabilities of a desktop or laptop. Before investing in tablets for your business, you should first consider how you work. Which of your tasks requires mobility? Your need for mobility will largely determine your need for a tablet. And mobility doesn’t mean just when you are physically on the go.
Tablet devices are a distinct category of computer that falls somewhere between smartphones and laptops and shares features of both. Like smartphones, the main user interface is a touch screen. Displays range from 18-26 cm (7-10 inches) in a slate form, so-named for its general resemblance to once-common writing slates. Similar to computers, pricing on tablets ranges from under $300 to over $800, though most are priced somewhere in the middle. The lightest weighs 340 g (0.75 pounds) and the heaviest around 960 g (2.1 pounds) — larger than a smartphone, but still considerably lighter than the average laptop.
If you’re on the move, battery life is a major consideration since maximum times range from merely four hours to as many as 10 hours. Unlike traditional laptops where a faster processor or more functions may reduce battery life, often the higher-end tablet models provide the longest battery life. If you’re out of the office a lot, higher battery capacity should be at the top of your list. Depending on your travel and usage habits you might want to start your day with a full charge, as some of the most popular models do not have replaceable batteries.
Nearly all models include WiFi and Bluetooth for wireless Internet access and accessories; if you’re planning to use your device mainly in the office, other areas with WiFi, or tether to your smartphone may be sufficient. For more reliable Internet access anywhere, many tablets support a high-speed 3G or LTE cellular data service; this feature will need a data plan and will cost a bit more upfront. Your cellular provider may offer discounted devices with a contract similar to that for mobile phones. For presentations, support for HDMI and VGA output should be essential.
The tablet is so-named for its general resemblance to the once-common writing slates.
Tablets are generally better suited to more passive activities like email, web browsing, presentations and other apps that don’t require significant data input, since most data entry relies on a virtual touchscreen keyboard or a simplified interface with large finger-sized buttons. For spreadsheets and word processing, a tablet is great for viewing, presenting and even making simple changes; however, entering larger amounts of data can be tedious using the virtual keyboard. If you sometimes need to create and edit documents, and are able to be stationary while doing so, you’ll likely want a physical keyboard.
Tablets have considerably less storage space than typical computers since they use smaller, power-saving Flash memory rather than a larger hard disk. Consider the kinds of documents you work with. For most business applications, if you’re storing an assortment of documents, spreadsheets, images and presentations, an entry-level device with 16 GB storage might be enough, although for greater storage needs 32 GB and 64 GB are also commonly available. If you work with videos or high-resolution images, or if you plan to store any personal content like music or videos, you should take this into account before you buy – these can soak up your storage very quickly. Not all models include an expandable storage option.
Many tablets come with gorgeous screens that make images come to life; this is great for presentations with smaller groups. Audio, on the other hand, is not a strong point with tablets and therefore sounds and conversations are likely to sound tinny. If you need higher-quality audio from your tablet but within its limitations, invest in some decent headphones; your own ears and anyone within earshot will thank you.
While nearly all devices include a camera, taking a still image or video can be awkward given the size of the device. However, for business the bigger screen makes mobile video conferencing with clients, vendors and business partners more useful when compared with a smartphone.
Most tablet platforms have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of applications (apps) available. Your business will likely only need a handful of apps. It’s a good idea to make note of the documents and functions that will be needed on the go, review the apps that are available for the platforms being considered, and determine those that may offer advantages to your business.
Software compatibility is critical for business. Most companies rely on the Microsoft Office suite. Each major platform has a productivity suite available that is generally capable of reading and editing Office documents. Compared to a desktop suite, the mobile versions used on tablets tend to be simplified and therefore may not be capable of all the functions you’re used to on a PC. Additionally, there may be other limitations introduced by cross-platform compatibility; unsupported functions and formatting, such as macros and fonts, may be lost or substituted when importing a file for editing on a tablet. While moving content between various PC and mobile operating systems and applications is much easier than it was in days of yore, it is still not seamless and will not necessarily work with the same ease as with the desktop version that created it.
Tablets may cost more than an entry-level laptop, have a smaller screen, less memory and storage, the slower “mobile” CPU more common in cell phones, no optical drive, no keyboard and the mobile operating system is almost certainly different from the one running your computer, which means you need different software. In exchange, you may get longer battery life and a simplified, easier-to-use interface that’s more like your smartphone; unlike a phone, the bigger screen actually lets you get some work done on the go. Since a tablet is substantially lighter than a laptop, and doesn’t come with a bulky bag and power brick, you’re more likely to actually have it with you. Tablets are not perfect or suitable in all cases, but may actually be better in others. Before taking the plunge, be sure to assess your requirements to see if a tablet will augment or enhance your business processes.