Tablets – the future?

More and more I find myself reaching for my tablet when it comes to work-related issues, to the point now where I’ll actually bring it to meetings and client site visits instead of my laptop. It was not always this way, initially, like a lot of people, I wrote off tablets as a fad that would soon burn out, how wrong I was.

The reasons for this up-take in new technology are many, not least that Apple managed to package the tablet computer in a beautiful shell and work their marketing magic on it when they gave us the iPad! But if you look beyond the Apple-spiel (and the price tag) there seems to be a tablet for everyone’s budget out there from sub €100 units right up to mid-spec personal laptop prices, but when you look at it, you get so much more bang for your buck…

Weight saving

This is a no-brainer, my tablet (a Motorola Xoom) weighs in at 730g (1.6lb) compare that to my Dell work laptop which is 3 times the weight at 2.8kg (6.1lb). I know which one I’d rather be lugging around.

Ergonomics

I’m pushing 6’ 3” and the one thing I dread about travelling is not getting a seat in the emergency aisle on a plane, that extra tiny little bit of leg room makes all the difference. Unfortunately I’m usually not the only one thinking along those lines on the Dublin to London early morning flight. Trying to do any work in a standard seat on a 737 is awkward to say the least, especially if you’re flying Ryanair who seem to have made an art form out of jamming the most amount of people into the smallest spaces on a plane! Working on a tablet saves me contorting into yoga-like positions in an attempt to get some work done. Tablet makers everywhere, my fellow passengers and I thank you as I’m no longer elbowing the people around me in an attempt to use keyboard shortcuts!

Battery life

Blows my laptop out of the water, it’s rare I’d go through a full charge on the Xoom, in fact the only times I’ve ever been caught short on battery life was due to me not charging the tablet the night before. I regularly get 2 days of light use out and even then it’s not screaming for a charge. My days of playing the last minute dash to find a power point are over.

User experience

Being the IT Guy in the family, it falls to me to provide training on all things techie (even if I’ve never seen the thing before, like the new microwave with digital display and controls, I’m instantly expected to know what buttons to press to defrost 2 frozen pork chops, but I digress…) The thing with PCs and laptops is they’ve evolved to the state where they’re trying to balance functionality with user friendliness and somewhere along the way, they dropped the ball.

Graphics have gotten sharper and therefore, smaller, programs have tried to jam so much functionality into their product, it can be hard to find the function you’re looking for. It doesn’t help they’ve moved its location since the last release! Here’s an example of a recent exchange I had with an older relative and their different experiences of accessing their email on their PC versus a newly purchased tablet (which I’d set up)

 

On the PC:

Me: Ok, open Internet Explorer.

Older Relative: Where’s that?

Me: There should be an icon on your desktop (I then look at desktop and realise she has 80 shortcuts on her desktop, most to broken or non-existent files) Eh, never mind, click on the Start menu.

OR: Where’s the Start menu?

Me: Bottom left, looks like a button with a colourful window on it (then mutter a few choice expletives about Windows 7 under my breath)

OR: Oh right, oh yes, Internet Explorer, there it is.

Me: Great, now in the address bar, type in gmail.com

OR: Where’s the address bar?

Me: Its right up the…wait a sec, where’s your address bar? Did you press F11 recently?

OR: What’s an F11?

Older male relative: I think it was a fighter jet in the 60’s!

Me: YOU’RE NOT HELPING UNCLE DAVE!! Sorry, sorry (takes a deep breath, reaches over and presses F11, screen returns to normal) Now, there’s the address bar, now type in gmail.com

OR: Okey dokey! (Types in address, presses enter, the username and password have been cached & I say a silent thank you to the Gods of IT as it’s just saved me another 3 steps!) Oh, there’s my email!

 

On the tablet:

Me:  OK, unlock the tablet and press the Gmail icon

OR: Oh, there’s my email!

Bang for Buck

Currently the top of the range Xoom is about €550 (with 3G connectivity which we’ll discuss next) a similar spec  iPad is €699, which is mid to hi-spec personal laptop territory, but considering business laptops usually run much higher than that you’re already making a saving. There’s also the fact you’re getting the kind of battery life that could only be achieved by adding an additional (expensive) high capacity battery and already the tablet is looking like the smart investment.

There’s also the available apps for tablets, granted, a lot of them are useless to you from a business sense but don’t forget a lot of the ones that are useful are also free! There’s also Angry Birds, need I say more?

Connectivity

As mentioned previously, the higher spec tablets come equipped with 3G connectivity, meaning you’re not relying on public or client Wi-Fi to be able to connect to your office systems or catch up on the latest news headlines. The current offering is 3G but 4G is coming down the pipeline, promising speeds of up to 12mb/sec. Now, while I’ll believe that speed when I actually see it, 4G will no doubt be faster than current 3G speeds and to be honest, once you’re in decent coverage, 3G is actually quite good for connecting to the cloud or your service of choice so things can only get better (touch wood).

Last minute use

Hands up if you’ve ever done the following, approximately .01 of a second after you’ve hit Shut Down on your laptop, you remember one final email you had to send and now have to go through the whole boot up process, let windows load, let your startup applications load, open the resource hog that is Outlook and finally type up and send off that email.

Tablets on the other hand are the closet thing we have to instant on technology, they wake from hibernation with lightning speed thanks to the fast solid state drives and small processing power required by the OS. In short, you’ll be finished your work that little bit quicker and get on with other important things…like checking Facebook & Twitter.

Summary

Like them or not, tablets are here to stay. Sure, they take a bit of getting used to, but as the market grows and more manufacturers take it seriously, you’ll start to see the lines between tablet and laptop blur a little. Yes the on screen keyboards can take some getting used to but there are already devices such as the Bluetooth keyboards for iPad and Android by Logitech (amongst others)

Tablets have laptops firmly in their sights and while they will never truly replace laptops, it may not be long before they replace them as the business tool of choice for today’s user.

This article first appeared in our Eolas Newsletter we send out once a month,

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