In the debate over tablet versus notebook, tablets have some pretty unique advantages

March 16, 2014

I am continually surprised by how many field workers in particular are using tablets.  I am seeing, for example, tablets show up more on construction sites to store and access blueprints and forms. 

Doctors and their staff are quickly standardizing on using tablets during exams to record and display information to patients. I am seeing more tablets deployed in ambulances and with police and fire as well. It seems as though the tablet goes out in the field and the PC (notebook) stays chained to the desk.

(By the way, TabTimes has compiled an impressive and diverse set of tablet deployment case studies that underscores the theme of this column including the point that many of  these jobs could not be done as effectively, if at all, with MacBooks or PC/notebooks.)

Notebooks were designed to be portable, so why is it that tablets are taking over so many of the tasks they used to predominantly own?  The answer lies in the form factor and the operating system.

The tablet form factor is unique. It is a slim slate of glass designed to be held. The PC was designed to be sat on a desk or lap but was not designed to be operated while being held with one hand. This key difference is why tablets are taking key mobile and field deployments from the PC and I don't see this changing any time soon.

Software is the difference

The other key is in the software. The hardware makes for a unique "blank" slate and the software is what transforms the device into a variety of things.

The tablet could be an art easel, a music recording studio, a video or image editing solution, or anything the software creator dreams up. In many enterprise settings and vertical industries like construction, health and safety, medical, etc., companies are building custom software to  capitalize on the tablet form factor in unique ways. 

A large construction company here in the Bay Area told me they had custom software developed that keeps an up-to-the minute log of all blueprints for every job. They can make changes to blueprints on the fly and have them seen by every person on the job who needs to inspect them.

Prior to this, there was a lengthy analog process that could take days to make changes and additions to blueprints and get them to workers in the field.  Now it is nearly instantaneous.

The software is what makes the hardware come alive and become so many different things to different people. All of this is done in ways the PC never could have because its operating system is designed to be used in a touch environment while being held. It is easy to understand why the tablet is dominating field worker computing environments. If you are highly mobile or on your feet most the day working, the tablet is the perfect personal computer for your job.

(Where, when and how tablets can replace laptops in the workplace will be one of the key panel sessions at the Tablet Strategy conference in New York on May 6. You can check out the full agenda and you may be eligible for a free pass if you are involved in a tablet deployment project within your organization – Check conditions that apply on the registration page)

Tablets can do real work

More and more enterprises and particular verticals like the ones I mentioned, are finding ways to implement the tablet in what seems like the most natural way. 

Many of the CIOs and CTOs I’ve spoken with give me a sense that once they realized the tablet was the right tool for the job, it was a no brainer to implement. In many cases they said they don’t know how they worked without a tablet before.

The diversity of use cases the tablet can cover, because of the hardware and the software, is what makes it the dynamic computing platform it is evolving into. 

There is way too much media noise around this concept of what is real work and what is not. Most the anti-tablet campaigns you see are coming from companies who are trying to protect their legacy PC business. Unfortunately for them this tablet invasion is not stopping any time soon.

(For news, trends and advice on how you and your team can work smarter with tablets, sign up for TabTimes' free Tablet Business/Productivity Update newsletter)


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