Tablets or smartphones: Which is the future for business?

Summary:Just what is tomorrow's mobile enterprise going to look like? Matt Baxter-Reynolds and Adrian Kingsley-Hughes debate the possibilities.

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Tablets

or

Smartphones

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Best Argument: Tablets

64%
36%

Audience Favored: Tablets (64%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Proper work requires a tablet

Matt Baxter-Reynolds: Smartphones, like all computers, will get more powerful. But that doesn't make them as functional as a tablet.

What has shocked the computer industry is how tablets are affecting PC sales. It's not true to say that tablets are replacing PCs *per se* -- what is true is that people increasingly find ways to use a tablet for certain tasks rather than a PC.

When you're actually at work, you're still looking to get work done. When you make a device small, you trade usability for portability. Smartphones are "hyperportable" -- they are so portable you always have them with you. But with that hyperportability comes a tiny keyboard and a small screen.

A tablet is less portable, but less of a compromise is made on portability. You can replace PC functions on a tablet more readily than you can with a smartphone. That's why we'll always see that people who are looking to do proper work in business will use tablets as their go-to device.

The tool that people carry with them

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes: There's an old adage that says that the best tool for a particular job is the one you happen to have on you. We don't all walk around with rucksacks and cases everywhere we go, and as a result space for every-day-carry items is severely limited.

The other day, I ended up fixing a PC with my trusty Swiss Army Knife after I forgot my toolkit at home. It got the job done.

This is exactly why I prefer smartphones over tablets. Sure, I love my iPad and my Nexus 7 dearly, but more often than not these devices are left at home or the office, leaving me with only my smartphone. Even the majority of phablet are too big and cumbersome to be daily carry devices.

The smartphone is the tool that people carry with them, and this why it is the future for business.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    It'slmost time...

    ...to being this week's great debate. It should be a lively one.

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    I'm ready

    Tablets rule

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    All set

    Ready to make the call.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Smartphone strengths

    What use cases are best left for the smartphone?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Use it any time, anywhere

    The difference in portability "modes" offered by smartphones, tablets, and PCs can be defined in terms of usable a device is when you're actually moving. PCs are not very good when you're actually moving, because you need to be sitting and ideally have a flat surface available to put it on. Smartphones are at the other end of the spectrum -- it may not be a great idea to use one when crossing the street, but people do. Tablets fit into the middle.

    Therefore the best use cases for smartphones are ones where you need to look something up. For example, an address of a meeting whilst waiting in line for a cab, or sending a quick email when having a cup of coffee.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    It does almost everything

    Since it's the tool that I'm most likely to have with me, I try to make my smartphone – in my case, an iPhone – my primary portable device. This means that on my smartphone I have tools that allow me to open and work with a whole raft of document types, from Word and Excel files, all the way to Photoshop and ZIP files.

    I've also got all my social media streams coming into my smartphone.

    I even go as far as to have a way on my smartphone that allows me to access my PCs and Macs while away from my desk. I've lost count of the number of times that being able to do this has saved the day for me.

    I don't let the fact that I'm using a device with a 4-inch screen hold me back!

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Tablet strengths

    What use cases are best left for the tablet?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Greater flexibility

    Use cases for the tablet are those where the smartphone is a little too fiddly and what you're doing physically affords some greater flexibility. If you have a tablet and a smartphone on a coffee table at home, picking the tablet up to check your work emails will afford greater usability.


    I'm not sure there are specific use cases for one over the other -- it's more of a case of which is more convenient to use at the time.

    There is one use case the stands out though -- document viewing. It'll always be easier to view a document on a tablet than on a relatively tiny smartphone screen.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    Size matters

    Despite preferring the smartphone, there are a few things that I still prefer to do on a tablet.

    Here are some of those tasks:

    • Anything fiddly, such as working with a big spreadsheet or editing multi-page documents.
    • Photo and image editing.
    • Reading (I do read on my iPhone, but I find a bigger screen to be more comfortable).
    • Extended periods of data entry (but then, I prefer to also have a physical keyboard).


    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does the PC still fit in?

    Do those use cases for the smartphone and tablet cannibalize PC usage?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Marathon sessions

    In business, I'm not sure post-PC devices cannibalize PC usage directly. Post-PC devices are not good at focused sit-down-for-hours-at-a-desk work, but the PC is rather good at that and will win every time. What post-PC devices are good for in business are ancillary activities -- for example it's easier to take a tablet with a bunch of documents into a series of meetings than it is to lug around a PC and power adapter.

    There are some use cases where PCs are not used. Some types of knowledge worker -- particularly those in very senior, non-technical positions, can get away with just using an iPad.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    Absolutely!

    Over the past few years I'm both amazed and horrified as to how far and fast my PC usage has dropped.

    I remember a time when I'd fire up a PC or notebook just to check my email or social media. I just don't do that any more. And the less I use my PC, the less important it is that I buy a new one or upgrade the old one. Instead of spending on PCs, I'm instead spending my money on smartphones and tablets (which have the advantage of being cheaper than the sort of PCs I used to buy).

    As smartphones and tablets get more powerful, they are eroding a domain that was previously under the control of the PC, and this is hitting the PC OEMs hard.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Smartphones -- how smart?

    Just how powerful do smartphones have to become to replace tablets and then PCs?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Simple physics

    Smartphones will always lag behind tablets, which will always lag behind PCs. This is simple physics. The physically bigger device chassis, the greater the ability to cool a hot processor, and the bigger the battery can be.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    Many roadblocks

    It's not power as much as performance per watt. Devices that aren't tethered to a power outlet have to rely on battery life, and given the relatively fixed size of smartphones and tablets, battery size is limited.

    But performance per watt is getting much better with new chips coming out of Intel, Nvidia, and Qualcomm, and this will only get better as we shift from the PC to post-PC devices, and companies previously at the core of the PC industry make the transition into the post-PC world.

    Then there's the GPU, which over the past few years has been taking over tasks previously carried out by the CPU. GPUs are very well suited to parallel processing, and better hardware is making its way into mobile devices.

    Another factor limiting the smartphone and tablet is RAM, however, we are now seeing manufacturers putting more RAM into devices.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Screen size

    How much does screen size play into the smartphone over tablet equation?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Depends on where it fits

    I've often wondered what the market would look like if as a society it were typical that everyone carried a handbag/purse with them wherever they went, as opposed to men typically not toting one and women typically doing so.

    I suspect if it were typical that everyone carried a handbag/purse, everyone would carry one 8-inch smartphone. As it is, there's downward pressure to keep smartphone screens around 5 inches, and upward pressure to keep tablet screens around 8 inches.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    Not really an issue

    I remember the progression in size of CRT and later LCD on the PC. I remember doing a lot of work on a 14-inch display and wishing for the day when I could work on a 15-inch display. When I finally migrated to dual 22-inch LCD panels, I could ever see myself going back to working on something smaller, but here I am typing this out on my 4-inch iPhone.

    Screen size isn't the issue as much as how apps are designed to make use of the screen. App developers are coming up with intuitive ways to redesign user interfaces that allow programs such as word processors, spreadsheets, and image editors to be used on small screens.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What's up docks?

    What do you think about the smartphone meets tablet docking concept? Motorola tried it before and I thought it had promise.

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Keep it simple

    I'm not a believer in mashing devices together like this. Technologists tend to do this -- it's easy to get into a "hey, wouldn't it be cool" mindset.

    For me this fails in that it creates too much "cognitive load" around the proposition. If i want to use my tablet, I just want to use my tablet. I don't want to have to furtle around mating my smartphone with some quasi-tablet shell just to get the screen working.

    This stuff needs to be simple -- and my assumption would be that devices that have done in this in the past have failed in the market because they are a) too complicated, and b) fail the "so what" test.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    Requires planning

    It's a good idea, but the product needs to be sold as complete system, as trying to sell the dock as an expensive afterthought just doesn't work.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Combo device

    Will we ever have a device to combine laptops, smartphones and tablets?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    It won't sell

    As per my last answer. I think someone will make one, but I don't think it will sell in numbers if they do.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    Requires compromises

    Maybe, but right now I don't see how such a device would work. The problem that happens when combining two or more devices into a single device is that the single device ends up being a compromise.

    It took a long time for app makers to fix the issues raised by convergence as we saw the smartphone taking over tasks such as being a camera or an in-car GPS receiver, and it will be a while until we see someone tackle the issue of making a smartphone/tablet/notebook convertible.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Who will build it?

    What vendor is most likely to produce the ultimate device to consolidate our gadgets?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Microsoft, not Apple

    Apple would never do it as it breaks their engineering rules about simple, beautiful designs. Google might, but I suspect that company that would do it would be Microsoft. But I don't think it'll sell.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    Apple

    Right now, I have to say that this is likely to be Apple. Right now, most companies are focused on aping what's coming out of Cupertino than being innovative.

    Don't get me started talking about crazy designs such as convertibles that switch from a notebook to a tablet – no one can seem to figure out who these things are aimed at.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Getting the work done

    What are the chances that neither smartphones nor tablets get the business done?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Neither could do it alone

    About 100 percent -- we always need PCs because post-PC devices are no good at (and not designed for) supporting focused work activities. Post-PC is designed for dipping in and out, not creating that killer report that'll get you promoted.

    This makes sense if you consider that for thirty years we've been trying to make PCs really good at focused work. We invented post-PCs to be good at the stuff that PCs are not good at. Understanding that shift is the mental challenge for most technologists.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    There is a place for all

    I'm not advocating scrubbing tablets, notebooks and PCs out of existence and forcing everyone to use a smartphone! There are always going to be tasks that are better done in front of a desktop or notebook system, and there are always going to be tasks that need the power or storage offered by a desktop workstation.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    How will PCs fit in?

    If you can do revenue generating activities such as sales, analytics and customer support via a tablet or smartphone what's left for PCs?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Bigger tasks

    As above, focused work.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    There are seats left

    Pc's are dead, not by a long shot.

    • PCs are great for those sitting by a desk.
    • They're great for times when heavy lifting compute power is needed.
    • They're cheap to install into offices.
    • IT admins seem happiest working with PCs.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Apple and the enterprise

    An analyst recently said that Apple needs to target the enterprise better with the iPad and business case studies? Do you agree? And can the iPhone get the job done?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    It needs to act now

    Apple has an opportunity here, but I think the door is closing slowly as more Windows x86 tablets enter the market. It's easier for an IT department to tick any boxes related to objectives like "we need more tablet stuff" with Windows tablets than iPads. All IT departments already know how to manage Windows kit.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    Just needs tweaking

    Analysts seem to be full of advice, telling Apple that it should be doing this, and not doing that. But Apple seems to be doing pretty well already.

    Now that the iPad is established, it is only normal that Apple will add features to make it a better match for enterprise, and iOS 7 will bring a number of new features to the table that will do just that.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Android's role

    What do you see as Android's ultimate standing in the tablet market for business use?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Risk factors

    There is some acceptance of Android-based tablets in field service scenarios, but that tends to be an evolution of Windows Mobile-type devices that are no longer available, fueled by consumeration of IT trends.

    Enterprises are unlikely to invest in Android tablets on an enterprise-supply basis -- as a platform it's perceived as being too risky and tricky to control. iPad is a better sell as it's perceived as being more secure and the mobile device management (MDM) market is more mature.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    Competing with the iPad

    I like Android. I really do. I love my Nexus 7 tablet almost, if not a little more, than my iPad.

    But Android on tablets is still a mess. There are some good tablets out there – such as the Nexus 7 or the Galaxy Tab 3, 8-inch – but none have the visibility of the iPad, and this is harming Android overall.

    A couple of other problems with Android are:

    • Security – Android is plagued by security problems, and most devices are reliant on OEMs to deliver patches (who aren't all that motivated to do so). This creates a big headache for IT admins in BYOD environments.
    • Fragmentation – There are a lot of different version of Android out there, and this is a big hassle for anyone who has to support Android within enterprise environments.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Pick one

    You're left running a major multinational company on an island and can only have one device. Tablet or smartphone and why?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    My tablet

    If I were stranded on an island I could use its larger reflective surface as an effective heliograph to signal passing ships.

    Hey, I've found a use for Surface!

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Tablets

    My smartphone

    • I've always got it on me, and it's highly portable.
    • It does 95 percent of what I need to do, and gives me calls and text messaging which are not present on my tablets.
    • I have a robust case for my smartphone.
    • Battery life is good, and easy to charge.
    • The small screen means I play less Angry Birds and get more work done!





    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Smartphones

  • Great Debate Moderator

    It was a great debate

    Thanks to you for joining us. Plus a big thanks to our debaters. Coming up are closing arguments Wednesday and my choice for the winner Thursday. Please use your tablet or smartphone of choice to read the comments, add a comment, and vote!

    Posted by Larry Dignan

Closing Statements

A place for both

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

The important change in what's happening to computer use in the enterprise is that -- as my esteemed opponent eloquently puts it -- "As smartphones and tablets get more powerful, they are eroding a domain that was previously under the control of the PC, and this is hitting the PC OEMs hard."

Having debated this topic, there's a place for both smartphones and tablets as devices that help someone get their job done. This will always be, for the foreseeable future at least, alongside the PC as the PC will always be needed for focussed work.

What smartphones and tablets let us do is crack out a simple, easy to use device, wherever and "whenever" we are and handle that little job, or get that small piece of information, in a way that's empowering, comfortable, and satisfying.

Smartphones, where the real action is

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Convergence is the path that all consumer electronics take, going from specialist devices (such as MP3 players, digital cameras, and in-car GPS receivers) to jack-of-all-trade devices that can carry out a myriad of tasks. And the king of the convergence devices is the smartphone.

The smartphone is king because it combines portability with the power to get work done. Sure, a PC or a notebook, or even a tablet is nice to have, but the best tool for any job is the tool you have on you.

And if you own a smartphone, I'll bet that it's rarely more than an arm's length away from you.

Also, the arbitrary line between smartphones and tablets is blurring. Samsung's Mega has a 6.3-inch screen, making it only a little bit smaller than the Nexus 7, a device that you can certainly do real work on.

Smartphones is where the real action is at.

Business requires the best tool

Larry Dignan

This one's a tough call. Adrian's argument -- that the best tool is the one you happen to have on you -- is absolutely correct, but only takes us so far. Business requires having the best tool, period. And while Matt generally made a strong argument for the tablet being the more powerful business tool, he seemed to run out of steam in his closing argument, conceding simply that "there's a place for both..." (As a side note, I'm surprised that neither debater ever uttered the word "phablet".)  I'll go with the crowd on this one: Tablets, and Matt, for the win.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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