Tablets or smartphones: Which is the future for business?

Moderated by Larry Dignan | August 19, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

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




Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Best Argument: Tablets


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.


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  • All three form factors are necessary, and have different use cases.

    PCs are trucks, to quote Steve Jobs loosely. They do the heavy lifting. That's why the Mac Pro will come with two 20 Gb/second Thunderbolt ports, 7 teraflops of graphics power to drive three 4K monitors, and other refinements lusted after by video producers and university math professors everywhere.

    Tablets are cars. They are great for casual computing tasks such as email, web surfing, presentations, and light work. With a hardware keyboard and the right apps, they can even do medium duty creative work, in a pinch. The one thing they don't do is fit comfortably in a pocket.

    Smartphones are bicycles. They go anywhere. They are mobile workers' best friends, because they handle phone duty, video conferencing, GPS and mapping, email, messaging, reading, photography, videography, scanning, FAXing, gaming, and hundreds of other daily duties with the handy aplomb of a Swiss Army Knife. What did we do without them?
    Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
    • Agreed.


      ZDNet gets bent out of shape sometimes with "____ is the future" and "____ is dying" and other such malarkey. The phrases are meaningless by now.

      Different people work differently, different businesses work differently. What works for Matt may not work for Adrian and vice versa. We're not all identical people in identical situations.

      I honestly think the future isn't merely with one device or another - it's with all of them. We choose the device best suited for us, not the device that everybody else thinks is "the future."
      Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
      • Whatever gets hits, I guess

        Sadly, that seems to be the way of online journalism--find controversy or make it to generate hits. ZDnet, Gawker, etc., it's the same.
        Third of Five
        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
        • They don't need to create the controversy

          Just make a statement and the lunatic fringe of fanbois will take over from there.
          I just think of ZDNet like most publications, print or digital, anymore, just a framework for adverstising this, that, or some service someone is trying to pitch to business or the consumer.. I don't see any difference here. Each Blogger seems to have their own agenda on what is the future and what is the best of this or that.. It often seems to go beyond simple opinion.. but... that is just my thoughts and opinion..
          Reply Vote I'm Undecided
    • Also agreed.

      This seems to me like a false choice: the reality will most likely be both. Each tool to its purpose, even if they are unified.

      I like your vehicle metaphor.
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • "horses for courses"

    When I am at my most mobile, I use a smartphone (Galaxy Note 2) which can do everything my tablet can do and more. But if I have a bag (sometimes a large pocket) I'll put in the 7" Nexus 7, as it is a bit larger, but not significantly easier to use or more productive (in fact the stylus input on the Note 2 is more and more my preferred input method on a touch device).

    If I have to be more productive and mobile, then I have a 13" 1.4kg notebook with an 8hr battery life.

    But most real work I do is "tethered" at a desktop with two 23" wide screens.

    Each has its uses. Even whilst at my desktop, I'll pick up the tablet simply because it handles a raft of different email accounts best - e.g. admin accounts for several customers.

    So it depends on ease of use v portability. Although I knew Samsung were bringing out bigger screens that the 5.5" of the Note 2, I decided that the Note 2 was the biggest object I was prepared to hold up to my ear in public.

    So if I could only have one or the other, it would be my smartphone.

    Incidentally, I still do most of my reading on an original Kindle, because although it is really only a "single use" device, it does it better than anything else.

    One final point - and this rarely comes out in reviews - how usable is something after you have had it a few months and customised it with apps? Based on this, the Nexus 7 is so unresponsive at times that the smartphone wins hands down.
    Reply 2 Votes I'm for Smartphones
    • It's really just...

      ... that the tablet has a bigger screen size. Just as I said in another post, the main reason people get tablets is that they want something that does everything their smartphone does, but they want a bigger screen size.
      Jacob VanWagoner
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
  • What's the difference

    While PC, Tablets and Smartphones are all computing devices it seems obvious that as of nowadays the main difference between them consists into their physical dimension. Bigger devices are suitable for a harder job, because large screens and large keyboards interface better to humans.

    The game is not over though. Interface techniques continue to evolve and in the near future the larger may stop to mean the easier. Google glasses are an early example in this trends.

    I am undecided because I expect that the boundaries between devices will continue to dilute.
    Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • Everyone's an idiot.

    The are only 2 real reasons you want a tablet. One is that you want something that your smartphone can do, but you want a bigger screen so that it's useful. The second is that you want something to browse the web with, but you don't also want it as a phone and a laptop is more expensive than what you want to pay for it.

    The future is device unification -- The thing in your pocket eventually gets enough CPU power to handle most businessman tasks (most likely not engineer or graphic designer tasks, though), and it automatically connects to larger screens and wireless keyboards for use where you need the keyboard and work space.
    Jacob VanWagoner
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for Smartphones
  • Smartphone is probably the single device for the future

    Eventually, the smartphone will be powerful enough to be the one CPU device for the future. People would carry it in their pockets/purses and plug into a tablet peripheral or keyboard/monitor combo when they wanted a larger form factor
    Reply Vote I'm for Smartphones