Deploying tablets in the workplace: Don't write off the pen

Deploying tablets in the workplace: Don't write off the pen

Summary: Tablets are invading the workplace, both through BYOD programs and corporate deployments. One option with tablets is a good fit for many operations and shouldn't be overlooked.


The tablet is entrenched in millions of homes and is now moving into the workplace. It started with workers bringing them in on their own and now corporations are beginning to deploy them to employees. Tablets have benefits over other computing devices, including the pen option which is seldom mentioned by those deploying them.

Pen input
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Digital pens go well with slates, at the very least they add a new dimension to other benefits of the tablet. Using a pen with a tablet is as natural as using a pen with paper, but keeps everything digital with all the benefits that come with that.

While pen use is not for every company, it's a mistake to overlook considering them for tablet deployments. Pen options are available for all three tablet platforms making it worth considering no matter what tablets are being deployed.

OneNote in Windows 8.1 (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

There are numerous third party pens for the iPad, from simple capacitive models with big, spongy tips to others with writing tips like standard pens. If Android tablets are to be incorporated, Samsung Galaxy Note slates have pens integrated into their design. Windows 8.1 has pen support in every facet of operation and makes the most sense for tablet programs in the enterprise.

It's all about options

Why should IT departments consider offering pen support with tablets? Quite simply, it's another facet of tablet use that can be leveraged by workers and the company in beneficial ways. Most workers likely haven't used a pen with a tablet, but with exposure to the benefits they may warm to using it in short order. 

One of the basic functions a pen opens up is that of taking notes in ink. When you think of taking handwritten notes you probably think of executives in the boardroom scribbling on the screen. With tablets as economical as they've ever been, that image should extend to employees at all levels. 

Those in charge of deploying tablets should understand the advantages digital handwritten notes have over both typed notes and traditional paper notes. First and foremost, the ability to search digital handwritten notes is powerful. Notes don't have to be converted to digital text, the ink can be searched directly. That means you can always find needed information in an instant. Try that with those stacks of paper notepads.

Equally important, handwritten notes can be automatically backed up to major cloud storage services. No more losing that important piece of paper. Having all employee notes in the cloud means they aren't lost when the worker leaves the company. All project notes are saved no matter what happens in the workforce.

Pen input can be useful for a lot of work functions. This is true for any task that involves tablet use while walking around a job site. Warehouse functions comes to mind in this regard. Workers involved in taking inventory can also use the pen to make things easier. There are many situations in the enterprise where using a pen makes good sense.

That's not to say that a pen is always better than using a keyboard with a tablet. Sometimes using a tablet by touch is the best way to go. 

It's worth considering the options when planning to deploy tablets in the enterprise. This includes allowing workers to use the pen when it makes the most sense. To ignore the possibility may not be in your company's best interest.

Those thinking about bringing a tablet to work in BYOD situations should think about the pen, too. It extends what can be done with the tablet, so why limit yourself?

Additional tablet coverage:

Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Bring Your Own Device

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  • Windows 8 + pen

    is a great solution. A lot of the iPad users were smug with their big rubber nippled pens, then we started getting some users with Windows 8.1 tablets and digitizer pens, taking written notes in OneNote. Suddenly they weren't so smug and they wanted the same pens that the Windows users had...
    • Yes, Windows 8 Pro just works

      A bit expensive, but if you add in the docking station, it makes a great versatile computer. I use a stylus all the time instead of greasy fingers for my professional work. iPad is horrible with stylus and doesn't even support a mouse.
      Sean Foley
      • Digitizing Touch

        There is a major difference between a common touch screen and digitizing touch screen. Based on this article I do not think JD knows that. Using a common touch screen with a rubber stylist is like using a dull kindergarten jumbo crayon. A digitizing touch with the stylus made for it is like using a fine tip pen. As the name implies you can use it with either your large finger tip or finer pen. Microsoft's OneNote is cool the way it knows the difference and takes advantage of it. It provides a totally new user experience.

        Stop killing trees!!! I got a 15" hybrid with a digitizing touch. This gives me a writing area that is about the same as a standard 8.5"X11" paper. I got rid of the portfolio and have gone totally digital. Even if the hybrid weighs more I was able get rid of the weight of paper. The total weight of what I carry around now has actually gone down.
        • Stop using fossil fuels!

          Stop killing trees? Trees are a renewable resource. Where does that plastic and the precious minerals in your tablet come from?
          • Stop thinking paper is going to be useful in the future

            The thing is that paper as a way to convey information is being retired in favor of electronic means. Paper is not very portable in terms of a lot of information and is very volatile. Electronic notes can be backed up quickly and various versions can be maintained. The only use for paper in the future will be to wipe things until they figure out the Three Seashells.
        • Which model?

          Which model is your 15" hybrid? (looking at options for upcoming purchase)
          • The Sonys work well

            I have a 13" Vaio Duo and use OneNote and a stylus all the time. I'm taking grad school courses on the weekends, and I use it for all my note-taking.
        • Digitizer technologies


          If by JD you mean James Kendrick (JK) then you would be mistaken. James is the reason I have been using stylus based PCs at home and work for over 10 years. Both his former podcasts ("The Tablet PC Show" on the Podcast Network, and independent "On The Run With Tablet PCs" with Marc Orchant) as well as his writings (in the "JK on the Run" blog)about his real world use of Tablet PC in business were staples for early Tablet PC users.

          The major difference between Tablet PCs and tablets based on iOS and Android is the technology. The iOS and Android devices (aside from the Galaxy Note series) support capacitive (touch) digitizer technology and the styli sold for them mimic a finger. Unless you have very good motor skills it can be difficult to write with the fine lines we associate with the use of pen and pencil. This technology is also used with many of the Windows Touch Screen devices. There are however a class of devices on the market which use two digitizers, one to support touch with a finger and a second "active" digitizer that requires the use of a special stylus. The active digitizer allows for a finer point as well as pressure sensitivity.
      • Windows 8 Pro -> Surface Pro 2?

        Would that be the Surface Pro 2 that you're referring to?
  • Pens add a lot in One Note, and in various drawing apps

    But are just a thing to carry around for others, i.e. people who use iPads for inventory taking, where the camera on the device is the only hardware feature needed.
    • Well

      Most of the Tablets now a days have slot for carrying pen except DV8P.
      Ram U
      • Really, I can count 3 myself

        The Galaxy Note line, Surface and some Lenovo tablets. The nexus line does not, the new Dell Venue doesn't, the other Samsung models do not, Apple doesn't either. Are you talking about tablet cases? Then yes most do have a slot for a stylus.
        • Others too

          Samsung ATIV, HP, Dell, there are many out there, if you know where to look.
  • Android: is there a good note app?

    I have a Samsung Note 2 and must say I miss a good note-application with integration of freehand text (including search and the other functionnalities invoqued in this article). OneNote Android does not allow the integration of drawings (like the Windows version does) nor does Evernote (and Skitch intergation is poor). Samsung's S-Note does not allow easy sharing accross multiple platforms. Does anyone have a solution?
    • yes, I am also looking for a proper note taking app on my Android

      Ram U
    • LectureNotes

      LectureNotes is a favorite of a lot of Samsung users. I use it as it does have much more customizing features than S-Note. Not sure it has everything.
      I don't know of any that are really fully integrated across platform. Like the others, LectureNotes will generate PDF's that can be uploaded to Evernote.
      I understand that the Note 3 and the 2014 version of the 10.1 have much more seamless integration with Evernote.
      • Thanks, I'll take a look

        I have a Galaxy Note 10.1 and I love my stylus ;)
    • Write

      I like Write by Stylus Labs because a) its got a very quick vector rendering engine for inking b) it's native format for the notebooks is HTML+SVG, which can be read by anything. It also has some nice "word processor" features for the handwriting. No text search yet though.
  • Other than foam pen

    What pens work with your common run of the mill android tablet?
    • pen w/ avg tablet

      A Big fat rubber one, same as Itard pad

      The M$ Surface, The Ativ by Samsung and the "s" pen from Samsung work great, the fat rubber ones suck on the Ipad, No mouse support for ipad