No niche for iPad: A cautionary tale on 'needing a purpose'

No niche for iPad: A cautionary tale on 'needing a purpose'

Summary: Tablets are slowly but surely replacing the clunky desktop machine. In a blind effort to increase efficiency and productivity, ZDNet's Zack Whittaker attempted to do exactly that — but not with the result he first expected.

TOPICS: Tablets, Apple, iOS, iPad

After almost two weeks with the latest iPad, I walked back to the Apple Store in Grand Central, New York and handed it back to the blue-blazoned staff hipster who greeted me at the top of the stairs. 

"Was there something wrong with it? And, do you need a replacement? We can get you a replacement, no problem," signaling to holler over a fellow colleague. But I declined.

"There's nothing wrong with the tablet," I said. "I suspect it's actually a problem with me."

Within the 14-day period in which Apple consumers are granted a stay of financial relief on their purchases, I returned my tablet not with a heavy heart but nonetheless with a feeling of disappointment in myself. It's not that I didn't like the iPad. The build quality was excellent, the software functionaliy was superb, and there was nothing but the highest of intent for burgeoning productivity potential.

It was that I simply didn't need one. And not just an iPad, a test case as it turns out, but any tablet for that matter.

Cue the back story. 

Tablets fulfil many requirements and uses. So long as you can find at least one. (Image: CNET)

I fell into the Apple ecosystem. At first, anyway. But I don't think of myself as an Apple user. I am the kind of person who will use whatever tools that are necessary for the job in hand. It just so happens that I've become accustomed to the way these devices work together, just as other same-brand ecosystem devices do.

Almost two years ago I bought a MacBook Air. Still to this day, it has become a crucial, necessary, ultraportable laptop that has, granted with its occasional failings, has served me well. The battery life is acceptable, so long as certain conditions are met, but in spite of the likely unique gripes rather than hindrances, it's a fine piece of kit.

But above all else, OS X was the driving force for change. Gone are the days where apps weren't available. That's the cloud's business now. And thanks to the App Store, many previously unavailable apps have migrated to the Mac. 

Pleased with the design and the quality, but above all else the OS X operating system that had become so simple to use yet powerful by design, I ripped out the cords on my desktop machine — that whizzed and whirred in the corner of my home office with a subtle yet constant background-fading drone — and I replaced it with a Mac mini.

It was all too easy. I looked for a catch, but there wasn't one. 

A staunch Windows user for my adolescent and early adult life, there should've been a level of discomfort and disconcertedness. But there wasn't. With fond memories of blue screens and translucent windows, I began to prefer a sense of simplicity.

The last step was my eventual move to the iPhone, albeit for a second time. The first was not the best of experiences but as a result of my confidence in the Apple ecosystem, I thought it was at least worth another try. And it was worth it. 

We can tick off the MacBook Air, the Mac mini — and all the peripherals to really go all-in — and the iPhone. (In between, I'd also bought an Apple TV, but it just makes sense when you're downloading TV and movies). The next logical step, surely, was to get an iPad.

With glee and excitement, I picked it up from the Grand Central store the following day on my way to work. I configured it, I synchronized my music, my pictures, apps and everything else. 

And then I went back to work. 

Not on my iPad, but my MacBook Air, which I take with me to work. I took my iPad home and it was sat there on my coffee table for three days until I picked it up again. It wasn't that I was avoiding it, and I wanted to use it, but I didn't have any particular reason to use it. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the iPad. And, I suspect there is nothing particularly wrong or different with any other tablet. It simply doesn't fit into my lifestyle.

My iPhone is my primary email communication device, plus my music. That sticks me firmly in the "prosumer" category. But because of my job, I require a keyboard. Granted, typing on the iPad is not the most difficult thing to do in the world, but it's less natural than a keyboard. I'm automatically drawn to a keyboard.

That said, it's a fine device but I have, as part of my one-brand ecosystem, other devices that at least for me are better suited for purpose.

Even for "play" and non-work reasons, there was nothing drawing me to it that I couldn't already do on my ultra-portable iPhone, my keyboard-enabled yet still light and portable MacBook Air, or my work-personal life separating Mac mini that allows me to walk away from it at any point.

If I were a financier, a marketer, or an artist, a tablet may be perfect. But not for me. 

And you know what? That's OK. It's my problem, and not the fault of the tablet. 

While there's an obvious point: "Why did you buy it in the first place?" The simple answer is: you often don't know how something is going to fit into your lifestyle unless you try it first. 

There are, believe it or not, some business takeaways from this. After all, as a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) employee and a "prosumer," much of these apply to me as much as the wider general business population.

The key takeaways:

  • Don't rush into a tablet-buying decision. As simple as it sounds, don't get caught up in the trends. If you're a CIO or IT buyer, above all else find a purpose for investing in tablets. Survey your staff, or monitor BYOD usage.

  • On that note, BYOD should be actively encouraged first and foremost. It cuts down on IT budgets, particularly if you invest in a back-end mobile device management (MDM) solution to organize and secure those tablets. Any formal corporate tablet rollout should come second. It gives staff the flexibility to bring their own device first before IT spenders fork out precious budget for something that may not be used.

  • Don't discount the PC yet. Latest market figures suggest that there is a massive consumer decline in PC shipments. But enterprise and business figures are still widely unknown. Anecdotal reports suggest that PCs are still core to desk-work productivity, which makes sense as tablets can suit one industry and not another. Also, people love using tablets for sitting on the sofa and winding down. Any decline in PC shipments in the enterprise is likely to come in the coming few years. Never underestimate the power of a physical keyboard.

  • Finally, while iPads may be recognized as "the" tablet for business and enterprise customers, following successful major deployments across the banking and finance sectors — besides government, it's considered to be the most security-focused industry — but don't put all your eggs in one basket. Smaller and cheaper may be more effective and efficient, and a widescale iPad rollout may not justify the costs. Get a small test pool in order and rotate across staff to determine which device is better suited for different kinds of workers.

Topics: Tablets, Apple, iOS, iPad

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  • good story

    Great article. It is true, business desktop sales have not decreased I bet. Even thought lots of data is up in a cloud, you still need a device to get to it. And for office workers, desktops and powerful laptops are still the go to items. I do not see that changing anytime soon.
    I have a tablet and your right, it is a sit on the couch and do non important things on it. I do my Facebook on it and some games, I have email to it but I don't really send email from it.
    • Likely right

      In my company tablets are in addition to notebooks / desktops, not in place of.
      • Your starting to "soften" your stand on tablets in general

        and iPads specifically I see.

        There was a time (from about four years ago) when your posts on iPads and tablets could be counted upon enumerating reasons why this Apple product (in particular) was an anathema to all things 'good' in the PC universe.

        Acceptance comes with time. Even your company couldn't get rid of tablets. They must have a use after all.

        That being said, even Jobs stated that the iPad was a product niche between a smartphone and a laptop. He never stated (and millions of users concurred) that a tablet was not a replacement for either of those devices.

        Zack doen't currently have a need for tablets and so he returned his. I currently don't have a need for a 'phablet' so I currently don't own one myself. Both of us have reasons for our choices.
        • No one "needs" a tablet...

          They can be fun to use and have a few special use cases where a tablet might be better than a laptop, but it is not needed. It only duplicates what another machine that you likely own can do.
          • That's correct - for the most part. No one 'needs' an iPad or tablet

            Any digital content that is accessed over the internet can be done so by other wired computer devices.

            However, the main reason a computer device or class of devices exists (and prospers) is that this particular class of device does certain tasks better than alternate solutions.

            Tablets in general and iPads in particular perform certain tasks in a more efficient and ergonomic fashion - hence their continued popularity.
          • Toys...

            will always be popular as long as they are fun to use. I never said they aren't fun to use... just that no one needs them. Adults do not require toys like children do, but they sure are fun to play with!
          • Likewise, adults don't need to make such condescending posts

            There is a case where tablets are the best option. That use case is reading an marking up PDF format journal articles. Since PDFs do not reflow, phones are too small. Laptops on the otherhand lack portability.

            Typically, tablet haters have a lack of imagination. They seem to lack the mental capacity to understand other people and how they might use devices. Either that, or they just have issues that drive them to insult other to make themselves feel better.

            Personally, I find my desktop more fun to use since I can watch TV episodes on one monitor while playing a game on max settings on the other monitor. Any device and be a toy if that is how you use it. Any device can also be a tool, like you are.
          • Need a tablet? No.

            Tablets are cool with their apps, they are portable, and can serve some purposes. However, no one NEEDS a tablet, let's be clear on that. A desktop or laptop serves all the business purposes and not a singular need or certain business functions.

            Tablets are a convenience, not a necessity.
          • A Desktop or Laptop not always best.

            You can say that about any device. No one NEEDS a laptop or a desktop either. It all depends on the individual and the tasks they need to accomplish. I no that I rather give a tablet to a salesperson to run a specialized app for a client at the client's location instead of having that sales rep try to carry a desktop with them. Sometimes a laptop may be an inconvenience, if I have a basic app in which a tablet is better suited for my salesrep to carry.

            Just like in anything, you should carry the right tool for the job, and sometimes that tool might be a tablet.
      • And that's a problem...

        I too have an ipad; the mini and have returned my Ipad3 back to work as I didn't need it after using the mini. That said I can't be bothered using it to attach to our Office network via citrix unless it's my only option (and it rarely is). The lack of mouse support and an onboard external screen connector just nullifies that as far as I'm concerned.

        The problem for Apple is that MS have a viable solution in Surface Pro which IS a tablet; it IS a laptop; it IS a desktop, as far as I'm concerned. My next purchase will likely be one of that breed for ultimate ease of use and ultimate integration. Why do we need a laptop and a tablet if one device does both???? I hate laptops and wouldn't have one in the house unless for travel as I hate them heating up on my knees and the relative short timeframe before they need charged. To be honest I use my Assus tablet for travel as it has uSD, USB, HDMI as standard and is just far easier as the media device I need whilst away with the family.

        Microsofts problem is a different dilemma; They are still struggling to carry the message and get over the Apple hype. My ipad is mainly used for browsing the web; Jukebox via OCS & airplay to my HiFi,and Facetime. All very useful but I can do all I need from any one IOS device. If the pad goes bust or gets taken back by my work I'll be as well doing all I need from the iphone and my Android tablet.

        The iPads are great and should be great for folk like your granny who need a simple bulletproof solution to technology. Others, with other options, probably don't need one at all. I have one cos it was lent from work and I couldn't really justify buying one unless a real need arises in future.
    • Yes

      Business desktop sales have increased. It's a big reason MSFT's last quarterly report was so strong. Lots of enterprise are upgrading to Windows 7 now, MSFT is reaping the rewards and will be into the year. MSFT didn't make anything on Windows 8 sales. Even though they shipped a lot of units, prices were discounted heavily down to $29 in many cases for their promotion.

      Re: tablets I'm scared because I think I fall into the same category. I bought a Galaxy Tab 7" (the first model) and I loved it because it was so responsive and it worked really well. I just didn't have any use for a tablet. I either used my Nexus One smart phone (at the time) or my PC. I wound up selling on Ebay.
      • MSFT didn't make anything on Windows 8 sales?

        I didn't know you were so intertwined with MS that you could know so much to make such a bold statement.

        In other words, you just say what pleases you, no facts required.
        William Farrel
        • Do you have any facts to the contrary?

          If so, would love to hear them.
          • The FACT...

            ...that Microsoft is a business and not a charity seems pretty compelling.
          • Right

            So if WF can't disprove it with facts, it just has to be right?

            I think I'm with WF & KOL on this one - MS makes no profit = not likely.
            Little Old Man
      • Huh?

        Microsoft made nothing on Windows 8? You have a link or documentation to back that up or just talking?
    • Shock horror, is Loverock right?

      Tablets are just a passing fad?
      • That sounds like someone I know on another board...

        Going by the name of "Denver Mike". Swears that compact pickup trucks were nothing more than a "fad".
        • Horses for courses

          Sorry I was just being sardonic, hence the ?'s
          (Mr Lovelock said they are a fad except for Surface's because it's a slate! ?)

          I have covered my hierarchy of needs with the following.

          1. Samsung Note2, an always with me net connection that is just big enough to fulfil most 7" tablet functions. (+ can be used as a phone!) It has proved remarkably adept at taking meeting notes,
          document correction (Office via CloudOn, dropbox), annotation. Also connects to bluetooth keyboard & external monitor to encroach laptop territory. Its quite a versatile compact pickup! Larger tablets may be slightly better with larger screens, but no use if not with you.
          2. Laptop, medium lifting work when content creation a required.
          3. Desktop, heavy lift work, such as CAD work, 3 monitors, audio, easy to reconfigure, repair & upgrade.
          All have their niche, can interconnect & work well together as a team.
          With its size,connectivity, lack of multi windows, filling system, itunes, iCloud costs & limitations, I do not see what an iPad could benefit me.
          • Note3

            The one criticism of the Note 2 is that it should be 6" if it could keep dimensional proportions & keep it wallet size. If Note 3 achieves this, ups the processing, ram & storage, then it might make my laptop redundant. After all with its ability to plug Into monitors, TV's, bluetooth keyboards the cloud for storage & increasingly processing power, removable 64Gb storage etc. even remote connectio with my home desktop. So it's not only the iPad that will not have a place.