Tablets: Not mobile enough or productive enough for many professionals

Tablets: Not mobile enough or productive enough for many professionals

Summary: Beyond specific verticals and specialized jobs, tablets are facing a usage problem with business professionals. They aren't winning as companion devices or convertibles, as we discuss in this week's Monday Morning Opener.

Professionals using tablets
Image: iStockphoto

I'm packing for a business trip and once again the game of "do I pack the tablet?" starts anew. I need the laptop for work, need the smartphone because it's the one thing you can't leave home without and add the Kindle because the screen is easy on the eyes for reading. Does the tablet go along for the ride?

Increasingly, the answer is no.

The tablet is fun for consumption and that may work for many folks. But it's hard to argue the tablet—the 7-inch to 10-inch variety—is a tweener device. Tablets aren't quite mobile enough and not quite productive enough. Tablets are companion devices when I increasingly want to vote a device or two off the island.

To date, I haven't quite found that convergence device, but it's pretty clear the tablet isn't it. For a tablet to be a convergence device you may need a keyboard, a smartcover of some sort, and maybe a few adapters. Add it up and all you've done is cobble together an ultrabook or MacBook Air.

SEE: Rethinking the iPad: A formula to make it useful if you're already savvy on a laptop and smartphone (TechRepublic)

I recently sat through an overview of the HP ElitePad 1000, which is billed as a total business solution. The ElitePad has a bunch of accessories—smart jackets, battery, adapters, covers, docking stations and other goodies to turn this tablet into an enterprise IT powerhouse.

Derek Everett, director of worldwide product management for commercial Windows tablets at HP, was explaining to me how "not one size fits all with tablets." ElitePad is certainly flexible. But I had to interrupt him with: "At what point do you say screw all of this and just buy a laptop?"

Everett explained that certainly some people see tablets as a companion device. Others see tablets as notebook replacements. However, I'd argue most of us don't see them as either.

And that's the problem. For some business cases—sales, marketing, and customer service come to mind—a tablet is fine. For the rest of us, tablets have a few issues.

The larger issue is that the so-called convertible movement—tweener laptops and tablets—hasn't delivered that business home run yet. So for now, the tablet is voted out of the backpack. You can only lug around so much.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Previous openers:

Topics: Tablets: Where's the Productivity?, Tablets

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  • Apps

    It all comes down to apps. Apps started out as small, light, easy to learn, easy to use touch oriented applications that are mostly based on online services. In essence, there is nothing wrong with that but after a while; you realize how most of them are limited by design. They are now beefed up but their origins are to be light and created for fast action and simple tasks. Apps are no match with full desktop application in terms of productivity, features and ability to address complicated tasks. The desktop have been around since the early eighties and touch device apps were introduced less than 10 years ago. They will get as productive as desktop apps but we are not there yet.
    • No - It takes much more than Apps

      Tablets are content consumption devices and they are great at that task. Performing a quick lookup or reading an email works fine. However app's are not enough to transform a tablet into a productivity workstation. People that create content or perform extensive office work require an ergonomic workstation, large monitor, and full size peripherals such as keyboard and mouse. Productivity is a measure of output over time (time being the key). Working 8 hours a day on a tablet would be a physical torture no matter what apps the tablet has. A tablet and PC co-exist, not conflict.
      Sean Foley
      • Just fyi

        You can take an intel based windows tablet, dock it and have the full force of windows available with multiple big monitors, full keyboard, mouse and as much peripherals as you want if you connect additional USB hubs and whatnot. Mostly the docking will provide fast wired networking as well.

        It seems to me that those kinds of devices pretty much provide what you talk about.

        That's how I use my surface pro. I have no need for laptops, desktops and tablets anymore. Just the surface is all I need for note taking in meets, giving presentations, consuming data on a lazy night or a full day of work.

        Will it be sufficient for every task? No. It will lack the power for certain things like extreme rendering etc. Will it be sufficient for 95% of what people do on computers? Both at work and in the home? Yes.

        Truth be told though, I don't refer to it as my "tablet". I refer to it as my "pc". My "all-purpose pc".
    • No

      This will not happen. Not in business.

      There's a reason programs have never been apps, even at a time when computer memory was more of a premium, and a lite program would have been an easier out for a programmer trying to live within the available resources. That reason is that work is hard, work is complicated - there are a lot of variables, and true programs have the horsepower and firepower designed to line up with that work.

      Simple programs have always abounded whenever simplicity is possible. We didn't need apps to learn that; the problem is, that simplicity tends to be a rare thing.
    • Three things have to happen.

      1) Dual (or more) monitor support.
      2) More mouse and keyboard options. There are Bluetooth keyboards, but most are meh. I want to see more ergonomic keyboards.
      3) Apps and OSes have to be better designed for mouse and keyboards. This may sound a bit backwards, but if you want full productivity with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, the app should be designed with that in mind.

      Using a keyboard with an app designed primarily for touch is NOT ideal.
      • Wait - four

        Wait - four - the apps also have to have all of the features of their respective desktop apps. I've yet to see a mobile app with all of the features of its respective desktop app.
      • as stated later on...

        The Asus T100 is a great example of a device that can be tablet when your on the go and workstation when its time to dig in. The HDMI out and keyboard with trackpad make you able to do anything you would with a PC (since its running full windows 8.1 not RT) add on top of that the ability to dock to a USB port replicator and there you have the T100 doing the hard work while you stare at your 28 inch monitor with your favorite keyboard and mouse to click away at. It really is a nice solution in my opinion
        Shane Hudson
        • I never carry my laptop anywhere anymore...

          I probably won't get another one... I imagine I'll get a desktop instead next time around (this is at work by the way). I carry my Surface 2 with type cover everywhere when I'm away from the office. I use it to RDP into my laptop for work and that works pretty well for me when I'm out and about. The screen could be a little larger, but it's large enough to work on for me and I can always connect it to a larger screen if necessary when I'm in a hotel room.
        • Unnecessary and overblown

          While I don't deny such capability is... convenient, it's simply not good enough. When you're mobile you have a need for "quick and easy" and you certainly can't expect to have the time to set up a full workstation when you're out in the jungle. I'll even grant that laptops have been serving this purpose for decades. BUT, it's too much. In watching a documentary about tigers just yesterday, I watched data getting imported from SD cards into laptops that typically weigh 3#-5# and when you're trekking in remote areas at high altitude, rough country, etc, every pound makes a difference. When you're flying by commercial air from point A to point B every pound makes a difference. In other words, Laptops--portable desktops--are simply the wrong tool for mobility purposes. Every task those laptops saw in that documentary could have been done by a tablet that weighed 66%-80% less.

          You say "It's just the apps" but remember, all programs are Applications. Whether you use Linux or Unix or Windows, if it can be run by the operating system, it is an application, or App for short. Today's programs are grossly overblown apps with little, if any, housekeeping to get rid of obsolete code. Windows itself has unused code on board that's over 20 years old! What about Photoshop? What about Word? What about any program that's been on the market for any length of time and may be up to version 6, 10, 20 or more? Every revision typically builds on the old platform with 'replaced' functions simply commented out and not necessarily removed. The only resolution? Re-write the code from scratch.
          • I understand mobile, but not everybody is mobile all the time.

            "When you're mobile you have a need for 'quick and easy'"

            I understand mobile, but not everybody is mobile all the time, everywhere.

            You do have to sacrifice when you're mobile - but you don't have to force your sacrifice onto everybody else.
          • That IS my point, Cobra

            "I understand mobile, but not everybody is mobile all the time, everywhere."

            When you're out in the jungle pulling and copying video, you don't want a 5-pound laptop riding your back when you're lucky if you can get 6 hours of usable life per charge. A tablet that uses far less power yet can perform almost all the same tasks at 20% of the weight and more than twice the usable charge is simply far more efficient--and that's just ONE example. Think about the logistics of running such an expedition; not only are you carrying lodging and food and the typical tools for the research, whatever they may be, but you are also carrying at least one generator and enough fuel to power that generator for all the electronics--including charging the batteries of the many laptops they use. Considering that most laptops take 2-3 hours to recharge while most tablets recharge in only about 1 hour, again you're operating very inefficiently.

            Ok, I'll grant 99.99% of us don't go out on research expeditions to hunt down tiger populations, but most of the factors still hold true as when you are time-constrained for presentations, recharging, etc. you end up forced to rush from place to place often with limited charge time available between meetings. Again, if the tablet can perform the task, why not LET it?

            I already know your answer--"Because it can't."
            Are you really so sure that it can't? Have you looked at what the available software CAN do? Did you know that the best-know CAD program on the market not only has the ability to view drawings on an iPad but can also perform minor edits? If you're wanting to do a major edit I understand the need for a more powerful workstation--you're also in need of a much larger display than any laptop currently offers, too. What is more interesting is that the iPad has the capability of *automatically* synching those minor edits to your workstation and *automatically* viewing edits made on that workstation--if you let it do so. There is really no NEED for any removable 'drive' in the form of card swapping when all you need is an available Wi-Fi link or even an available G3, G4 or LTE cellular connection.

            The fault is in the perception of a tablet's capabilities and in the software chosen based on those perceptions. When you are mobile, you simply don't need the full capabilities of a workstation and to be bluntly honest carrying a workstation-class laptop around is simply inviting disaster through either theft or destruction. You don't need an all-out word processor if all you're going to do is write reports, novels, letters while you're away. You simply don't need a full-on spreadsheet generator when you're only viewing and editing data within that spreadsheet. Even Microsoft admits that 90% of users don't touch most of Office's capabilities even at the desktop! Sure, some designers might, but honestly Office is overkill for all but commercial publishers and professional accountants.

            "You do have to sacrifice when you're mobile - but you don't have to force your sacrifice onto everybody else." That statement works both ways.
          • I'm not claiming that mobile devices should not exist.

            "When you're out in the jungle pulling and copying video . . ."

            I'm not claiming that mobile devices should not exist, or that they have no use whatsoever. I happen to own some myself.

            They do their jobs fine. And so does my laptop, and so does my desktop.

            Big fan of "PC Plus" here. As in plus all of those cool gadgets :).

            . . . but I don't see them as replacing my PC any time soon.

            "Are you really so sure that it can't?"

            My desktop has a split keyboard. Which makes it very convenient for long typing sessions.

            When I'm out and about, I do have a laptop and a smart phone. They can do things like check email and surf the web, but not as efficiently.

            I like doing things in an optimal manner when possible. And if optimal isn't possible, I can still do them the clunky way. Something wrong with that philosophy?

            I'm not saying "I don't want mobile at all." I'm saying "I like using my desktop when it is available, because it's more optimal than my other devices."

            "If you're wanting to do a major edit I understand the need for a more powerful workstation--you're also in need of a much larger display than any laptop currently offers, too."

            Well, you hit the nail on the head there - those are good reasons to still use workstations. Maybe we don't disagree as much as you think we do.

            "There is really no NEED for any removable 'drive' in the form of card swapping when all you need is an available Wi-Fi link or even an available G3, G4 or LTE cellular connection."

            Agreed; I use Dropbox :).
          • You know this?

            How? Sounds like a problem you've imagined w/o any proof whatsoever.
          • Compilers remove commented out code.

            "Every revision typically builds on the old platform with 'replaced' functions simply commented out and not necessarily removed."

            Commenting out code *IS* removing it, FYI. Compilers remove commented out code automatically.
          • If this is true...

            "Commenting out code *IS* removing it, FYI. Compilers remove commented out code automatically," why do so many applications still have antique code that is never touched and so patched over that it couldn't be reached if it had to be? Why does Windows 8+ still contain a vulnerability that was smothered way back in Windows '98 that Microsoft itself claimed, "it was already inaccessible but we're playing it safe with another patch"?

            No, commenting out code is NOT removing it, it's only turning it off--a state which a malicious coder (or inexperienced one) may reverse through who knows how many different means--including simply switching the comment flag itself off. The only way to remove code is to flat-out delete it--eliminate it--so it can't even be seen by the computer OR a hacker.
          • Compatibility.

            "why do so many applications still have antique code that is never touched and so patched over that it couldn't be reached if it had to be?"

            Compatibility. Some person out there still uses documents that used feature Y, and even though feature Y is now out of reach of most people, you don't want to break the documents that still have feature Y in them.

            Or, the code was architected poorly and getting rid of code isn't as simple as commenting it out, because it breaks things when commented out. So the code is left in, even though it's effectively disabled by leaving it out of the UI.

            "No, commenting out code is NOT removing it"

            No instructions are generated from comments. That's just how compilers work.

            If instructions were generated from comments, then everything would break, because comments are freeform text; you're supposed to be able to put anything you want in them without fearing that it will affect the functionality.

            If the code is still in there - even though it is inaccessible - then it WAS NOT commented out. It was disabled in some other manner. Yes, code can be disabled without commenting it out.

            And no, "commenting out" code is not slang for "disabling a section of code." It's a specific action that programmers take, and there are many ways to disable a section of code without commenting it out.
        • Well, there's that.

          "(since its running full windows 8.1 not RT)"

          Well, there's that. But it's kinda the exception, not the rule.
        • Must have Smartphone and a keyboard/screen device

          Can't travel without my smartphone. I find I can't do work without a keyboard and a bigger screen. My 7" tablet stays at home, either on a nightstand or the coffee table. Seriously looking at a T100.
        • the win8 app store sucks though

          the win 8 app store sucks, and the screen is low resolution. the tablet detachment is also heavy. windows needs more apps, and the tablet needs a resolution upgrade, then I'll consider it.
      • ios doesn't support a mouse though, non starter

        they could easily do this, but it would cannibalize their macbook air line. I would gladly use an ipad air if it had a) multi tabbing b) mouse support.

        Have considered the Asus T100 tablet hybrid, but the screen resolution sucks, and it's running windows. makes for a crappy laptop, and a crappy tablet.