Yes, of course tablets matter for business — here are seven reasons why

Yes, of course tablets matter for business — here are seven reasons why

Summary: Tablets aren't a consumer toy any more, and soon they'll be taking over your office — so you’d better get ready.


Along with jetpacks and the paperless office, tablet computers have been just around the corner for at least 50 years, and Microsoft and others have spent the last decade trying to turn them from sci-fi fantasies into real business devices.

Apple got there first, of course, largely by ignoring the received wisdom and re-inventing the tablet as primarily a consumer — and content consumption — device. As a result, the market for tablets turned out to be massive — extending far beyond the worthy business niche that most tech companies were miopically trying to mine.

With the rise of BYOD, these tablets started leaking back into business, but rather as second-class items: companion devices and hangers on, relegated to the position of sidekick as a result of their consumer heritage.

Many managers have never been convinced that tablets have a place in business that goes beyond being a nice trophy gadget for executives and shiny bauble for salespeople making presentations. I still see a lot of comments describing tablets as toys that have no place in business.

But I think they're wrong. Touchscreens and tablets really do matter for business, and will herald a major shake-up of our work space. Here are a few reasons why:

Firstly, because Microsoft wants them to succeed. It's betting big on tablets and touchscreens, making them the heart of its future business strategy — and that means its enormous installed base of users better get used to the idea of swiping as well as typing. 

Touch actually works this time around. After a decade or more of false dawns, touchscreen technology works very, very well and it's cheap. If you can get a Nexus 7 for £199, then why would you not begin considering such touch-centric devices for use in business?

Touchscreen and keyboard actually work better than a keyboard and mouse. There's a smattering of research that suggests using a touchscreen as your only input method makes you less productive because the virtual keyboards are slower than physical ones. And touch input can be less accurate and more tiring, too.

But add a physical keyboard into the mix, and touch really works. Ok, so the first few days using a touchscreen does make you feel a bit like a character from Minority Report, but it's far more intuitive than keyboard and mouse. I think it's also more efficient.

I've been using a tablet (the Surface RT) on and off for the last month or so and the combination of touchscreen and keyboard feels very natural, despite the odd fat-fingered error. So much so that going back to the old keyboard, mouse and dumbscreen combo feels stultifying. Touch creates a much more intimate relationship between me and what I write — less mediated than using the mouse and keyboard.

It's what everyone is already buying. The PC era is over, even though the PC industry might be hoping that we are moving into a PC-plus era, where we'll all have some kind of PC alongside a number of other devices in other form factors.

Tablet chart
Tablets outsell notebooks, via NPD DisplaySearch

But it's looking increasingly likely that we're moving into a post-PC world where the PC becomes the minority form factor. As a result...

It's what your new staff will expect. Everyone has seen those YouTube clips of kids trying to swipe a magazine. That's your workforce a few years from now. And you thought it was irritating when everyone wanted an iPhone.

Touch computing has changed my work dynamic. Work has always been a lean-forward experience. What I've found is that using a tablet has made work a lean-back experience as well (in contrast to watching TV, which for many has gone from lean-back to lean-forward.)

I'm pretty convinced that after 50 years of waiting, tablets here to stay

An example: I came across a piece of useful research when writing this column. Instead of leaning in I detached the Surface from its keyboard and sat back to read the research, and to think. It might seem like a trivial difference but for me it was revelatory because that form factor change altered the way I consumed that piece of content. If a new technology can make your staff more productive and more creative, why would you not use it?

Tablets may even change where we sit. The office was originally designed around immovable adding machines and typewriters and hasn't really been rethought since then, even as the devices have become lighter, cheaper and more portable. Even hot-desking just recreates the same cubical culture, without the clutter. Tablets and touchscreens could make for a much more open and collaborative culture, if you let them.

Of course, none of this means that the desktop or notebook will disappear overnight and they will both still have useful niches. And it could be decades before the real impact emerges. But I'm pretty convinced that after 50 years of waiting, tablets here to stay.

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Microsoft Surface

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  • It is PC+ not post PC

    "But it's looking increasingly likely that we're moving into a post-PC world"

    Only if you ignore installed base, PC market is saturated, tablet market not so. Tablets may well replace notebooks for may users where portabilty is a key factor. But for many people and tasks a desktop PC remains the optimal and best VFM solution.
    John Forbes
    • Re: Only if you ignore installed base

      What good is a huge installed base of Windows installations if Microsoft can't sell any new copies?
  • tablets have their place

    But full size keyboards and large monitors have a place as well. It isn't going to be an either/or scenario. Different tools for different jobs.
    • Agreed

      Anyone who thinks tablets don't have their place in the enterprise would be better off trying to make a living hunting mastodons than working in IT. Cheap, thin, easy to mount just about anywhere, they make brilliant kiosk devices and are already popping up in museums and retail outlets, sprouting up like mushrooms after a May rain-shower. And anyone who needs a portable device for data input or on-the-go presentations would have a hard time doing better than a tablet, especially if the user performs input while standing (i.e. a showroom salesperson, a warehouse inventory tracker, or anyone who needs to perform data input while working outside... picture a meter reader).

      But many functions would be painful to perform on a single, 10" screen. Anyone who does visual layouts, or system administration multiple, big screens to do their job.

      Everything has its place.
  • Hardly Taking Over

    Tablets have their place, as do regular PCs. You still need a PC for heavy duty data/text entry, design work, etc. Tablets are great for information/media consumption and light data/text entry, email, etc.

    Even the graph you show already has the rate of increase in tablet share relative to notebooks slowing down in 2013 and leveling off in 2017. So that's not a take-over.
  • Post PC era is a myth

    In enterprise, post PC era won't happen in the near future. Of course there will be tablets in enterprise, but they will be mostly secondary devices. On the consumer space PC will still dominate as the device for work and study, but will be overshadowed by personal devices like phone or tablet for content consumption.
    • Re: In enterprise, post PC era won't happen in the near future.

      Their IT departments may not be planning for it, but their employees will move to it via BYOD.

      After all, those same IT departments in the 1980s saw no need for PCs either, it was the employees who brought them in via BYOD back then.
  • The PC replaced the mainframe because

    the PC was better than the mainframe in everything (MIPS, RAM, storage, size, cost, electricity consumption, etc etc).

    The tablet is better than the PC only when you are not sitting down or when you don't have a proper work surface.

    Touch is not an advantage. Touch is a necessity feature to overcome a major deficiency - small display area. On a small display area, repeated zooming and panning are required in order to get any trivial work done, and touch at this moment is the best UI for this need.

    Hence, the successor to the PC is not the tablet. It has not been invented yet.
    • The mainframe numbers never down, but only increased.

      Look at IBM's quarterly results, they are selling more mainframes every year...
      Mainframes dominate the backend for big businesses, and nothing will replace them in the near future.
    • Replaced the Mainframe?

      The PC didn't replace the mainframe, it just off-loaded some of the mainframe's work, while simultaneously giving the mainframe more and different work. Servers are mainframes, even though they use architectures more like those of PC clients than those of older mainframes. And for decades, many companies have been putting PC's on desks to replace so-called "dumb" CRT terminals for the mainframe applications ... and the lower level workers (as well as mainframe programmers) spent most of their time when not reading emails in the "dumb CRT" emulator program using the mainframe. The change is evolutionary, as many legacy applications have had to be redesigned for PC architecture client/server, including the "batch" jobs that run overnight to collate company-wide updates into the data bases, and so forth.

      We have actually made the mainframe invisible, which may be why we call it the "cloud" these days: multiple mainframe-sized PC-like devices in different locations. And before that, some companies had already distributed their mainframe applications into multiple locations. But the mainframe's FUNCTION has not been replaced.
      • Re: The PC didn't replace the mainframe

        How many mainframes were sold in 2012? How many were sold in, say, 1982?

        How many companies were selling mainframes in 2012? How many in 1982?
    • SueBill: I think you are confused

      No PC has more MIPS, more memory or more storage than a modern mainframe. Maybe you are comparing a modern PC to a 20 year old mainframe?

      • Re: No PC has more MIPS, more memory or more storage than a modern mainfram

        Yes they do. Mainframes aren't about MIPS, memory or storage.
    • "Touch is not an advantage..." ???? Come again????

      Spoken like someone that has never owned a touch screen for the desktop.

      Because You do not use touch to an advantage, this disqualifies you as an expert on the subject.

      Desktop applications, when written with touch optimization, can add a high degree of productivity.

      Think "scroll down" and "Next Page" and translate to swipe.
      Check boxes, radio buttons both work much better with touch.

      Data entry can be improved. Instead of entering dates and times it can easily be done in a couple of taps if designed correctly.

      Point of Sale is a good example. What is the difference between generating a PoS Ticket vs. an Invoice? CRM / Contact Management is an ideal touch app.
  • Tablets are cool but not so fast...

    I am the I.T. Manager for an office full of Engineers. Engineering disciplines here include civil, structural, environmental, geotechnical, and land surveying. These guys need a ton of horsepower to operate their AutoCAD products. They also needs a LOT of screen real estate to function efficiently. So much so that anything smaller than a 24" monitor is a complete waste of time. When I look at the rest of the company, our admin dept. couldn't efficiently use a tablet either. There is simply far to many large documents and sheets to deal with daily. I have and use a 10" tablet which works out great for some purposes but the majority of the time, it is just sitting on my desk. It gets a far more rigorous workout at my house.
    • "Not so Fast" applies to current Tablets

      I am not a MS fan to say the least.

      The Surface Pro "tablet" will be my next desktop machine.

      A tablet with an i5 processor qualifies as a desktop.

      I need another desktop machine. My priority is energy efficiency balanced with computational power. I typically build a machine using the most powerful processor no more 35 Watts max TDP.

      I recently priced out building a system with a mobile 3rd Gen i3, 8 GB RAM and 150GB SSD.

      Now with a "tablet" like the Surface Pro I assume will use an i5 with a max TDP of 17 Watts and will have enough horse power to run AutoCAD.

      Because the Surface Pro is only $200 more than the desktop system (with no OS) I was going to build cost, I am waiting for the Surface Pro and will use it as my main desktop machine.

      The 10" display will not be used.

      Worst case I will connect my three 24"(1200x1920) monitors using USB video adapters, as I am not familiar with the Surface Pro's video output. I currently use one DisplayLink USB video adapter and it's performance is as good as the two displays connected to my Radeon 5670. And the DisplayLink adapters use surprisingly less CPU (negligible for typical use) than originally anticipated. When stressed with a graphic benchmark, the CPU for the DisplayLink driver will hit 15%.

      I do a fair amount of programming and the compile time using a 2nd Gen i3 has been more than satisfactory. I also do PC Board layout and the i3 has no problem. I expect the i5 in the Surface Pro will do even better.
  • almost there

    I expect to see a tablet device with a docking hub (maybe thunderbolt) that gives access to a physical keyboard and large screen, yet can be taken to meetings or off site with no loss of power or processing capabilty, simply a change in screen size and input device
    • Already There!

      Published in the last 6 hours:

      Alternative Solutions:
  • almost there

    I expect to see a tablet device with a docking hub (maybe thunderbolt) that gives access to a physical keyboard and large screen, yet can be taken to meetings or off site with no loss of power or processing capabilty, simply a change in screen size and input device
  • Yes, of course tablets matter for business — here are seven reasons why

    None of those 7 reasons are convincing for a business. I really didn't see any uses cases sited by you on how these would make the business more efficient. Your points were mainly that its a tablet and because its a tablet its better but never explain how. I find tablets to be more inefficient because its harder to input information. The keyboards are optional but at that point and the price you pay for a tablet you are better off with getting a laptop for your business needs. A tablet may work in very few situations.