Say goodbye to the keyboard: Tablets are now the only work device for four in ten workers

Tablets are replacing paper-based systems and taking over from PCs for some workers, says research.

Tablets are becoming the default business device for more workers. Image: iStock © shironosov

Who needs a keyboard, anyway? Nearly half of workers are doing all their work on a tablet, a proportion that's set to rise rapidly.

According to research from analyst firm IDC, tablets are now 40 percent of business users' only enterprise device, a figure that rises further when two-in-one hybrid devices are added into the mix.

While the majority of tablet users in enterprises currently still have at least one other work device, such as a desktop PC or notebook, according to Marta Fiorentini, IDC senior research analyst, standalone tablets' share is set to increase.

"Tablets are already used by waiters instead of pen and paper, by doctors and nurses to replace paper-based files, or by pilots as a substitute for bulky manuals," Fiorentini said, and IDC believes there are more opportunities for tablets to replace paper.

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The company calculates that in 2014 this "incremental" market accounted for almost six percent of tablets used standalone in the UK, France, and Germany, and predicted the percentage will rise to 20 percent in the next 24 months.

There's a strong link between a person's job and their tablet usage. Workers that create or edit documents - executives, marketing and sales staff, or engineers - tend to use their tablets in addition to desktop or notebook. However, workers who are on the road, in the field, or facing customers are more likely to rely solely on a tablet. According to IDC, production workers equipped with slates use them as their only work device in 64 percent of cases. In comparison, only 38 percent of executives and 44 percent of white-collars work purely on their tablets.

The advance of tablets - once thought unstoppable - has slowed recently. Consumers are holding onto their devices for longer than manufacturers expected or have switched to big-screen phablets instead. Meanwhile, businesses have taken a while to get comfortable with the devices while a lack of exciting hardware running Windows has also slowed down adoption by firms.

For its enterprise tablet study, IDC surveyed 2,000 IT decision makers and found that hybrids - in either the detachable or convertible form factor - are usually purchased with larger screen sizes than tablets. While just over 10 percent of tablets have a screen size larger than 11 inches, the current percentage for hybrids is almost 30 percent. That figure is expected to rise to half over the next couple of years - which, IDC said, reinforces the assumption "that two-in-ones and convertibles can be a replacement for portable PCs".

There's a headache here for enterprise IT departments in terms of managing multiple operating systems: half of the IT decision makers interviewed described it as a "key or moderate challenge".

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