A buyers’ guide to tablet computers for business

Tablet computers are grabbing headlines right now but which one would fit into your business?


Growing Business looks at what you need to bring tablet functionality to your business.

When Apple introduced the iPad, few truly realised what an impact it would have on the computing world. With over 25 million sold of the first version, and many analysts suggesting the recently introduced Apple iPad 2 will sell in similar volumes, the tablet computer has truly come of age.

In this new world of tablet computers it’s easy to forget the basic technology has been around for many years, with the Microsoft Tablet PC platform proving popular with corporate and medium-sized businesses. However, with Tablet PC selling in the hundreds of thousands, rather than millions, it’s easy to see why a market of models similar to the iPad has sprung up from all the leading manufacturers, such as Acer, Asus and Samsung, as well as mobile phone operators, such as Motorola, LG and even BlackBerry.  

 

There has been a great deal of hype around tablets, with many saying their arrival marks the demise of the laptop. However, these self-same claims were made about laptops against the desktop PC – look around your business and you’ll see that both live side by side. In truth, tablets will live and work alongside laptops, but it’s hard to see them ever really replacing them. For the foreseeable future, at least, they simply lack the flexibility.

What you need

A tablet computer combines the best features of your laptop with the versatility of a smartphone. So, you’ll find it built around a touchscreen display, typically between 7 and 10 inches in size, allowing you to access your files, corporate and personal email, as well as connect to the internet, all without the need of a keyboard.

You’ll still be able to type emails and documents as the screen acts as a ‘virtual’ keyboard, so you can type as you would with a smartphone. The benefit, however, is that the larger screen means the keys are full-size and once you’ve got the hang of typing on a flat surface you can gather a fair degree of speed.

Tablet computer screens tend to support HD resolutions, so are great for running presentations and for watching videos in high-def, while built-in HDMI options mean you can connect it up to a HD TV or data projector for large-scale presentations. Another key feature is the built-in web-cam, which means you’ll be able to attend video conferencing sessions, no matter what your location.

The basic hardware technology underpinning tablet computers is the same as that on your laptop, so you’ll still find a processor, memory and hard drive in place, with some models offering more or less depending on the price point.

However, the big difference between a laptop and a tablet computer is in the operating system and this will make the biggest difference as to the options available to your business.

Apple iOS

There is no denying that Apple is king of the tablet computer market right now and the Apple iPad runs on the Apple iOS. This is the same operating system found on the iPhone and iPod Touch, so if you already use these devices you’ll be familiar with its look and feel. Designed for use with multimedia you’ll find an amazing array of apps, games and media available. However, with its consumer focus you may find it lacks a breadth of business software support. For example, it doesn’t support Adobe Flash, so you won’t be able to use this in presentations or view them on web links.

Google Android

Google Android is possibly the biggest threat to the Apple crown, as it offers a cheap and accessible alternative to manufacturers looking to keep costs down. So much so, it is now the most widely available tablet platform, with devices from the likes of Asus, Acer, Dell, as well as Motorola and LG.

Just as the iOS platform runs on the iPhone, Google Android can also be found powering Android smartphones. However, it has the added benefit of plugging directly into the ever-growing array of Google apps and services. So, you’ll find access to Gmail, Maps and Google Docs all fully integrated into the device. That said, you’ll need to make sure it’s compatible with your office software as this can still be an issue.

Microsoft Tablet PC

The big difference between Microsoft’s Tablet PC operating system and the like of iOS and Android, is that it’s built on the Windows platform, so looks and acts more like a computer platform than a smartphone operating system.

Tablet PC is an integral part of Windows 7, which means that even if you’re not currently using a touchscreen laptop or PC you’ll be able to familiarise yourself with the tools on offer. More importantly for your business, it means that Microsoft has gone to great lengths to make sure it’s compatible with all your office software. So, while Tablet PC may not feel as cutting-edge as the iPad, it may well make a better business buying decision. 

Wi-Fi or 3G?

When it comes to choosing the right tablet computer for your business, you’ll need to consider how and where it is likely to be used. The basic, and most cost-effective variant, is to choose a Wi-Fi based solution, which is ideal for use in an office environment. Employees who are office bound but attend plenty of meetings will like this solution as it allows them to stay in touch with the office network, via Wi-Fi, while the 10-hour battery life and lightweight design mean they can carry it around with ease.

However, for the true mobile experience you need to opt to have 3G built-in, so you can gather email and stay in touch when out and about. This option is ideal if you spend most of the day moving between meetings, or need to be contacted when out of the office.

A word of caution: tablet computers may be grabbing the headlines right now but it’s worth considering whether they actually fit into your business in a constructive and cost-effective way. Here we look at five possible reasons why you may not want one in your company: 

1: Screen prone to finger printsJust like your smartphone, the touchscreen display of a tablet is prone to greasy finger prints and you’ll find yourself constantly wiping it clean. 2: Can be awkward to use   Tablets offer flexibility of use but you may well find it takes time to get accustomed to using the onscreen ‘virtual’ keyboard. This means emails may be slow initially. 3: Not as practical as a laptop While sharing many of the same technologies as your laptop, the use of a smartphone operating system and lack of a physical keyboard may be a problem in some business situations. 4: Poor business software support It’s worth bearing in mind the operating system on a tablet is closer to that of a smartphone than a PC, so may not support the same software your company uses. 5: Warranty and repairs To keep tablets slim and sleek, compromises have been made. One of those is to seal the unit, so basic repairs, such as replacing the battery or upgrading the components will need specialist help. 

Buying tips

When it comes to buying tablet computers for your business there are two options: you can choose to buy them through your standard computer hardware reseller, or you can opt to buy it through your smartphone provider.

Mobile operators, such as Vodafone, O2 and Orange, see Tablet computers as an extension of their smartphone portfolios, so tend to only offer devices with 3G already built-in. So, when it comes to negotiating for a 3G tablet, you need to look for similar deals as to your smartphone contract, such as attractive data allowance rates, as well as a flexible upgrade path. After all, the tablet market is changing quickly, so being stuck with last year’s model isn’t an appealing idea.

Major players

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to look at the options on the market. Here we take a look at the latest incarnation of the Apple iPad, as well as three alternatives that we think have a place in your business.

Apple iPad 2

The Apple iPad 2 comes in a wide choice of options to suit your budget, from Wi-Fi only to Wi-Fi plus 3G, and is the most popular tablet on the planet. Running the same OS as you’ll find on the iPhone, you can run multimedia as well as stay in touch with the large, easy to use touchscreen.

Price: £579 (inc. VAT) Operating system: Apple iOS 4.3 Processor: 1GHz Apple A5 dual-core Memory: 512MB Hard drive: 32GB Screen: 9/7 inch (1024 x 768 pixels) Built-in 3G: Yes Weight: 613g Find out more

HTC Flyer

The first tablet computer to run the latest version of the Google Android operating system, we also think it’s one of the best looking tablets out there. It comes with improved video, thanks to a 5MP camera, and enhanced email features.

Price: £430 (inc. VAT) Operating system: Google Android 2.3 Processor: 1.5GHz single-core Snapdragon Memory: 1GB Hard drive: 32GB Screen: 7 inch (1024 x 600 pixels) Built-in 3G: Yes Weight: 415g Find out more

Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101

If you’re looking to hedge your bets, this is the device for you as this fully-fledged tablet comes with a keyboard that can be slotted into the base, allowing you to use it just as you would a laptop. Running the Android OS and coming with a dual-core processor, this is a powerful and versatile option at a great price. 

Price: £429 (inc. VAT) Operating system: Google Android 3.0 Processor: 2GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core Memory: 1GB Hard drive: 16GB  Screen: 10.1 inch (1280 x 800 pixels) Built-in 3G: Not currently Weight: 680g Find out more

BlackBerry Playbook

If your business is already equipped with BlackBerry smartphones for out in the field, this may well make a logical addition to the team. Small, compact and easy to use, there are, however, limitations in that it’s not fully compatible with office software so isn’t really intended to replace your laptop. 

Price: £399 (inc. VAT) Operating system: BlackBerry Tablet OS (QNX) Processor: 1GHz Cortex A9 dual-core Memory: 1GB  Screen: 7 inch (1024 x 600 pixels) Built-in 3G: Yes Weight: 400g Find out more

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