To Tablet Or Not To Tablet

Sony Tablet

[credit provider=”TechnoBuffalo”]

Tablets have taken the world by storm. BMO Capital Markets forecasts that 45 million tablets will be sold in 2011. Apple’s easy-to-use iPad has captivated consumers with its ability to provide instant entertainment, take apps to the next level, and easily serve as a flexible, engaging technology device. Leading organisations have more than taken notice and are pondering its applications within the work environment. But do tablets really have long-term and lasting application in the enterprise environment?Before answering that question, it’s important to look at the basics of the tablet. Technophiles know that the iPad’s engaging UI (user interface) grabs the user and allows them to easily access any type of content, such as news, video, email, games, etc. Apple transferred many of the smart design and intuitive interactions of the iPhone and blew it up into something larger, portable and flexible. However, there is another component that adds to the allure of the iPad: all those apps. From the stunningly useful to the purely quirky, a multitude of apps has become increasingly accessible. Whether a user is running into a meeting or embarking on a road trip, the iPad captures the innovation of the iPhone UI design and amplifies it. Once a user integrates the iPad into their routine, it’s hard not to become a believer.

When the Tablet Doesn’t Work

Given the tablet’s strengths, it must be a device that can be leveraged in the enterprise environment, right? The real answer is yes and no. Tablets were not designed for complex work flows. They do not possess the computing power of traditional personal computers, and they are not devices originally envisioned for business.

Additionally the touch functionality of most tablets is a new more natural way of interacting with computers, which introduces new challenges and opportunities. Fundamentally, the tablet is a new way of interacting with technology. It allows for very simple and intuitive use of digestible parts of functionality. That may also be the surprising key to its success. After all it introduces a new level of simplicity for most users.

Many of today’s enterprise applications have benefited from decades of refinement and development. Behemoth applications have gone through innumerable updates to become highly sophisticated.  They simply cannot be ported over to the tablet environment seamlessly.  Enterprise apps too rich with features can overload tablets or simply be too difficult to manage via a keyboard-less paradigm. Enterprise solutions that require heavy data entry, such as purchasing, human resources and other complex apps, are not going to translate completely to the tablet format as they exist today. Launching into a full-scale enterprise app from a browser on a tablet is likely to be highly inefficient, frustrating and ineffective over the long term.
Complex enterprise apps will have to reduce features to work within the computing and format of the tablet. To move an enterprise solution to mobile, organisations need to strategically analyse their needs and their workforce.

The desktop is not a dinosaur. Traditional PCs remain an important part of the mix as they have the capacity to handle large-scale enterprise applications and are designed to support heavy information and data entry. The vast majority of business functions still require a solid PC to get the job done.

Don’t Rule it Out

The tablet is very intuitive and can be just the right fit for highly mobile workers who need to provide information on the go, but it is likely as a supplement to desktop computing versus replacing it. Workflows perfectly suited for the tablet paradigm are simple, intuitive and have select features for accomplishing specific tasks. 

The tablet is a tool for business and can be an asset for mobile workforces, but enterprise-class solutions will not port to the tablet environment verbatim. The software being used for mobile workers is going to perform better if designed specifically for the tablet form factor.  Often tablet apps need to do a very small subset of the functionality of their desktop counterparts.

Leading organisations need to determine how their workforces can benefit from the tablet. To be successful in adapting enterprise solutions to the tablet, it is best to create apps that focus on segments of a solution and break it into digestible functions. Apps based on their enterprise counterpart must be designed specifically for the tablet environment to avoid user frustration.

Throwing a complex software application on a tablet is not likely to be successful, nor is breaking enterprise-class software into dozens of small apps that have to be sorted to do work on-the-go. The best outcome is to truly analyse what is the most important use of a tablet for a segment of a workforce and adapt it to be leveraged.

The tablet offers organisations a new tool and a new paradigm for working, communicating and sharing information. Leading companies, however, must balance their enthusiasm with a serious look at how to adapt the tablet to their business objectives in a way that is meaningful and truly supports their computing needs.