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Mixing Business with iPads: The Pros and Cons of Using Tablets for Business

To say that 2011 has been the year of the tablet may not adequately express how this mobile device has influenced the computing world. Recent findings from eMarketer show that nearly 37.7 million Americans use tablet devices at least once a month, up 158.6% from last year.

Tablets Gain Momentum, but the iPad Reigns Supreme

The growth in the tablet market isn’t attributed to just the average at-home user. According to Apple’s most recent quarterly earnings report, the tablet is making a splash in the business world as well, with 86% of Fortune 500 companies deploying or evaluating iPads for corporate use.

With the variety of devices in the market, it may seem unusual that so may companies are primarily considering iPads for their business use. However, based on the iPad’s market share, that fact shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. According to Gadgetizor and Apple’s Q3 reports, Apple is holding strong as the king of the tablet market with 69.5% of the market share. Based on the iPad’s popularity and sales, eMarketer predicts that by 2014, almost 90 million Americans, or 35.6% of all Internet users, will use tablets and 68% of those tablets users will be operating iPads.

Tablet Advantages: Business Travelers and Early Adoption

Tablets have the potential to provide business professionals with a number of different advantages. Though these benefits vary depending on the needs of the professional and the industry that they work in, business travel and competitive advantage are two areas where professionals have seen the benefit of using tablets.

TecRux’s article “How and Why Tablet Computers are Taking Over,” offers numerous reasons why business professionals might prefer using tablets, as opposed to laptops, when traveling. One reason that business travelers like to use tablets is that the weight of most of these mobile devices is much less than a traditional PC or laptop, making it easier for users to carry on planes, trains, etc.

Other travel-related benefits come in the form of productivity advantages, such as increased battery life and shortened boot-up sequencing. Battery life on tablets is generally higher than that of laptops, which reduces usage shortages and wait times for when a device needs to be recharged and rebooted. And while a laptop may take a minute or two to fully load and be ready for use, tablets allow users to push the power button and immediately start using their device.

In addition to their travel benefits, some professionals have also experienced a competitive advantage based on their tablet use. These early adopters, who creatively implement this new technology before their competitors, have an advantage over other companies that aren’t employing tablet devices into their daily practices. The health care industry, for instance, has a number of early adopters. According to information from Tab Times, professionals in the healthcare industry are incorporating tablets into a variety of everyday activities including: collecting patient information, prescribing medications, and for appointments and scheduling.

Tablet Disadvantages: Your IT Department, Security, and Software

As with any technology, there are also a number of disadvantages for business owners and decision makers to consider before making the jump to a tablet. Challenges of using tablets for business include information security threats and the availability of commonly used business software.

One thing to consider is the difficulties tablet devices pose for an IT department, as well as a company’s overall information security. Some IT departments feel that they have already lost control of security because of a “BYOD,” or bring your own device, atmosphere. This presents a challenge for IT departments and the traditional enterprise infrastructure because individuals are free to use their devices in whatever way they please, making company information susceptible to security flaws.

As published in a recent McAfee study, the amount of malware spreading on phones and tablets has continued to surge in 2011, with a 22% increase since 2010 during the first half of this year alone. Because of their portability, individuals are also more likely to access public mobile hotspots using tablets, which can also pose additional threats. Tools such as the Firefox add-on Firesheep make it simple for script kiddies and other hackers to eavesdrop on the activity of those using public Wi-Fi and collect any data that is not protected by SSL encryption.

Another important disadvantage to consider is the limited software availability for tablet devices. As noted in the PC World article “How Are Tablets Useful for Business?” it’s important to keep in mind that the king of tablets, the iPad, can’t actually use Windows software—or even full Mac programs, for that matter. Rather, Apple offers “lite” versions of programs like Apple Keynote, Pages, and Numbers. There are add-ons available, however nowhere will you find the Microsoft Office suite—common software for many business professionals. While it’s still possible to create documents and presentations on an iPad, professionals may find it much easier to use a laptop or desktop computer for these types of projects.

Tablets aren’t going to completely replace more traditional laptops and other personal computers any time soon. However, considering the predicted growth rates for the tablet market over the next few years, it may only take improvements in tablet-compatible software and appropriate security measures to allow tablets to become a viable competitor to more traditional computing solutions like the desktop and laptop.

SOUND OFF: Have you considered incorporating tablets into your company? What made you take a leap into the tablet side of computing?

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