The Best Tablet for Business May Be Yet to Come
With the announcement of impending release of Amazon's $199 tablet, the Kindle Fire, much of the media attention is focused on how this lower price point will attract consumers looking for a tablet for media consumption.
Those looking to use their tablets for business uses are still left with limited choices— primarily, the iPad and for those looking for a non-Apple alternative, Lenovo's ThinkPad tablet or the BlackBerry PlayBook.
For business users, tablets offer a nice middle ground between smartphones and laptops.
"My iPad has become an invaluable piece of my business," said Rachel Honoway, founder of Honoway Interactive, a startup consulting and business services firm.
"I would never drag out my laptop, boot it up and load Web pages when I'm talking with someone at their booth or in a networking setting — but I do whip out my iPad all the time in these situations."
For now, though, iPads are still leading among the small business owners we spoke to, with most citing a great app selection and their loyalty to Apple as their main reason for choosing the iPad for business.
"Any time I think of something new I would like to do, I can find an app for it," said Lauren Kay, executive director, Smartsitting, a New York-area babysitting service. "The other day, I was wishing that I had a bigger laptop screen so that I could more easily format babysitter reference forms. I did a quick search and [found an app that allowed me to] transform my iPad into an extra screen for my Macbook."
App availability is key for many tablet business users.
"There are a wealth of apps available for the iPad relevant to security and networking, in addition to a solid variety of office tools like iAnnotate which allows me to view and search multiple PDFs at once," said Tremaine Lea, a network security consultant. "Add in the ability to use a [virtual private network] VPN to access the office…and my iPad lets me work when I need to."
Many business owners, though, say they chose their iPad because the selection of tablets for business use were limited even as recently as a year or so ago. They say there are definitely shortcomings they would like to see addressed in newer versions of the iPad or in other tablets.
"The one thing I miss is being able to use my text expansion tool when using the mail app on the iPad. There are workarounds, but they are a bit more tedious," said Jeri Dansky, a professional organizer.
Having to find ways to do things that are more efficient on full-size laptops is a common complaint among even the most loyal iPad users.
"I wish I could open email, type my messages and attach several photos instead of going into photos then having to email each individually," said Ellen Cagnassola, owner of Sweetsoaps, a maker of customer and specialty soaps. Still, Cagnassola said you'd have to "put a gun to her head" to make her buy another tablet brand.
But, even Apple enthusiasts said they would eventually consider a different brand of tablet if it better addressed their business needs, reflecting a market opportunity for tablet-makers.
"I love the iPad and Facetime, but would consider another device if it had business applications," said Bill Begal, owner of Bengal Enterprises, disaster reparation specialists.
Domenick Cilea, owner of Springboard Public Relations in New Jersey, said the lack of support for Flash on the iPad makes certain Web experiences limited, though he expects HTML5 will likely change this. At the end of the day, though, it will be price that drives Cilea and many other business tablet users to leave Apple for a new brand of tablet.
"User experience, price, access to content (music, books, photos, etc.) and ease of use are just some of the criteria to select one specific to your needs. For me to switch from the iPad, it would need to offer a better user experience at significantly less cost," Cilea said.
Jason Stein, a founder partner in Laundry Service Media, said price could motivate him to abandon his iPad, too, but only if it were at least half the price of an iPad.
"There are a couple tablets that offer more open operating systems, and similar features, but they are buggier and do not run as smoothly, and will not sync up with my other Apple products as well. They also don't have as good a selection in the app store."
At least one business iPad user has some advice for the tablet-makers that are trying to take a bite out of Apple's tablet share.
"Instead of following in Apple’s footsteps, I would love to see HP, BlackBerry, Samsung, take the lead and make a tablet that we haven’t seen yet, something innovative and forward-thinking," said Christina Dempsey, senior account coordinator at Sara Brady Public Relations, in Winter Park, Fla. "Only then would I consider switching to a different brand."