Beyond Angry Birds (Part 3)

8/2/2013 5:53:13 PM

Buying A Tablet For Work

How well any of this works for you is very dependent on what tablet you have or are getting, because some apps will only work on specific operating system releases and at higher performance levels.

The first critical consideration is the display, because typing documents on a tiny panel with low resolution isn't going to be fun or easy. The Apple iPad (four generation) has a 2048x1 536 pixel display which can present documents beautifully, and it's easy on the eyes for data entry. For Android customers, the Nexus 10 has an even higher resolution and plenty of CPU power to drive it.

How well any of this works for you is very dependent on what tablet you have or are getting

How well any of this works for you is very dependent on what tablet you have or are getting

Lower-resolution tablets can be used, especially those with a 1 0" display, but in general these tend to be less powerful, and therefore slower than their more modern counterpart

Another aspect worth considering is how much on-board storage is enough? In theory, if you're entirely cloud based, you can get away with having 4GB or even less internal storage on the tablet. But that does assume you can always get an internet connection and don't need to carry critical documents with you.

I'd suggest that 8GB is the minimum you should consider, and 16GB is ideal. Larger tablets are nice, but unless you intend to carry lots of images, music or video with you, then 32GB or 64GB probably isn't needed. Many Android tablets, but not all, have the ability to use a micro-SD card, allowing you to add another 32GB easily, and with multiple cards you can have practically unlimited space. You can get a 32GB micro-SD for less than $32, and that's much better value than the difference between a 16GB model and 32GB one, for twice the extra capacity.

Apple iPad owners can't add storage this way, so they need to make sure that they have enough on board from the outset.

What About Surface?

I've exclusively talked about Apple and Android devices so far, and I've not mentioned those made by Microsoft. That's mostly because the only Surface tablet that's here currently is the original Surface RT, which is based on ARM CPU technology and is not able to run x86 Windows software. The fully PC compatible Surface Pro will be here soon, but it's not in the UK yet.

Surface RT

Surface RT

There's no real reason why you can't use a Surface RT for office work, and it does have a version of Microsoft Office built into it. Specifically, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview, for what that's worth. That does make the rather high price of this device seem a little more approachable, but it's not a cheap option, the cheapest Surface RT model being $723, and that's without a keyboard.

There are two problems for using either the Surface RT or Surface Pro, or any of the clones that other makers are in the process of launching. The first is that the Microsoft App store doesn't yet contain anywhere near the same range of tools that Apple or Android has handy. On the Surface Pro that's not an issue, because you can use standard Windows apps, but on the Surface RT it's a big problem.

It's also worth knowing that Surface machines don't have any of the network security functionality that full Windows 7 or 8 laptops need to be managed by a proper Microsoft Server Domain environment, and your IT department might exclude you from the office network because of that.

The jury is still out on the value of the Surface product line and how they'll fit into the tablet ecosystem, but they're not without possibilities.

Splashtop HD

Final Thoughts

What's truly fascinating is that I'm even discussing this, because ten years ago it was the PC or the high road for office work, in a practical sense. Since then, the exclusivity of that deal has been irreparably broken, as we've moved inexorably towards a cloud-based future and the stand-alone era of computing is coming to a close.

When most desktop computers are used for activities that are mostly beneath them, and for which they're outrageously overpowered, the rise of the tablet computer and its associated lower power consumption model now seems inevitable.

It doesn't matter which camp you're in, iOS or Android, or even what technology is at the heart of the device, the future is quite obviously service based, so it isn't welded to any particular chip technology or brand.

Most desktop computers are used for activities that are mostly beneath them

Most desktop computers are used for activities that are mostly beneath them

That's a very worrying development for both Intel and Microsoft, but it's one that needed to transpire if we were ever to see the sort of creative thinking that once pervaded this industry 30 years ago and was banished with the rise of the PC.

The idea that Surface might grab the initiative back seems implausible, even if we've no solid idea how these devices are performing in the market. They might grab a niche, but looking at the tablet market, the domination of Apple is now rapidly being overtaken by much more affordable and often more powerful Android devices.

If you want to use a tablet for office tasks, it's entirely possible if you're willing to adapt your thinking somewhat. The idea isn't to turn a tablet into a PC, but instead streamline the tasks so they're achievable in this new environment.

If you accepted that 90% of the things you do on a PC are possible on a tablet, then you only need to adjust that last 10% to deliver a workable solution.

As tablet systems become more powerful and better connected, it will become easier to make this transition, with far fewer hurdles to overcome.

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