Think: Pad

Kevin Smith
on 20 September 2011

If you have been reading any of our recent posts you will know that we have been exploring some of the ways mobile computing is developing. Its roots go way back, but the coming revolution was probably kicked of in earnest by the smart phone. Oddly, when the iPad arrived on the scene many people, including myself, were not that impressed. Why did we need this underpowered computer without a keyboard? Tablets had tried to gain traction in the past, and failed. How could this new device possibly make a dent in the laptop/netbook space? After it’s initial release I remained unimpressed for quite some time…until I used one.

I’m not going to go on about why the iPad is such a success. Or why other tablets have failed to gain the same kind of market share. Instead I’m going to continue to explore something we looked at a couple of weeks back, namely that tablet devices like the iPad, due to their very size and nature, are well positioned to radicalise the way we use technology in the workplace.

Sharing and Collaborating

I saw the first episode of what is to be the final season of spooks last night. For those who don’t watch the same kind of trash as me, spooks is a BBC drama about a bunch of MI5 agents. The spies are back in town (or at least back on our TV sets), and this time they have iPads! but it’s not just the spies. Back in the real world, councils, schools, shops, restaurants, hotels, sales teams, engineers, people and organisations from all kinds of sectors, are beginning to use mobile tablet computing to engage more effectively with colleagues, with clients and with their environment.

We have talked about the size of tablets, and the tactile nature of them, helping us to draw parallels with other, more traditional media; Notepads, clipboards, brochures, books etc. They are all things you might hand out or pass around. Likewise, a tablet, done right, can help people to share and interact with content in a way you just wouldn’t do with a laptop. I have rarely been in a situation where a sales guy hands over his computer and gives his prospective client the controls. Can you imagine all the things that could go wrong? Not to mention the inconvenience of passing it from person to person! In contrast, tablets lend themselves to this type of use. With the right software (or app), they can put people at their ease and offer a familiar and natural experience. I would never dream of passing my laptop around a room full of my more senior family members to show them my latest holiday snaps…not so with an iPad.

Engagement and Interaction

But as well as offering a more natural experience to previous attempts at techno-fying our lives, tablets can enhance that experience. Content can become interactive; It can be connected…aware…in some ways, alive. Indeed, a whole host of possibilities are opened up thanks to the wealth of sensory equipment on-board. Be it location awareness, augmented reality, sound processing, mobile payment…the tablet makes insanely powerful technology available to just about anyone, no matter where they are.

As a digital clipboard with access to the cloud, the tablet can mobilise our computing and reduce the need for data entry further down the line. These devices are perfect for any kind of inventory management, check-point control, warehouse control, registration, food/order management, mobile cash register or point of sale facility. In a much over-simplified sense, they do for our complex computing needs what portable chip and pin devices did for retail. They free us from the desk. They allow us to move. In one sense this is a very simple thing. But it should not be overlooked.

A Mobile Future

I really can’t see the sales force of the future going out armed with laptops; they will use tablets. I can’t see a future where forms are routinely filled in by hand and then fed into a data entry system; portable devices will talk directly with the cloud. Of course, this is a future that’s here already…but it is far from ubiquitous. For the many many organisations that have not started to invest in this kind of infrastructure, or perhaps not even considered the shift away from the desktop, maybe now is the time to start.


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