The standard comparison of laptop and tablet goes like this: laptop good for content creation, tablet good for content consumption. But there's another area where tablets look intriguing: They can be a better collaboration tool. By collaboration, I mean two people talking face-to-face while sharing and interacting with content on a screen.
Think of a patient and a doctor, with the doctor jotting notes on a device and occasionally sharing something on the device with a patient. Think of a salesperson talking one-on-one across a desk, showing various products displayed on the device. Think of meeting a colleague on a trade show floor and wanting to quickly pop open a file to show a message from a would-be customer.
A laptop has never fit elegantly in the middle of these kinds of exchanges. If I'm standing and talking with someone and need to crack open a laptop to show some data, it feels about as natural as a waiter using a toaster oven to serve a bagel. With an iPad, it's as natural as handing someone a plate.
Twice in the last week I've heard C-level, Fortune 500 IT execs, in very different businesses, paint a very convincing picture of a tablet's appeal in these kinds of one-on-one business conversations. When you're sitting across from someone, a laptop creates a visual wall, where the other person can't see what you're doing. Not a great atmosphere for building trust and opening communications.
I offered some of these thoughts in one of InformationWeek’s e-mail newsletters this week, and I got some excellent reader responses. Here's one from Dave Sherry, a network architect (who emphasizes that he's "not anti-Apple, just anti-hype"):
If a laptop is for content creation and a tablet is good for content consumption, then they are not a good mix for collaboration because the communication channel is only one way … -- without equal content creation power, it's not collaboration but rather pontification and exposition. … About the only use an iPad has in business is to bring a copy of a presentation closer to the user, carry handout material etc. All one way communication. Oh but wait, isn't that what execs use smart phones and PDAs for? Good lord, could it be the iPad is just a very pretty... glossy... shiny... big... uh PDA?
Here's another from Randy Schmidt, an IT pro who finds the netbook a better option for mobile work, including volunteer work creating PowerPoints to teach a Sunday school class. He finds it plenty easy to hand the netbook back-and-forth, and notes it can handle PowerPoint well and run multiple apps at a time. Writes Schmidt:
The biggest drawback I see to tablets is your analogy to the sales guy. Most apps that companies market have not been built for the tablet (right click, left click, scroller, etc.). Most apps I see are built for Windows. And they don’t work on anything other than a Windows-powered tablet. And Windows does not work efficiently on a tablet because it was not designed for that technology (despite what Ballmer has said for the last 2 years). A tablet is best used for apps that are designed for it. Otherwise it is a clunky round peg in a square hole. To me tablets are a craze that are trying to create a need. Try typing on one for a little while. Banging fingertips on a glass pane is like pounding nails into a board with your fingers. It’s not natural or healthy. It’s like trying to watch a wide screen movie on a 1.5 inch cell phone screen (and do people REALLY do that?)
What do you think?
The tablet won't meet anywhere close to every business computing need, and our data shows some real skepticism that they'll replace a significant number of PCs. I tend to agree it won't replace a lot of business PCs. But it seems clear as gorilla glass that they're going to take hold in business, as an additional tool. These kind of close, one-on-one collaboration sessions are one good reason why.
Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek.
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