There are now three hardware platforms for personal business computing: PCs, smartphones, and tablets. The tablet's still a newcomer, but the iPad's popularity kicked off a wave of experiments in companies to learn where tablets can make employees more efficient or customers happier. Many IT shops are in the test-and-learn phase, with a dozen iPads here or a handful of Android tablets there. "CIOs are playing dodgeball when it comes to the use of tablets," says Kevin Hart, CEO of Tekserve, an Apple reseller. "The requests for these are coming from all over."
One use for tablets is for companies to put them in the hands of their customers, which is what Royal Caribbean is doing on its most recently remodeled cruise ship. Here we're not talking about creating a tablet app for customers, but actually giving them a device to use. A related customer use is encouraging tablet use while they're at your venue, whether it's a resort, baseball game, restaurant, or retail store.
Royal Caribbean this month will put iPads in every stateroom of its revitalized Splendour of the Seas cruise ship. Guests can check daily activities on the ship, book shore excursions, and receive personalized promotions from Royal Caribbean, based on analytics the company runs in real time during a cruise. Royal Caribbean has used interactive TVs to provide that kind of information, but iPads are a more intuitive and enjoyable way for guests to receive it, says CIO Bill Martin.
Giving tablets to customers (or encouraging their use) will be a difficult decision for many companies--do they enhance the experience, or distract from it? Some restaurants are experimenting with tablets in place of menus. That could come off as exciting and new--or tacky and out of place, depending on the venue. Even the question of whether to encourage customers to use their own iPads stirs debate. Sports stadiums are divided on whether to allow customers to bring tablets to a game--baseball's New York Yankees stadium bans them, while the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park provides free Wi-Fi. Giving customers a tablet, or encouraging their use, is a high-stakes call for companies.
2012 is the year companies will make big go or no-go decisions about these tablet pilot tests, to decide if a device designed for the consumer will work in businesses. Early adopters already are deploying tablets by the hundreds to sales teams. Waste Management hopes to decide this year if Android tablets are practical for use in the cabs of its 20,000-some garbage trucks.
What follows is a look at ways early adopters are putting tablets to use. (See our coverage of what tablet early adopters are learning.) This isn't about various iPad apps, nor is it about general purpose productivity, like checking email and documents. This is about putting tablets in the hands of employees and customers for specific purposes, and deciding where that makes business sense and where it doesn't, from sales to warehouses to boardrooms.