Part of me is really tired of the whole “tablets are for consumption” and “tablets will never be for real work” comments on the internet. It’s not that there are plenty of examples of people using their iPads for “real work”, the real issues is the same old arguments get brought out time and time again. Usually, they relate to a lack of power for the tablet or software limitations with the OS or similar.
Thanks to the Surface Pro and other Microsoft tablets and hybrids we know this isn’t true anymore. Furthermore, the 64 bit A7 processor on the iPad Air and Retina mini (whether they are being fully utilised yet or not) suggest that this certainly won’t be the case in the future across all ecosystems including Apple’s. Yet, we still tend to see the same arguments trotted out about the iPad for real work.
Interestingly enough, within this environment Lukas Mathis , a long time mac user, replaced his iPad for a Surface 2 so he could do have a tablet which could do “real work”. His articles touched on some important points but I want to go a bit deeper into the mindset behind these ideas and why for some people tablets will never be for “real work”.
What we Mean When we Say “Real Work”
One of the concepts that annoys me within the whole debate is this statement that “real work” can’t be done on an iPad. What it really means is a small subset of high power computing or tasks that require large screen space can’t be done on a tablet. It’s usually things like video editing, large database work, Data entry and so on. There are many people who use only an iPad for all their work. I know plenty of teachers who prepare their lessons, and use their iPads to project images, show off slides and make notes during lessons. Are they not doing “real work?”
What about the sales assistant (in a shop or car retail park) who uses their iPad to look up details of what is in stock and even carry out the purchase wherever they are in the store.
There are countless other examples where people are using their iPads to do they work they need and it just isn’t reported because it’s natural. In fact, Lukas even makes note of this fact in his article that there will be a point where the tasks can just be done on a tablet and so no one makes a deal of it. For many tasks this is already true so we shouldn’t belittle them into not being “real work”.
What a Tablet Is
At the same time, a tablet is a distinct concept and idea. It has a certain form factor and characteristics that come from that. These characteristics influence how people approach it and what they use it for. Some key ideas include.
- It has no built-in, permanently attached keyboard (but has a touchscreen keyboard instead)
- It is highly portable (both lightweight and long battery life)
- The User interface is designed primarily around touch
These characteristics can be a bit flexible but essentially they are they key ideas. There are Android tablets which come with keyboards but they can be taken off. The Surface can have a keyboard or cover which can be typed on but you don’t have to use it, it can function without one.
Some people don’t like some of these characteristics and so they will always criticise tablets but it doesn’t mean they can’t do the tasks. In some cases, these characteristics can hinder certain tasks.
Size is an awkward area at the moment. At first it was clear a tablet had to be around 10″ but since the Kindle and Nexus line took off and later the iPad mini it showed a smaller form factor was popular. Now we are seeing expansion in the other direction with Samsung’s larger Android tablets and Large Microsoft tablets.
However, unless we see huge tablets in the future, there are always going to be size limitations on tablets. These will have an impact on the work people will want to do on them. In some work settings Large screen space is vital and in these cases you aren’t going to want a tablet no matter how powerful it is or if it is 10″ or 12″.
One of the great features of tablets is that they are mobile but this helps create a mobile mindset. With a desktop, it is in one place and fixed there. This place becomes “the computer place” and many people use this to help insure they are more productive by entering a “work mindset” when they go to their desk. Is it any surprise that there is a subconscious effect even for those who don’t adopt this mindset?
The extreme mobility of tablets is even greater than the Laptop and make it a great device to use at any moment which crucially make it possible to consume media more on a tablet than on another form factor. For some this makes it appear like the tablet is a “consumption” device, because they enter a consumption mindset when they use it.
It also means that for tasks where you want to stay in one place for a long period of time it is strange to use a device built around mobility, and vice versa. This is not to say it is impossible nor that the mind set of those not use to our preconceptions built around computing will hold these ideas either but it’s worth baring in mind when people talk about doing “real work”.
Limitations in place and Improvements that would help
However, there are limitations built in to tablets, in particular iOS which make certain types of work harder to do. Lukas makes some great example cases where using two apps at once could be very useful. Note taking seems a great example but as Federicco Viticci points out, Samsung and Microsofts approaches haven’t exactly blown people away.
It is interesting to note that the common problems with the Surface is that it usually fails to be both a good tablet (it’s not mobile enough) nor is it a good enough work computer (ultra book) despite it’s great connections and full spec processor. The most successful Microsoft tablets have basically been good quality laptops that can stand well and the reasons they succeed is because they are good Laptops not because they are good tablets. Whereas the reverse is true of Android tablets, the smaller highly mobile tablets have been much more successful than the larger more powerful multitasking tablets (hi there Samsung Note 10.1″).
iOS could really use better cross app integration and better sharing between apps, it would certainly make certain tasks easier and extend the functionality of the iPad and allow people to do more tasks on their iPads in a simpler fashion. However, the arguments about using the iPad for “real work” will no doubt continue. Some people will never want to use a tablet (even if they could) and yet for many they already use the iPad for real work. I suspect I’ll have to continue to be annoyed by these arguments.
[Photo Credit: fox-orian via Compfight cc and morguefile]