A personal iPad or tablet of your choice — for everyone. That was what Financial Times Group CEO John Ridding told 1,800 employees last November. The company decided to hand out a US$480 bonus to “encourage all our staff to be expert and experienced in using [tablets].”
It is perhaps understandable for a media company to encourage the use of the newfangled devices. The FT has developed an iPad application for its flagship newspaper and made £1 million from ad sales off that app in the six months from its launch in May last year.
Then there is SAP, the German business enterprise software maker. “We have taken the view that it’s the absolutely right thing to roll out a thousand iPads across the organisation, so that a customer-facing person can take this iPad and show some customer applications,” says Colin Sampson, Senior VP and CFO for Asia Pacific & Japan.
“It’s a very powerful message when you get in front of a customer with a very light, easy-to-carry device and say, ‘Hey, look at what you can do for an executive on the run.’”
Factors to Consider
The Financial Times and SAP are among the early adopters. Many more companies are likely considering investing in tablets for their customer-facing staff and other employees – and their CFOs will, of course, be part of the decision.
Should you say yes? There are several factors to consider. Tablets are not cheap. The Financial Times is estimated to have spent US$864,000 on the subsidies. There are also issues around security, running costs, applications and features.
Don’t forget the growing number of brands and models, which have different sizes, weights and technical specifications.
Then there is the question of whether the company needs tablet devices at all. While smaller and lighter than mobile computers, high-end tablets can cost more than a middle level business laptop – but have less computing power and fewer features. The iPad has no USB port or a replaceable battery, for example.
Note, too, that a tablet is not a replacement for a computer. Indeed, you will need a desktop, laptop or netbook to download, upload and update files and applications Nor can it entirely replace a mobile phone, although you can use a tablet to call other people through Skype. The two exceptions are the Samsung Galaxy and the Dell Streak, which function both as a tablet and a rather oversized phone, and do not need to be plugged into a computer to download or upload files and apps.
Still interested? We put together some of the important considerations for choosing which tablet may be the most appropriate and useful for your organization.
How Much Is It?
Tablets come in a variety of prices, depending on storage capacity (from 16GB to 64GB for the iPad), connectivity (wifi only or wifi and 3G) and other features. Below is a rundown of the models available or due to be launched in Asia:
- Apple iPad 1 and iPad 2: US$498 to US$830
- BlackBerry PlayBook: US$499 to US$700
- Dell Streak: US$550 to US$705
- Motorola Xoom: US$799
- Samsung Galaxy Tab: US$600
For business use, we estimate that a company will need to pony up an additional US$900 or more per user for peripherals and services, including:
- 3G access, 36 months (US$15/month): US$553
- Expandable memory, MicroSD card, 32GB: US$75
- Virtual Public Network (VPN) license, per user/year: US$50
- Basic productivity app licenses, per user/year: US$50
- HDMI connector (iPad): US$39
- Security tracking service, 3-year plan: US$139
(e.g. *CompuTrace LoJack for Laptops)
Large and Clear
Since a big part of the tablet’s appeal is its ability to show still and moving images and zoom in on tiny details, the screen size and resolution should be a key consideration in choosing which tablet to buy for companies in media, fashion, architecture and design, hospitality and hotels, luxury cars and fine wine, among others.
The iPad has a 9.7-inch screen, while the Samsung Galaxy has a 7-inch screen (the same size as the BlackBerry Playbook, which is due to be released in the U.S. and Canada on April 19). The Dell Streak is the smallest at 5 inches. The Motorola Xoom boasts the biggest screen at 10.1 inches. Samsung plans to launch a 10.1-inch version on June 6 and an 8.9-inch model "in early summer."
In terms of resolution, the iPad’s is comparable to High Definition TV video. Its screen shows images at 1024x768 pixels (132 dpi), which is finer than that of the Blackberry PlayBook.
The Galaxy Tab, which is smaller in size, has a lower resolution than either the iPad or the PlayBook, at 1024x600. But the 8.9-inch and 10-inch screen models will have a resolution of 1280x800 pixels (160 dpi). The Dell Streak, again, lags behind with a resolution of just 800x480 pixels.
The champion in size and resolution is the Motorola Xoom, which boasts a superior resolution of 1280x800 pixels and a 10.1-inch screen. The Xoom is not yet available in Asia, however.
While slightly smaller and with less rich resolution than the Xoom, the iPad is the champ at scrolling and interface animation, which are important in sales and product presentations. Still and moving images of products and services appear more sleek and impressive on the iPad as a result. In comparison, the Galaxy Tab tends to stutter in its scrolling and animation.
The downside for the iPad (both version 1 and 2) is that it doesn’t display Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight animations, which designers often use. It also doesn’t support expandable memory, nor does it have a USB port, precluding use of USB sticks to download and upload files.
This makes moving files to and from the iPad rather annoying, as all transfers have to be performed through synchronisation with its proprietary iTunes store on a computer. On the Galaxy, you can drag and drop files from the USB stick to the tablet and vice versa; you can also play Flash animations.
Tablet in the Pocket
Screen size is directly correlated with portability, which is a key consideration for certain companies. Doctors are said to be partial to the Dell Streak, for example, because its smaller size and weight (227 grams) make it compact enough to fit into a lab coat pocket.
Relative to the Streak, the two Apple tablets are heavy blocks by comparison. The iPad 1 weighs in at 680 grams, while the iPad 2 is just a bit lighter at 600 grams, about the same as the Galaxy Tab. On the other hand, those with big hands will find it easier to send email on the bigger tablets than on the Streak.
Still, the Streak’s portability is a plus in the medical field (and in mining, fisheries and other industries requiring travel to remote places). Leveraging on its foothold in providing IT infrastructure to hospitals, Dell says it has designed the Streak to allow configurations that give the user quick access to the hospital’s electronic medical records and lab results.
The tablet can also be configured to hold passwords and security keys. The encrypted data is stored in the cloud, housed in a data centre operated by the hospital or by Dell, which minimizes the security risks in the event the Streak is lost or stolen.
Running on Empty
One downside for the Streak: the battery charge could be exhausted in half a day of use, including talk time. It’s a shortcoming the Streak shares with the Galaxy. But both devices have an external power source, so users can buy extra batteries for continued usage.
Tablets powered by internal batteries such as the iPad can be used for longer, but the battery cannot be replaced, only recharged.
Most tablets have a considerably longer battery life than laptops, making them ideal for use onboard a plane or when working away from the office for a full day. The Xoom and the iPad boast the longest runtime of the currently available tablets, at around ten hours.
Multitude of Tasks
Battery life, operating system, processor random access memory (RAM) and storage size are important for running word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications, not to say enterprise software suites like customer relationship management and financial reporting.
But because the iPad 1 comes only with 256 MB RAM, the factory-installed operating system was not able to support multi-tasking – users needed to exit an application before they could open another. If users download an upraded OS, however, they will be able to have limited multi-tasking. The iPad 2 allows limited multi-tasking, too, with a bigger 512 MB RAM (the same as the 7-inch Galaxy) and an upgraded operating system.
It is the Motorola Xoom that boasts true multi-tasking. It has 1 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal memory (with the option to add 32 GB more via an SD card slot), a USB port, and it runs on the Android 2.2 platform with a 1GHz processor. The yet to be released PlayBook and 10.1-inch Galaxy will have 1 GB RAM and other similar features too.
Unlike the iPad, Xoom, Galaxy and most other tablets support Flash applications. This means that they can run business applications like SAP BusinessObjects OnDemand, which uses a mixture of Flash and HTML.
However, for the sheer number of apps available for use, the iPad still rules. As of March this year, there are at least 350,000 apps officially available on Apple’s App Store, both paid and free. The Google-administered Android Market, which can be accessed by users of smart phones and tablets on the Android platform, has some 250,000 apps. Additional apps can be downloaded from the just-launched Amazon Appstore for Android.
Unfortunately, not all of the apps in the Android markets can be used universally, according to some users, who say that apps meant for a particular tablet cannot be used by another Android device. Usage is further limited by which country the user is in, they add.
Would-be users of the BlackBerry PlayBook will have even more limited options – the BlackBerry App World only has some 15,000 apps. Even then, the PlayBook will not be able to download all of them because it will run on a new operating system. Research in Motion (RIM), the tablet’s maker, says the PlayBook will be able to download 4,000 of those 15,000 apps when the device is launched.
Viruses and Detonators
Security, of course, is a key concern for all companies, although perhaps in varying degrees.
Google says that apps that violate its policies are removed, but while it has some internal measures to identify offenders, it “largely relies on users to rate apps and raise the alarm about any problems with them,” reports the Journal.
Because it doesn’t have external ports, the iPad is protected from viruses that may be uploaded via USB flash drives and SD cards. Users of the other tablets will have to be vigilant about the provenance and content of the thumb drives and cards they plug into their devices, including would-be buyers of the PlayBook, which will have a microUSB port.
All of the tablet models allow users to set a password, although some may not activate this feature because of the inconvenience. Most devices also allow the user to remotely ‘detonate’ their contents in case of loss.
The iPad, for example, has a Remote Wipe feature. So long as the owner has a MobileMe account, the tablet can be instructed to erase the information it contains and to reset the device to its original factory settings. If the iPad is later found, the same MobileMe account can restore email, contacts, calendars, and bookmarks.
The BlackBerry PlayBook touts more security features. It will work in tandem with a proprietary BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and Network Operations Center to make sure that data sent to and from the tablet will be encrypted in transit and cannot be decrypted outside of the corporate firewall.
RIM claims that the tablet’s inbuilt Bluetooth device will allow the tablet to connect with a variety of devices in a highly secure manner. In addition, files handled or viewed on the device are only temporarily cached on it, and are automatically cleared once the tablet is closed.
So which device is most appropriate for your company? It will depend on how you envision the tablet will be used for. The iPad, for example, is the current tablet of choice among fashion and other lifestyle enterprises, which are apparently attracted by its sexy design, fine resolution and top-notch scrolling and animation.
Thus, fashion icon Burberry gave iPads to its in-store customers, allowing them to immediately buy the label’s new collection of clothes during a private viewing at London’s Fashion Week. Burberry stores in 16 countries will now offer customers the use of an iPad to browse for clothes.
That’s not to say that the iPad is the only option for customer-facing devices. When the Xoom and the 10.1-inch Galaxy are finally available in Asia, they can certainly be considered for sales, marketing and presentation purposes.
If portability and communications are the priorities, then the Dell Streak and Samsung Galaxy phones-cum-tablets are probably the best bets. As an aside, note that it is only the Streak that is able to support 4G (similar to broadband-speed connections but through a cellular network) at this time, although most tablets promise 4G capabilities in the future.
For companies that wish to give executives access to business applications software on the road while making sure security is not compromised, the PlayBook may be the more robust option.
What if the decision is not to equip staff with tablets at all? Some companies may decide that presenting the actual products, rather than a digitised version, is the way to go. Others may not want the hassle of maintaining yet another slew of IT devices, in addition to servers, desktops, laptops, smart phones and other existing devices.
That will still not get companies off the hook. Technology research provider Gartner advises executives to seriously evaluate the capabilities of tablets within their organisation, as the new devices can potentially be disruptive to the business models and markets of many enterprises.
Since individuals are willing to buy iPads and other tablets and use them in the work environment, regardless of their company’s existing IT infrastructure, enterprises should be ready to support them, Gartner argues.
“Organizations need to recognise that there are soft benefits in a device of this type in the quest to improve recruitment and retention,” adds Stephen Prentice, Gartner Fellow and Vice President.
“Even if you think it is just a passing fad," he asserts, "the cost of early action is low, while the price of delay may well be extremely high."
About the Author
Angie Mak is Online Editor at CFO Innovation