It’s been a little more than 2 years since the Apple iPad launched and it’s been a winner. While the total tablet market is approaching 100M units shipped annually, Apple is closing in on selling 100M units itself (across all releases of iPad). While Apple’s iPad is not the only game in town, it seems that the Operating System War being waged in the Mobile Phone Theater, is also being fought in the Tablet Theater (see chart).
While it looks like the latest gadget that people need to have, let’s take a look to see if this is something that can be added to the tools of productivity in the workplace.
As I write this article sitting in a Peets coffee shop, looking around I see a few people clicking away on their laptops and a few folks with tablets. As far as I can tell by the hand and finger gestures, people are taking notes, reading email, surfing the web. More and more I see parents in restaurants using it as a babysitter, as kids watch videos, play games, or use it as an electronic drawing board to keep them quiet. On trains, planes and in stations and airports, I see people consuming content from their tablets. While I do a fair number of people tapping on the screen, presumably typing out emails, it’s really more of an index finger swiping motion that I most commonly see. Even if I look at how I use my tablets, I don’t think I input much more than a tweet or URL to a website.
Most of the scenarios that I have observed are about being entertained or participating in leisure activities. While I’m sure a fair amount of usage is reading documents and emails, I strongly believe that most people are consuming data and media, rather than generating it. If I translate this to the enterprise, this seems great for these types in an organization:
In some of the scenarios mentioned above, I don’t mention anything where a lot of user generated content or data entry is required. This strikes me odd behavior since one of the ideas behind a tablet is to replace the pen and paper notepad! So what’s the problem? Unfortunately, one of the most important interfaces, yet overlooked is the keyboard interface. While it is possible to have a soft keyboard, it still seems very immature and an afterthought. The stylus input is an enhancement, but not quite available for all tablets, yet. Since this is a critical barrier, how do we address this? I remember the days when I had my first Palm Pilot and I learnt Grafiti. Within a few days, I was able to write as fast as I could to take notes and organize my life. I didn’t feel that it encumbered my user experience, but gratifying that it was predictable and extremely accurate. But fast forward to today’s tablets. There have been a few companies who, today, are trying to address this key issue. Some ISVs who are tackling this challenge are SwiftKey and Swype (acquired by Nuance). Both companies have understood that this small, but critical part needs to be examined and greatly improved, if we are to continue using tablets and squeeze out more productivity from this form factor. Impeding my ability to type or reducing the user experience to simple tasks will diminish my need for a tablet and I will just wait and resort to my laptop.
While it doesn’t look like the tablet market will end any time soon, before you rush out to get a tablet for work, think about how you will use it for productivity and work. It’s a great media consumption device, but it almost feels that cranking out emails or documents might be better off reaching for my laptop with a tactile keyboard.