Will Tablets Ever Replace Notebooks in the Enterprise?

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Will tablets replace the notebook in the enterprise?

That’s the question TechnologyGuide Executive Editor Jamison Cush asked panelists during a discussion at Go Mobile 2014, an enterprise mobility conference produced by Compass Intelligence.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The powerhouse panel, technically titled Enterprise Device Portfolio, A Review of Workforce Devices and Priorities (or as Cush helpfully translated, “the fun stuff, the gear, the toys”), featured high-level decision makers from Samsung, AT&T, and Vertical Communications, a telecommunications firm.

Alan Minney, AT&T’s Executive Director of Mobility Product Marketing kicked things off by claiming, “Our current view is that tablets aren’t quite yet there in terms of replacing notebooks.” He added, that while tablets are beneficial for knowledge workers, or field services and retail operations, “[they aren’t] quite there yet from a content creation perspective … when it comes time to actually build content, or develop content, or manipulate content, they’re not quite at that stage yet.”

Kevin Butler, Director of Product Management at Vertical Communications, agreed, adding, perhaps facetiously, “I think eventually they are going to get to a form factor where there is a screen on one side, and a hinge and keyboard on the other, and they’ll have the perfect tablet. That will be a laptop, basically.”

Samsung’s Director of Technical Account Management for the Business Innovations Group, Ben Simmons was quick to add that enterprise tablet success depends largely on the type of work being done.

“I think it depends on the job function of the person. Where we do see successful laptop replacements, is when the person does a job that can be done by a tablet.”

That includes jobs that can take advantage of large displays, communications technology and mobility, including visiting nurses, and those that perform line-of-business tasks.

What about the Note Pro?

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2But what about stylus-driven tablets? What about the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro series that debuted at CES 2014? After all, Samsung marketed the Note Pro as the tablet for getting things done.

“Even with our Note Pro series device, it has the keyboard, it has the S Pen, and you can do a lot more creation … but there is still that top user that’s going to need a laptop,” Simmons stated, later adding, “When people say they want to replace things with a tablet, usually what the enterprise means is that they want a laptop for $300.”

The problem of course is that once the business user outfits the tablet with all the accessories necessary for word processing, spreadsheet work, and other high-level content creation, it’s no longer just a $300 device.

Sounds like a Chromebook

There is a $300 device on the market that has a QWERTY and has proven both popular with users and useful – the Chromebook. As Cush claimed, “in my experience, talking to users, people who try Chromebooks are always shocked by how useful they are.”

ChromebookCould there be demand in the enterprise for a device like that? After all, Chromebooks share much of the same appeal as tablets. They typically have decent battery life, instant-on capabilities, lightweight operating system, and are inexpensive compared to notebooks. In fact, Samsung currently offers a Chromebook as part of its device lineup.

“There is some enterprise demand … education is the one vertical where it’s just exploded,” Simmons said.

Minney backed up the sentiment, likening the Chromebook to another low-powered computing device.

“We’ve said that it’s a little bit like the return of the netbook, because it’s a low-cost computing device, but a bigger form factor than the netbook.”

Pen Input

Whether it’s a notebook with a QWERTY or a Samsung tablet with an S Pen, what’s the difference in terms of what one can get done?

Not much, according to Cush. “On my smartphone, on my laptop, on my tablet, I can really do the same things. [The difference] is about pain points and input mechanisms.”

Butler expanded on that, and in doing so suggested there is plenty of room for both tablets and notebooks in the enterprise.

“The value proposition for the pen becomes when you are doing things you specifically should be doing with a pen. In my case, I took notes, and drawings, and diagrams – the kind of stuff I’d do on a piece of paper.”

“If you focus on what the pen, or what any other input mechanism is good at and use it for the application, that’s the success, It’s when you say we are going to make the pen a replacement for the keyboard, or voice a replacement for the keyboard … the keyboard does what it does really well. Leave it alone,” he added.

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