Powering Your Small Business With Tablet Devices¹
For a growing number of small business owners, tablet devices are an increasingly important part of their company's technology toolbox. Tablet devices, the fastest-growing segment of the PC market, present a convenient way for small business owners to get work done and stay in touch while they are on the road, or need to perform basic business tasks quickly.
While not as powerful as a full-featured laptop, the latest tablets are coming closer in terms of performance and, because they are more portable, offer a good alternative to carrying a laptop around all day.
According to a survey, nearly three-quarters of responding small business owners say they own or plan to acquire at least one tablet device for their company. Tablets may not replace laptops among small business owners, but they are likely to play a growing role in many companies.
Picking a Platform
While the price and features of specific tablet devices are important considerations, the deciding factor in choosing the best tablet device for your small business will probably center on the operating system and the applications that have been developed for it.
Apple's iPad continues to lead the tablet market, and its iOS operating system offers the largest number of business-related applications for mobile productivity.
The open-source Android operating system offers an alternative ecosystem with applications that may be better suited for some small businesses. Leading Android devices include Samsung's Galaxy Tab tablet, and the company's Galaxy Note smartphone (which features a large screen and is designed to bridge the gap between tablets and mobile handsets).
Amazon's Kindle Fire is a seven-inch tablet device that runs on the Android operating system and features a color screen that makes it an affordable alternative to a full-featured tablet. The Fire is designed to perform basic computing tasks such as checking email, web surfing and watching online video. The Fire can also be used as a presentation device, and a number of specialized business apps (such as point-of-sale) have been released for the device.
A good starting point in choosing a tablet ecosystem is considering the applications you use on your laptop or desktop, and seeing which tablet device offers the widest compatibility with the tools you already depend on.
Tablet devices offer a convenient alternative to laptops or desktops when you need to perform common tasks including checking email, accessing the web, taking notes, or delivering presentations.
The growing use of web-based cloud computing apps by small business is further promoting the popularity of tablet devices, with many cloud applications releasing companion apps that allow you to access services and data on your tablet device.
Similarly, a number of tablet-based productivity suites allow you to draft, edit or access common formats such as word processing files, spreadsheets and presentations on your portable device. These suites allow you to increase your productivity while you are away from the office, without having to boot up your laptop.
Another important consideration in choosing a small business tablet device is going to be the device's mobile conductivity features.
The latest tablet devices offer 4G wireless broadband access, allowing you to remain connected and productive from nearly anywhere. There are also a number of tablet devices that offer 3G wireless broadband, and all tablet devices offer Wi-Fi networking.
Using Wi-Fi allows you to get online without having to rely on a 4G or 3G connection, but Wi-Fi hotspots are not universally available and can create security challenges for your mobile device.
If you are planning to use your tablet device to access or store sensitive business information, it's a good idea to consider the security features of any device you are considering.
While the security threats associated with tablets are not as common or severe as those with laptops, many security pros expect tablet-related security threats to grow as the devices become more common.
Business owners should look for operating systems that offer automatic encryption of data stored on the device (encryption is standard on Apple's iOS and later versions of the Android operating system). Similarly, the ability to remotely lock the tablet device can be helpful, as can remote data erasing features that allow you to remove data from a tablet that has been lost or stolen.
It's also important to ensure that you only install applications from your operating systems authorized application marketplace to reduce the threat of accidentally installing malicious software on your portable device.
Your tablet device's built-in camera can be a surprisingly versatile small business productivity tool. In addition to allowing you to participate in video conferences and to use online collaboration applications, your tablet device's camera can also be useful as an impromptu document scanner that lets you capture business card or receipt data on the road. The latest devices include cameras that match the image quality of mid-level point-and-shoot digital cameras.
While tablet devices are versatile on their own, a growing number of hardware accessories have been developed to provide additional functionality to small business owners. When considering a tablet device, it's also good to look into the availability of accessories such as point-of-sale stands, barcode scanners, and other peripherals that may help you meet industry-specific data input needs more efficiently.
For business owners that plan to input a great deal of text on the road, purchasing a Bluetooth keyboard can be a valuable accessory that makes typing easier than it would be on the tablet device's virtual, on-screen keyboard.
Similarly, many tablet devices include Bluetooth connectivity that allows you to use wireless headsets with conferencing or collaboration apps.
By taking some time to investigate your needs and comparing the array of software applications and hardware accessories, you'll be better able to choose a tablet device that supports your small business needs effectively.