Small Office, Home Office Solutions

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Tablet PCs fast becoming a must-have technology among SMB and SOHO sets

By David Barbosa

Tablet PCs are hot and getting hotter, and the heat is particularly turned up in the small office/home office (SOHO) and small business markets.

There are a lot of reasons why tablets are poised to be a much-in-demand commodity for people who work from home, use their home as an extension of their office, or want a highly portable and flexible alternative to traditional notebook PCs.

One is the tablet\’s ease of use and compatibility with a wide range of business and personal applications. Apple’s iPad raised the bar in terms of tablet PC design and development, and primed the pump in terms of market demand. However, fast moving Google Android-based tablets present an attractive alternative to the iOS platform, especially as companies like Samsung and Dell unveil systems that are more affordable and every bit as capable.

Another reason is a tablet PC\’s visual and presentation abilities that make it perfect for presentations to clients and quick access to multimedia-rich files, which makes a tablet a perfect extension to a deskbound notebook PC. Add to this a multi-network capability – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and 3G/4G connectivity – and a tablet becomes your go anywhere, do anything PC alternative.

Sudden impact

In fact, tablet PCs are so popular, some analysts predict demand may increase and impact sales of traditional notebooks PCs much faster than previously expected – growing at 35% this year, while the PC market maintains roughly an 8% rate, says investment firm Goldman Sachs. As many as 54.7 million tablets may be shipped this year, which is an increase of more than 500% over 2010, notes the firm. And this isn’t even factoring in Microsoft, which is coming late to the game this year with tablets reportedly based on Windows 7 and an Intel processor optimized for mobile multimedia devices.

Just why are tablet PCs a perfect fit for SOHO and small business? For some of these answers, we turned to the small business forum on LinkedIN, a popular social networking sites used by businesses worldwide. One of the key attractions – other than the slick designs and extreme mobility of most tablets – is the fact that most will run standard PC-based office productivity applications, such as email, contacts, calendar and basic word processing.

The word processing part can be a bit tricky since tablet PCs rely mostly on virtual keyboards, which take some getting used to because there is no familiar tactile feel to the key images on the screen. With some practice, though, the learning curve is not too tough and you can create basic documents or edit lengthier manuscripts and files.

The fact that tablets are designed to make full use of the Web and wireless connections are a big plus for mobile executives and SOHO workers who may not want to carry heftier notebooks to appointments and business meetings. These systems are perfect for taking advantage of Web-based applications and accessing remotely-stored data, and may in fact be the perfect cloud-based systems, for the moment anyway.

A natural presentation tool

Another key benefit of tablets are their ability to function as presentation systems, allowing users to show all sorts of multimedia content, from graphs to video, to clients and potential customers. Tablets are a natural for such visual-presentation-dependent businesses as real estate, to show the latest listings, virtual walkthroughs, and even do quick credit checks on house and apartment hunters. Most have one or even two built-in cameras that can be used to capture property images for later reference and marketing.

Tablet PCs can also be used by people who deal with electronic forms, since the larger screen of most tablets can better represent the form’s image. Typical applications include insurance adjusters (where the built-in cameras also come into play), poll takers, event managers and government workers (who often deal with a flood of paperwork and both digital and paper documents). Doctors and healthcare professionals are also prime users since tablets that are designed with smaller screens and form factors (like the recently introduced Dell Streak 7) can easily slip into a doctor’s jacket pocket or be carried around with no more effort than a clipboard.

Tablet PCs also feature a lot of useful applications that are built-in and ready to go, or can be quickly downloaded and called to action. These include Google Voice, which can be a huge time saver in terms of voice transcriptions (or so says a forum tablet user); and social networking tools that fit well with the system’s portability and extreme user friendliness.

But, while new form factors and slick new designs are enticing to early adopters, for business users it is all about the applications. In this respect, tablet’s have it covered since there are a wide range of business-oriented applications that can do everything from manage your contact data base and schedules to driving multimedia demos and sales pitches.

Thus far, more than two million Apple iPads have been purchased by small business user in the U.S., making for an adoption rate of about 20%, according to a study conducted late last year by Techaisle, a market researcher. The study further states that iPad use is most prevalent in companies with 20-99 employees, and iPads in larger firms are being increasingly used for data capture by sales people and customer support personnel.

The study also notes that most early adopters of the iPad, and most likely competing tablet devices, are businesses that have transitioned or are transitioning to cloud computing environments – most likely because these organizations have a higher average number of PCs and smartphones being used in their day-to-day activities.

Despite the growth and enthusiasm surrounding tablets, however, they are expected to nicely co-exist with other business tools and technologies.

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