In just a few short years, tablets have grown from a popular consumer device and accessory into an integral part of many business applications. Much has been written about features and options available on today’s tablets, but much of this information has been geared toward consumers rather than the business community.
Businesses have special needs to take into consideration when purchasing a tablet. Because there are so many factors to consider, making the selection can be difficult. Below are some guidelines to make the process easier:
1. Make a list of the business activities you hope to perform on the tablet. This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people pick the coolest tablet first and then try to figure out how they can use it!
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If there are nearly identical businesses already performing the same tasks, take note of the software applications and tablets that they are using. Do they meet your needs as well?
If the tablet will be used to perform one specific task, such as collecting data from store shelves, entering contacts at a trade show or taking orders in a restaurant, you may find that there are service providers that already offer a turnkey solution for both hardware and software. This may cost a little more up front, but will probably save you in the long run.
3. Identify any existing software applications that you hope to run on the tablet. If there are tasks that you don’t currently have software for, look for specific applications that will best meet your needs. If you plan to take payments on the device, select a preferred provider such as Square or PayPal.
4. Once you know the software applications you want to run on your tablet, do some research or contact your software vendor to identify which operating systems each application will run on.
Based on this information, identify the operating system you prefer. This will most likely be one of the following:
- Android (Google)
- iOS (Apple)
- Windows 8 (Microsoft)
This step alone may eliminate many of the tablet choices. For example, if you want to run Microsoft Excel on your tablet with the ability to easily make and save edits, a tablet with an Android or iOS operating system might not be the best choice. Likewise, you may want to run some Apple applications, like Pages, that aren’t available on the other two (but note that in Pages, you cannot edit Word and Excel documents).
5. Next, identify how large a screen you need for your specific business environment. Be sure to take into account the special needs of ALL of your users.
How will it be carried? Will they be sitting at a desk or using it while standing in a store? Do you have elderly users who may have problems viewing or entering data on a small device? Will they be using a separate tablet keyboard, typing on a screen keyboard, using a scanner, etc.?
6. Determine the environment that the tablet will be used in. Is it likely to be dropped? Will it get wet? Will it be exposed to extreme temperatures? While there are rugged tablets available for a price, protective sleeves or enclosures may be able to mitigate these issues.
7. The software applications and operating system will likely determine the processor and memory requirements. Review the specifications for your software before selecting a tablet. In some cases, you may want to add additional memory if you plan to store large amounts of data on the device. With an iPad, you’ll need to purchase a device with the memory you may ever need upfront, whereas Android options often allow for expandable memory.
8. Once you know the operating system, size, durability and processing requirements, survey the product offerings that meet these criteria. Narrow the selections down further after reviewing cost, availability and features.
An Android device like the Google Nexus starts at $199, while an Apple iPad starts at $329. Top-of-the-line iPads will cost over $800, while a more substantial Windows 8 machine can stretch to over $1,000.
9. The last step is to take the final contenders for a test drive. This is particularly critical for business owners who may be investing in multiple devices. If possible, ask the end users to try them out and provide feedback. They may come up with issues that you would have never considered. Ergonomic issues in particular are hard to predict.
Tablet computers can be a great tool for bringing the power of a laptop or desktop computer to the front lines of your business. Not only can they save you time and money, but they can also give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Selecting the best software first and then the best device to run that software will ensure the success of your project.
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