Choosing a Small Business Tablet
Now that you know about the different options, how do you go about actually selecting a tablet that makes sense for your small business? (Assuming you decided that you need one).
While hardware matters, the app ecosystem is likely the first factor that you need to consider. As part of the app considerations, you need to understand what you're already using in your small business.
Question #1: What smartphone platforms do you and your staff use?
In the case of the Blackberry Playbook, having a Blackberry smartphone is currently essential to getting the full Playbook experience. If you're not using a Blackberry, than going with the Playbook isn't practical.
With Android, the complexity surrounding version numbers (especially Android 2.x vs. 3.x) makes the issue of which phone you have a little less relevant, though it's still important. Again, if you and your team are already using Android smartphones and are comfortable with the experience, than Android tablets are a good first place to look.
The Cisco Cius tablet.
(Click for larger image).
The HP TouchPad is also attached to a smartphone, namely the Palm Pre device. If you happen to have a Pre, than the TouchPad is a good first tablet to consider.
Question #2: How much battery power do you need in a day?
Apple's iPad sets the bar of tablet life with a 10 hour battery. While that may sound like lots, many small business users work significantly longer days. So after 10 hours the only choice with an iPad is to plug it in until you can recharge.
In contrast, with both the Cisco Cius and Toshiba Thrive you can remove the battery and replace it with a fresh one, which could extend total working time to 16 hours or more.
Question #3: Do you need Flash?
The Apple iPad does not run Adobe Flash. If your small business must access sites or applications that only run with Flash, you should avoid the iPad as it will become a source of never-ending frustration.
That said, since Apple has sold millions of iPads, there is no shortage of apps and websites that conform to the next generation HTML5 specification and can deliver Flash-like experiences without actually using Adobe Flash. Also from an App developer perspective, Apple does allow Adobe's AIR, which is essentially a Flash runtime to be embedded inside of apps. That means that if a developer really wants to, they can just go the AIR route, build a native iPad app and deliver the same experience.
Apple's competitors (and retail store clerks) will often harp on the fact that other tablets run Flash. It's a question you need to answer, but it doesn't necessarily mean that an iPad is an inferior device. Ultimately it's about what you do or dont need to make your small business more efficient.
Question #4: 3G or Wi-Fi?
Your smartphone likely has both 3G and Wi-Fi on it (and if it doesn't, it should). Having both gives your small business the true benefits of mobility -- you can go (almost) anywhere and still remain connected.
Some smartphones and some carriers let you use your smartphone as a wireless hotspot. That means you can you use your phone (with its 3G connectivity) to give access to your tablet wherever you may be. The problem is that not all carriers allow that kind of sharing, and it also can potentially be more expensive than simply buying a separate 3G plan for your tablet.
If you have a Wi-Fi-only tablet and your smartphone doesn't have data sharing (and/or it's not cheap), then you can use the tablet only at your business and in places that offer Wi-Fi. In contrast with 3G, you the potential to always be connected, which might be the difference between the tablet being a device that improves your efficiency, or not.
Take The Practical Approach
First make sure you understand why you're buying the tablet and where it will fit into your small business. Don't buy it for hype's sake. It's a business tool, and when properly used it could help to improve efficiency -- and make you more money.
When choosing a tablet, remember that you're not just buying a piece of hardware, you're buying into a whole mobile ecosystem that includes and relies on apps.
For better or for worse, Apple's iPad is the leader today, and if you buy any other tablet the first question anyone will ask you is: Why didn't you buy an iPad? If you can answer that question and the ones earlier in this buyer's guide, you and your small business will be well on the way to a successful tablet deployment.
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