The rise of the tablet
Although smart phones and notebooks are still used heavily throughout government, tablets are rapidly gaining momentum.
According to the 1105 Government Information Group’s May 2012 survey, 58 percent of mobile device operators in government use tablets, 89 percent use smart phones, and 64 percent use notebooks. What's more, tablet use in government is expected to grow quickly over the next few years, in large part because of the devices’ versatility and lower cost (see Figure 1).
“I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation where you wouldn’t want to use one,” says Phil Simon, a frequent speaker and author of “The Age of the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google Have Redefined Business.” “They have applicability for executives, traveling employees, telework and field workers.”
At the 2012 Government Mobility Conference, Gartner Vice President and Distinguished Analyst Ken Dulaney outlined the reasons for the growing use of tablets. Tablet prices will fall to under $300 for entry-level units by 2013, and high-density screens will become mainstream. What’s more, the new Windows 8 operating system to be released in October could unify tablet and PC platforms within a year.
In addition, features on tablets continue to improve. More sensors, more powerful processors, better cameras and higher-resolution screens are coming soon.
Part of the reason for the expected uptick in tablet use is the rapid growth in activities other than e-mail, phone and calendaring on mobile devices throughout government. The survey found that accessing enterprise apps on mobile devices will rise by about 50 percent within two years. It also found that human resource applications such as talent management and workforce analytics would increase dramatically as well (see Figure 2).
Accessing enterprise apps such as financial reports is a much better user experience via the larger real estate and onscreen keyboard of a tablet rather than a smart phone, says Josh Sawislak, a senior fellow at the Telework Exchange, a public/private partnership focusing on the federal telework and mobile community.
“Tablets are ideal for reviewing and approving documents, accessing applications, taking notes in meetings, and anything that involves maps or graphics,” Sawislak says.
Tablets also can significantly increase the productivity of executives and managers. In addition to using the devices for approvals, reviewing e-mail and taking notes at meetings, they can even be used for decision-making when users are given the ability to access enterprise apps such as business intelligence and data on tablets.
However, the value extends beyond the corner office. Tablets have proven especially useful for field service personnel, many of whom must access large amounts of text, maps and other graphics-intensive applications. Building inspectors and construction managers, for example, need to consult detailed plans while on the job. Food inspectors must be able to access rules and regulations that would be difficult to read on a smart phone but in a form factor light enough to carry easily. The use cases are endless and include health care professionals, law enforcement officers, investigative teams and customer service personnel.
That’s not to say that tablets are appropriate for every kind of task and interaction — at least not yet. Although tablets are excellent for consuming information, they are less adept at creating information, such as full documents or complex analysis.
However, the ability to create content on a tablet will improve, Sawislak contends, as the notebook and tablet slowly begin to morph into one device that combines the best of both worlds. It’s already happening; some notebooks are now designed with the same type of solid-state hard drives that tablets use, and tablets are gaining highly sought-after features such as 4G wireless connectivity, more powerful operating systems, larger screens and high-definition displays.
Within five years, Sawislak expects the tablet and notebook to merge. When that happens, the resulting device will become the device of choice, he predicts.