Magazine Article | February 23, 2012

The Tablet Revolution Has Arrived

Source: Xplore Technologies

By Mark Holleran, president and CEO, Xplore Technologies,

Thank you, iPad, for making tablets the most-wanted form factor.

The tablet revolution is finally here. Tablet computers have been a niche in the computer market for more than 20 years, but many have anticipated the tablet’s acceptance as a mainstream device. In 2005, Microsoft introduced the first enterprise tablet computer, with Bill Gates boldly declaring that the tablet was the future of mobile computing. Around the same time, industry researchers at the Gartner Group foresaw the future popularity of tablets. Both of these predictions were right, but they were premature. It wasn’t until 2010, with the release of Apple’s iPad, that we have seen a huge acceptance of the tablet as a viable form factor. This has caused a paradigm shift in the PC business. We no longer need to explain what a tablet is, because everyone wants one.

Today, tablets are the most popular platform in both the consumer and enterprise marketplace because of their wireless capability and the fact that they are an all-in-one solution. Many of us in the rugged tablet industry recall when one of our primary selling points was our ability to provide mobile communications through radios built into our units. Today that remains a selling point, but now our tablets connect to 3G and 4G wireless networks that have both the bandwidth and speed to support mobile devices, allowing users to send and stream pictures, videos, and large files in a cost-effective way. Adding Bluetooth and advanced wireless capabilities into one piece of hardware reduces the need to carry a myriad of devices. Tablets are able to replace the PC, the cell phone, and the two-way radio because we can now incorporate all of these communications devices into one form-factor design.

Additionally, tablets are in demand because, frankly, they are the most mobile form factors and they physically align with the way we, as human beings, operate. While a keyboard and mouse can be connected to most tablets for use at a workstation, data is easily input by touching the screen with a hand, digitizer pen, or even a gloved hand in extreme weather or hazardous conditions. The tablet is instant-on and is easy to carry and operate with one hand while the other hand is free.

The popularity of the tablet is also increasing the number of applications and amount of software being created for tablets. Huge application providers and software developers are now developing the software needed for pen- and touch-based functionality. And while some tablets only support fun, small applications like those designed for cell phones, most tablet PCs are powerful enough to support heavy-duty software designed for huge files and large amounts of data, just like a notebook computer. This enables companies to deploy field workers with tablet computers and increase their efficiency by operating custom software designed for their specific industry.

The Touch Screen Overtakes The Keyboard
Advancements in touch screens have made tablets a viable option to replace notebook computers. Because of the popularity of multi-touch on smartphones, people want advanced multi-touch capabilities on tablets as well. They want to be able to touch and flip through screens, or pinch and zoom to enlarge what they see. As a result, the needed software development is finally catching up.

Not only is the tablet market trendy at the moment (around 80 new tablets were introduced last year), but now everyone wants to say their computers are rugged as well. Obviously, as tablets are used in more and more situations, there are those that require certain protections from the harsh environments they may be placed in.

Tablets bring the benefit of being easily mounted in vehicles as well as stationary areas. The tablet computer's ability to be easily mounted can provide a significant reduction in the total cost of ownership. For example, in a typical warehouse about 10% to 20% of forklifts may be down for maintenance, charging, etc., and tablets can be easily removed from their docking systems and placed onto other forklifts, so that tasks are still carried out. Costly down time due to docking systems that don't allow device removal can be significantly reduced or completely eliminated.

Mobile workers in the field have long known and appreciated the benefits of both rugged notebooks and rugged tablet computers to assist them in their jobs. Just as the laptop (notebook) computer's explosion in popularity with consumers in 1995 opened up the world of rugged notebook computers, so the current popularity of consumer tablets is driving the increased acceptance of the tablet form factor today. The only difference is that rugged tablets have been in field use for the past 15 years. And now, thanks to the consumer acceptance of tablets, many other field workers will begin to experience the benefits of rugged tablets in their enterprises.