From The Editor | January 25, 2011

What's The iPad's Role In Field Service?


As a new year begins, it’s always interesting to see what technologies are at the top of the ‘buzz’ list. This year, tablet computers are receiving a fair amount of the hype. With the popularity of the iPad, tablets transitioned to a must have device for many consumers. But, what does this mean to the field service world? Some would argue that the iPad is going to make its way into the hands of field service workers. Others believe that field workers need a more rugged device, and that the only impact the iPad will have on the space is an increase in production of rugged tablet options based on the popularity of the form factor.



I came across an interesting discussion in a LinkedIn group recently where someone posed the question “Is the iPad the ultimate field worker device?” There were plenty of arguments made either way, but here are some of the points I found most interesting. One field service software developer mentioned the company’s decision to support the iPad based solely on customer demand. A user of the iPad mentioned, “I bought an iPad for business and personal use, and have put service manuals with schematics on the iPad. I think the sky is the limit on the potential uses of the iPad in the service industry.”

Tablets For Field Service Here To Stay
So, what about the flip side? One person said, “As a major fan of the iPad, this is an interesting question, but I’d say no — the iPad is not the ultimate device for field workers. What the iPad has done, however, is made people realize the tablet form factor is here to stay and could potentially transform field worker productivity.” Where does the iPad fall short of the ultimate field worker device? Most folks that commented ‘anti-iPad for field service’ deem it just isn’t rugged enough. For example, “I wouldn’t deploy iPads to field service workers for one reason — they’re not rugged. I’ve previously deployed Panasonic Toughbook handhelds and convertible laptop/tablets, and even they get broken. An iPad wouldn’t stand a chance in most field service scenarios.” Another important point was brought up — this debate depends largely on what type of field service work you’re referring to. While an iPad might not be sufficiently rugged for field service workers in certain environments, it could serve field sales and field supervisor titles just fine.

Who’s right? I tend to lean toward the latter argument. And, if the popularity of the tablet form factor withstands the test of time, I think we’ve only seen the beginning of the field-service built tablets rugged device manufacturers will bring to the table. But, you never know. Another commenter brought up an interesting point — “maybe a rugged iPad in a year or so?” Food for thought.