Wednesday, April 30, 2014

‘Touch and go’ at the office

You’ve got a tablet device on your desk at the office. Is it just for checking emails, presenting some slides for a meeting or some light ‘office entertainment’?

Well, maybe it’s time to consider the possibilities of proper office productivity with tablets. In fact, it seems the latest wave of business software for tablets could make you consider replacing your laptop with a tablet soon.

When Microsoft finally launched Office for iPad at the end of March this year, it achieved over 12 million downloads in its first week and has been going strong since. It seems we are witnessing the dawn of the office software revolution for tablets.

Microsoft's productivity apps—Excel, PowerPoint, Word and OneNote—are available as free downloads, but to do anything other than ‘viewing your files’ you will need a subscription to Office 365 which starts at $100 per year for Office Home Premium, whereby you get the right to use Office on up to 5 PCs, plus 5 tablets (Windows or iPad), the iPhone, and Android phones.

That’s quite a spread of devices! Clearly, Microsoft realizes users now work through ‘multi-screens’ and it seems it will finally get its act together to follow users wherever they decide to take their work.

The last couple of years have shown that users will not wait for software giants, like Microsoft, to catch up. Before Microsoft Office, the iPad and iPhone were served by good office suites, especially Apple's iWork Suite, which is free.

On Android, Microsoft Office is still not available, but it’s coming. Again, there are several other application suites that have filled the void. Among the most popular is Hancom Office, which includes an interface similar to PCs and enables users to open, edit, create and save a wide range of file types including most Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

On Windows 8 Tablets, as you would expect, Microsoft has actually had a version of Office for some time. Office 2013 RT is quite popular and has already helped make Windows tablets- with the rubber keyboards- a viable replacement for laptops.

What all of this means is that IT departments in business organizations should expect and prepare for the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) phenomena to continue and to grow. Embracing the arrival of tablets in the workplace is the only way forward.

Worldwide annual tablet shipments are expected to top 120 million by 2015, according to ABI Research. It is expected that over 20% of companies in the US and Europe have already formally deployed tablets with the rest to soon follow.

Choosing between a laptop and a tablet is, for now, a case of data-entry versus data-access. To get any serious productivity in data entry, a keyboard is still necessary, which means a laptop is the choice. Whereas to quickly access information or emails when you’re on the move, a tablet with its light weight and long battery life is ideal.

Additionally, enterprises are beginning to see the mobile tablet as a tool to improve the way they do businesses. Studies show tablets provide better responsiveness to customers and co-workers. Apparently, tablets also improve employee satisfaction because they are 'cool looking' and 'fun to use' device. Tablets are good for employee morale.

Speaking of the devices, it is important to select tablets that provide sufficient power for business functionality. With Apple tablets, it’s easy. The latest iPad is powerful enough to serve business users for two years or so. Priced at $700 for the Wi-Fi 64GB version, and $830 for the Wi-Fi and 3G version, it seems reasonable.

As for Windows tablets, the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 provides the specifications required to run Office well for some time to come. It is a tablet with the power of a laptop, but is somewhat expensive at $900 for a 64Gb model. With a high-quality 10.6-inch screen and a powerful Intel Core i5 processor, the Surface Pro 2 could even be a n upgrade from your current laptop.

In the Android domain, the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro looks to be a winner with its 12.2 inch high quality screen and Quad-Core processor. It’s quite light, despite its size, comes with a stylus pen, and can run for almost nine hours between charges. It’s priced at around $650. If you already use an Android-based smartphone, you will feel immediately familiar with an Android tablet for business.

So, what remains for IT managers in our region is to await proper Arabic language support for office software, before jumping on the tablets bandwagon. Currently, Microsoft Office for iPad supports 29 languages, but Arabic was not one of them at the time of launch. But it’s coming, in Arabic for all platforms.

That’s why now is the ideal time to establish an ‘enterprise tablet’ strategy before your staff and competitors catch you unprepared.

Twiter: @zeidnasser

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