While there is a lot of hype behind tablet computers, they are already doing a worthwhile job in many niche areas. And the advent of Windows 8 may see even wider uptake
The popularity of tablet computers is all-too evident. Rarely a week goes by without a tablet-related announcement from a hardware manufacturer or mobile network operator. And while sales of conventional desktops and laptops are declining or flat, sales of tablet computers are booming.
Just short of a million (959,000) were sold in the UK in the last quarter of 2011, of which 807,500 were iPads, according to data gathered by analyst firm Context. The three months from October to December are naturally retail-dominated, but many of these devices will be used in a corporate environment, whether the firms their owners work for operate an explicit bring-your-own policy or not.
Industry watcher IDC forecasts tablet shipments will grow from 19.5 million units in 2010 to 124.8 million in 2014.
Tablets are often toted by executives in meetings, with extra cool points awarded for carrying the new iPad. But are these devices doing real work beyond boosting their users’ egos? Are tablets enabling people to work in new ways, or are they just a new platform for the same things information workers have always done? Can a tablet replace a laptop?
Healthcare is one of the areas to which the tablet format naturally lends itself. It makes sense for nursing staff to have mobile access to detailed patient records as they roam a hospital campus. A tablet can take the place of a conventional clipboard and pen.
But that immediately presents problems. Even the sleek lines of the latest tablet computer afford crevices in which germs lethal to vulnerable patients can lurk. And they can hardly be swabbed down with disinfectant.
Furthermore, confidential patient data is not something that should be carried around on an unsecured iPad. And devices bearing the Apple logo used in public places like hospitals are prime targets for thieves. Nevertheless, the NHS buys thousands of tablet computers, many of them from Motion Computing.
“For the last 18 months the tablet phenomenon has been driven by consumers, but Motion is 180 degrees in the other direction,” Nigel Owen, EMEA general manager and senior vice president of sales at Motion told Computing.
Unlike most of the iPads wielded in meeting rooms, Motion’s specially built products are highly integrated into back-office systems, and often incorporate peripheral goodies, such as a smart card reader, which make it difficult for a casual thief to access patient data. The devices are semi-rugged and can be wiped down with disinfectant.
Community healthcare workers are a obvious candidates to use tablets. Northern Devon Healthcare Trust has teamed up with specialist software developer NDL to roll out mobile apps to around 800 community nurses and therapists.