Picture by ThomasThomas, via Flickr

…no this post is not about the ‘swallow with water to augment human capabilities’ kind. But the answer is the same.

One of the biggest criticisms about tablet devices such as the iPad is that they are only good for consuming content, not for creating content. And it’s a fair argument. Particularly the high-end content creation activities such as video editing and software programming. However, they are not everyday activities for the majority of people in work.  For most people, content creation involves Microsoft Office or something similar. Word processing, spreadsheets and creating presentations.

Even for the everyday content creation tasks, a tablet struggles to compete with a traditional computer, desktop or portable.  My work kit comprises of a MacBook Air and iPad. If I could only take one on a work trip, it would be the MacBook Air. However on holiday, the iPad wins. A slim keyboard goes in the luggage just in case. But creating a detailed proposal is hard work on an iPad. However, I am increasingly using the two together. I find it easier to research and create visual layouts and concepts on the iPad but the MacBook Air wins when typing is required.

But that’s an argument about content creation, not productivity. Just how many of those documents being created everyday in the workplace help improve productivity?  How many of the reports get read from start to finish and are used to make an informed decision versus justify decisions already made. Maybe it’s time to start asking how much unstructured content really needs to be created, versus updating forms and applications on the go.

Whilst digital technologies continue to transform how we create, share and consume content, communicate with others and make decisions before acting, activities in most workplaces continue along traditional lines. People walking around with printed files that are out of date before they even get to the meeting. Notes being filed and forgotten. Hierarchy trumping evidence.

For tablets to have a real impact in the workplace from a productivity standpoint requires a rethink about what activities really matter in the workplace.

Thanks to ThomasThomas for the Flickr image used in this post


Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Great thought piece. If nothing else, it supports the concerns those of us in the content IT industry have had which have been part of the uptake of the version 1.0 slate device trend. Riding the tube in the morning, I find it very easy to get my daily blog reading completed, check my email, and such on my slate, but I will not go and try to create the stacks of content I do in my daily work life. On top of that, it is very humourous to see those using laptops in the crowded carriages.

    In the article, you mention the two devices you have; both Apple. This I feel adds a bit of madness to the question as it shows the way Apple are treating this problem. Like they do with all the other problems they have in the market and just answer “these are not the droids you’re looking for.” Put simply Apple does not agree that the touch interface and the keyboard markets should be mixed because they make their money from the hardware, not the software (loosely as I know you can buy *insert dumb cat name here* to install yourself). With all the issues Microsoft has put out in the last few years trying to get to the mobile computing, I do have to give them credit for their vision so far with Surface.

    There is an interesting point here in the last paragraph which can only lead me to question more; which will change quicker, the enabling technology or how people choose to complete their work? After consulting for only a while, anyone will draw the conclusion that technology, no matter how “fantastic” we think it is will not encourage change as people are very stubborn in changing the everyday work habits and the tools they use.

  2. Hey Ryan

    Thanks for the great comments.

    Yes, I’m a bit Apple-biased on the hardware at the moment. I’ve also got a Windows 8 prototype tablet (from Microsoft’s Build conference last year). It’s a full Intel tablet and to me, such full blown PC tablets only have a role in the workplace, not as a hybrid ‘bring your own device to work’. But still, switching to docking tablets would still be an improvement over desktops.

    And I’m with you, credit to Microsoft for the recent Surface announcement. Though cautious as we wait to hear more details about pricing and spec. I think the biggest challenge for Microsoft is the danger that their entry in to the market legitimises tablets in the workplace, but then people buy other vendors solutions if they are better aligned to needs. Pushing out two flavours – the RT iPad competitor and the Intel full tablet PC is a risk, since they will almost certainly focus more on the latter which is in their comfort zone. The RT release mustn’t be treated as a second-class citizen in the work place because I suspect that is the one business management will want to use more. It is likely to be lighter, thinner, quieter and with better battery life…

    And on to the final paragraph. Most workplaces are incredibly resistant to change. The Cluetrain Manifesto is over 10 years old and as relevant today as when it was first written. Yet little has truly changed within organisation structures. I think the disruption will most likely occur by new entrants disrupting markets by being different from the start in ways that incumbents struggle to adapt to. And that’s when I think we’ll see the true benefits of what all these digital technologies can do. The exciting times are definitely ahead. It’s easy to forget how young and immature IT still is.

    Thanks again for the comment!

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