What Work Do We Actually Do On Our Tablets?

What Work Do We Actually Do On Our Tablets?

If you’re tempted by a shiny new iPad or a Nexus 7, it’s easy to pretend to yourself that the cost will be justified: “I can use this for work!” But what work tasks are performed on tablets that would otherwise have been performed on a computer?

Picture by Matthew Sumner/Getty Images

You don’t necessarily have to adopt a bring-your-own-device strategy to get a workplace tablet. Research by Telsyte suggests that 46 per cent of organisations in Australia are “allowing the use of business-supplied media tablets for work”. That market is dominated by the iPad, which accounts for 90 per cent of business purchases, with Android coming second and the BlackBerry PlayBook a very distant third. But whether it comes from your boss or Bing Lee, is it really going to end up being useful for work?

A recent paper from Gartner sheds some light on the question. Gartner asked 510 tablet-owning consumers in Australia, the UK and the US what tasks they performed on their tablets. The results contradict some popular memes about technology trends and also suggest that we haven’t yet adapted our portable devices to a wide range of work tasks — with one notable exception.

That exception is email. While we’re often told that email is doomed by the rise of social networking, usage habits suggest otherwise. 81 per cent of survey respondents used their tablet to check email.

The next most popular options were reading the news (69 per cent), checking the weather (63 per cent), social networking (62 per cent) and gaming (60 per cent). Of those, checking news and social networking could qualify as work under certain circumstances, but not if the word ‘Kardashian’ is involved.

That doesn’t mean that the tablet is the sole device for those tasks: it’s one of many choices, along with computers and smartphones. Unsurprisingly given their portability, phones get used the most often for tasks requiring connectivity (eight times a day on average), compared to three times a day for computers and twice a day for tablets. However, there was widespread variation:

What Work Do We Actually Do On Our Tablets?

A key trend Gartner found was that usage of computers dropped 20 per cent on weekends. You could interpret that as tablets not being useful for work (they’re being used when work doesn’t matter), or being a useful adjunct (if you have to quickly check work-related email, a tablet is less hassle).

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


  • So to answer the question in the headline, what work do actual Lifehacker staff do on their tablets? Aside from that Playbook/Torch challenge(s?) from a while back. I’m looking day-to-day stuff?

  • Don’t you find lifehacker’s side banner ads are MOST annoying? The ENTIRE canvas is clickable. To scroll down the page, you have to click on the page for focus first and if you click outside of the page you go their advertiser’s page! ANNOYING! – not to mention false CTR to the advertiser.

  • While I have a pretty demanding role in a niche industry, I use my tablet (iPad 1.0) in my job every day. Without over-simplifying it, what I do at work with my iPad is remotely coordinate the removal/eradication of unwanted feral pests and structures with a selection of bird-based projectiles in order to secure a range of ‘stars.’ It’s highly suited to the iPad, I have tried doing this part of the job by a newer released browser (Chrome) app, but the iPad is still the best for this kind of work.

  • My ipad means I don’t need to cart my laptop around with me every night. It’s a great presentation tool that is equally useful across a table or in front of a room. (Except for the odd Facebook notification popping through. Ugh – need to remember flight mode.)

    I also find it useful for jotting notes in business meetings, which can then be synced via evernote back to my pc.

    And if I need to read a report or similar in pdf format, it’s nice to read than the laptop screen and almost as good as printing it.

    • seconded. It isn’t as good for work, but it’s always to hand. rdp, ssh and the company vpn means I’ve managed a few quick server fixes while on holiday in another state to avoid calling in exorbitantly-priced external consultants (once in the middle of a museum. definitely wouldn’t have had my laptop there.)

      It’s definitely paid for itself, but it still only sees about 10% work use. the rest of the time it’s just for twitter, iview, and rss feeds.

      • Why wouldn’t you have your laptop with you but you would have your iPad? I can’t imagine anywhere I would take one that I couldn’t just as easily take the other.

    • I can do all those things just as effectively on my phone, except maybe certain types of presentation. OTOH, I can also do all those things on my laptop, only far more effectively, and it is every bit as easy to cart around as a tablet.

  • I use my Acer to create lesson plans as a todo list when I teach computers to older people . I can keep a relational database with student details and class notes and also scribble quick notes as a follow-up.

    The documents I need for teaching are all in Dropbox or Drive so I have handy access without having to resort to a laptop.

  • For me. I use iPad for work. 50% iPad and 50% MacBook Air. iPad is pen and paper replacement and at times can completely substitute for my laptop thanks to cloud services like Dropbox, etc.

    • I use my iPad in a similar fashion. Can’t use Dropbox at work so I just email my notes and place on electronic file system – done and dusted.
      Note I work in local Government so I need I make minutes of many meetings type out in meeting and email in. Done and dusted.

  • We are slowly rolling out tablets for use in the field in the construction industry. I know various mid to large construction companines are at various stages of the implementation of tablets in the field.

    There is a massive advantage of having all project drawings, standard drawings, technical specifications, etc in pdf’s in tablets. On some larger jobs, we may have 1000-2000 A3 drawings, this is saving site supervision staff carring around 5-10 A3 folders full of drawings in the backs of their dual cab utes. We are slowly modifying systems so that more and more tasks can be completed from tables.
    Material/concrete/gravel ordering systems, quality sign off systems, to name a few, will soon all be able to be completed via a tablet. I can see this being implemented more and more in the Construction industry, with Windows 8 tablets (being more enterprise friendly) helping the cause even more so.

    • Finally, someone with a really good reason to have a portable device – the operative word here is ‘portable’. In an office, sitting in a meeting, hardly justifies the cost of a tablet. Even checking email, which seems to be the most popular application doesn’t need a tablet. I can do it just as well on my phone, providing I don’t need to write a long reply.

      It still seems to me that there are not that many legitimate uses for the tablet unless using a custom built app, such as in the Construction case above. Right now, they are really not much more than expensive toys.

  • Couldn’t survive without the iPad. It has replaced an A3 printers, an entire room of documentation, notepads, stationary. Currenlty sitting with my family in the lounge room marking up PDF documents (highlighting, freehand markup, notes, etc) much faster than I could do on my laptop. My business would go backwards without he iPad.

    • Why is it faster on your iPad than it would be on a laptop? Navigating around a file system is just so much slower on a tablet OS than it is on a proper OS.

      • Not with apps like iAnnotate and Goodreader and the Dropbox intergration they provide, which makes working through a filing system very efficient. As part of my job I need to review a lot of documents up to A3 size. So I have all my pens and highlighters I need on the iPad and all my documents in Dropbox. During meetings I need to make drawings along with taking notes. Use Penultimate for this again integrated with Dropbox. For editing office documents I use Quick Office which open and saves doc directly out of Dropbox. Only thing I can’t do is look at two documents at the same time which sometimes I need. Looking forward to Windows RT for this.

      • I think there seems to be a pattern here. Those that try and use the iPad as a laptop replacement find it not as efficient as a laptop and I agree. But looking at this post and me included the iPad or any tablet can be useful in different situations. It can be used to replace a notebook a diary, pen and paper, manuals, catalogues, etc. I have to walk around a site checking instrument configurations, taking notes, editing PDF documents and referring to manuals. There would be no way for me to do this on my laptop (battery life) and the fact there is nowhere to put my laptop when I am on site. When I go back to the office my edited documents are there sync with my computer. Too easy.

  • Aslo my father and mother cannot use a PC (they cannot get their head around a PC or Mac or Android). For the first time in their lives they are connected to the world through their iPad (which they worked out how to use in a couple of hours) . Therefore they can send emails, messages, and Skype with their clients for their business. So for their situation the tablet is affectively 100% used for work and has expanded their business online.

  • The most important reason why most American families do not own an elephant is that nobody offered to sell it to them, and divide the price into monthly payments.

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