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?
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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:
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.