Are tablets going to be a real business tool?

Despite market studies, do they contribute enough to be worthwhile?

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My favorite tip from journalism school, designed to help cub reporters get into government buildings or disaster areas or other places people didn't take kindly to being watched, was that if you look busy and carry a clipboard, you can go anywhere.

The tip was probably obsolete -- and a cliche on TV detective shows -- before I ever heard it.

PCs were already replacing paper-based systems because you could put information in faster, get it out more quickly and do more things with it than if it were clipped to a paperboard under someone's arm.

I always thought clipboards were kind of stupid, actually, until I realized the advantage of being able to take notes directly on the computer, especially if you have bad handwriting, and be able to look up supporting information online during meetings when you just know someone's blowing smoke but can't pin down quite how.

Those are the main reasons laptops took over from desktops and, eventually, smartphones got big.

So, yeah, a form factor that's easier to carry than a laptop, lets you take notes by hand and doesn't give you a squint and thumb-cramps from typing on a smartphone nano-keyboard might avoid complete failure.

The question for IT people, is if and when to either buy them or support a business unit's effort to do it, without breaking a budget that's already too tight and supplies too few warm bodies to accomplish what the business units already want.

There's plenty of quantitative data. Tons of analyst reports predicting how fast the market is going to grow, how many new devices are coming out, how many end users will sneak them in as rogue work devices, how many enterprises are going to buy and manage them and everything else you could possibly want to know about tablets.

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