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The tablet PC is increasingly the computing device of choice among small to midsize businesses (SMBs). Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of SMBs surveyed by market strategy firm iGR say they supply tablet devices to employees, and 26 percent indicated that their companies would be buying fewer or far fewer laptops as a result of their tablet purchases. Employees at approximately 52 percent of U.S. SMBs currently own and use tablet devices, according to the survey.

Other analyst firms offer similar data. IDC forecasts worldwide shipments of tablet devices will reach 142.8 million units in 2013 and 222.1 million units by 2016. The market research firm sees increasing interest from commercial buyers, and Gartner anticipates that business sales of media tablets will account for about 35 percent of total tablet sales in 2015.

Gartner says tablets present a variety of new opportunities for businesses by supplementing traditional uses of laptops and smartphones. At the same time, Gartner has long maintained that tablets are neither “better laptops” nor “better smartphones” but complement both. IPC agrees — tablets are an additional tool that businesses can deploy to meet specific user needs.

In a common mobile-worker scenario, employees will travel with a tablet during the day but return to their laptop in the evening for data entry or content creation. Those mobile workers will also continue to use their smartphones for most voice communications (although one blogger predicts that tablets will replace the smartphone at some point). Nevertheless, tablets bring a number of exciting features to the workplace.

When compared with laptops, tablet devices activate instantly, allowing a user to get right to what he or she needs without long and frustrating startup times. They also have exceptional battery life and are responsive, tactile and inviting. The high-resolution screens and longer battery life make tablets ideal for sales and other visual applications. Tablets are also better than smartphones for accessing enterprise applications and data — the somewhat larger form factor makes them easier to use.

Tablets do require a new set of technologies, skills and policies to support them. It is essential to have adequate Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as solutions such as ShoreTel mobility that integrate mobile devices with the corporate communications network. Even if employees aren’t using tablets as smartphone replacements, ShoreTel mobility will enable them to access features such as presence and instant messaging on their tablet devices.

IPC also recommends that organizations implement a mobile device management solution that can help track mobile devices, restrict access to sensitive applications and data, and protect data store on the devices themselves. This is especially true if your company supports a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program.

Tablets may have started out as consumer devices designed for media and entertainment, but they are increasingly popular in business because they increase productivity, enhance customer interactions and enable mobile workers to stay connected. If you exploit the strengths of tablet devices, they can become powerful additions to your company.

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