The Pros and Cons of iPads and Other Tablets for Small Businesses

by Kevin Casey on May 19, 2011

Tablet computers are the talk of the virtual town, but are they right for your business? Plenty of your fellow owners seem to think so: A recent Business Journals survey found that nine percent of small and midsize businesses were using iPads around the office less than a year after it launched. So how do you know if the iPad or another tablet — the options are growing — is worth the price tag? It will ultimately come down to your business and whether or not you can prove a real return on the investment: Tablets aren’t cheap. That’s easier said than done, because some of the basic advantages of tablets can also prove to be downsides. Here are at three pros of using tablets in your organization that are just as likely to be cons.

Pro: Tablets Are New

Tablets may well represent the future of mobile computing for businesses, residing somewhere between laptops and smartphones in terms of power, performance, and style. The potential applications across a variety of industries seem nearly limitless at the moment, even if some of those applications don’t quite exist yet. The hardware and software will both evolve and improve over time, but tablets aren’t a passing fad. Smart businesses figure out ways to make technology work for them, so even if tablets aren’t in your short-term plans, it’s worth considering how they might help your long-term bottom line.

Con: Tablets Are New

With technology, new usually means expensive: Prices go down once the initial hype calms and more competition enters the market. That will certainly be the case with tablets, where Apple’s iPad was the initial market; new or forthcoming entries from Motorola, RIM (the company that makes Blackberry), Dell, HP, and a host of Android devices are bound to eventually shrink price tags. New also often means not quite ready prime time. The early reviews of the Blackberry Playbook, for example, have been mixed at best. Buying first-generation tablets means you’re  buying the kinks, too. It also means faster obsolescence: Apple released the iPad 2 less than a year after the first model, for example, for the exact same price as the original.

Pro: Tablets Are Cool

Face it: Tablets are pretty darn cool, and cool can be a successful business strategy. (Have you walked inside an Apple Store lately?) Salespeople can impress clients with cutting-edge, highly mobile presentations. Restaurants can serve up interactive — not to mention très chic — menus. Retail stores can offer anywhere-in-the-store checkout. Take a look at a recent NFIB post on three ways small businesses are using the iPad.

Con: Tablets Are Cool

Cool almost always costs: Apple’s brand equity is baked into the price of the market-making iPad, for sure. And at $499 the entry-level iPad is actually beating some of its competitors, such as Motorola’s Xoom, on price. In tech — especially tech that doubles as business and consumer device — new plus cool equals premium price. If your business buys tablets now, you’re paying top dollar.

Pro: Tablets Are Tools and Toys

A tablet can be a serious business tool. As developers continue to create true business applications that mature over time, there will be a building wave of potential work uses for the devices. But because they’re fun (see also: Tablets are Cool) they can have some indirect benefits, too, such as boosting employee recruitment and retention efforts, especially among younger generations entering the workforce.

Con: Tablets Are Tools and Toys

There’s the rub: Because tablets, much like smartphones, are crossover devices between business and consumer, they have the potential to be expensive toys that aren’t used for anything but web surfing, gaming, reading, and other entertainment. All of those are well and good at home — I’d rather do any of the above on a tablet’s larger screen than a smartphone’s — but not for your business’s bottom line. Sure, you can goof off on an iPhone or Android phone. But it’s still a phone, albeit one that happens to have a bunch of apps on it, and that has basic value for just about every business. Tablets, at least at the moment, can’t claim the same fallback position.