This may come as a shock to Angry Birds fanatics, but tablet PCs can do a whole lot more than power video games. Their unique blend of portability, touch-screen capabilities, and processing power enable them to perform tasks that many notebooks can’t handle. But perhaps you already knew that: A report by the NPD Group suggests that more than half of businesses with 50 or fewer employees plan to purchase tablets in 2012. If you’re among them, do you have a firm grasp on what you’ll use the shiny new gadgets for?
Think about it before you buy. A report by Dimensional Research warns that half of all corporations have “no clearly articulated strategy for adopting iPads and tablets.” Don’t fall into the same trap. Before your business lays out cash for portable PCs, consider whether the investment will save your company money or make its operations more efficient.
How Tablets Might Benefit Your Small Business
- Staff efficiency: Forward-thinking companies have begun using tablets as point-of-sale devices. For example, tablets eliminate the need for restaurant waitstaff to walk to the kitchen or to a stand-alone computer terminal to place orders. This speeds up service.
- Staff replacement: Tablets won’t replace your entire work force, but could they take over on tasks that have traditionally required the human touch? To continue with the restaurant theme, some establishments have begun replacing waitstaff with table side tablets and runners who are employed solely to bring out food. Similar opportunities exist in many businesses.
- Payment processing: Why wait to bill customers via mail? Credit-card processors like Intuit’s GoPayment reader help mobile businesses accept plastic no matter where they are. (Check the list of supported devices for compatibility before you purchase any model.) NPR recently highlighted Iorios Gelateria, an ice cream shop that ditched its cash registers entirely and replaced them with an iPad and a credit-card reader.
- Signing documents: Touch-screen signatures don’t have to stop with credit-card payments. Apps such as Autriv’s SignMyPad make it easy to seal a deal on the run — no printing, scanning, or faxing involved. Plus, as Autriv puts it, you “save a tree while you’re at it.”
- Going paperless: There’s no reason to stop at one tree, however. Several organizations have switched to tablets to go paperless and save on printing and collating costs. Airlines, NFL teams, and town governments have all taken the plunge. Those are admittedly bigger than small businesses, but does it make fiscal sense for your business to follow suit?
- Presentations: A ChangeWave survey shows that 45 percent of businesses use tablets for customer presentations. Tablet screens are perfectly sized for showing off your slideshow to a couple of customers, and presenting your pitch directly from your tablet is certainly more convenient than tracking down a projector for your laptop.
- Out-of-office computing: The same ChangeWave survey shows that the most common business uses for tablets are checking email, browsing the web, and general out of office computing. Giving up a physical keyboard can be rough on productivity, but the slim form factor of tablets make them easier to lug around than full-fledged notebooks. Battery life also tends to be longer on tablets.
- Tracking inventory: Both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market contain several inventory managers, bar code scanners, and so on. Some are surprisingly robust and most can be had for under $5. Don’t let price alone influence your decision; be sure to read the app’s description and user comments to determine whether any given one fits your business’s needs.
- Remotely managing sales and documents: QuickBooks Mobile (for iPad and Android) whips up estimates, invoices, and receipts on the fly and syncs with your desktop QuickBooks. Productivity apps let you create and edit files on the run, and with the right cloud storage or remote desktop apps, you can access documents stored on your computer back at the office.
What role do tablets play in your small business? Are there any specific tablets or business-related apps that you’d like to see covered by the Intuit Small Business Blog? Share your thoughts and suggestions with us in the Comments field below.