With the HP TouchPad on the ropes and Apple's iPad 2 cornering the tablet market, small businesses might think they don't have as many choices as they'd like when it comes to an efficient, business-centric tablet. While devices like the BlackBerry PlayBook cater to a more professional market, consumer-savvy devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the iPad seem to make the biggest splash in the market.
That is unlikely to change with the impending debut of the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, which aims to challenge the Apple iPad but at a price far below Apple's $499 starting point. The Kindle Fire is expected to sell for $199, giving it a significant cost advantage over pricier rivals-but at the expense of some features thought of as standard on tablets, like a video camera. Small business owners considering a dip in the tablet pool are also likely to find the tablet on the shallow end of productivity features essential to running a company.
The device sports a 7-in. screen and will run on Google's Android software. While the device is WiFi-capable, it will not have access to 3G networks. That, and the lack of either a forward or rear-facing camera, will likely limit its appeal for companies in which tablet devices are taken out of the office and into the field. While portability among business tablets is often the key factor, the business applications, email capabilities and a lasting battery are also top considerations.
While the Kindle Fire's low price might seem attractive for small business owners looking to capitalize on tablet computers, they should take note that the device's limited Internet connectivity and an emphasis on consumer-oriented features rather than business productivity applications are likely to limit the Fire's capacity as a useful business tool.
Nevertheless, it is clear the tablet market is affecting businesses. According to a recent Staples survey, about 80 percent of tablet owners say they enjoy an improved work/life balance because of the technology. The survey was conducted in June 2011 and asked participants questions about their perceptions of tablets, business uses and impact on productivity.
The No. 1 motivator for owning a tablet (at more than 90 percent) is the convenience of portability. Being able to tuck a tablet into a portfolio or small bag was more important than video conferencing capabilities, the device's operating system, or easy access to office email and VPN, the survey found.
However, respondents said one of the main draws was increased productivity: Almost 60 percent of survey respondents say they get more work done using a tablet. In addition, more than 40 percent said staying connected with colleagues and clients was the primary motivator for buying a tablet, and about 75 percent of tablet users check email. One-third review and edit documents on their device. More than 60 percent of tablet owners even admit to powering on their tablet during vacation to check in with the office or do work.