By Dave Pelland

With sales trends for tablets and laptops heading in opposite directions, a growing number of small business owners are wondering whether a tablet can be used to fulfill the many functions they're using their laptops to carry out.

Like many technology questions, though, the answer remains "It depends." For some basic computing functions, a tablet is perfectly acceptable (and offers some convenience advantages), while other needs require the full power and capabilities of a laptop. Here are some of the factors to consider if you are wondering whether full-time tablet use makes sense for your company.

Evaluate Your Needs

As the capabilities offered by tablets and laptops continue to overlap, the smaller size and lower weights of tablets are making them more popular.

According to research firm IDC, more tablets than laptops were sold in 2012, and sales of tablets continue to grow significantly, while PC sales (including laptops) continue to decline.

For business owners and team members with relatively simple computing requirements, using a tablet instead of a laptop may make sense. Tablets are ideally suited for functions such as checking and answering email, accessing the web, and, with help from specialized applications, filling a variety of business productivity needs that once required a laptop.

And for some job functions, a tablet is clearly a better choice. Sales reps, field force workers or other people who spend most of their time outside of the workplace are using tablets to access and update customer and reference information easily from a variety of locations. Tablets can, for example, replace paper-based forms your company may have used in the past to collect customer information or to accept orders.

Tablets can also be valuable in providing route planning and financial management support, and in allowing remote team members to access mobile apps tied to any cloud applications your company may be using.

For someone who's going to be traveling for a short period, a tablet can be a convenient way to stay in touch and productive without the need to bring a laptop along.

When Laptops May be Better

For small-business owners or other business professionals who spend the majority of their time looking at a computer screen, a full-featured laptop is likely to remain a better choice than a tablet.

As a basic consideration, business owners have to consider the compatibility a tablet would offer with the applications running on their company's network or with its cloud services. Some iOS and Android applications, for instance, offer apps that provide basic compatibility with Office applications, while the newer Surface tablets run Office applications tailored for those devices.

A keyboard may be another critical consideration. For basic needs, an on-screen "virtual" keyboard may be acceptable, but people who enter text or data for extended periods may prefer a physical keyboard. A variety of keyboards and other input devices are available for tablets, but generally speaking, people who type a lot tend to prefer a dedicated laptop keyboard.

Cost may be another factor to evaluate. All things being equal, tablets remain more expensive than laptops, but the increased portability and lighter weight may be worth investing in. As with the keyboard, personal preferences and resources make the difference here.


Dave Pelland has extensive experience covering the business use of technology, networking and communications tools by companies of all sizes. Dave's editorial and corporate experience includes more than 10 years editing an electronic technology and communications industry newsletter for a global professional services firm.

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank.