A long-time off-and-on technology consulting client called with a question: Would it make more sense to get tablets for the “people in the field” this time around? Usually they get new laptops about every three years.


They used to lease, but decided they weren’t saving anything that way. In some situations a company can show savings, especially if the acquisition methods used in outright purchases aren’t as good as they could be. But that’s a whole nother set of issues.


It’s coming up on nearly three years since the company’s last batch of laptops went online. In this company users are given tempting opportunities to acquire the systems and other gear that are taken out of service. The company won’t be stuck with many “old” laptops. If employees don’t want them, they can be refurbed in house or by an independent “builder,” and sold.


The tablet option emerged quite naturally, in that company, the way it has in many others in the past year. Employees were buying their own tablets, originally for personal use. Then they wanted to use them on the job too. They asked for permission, and, after various safeguards were put into place, permission was given on a case-by-case basis.


So now, should the business take the step of acquiring and issuing tablets, as laptop replacements? If so, what should the specs be for the tablets they would acquire? And, is now the best time to consider or accomplish that, or are there better or more businesslike in the pipeline, and will the price point be better in a little while?


Obviously there isn’t any one best answer for all companies, at this point. Depends on the way the laptops are used, and what people have to do in the field. Depends on the company’s existing platform, how communications and security are handled now, and a host of other factors. But there are some basic considerations that can be defined now.


Suppose several members of the mobile workforce use iPads on short business trips. In the company I am thinking about at the moment, those iPads have not made it unnecessary for those users to carry their laptops on any missions but the briefest.


Working at a computer for many hours at a stretch, we are used to larger displays. Ten-inch diagonals are cramped.


We are used to better definition. We expect 1920 x 1028, and so far tablets aren’t offering that.


The system we use for real work must multitask easily and generously, not lagging or balking if we open a third or fourth app.


Apps need to be run locally, not in the cloud or a browser, for the most part.


Users need lots of on-board storage, presumably flash or solid state. How much? At least 300 GB, at that company.


Encryption is a must, for that storage, as well as for data being transferred.


There has to be a file system capable of handling whatever degree of document weight, variety and complexity users produce.


Users will want the tablet to spring into action instantly.


The tablet’s “environment” should allow for preparation of, and opening and editing of, word processing, spreadsheet, graphics and presentation documents; at least, the mobile users at the company in question need those capabilities.


In the office they use Microsoft versions of those, with some for heavy duty publishing that two of the users get into at times. The apps run on the mobile systems need to be compatible, but what with OpenOffice, Google’s offerings and others, there are many ways that can be assured.


At this particular company, all of the mobile users and most of the office ones work at or from home to some degree. They telecommute now and then when it is either a necessity, or what works better for the time being. Most of them use that handy-dandy laptop or desktop they acquired from the company at low cost. The company also allows workers to “borrow” a system from the office when there is a need.


Obviously the mobile users rely on e-mail and calendar apps, and browsers. At this point we would be looking for Flash and HTML5 compliance.


Processors should be energetic and speedy, and capable of powering streaming media and video communications at the same time. I’d say that means multi-core with a good cycle number.


One camera or two? Business use, one is plenty. Do you really want to be “on camera” that often? Or do you want to be able to capture images quickly and easily, and store them or transmit them? One camera, pointing out, with 2 megapixel resolution or better.


What else? Already we have eliminated a great many of the tablets out there. We haven’t even mentioned connectivity, battery life, docks and weight. But we will.


E drymar@gmail.com. Skype lilimartini.