We’ve all heard the hype, tablets are all the rage and are going to make PCs redundant. Certainly they seem far more prevalent – just take a look at any airport departure lounge. So just what are they being used for? Are tablets displacing PCs?

Well, PC sales have been flat for the nearly two years and this is continuing as Gartner report that sales for Q2 this year are again flat. Now although current economic conditions may have a bearing, I think it is clear to us all that something else is going on here.

The tablet market it is growing faster than any other previous technology including the smartphone. Annual sales grew from 18 million in 2010 to 66 million last year. Now that’s some year on year growth!

What is interesting is that 90% of the top Fortune 500 companies are either testing or deploying tablets, and corporate spend on tablets this year is expected to reach $10 billion. Clearly these tablets are not being used for any data intensive functions, working with spreadsheets and word documents in any quantity. So why such growth?

When on the move, having for example a quick coffee, firing up a lap top is not really feasible especially in a crowded Starbucks, so no wonder that the most common use of tablets in the business world is to check emails. What’s more the average battery life of a laptop is in the region or 3 to 4 hours, whereas a tablet can last up to 10 hours.

There is more to it than this though, as many of my customers tell me. The ability that these devices provide in enabling organisations to introduce innovative and more efficient business processes, is what it is all about. The three areas that quick wins can be made are in customer facing environments, field service functions and for executive decision making on the go.

In customer environments, when face to face, perception is all important, and using a tablet looks more professional and provides the right image; that they are dealing with a savvy company. In addition, lifting a laptop cover acts as a barrier and normally means a scuffling of chairs as people re-seat themselves. Whereas the tablet creates a collaborative environment, more intimate in nature.

Organisations are also experimenting with novel ways of interfacing with customers. For example providing tablets for self help. This can be seen in the keep fit industry where customers can see which services are available and make an appointment with their preferred trainer.

Insurance companies now have the ability to save a vast number of trees by simplifying data capture of clients and automating the whole process. Cruise ships are now replacing interactive TV with tablets to provide customers with the ability to review services, shore trips etc, from any part of the ship. (What’s interesting is that these services can be tailored to information already gleaned from the customer’s previous interactions).

We are now seeing iPads used in retail outlets, used as POS systems, taking card payments. You have to admit they do look much better than tradition POS systems. In the Netherlands one bank is piloting iPad enabled ATMs to ensure their Dutch customers are not delayed (and if my Dutch colleague is anything to go by, we all know how grumpy they can be).

One thing is patently clear though, the tablet manufacturers believe that there is a huge opportunity here, and are building new models. Apple is expected to release a 7” tablet, Amazon with it 7” Kindle Fire has announced it will produce a larger format device and Android of course comes in all sizes.

They have realised that size does matter and there are horses for courses, with 7” devices ideal for viewing graphics and presentations, whilst the 10” is more convenient when it comes to interacting with the device. To my mind, there can be no doubt that there is a growing demand for both.

So what applications are running on these devices? Have you come across any enterprise ‘tablet killer’ app anywhere? From what I can see, there is no overall ‘must have’ enterprise application for tablets. All these innovative uses of tablets still require the integration of enterprise applications, and the creation of relevant work flows, not to mention support for multiple device types.