Ever since Apple launched its first iPad last year, tablet computers have been growing in popularity – and surprisingly quickly. Although there are very few companies in which the gadgets are standard issue, they are starting to find practical uses in the commercial world. They’re no longer just the MD’s plaything.

Don’t dismiss tablet computers too quickly

Like any new technology, we’re still learning what tablet computers are really capable of. But even in the short time they have been on the market, they’re proving surprisingly useful for many tasks. For instance:

  • Getting work done out and about, or on site. Tablet computers are light and portable, with batteries that typically last a day or more. Their standby modes mean you can start using them within seconds of taking them out of your bag, and many have a SIM card slot so you can connect to the internet via a mobile phone network. All these things make iPads and other tablet computers ideal for working while you’re out and about. True, you won’t be typing and editing lengthy documents on a touchscreen keyboard, but for checking emails, pulling up reports and other tasks, they’re ideal.
  • Giving presentations and demonstrations. The wow factor alone makes tablet computers an excellent way to show off slides, videos, product demonstrations or other visual items. Add in the super-bright screen which most tablets have and you’ve got a tool which is perfect for passing round in meetings or in more informal situations. If you need to give a more formal talk or presentation, many tablet computers can be linked directly to a plasma screen or projector.
  • Point of sale displays and retail equipment. As you might expect, Apple itself is leading the way in this regard: in its stores, traditional product information labels have been replaced by iPads which customers can use to explore detailed product and pricing information. That’s probably a bit much for most retailers, but it’s not hard to see other point of sale uses for the iPad. How about equipping sales assistants with them, so they can look up information, check stock and even process payments from wherever they are on the shop floor.

These examples are only just scratching the surface of what tablet computers might be able to do for business. The technology is still so new that we’re still finding new ways to use it.

To a large extent, their usefulness depends on the range and quality of apps available. The two most popular types of tablet computer are Apple iPads, and models running Google’s rival Android system. Thousands of business apps are available for both, covering everything from travel planning and expense tracking to presenting or editing documents.