From the April/May 2011 Issue
Is the introduction of the Apple iPad and other tablet devices the dawning of a new revolution in information technology, or a more subtle evolution? They may not be as disruptive as all of the political revolutions going on around the world today, but tablets are poised to have a significant impact on the flow of information in all types of business organizations, and accounting firms in particular.
It’s a little early to predict, but I’m convinced the impact of tablets will be pervasive in the world of tax and accounting services and the outcome will be quite positive. I’ve been working with personal computer technology since the early ’80s, and I think we have finally reached a level of simplicity with these tablet devices that will allow us to be much more focused on what we do with information, as opposed to how we process it.
In case you’re thinking this is just the latest fad, take a look at the projected sales graph below. At this pace, it won’t be long before every accounting and tax professional owns at least one. The tablet is likely to do to the information industry what the iPod did to the music industry, which is to make it more portable, more pervasive and more personalized.
My friend Greg LaFollette will be authoring a new column on these devices starting with this issue (see page 54). Greg will be exploring and articulating how we all will be able to tap the full potential of these devices. My mission here is to introduce you to the technology to help clear up some of the misconceptions about what these devices are by taking a look at the various features and functions that distinguish the major players in the market today.
Understanding the Technology
I’ve reviewed the current market of tablet offerings in terms of the following four main criteria:
1. User interface. I’m referring to the form factor; display, size and the proverbial “user experience.” Let’s start with the display screen. Tablets come in three basic sizes today: book readers that emulate the size of a typical paperback, 7-inch screens that are essentially magnified smartphone screens, and the 9- to 10-inch screens that more closely resemble the size of a traditional 8 ½ x 11 document.
For business purposes, it seems to me that the bigger size is the logical choice because these will be used primarily to view documents and presentations. In terms of the display color, black and white displays are more natural for reading books, whether they are novels or The Master Tax Guide. They’re also easier to read in sunlight. But for business documents, color is superior because we can use it for emphasis, i.e. different colored tickmarks on a PDF, to distinguish information on a form, colorful PowerPoint presentations, video presentations, marketing literature and more.
When it comes to resolution, it goes without saying, the higher the better. It looks like the 1280x800 range is the current high-end benchmark. Don’t forget about the HD (High Definition) option, which becomes increasingly useful as we evolve towards greater utilization of video in our information systems. Subtleties such as font types can have a big impact, as well. Go to Best Buy, which carries most of the brand names, and start to compare the devices side by side to discover just how much more appealing a high-quality, large screen can be.
A key feature of the user interface is the fact that these devices utilize touch-screen technology, which is a whole new experience that simplifies many tasks, but hinders some. I still keep looking for the cursor control keys on my iPad to navigate through lines of text that I want to edit.
2. Platform. This is a big one. I think we can boil this down to three major platforms today: Apple iOS, Google Android and Windows 7. There are others, of course, but these three are clearly going to emerge as the major choices. Let’s start with Apple. The beauty of the Apple iOS (iPod Operating System) is, in my opinion, its ease of use and instant activation on startup.