This can be a very challenging question to answer. You will likely know the answer after you have used a tablet computer for several months. And just to make things really challenging whatever you choose will not be the best option in a year because of advances in technology!
You can make a good case for the adoption of Android, Apple and Windows tablets. None of them will be a perfect fit and of course the best fit will vary with job function and individual. To help you make an informed choice I have considered the following four “classes” of tablet computers.
- Class 1 – Apple Tablets
- Class 2 – The Android “Consumer” grade tablet
- Class 3 – Ruggedized Android tablets
- Class 4 – Ruggedized Windows PC
When I have conducted workshops on the field use of tablet computers one of the things that has surprised me is the high proportion of users that have chosen Apple tablets over Android devices. From the functionality perspective there is little reason to choose one over the other – both can perform the majority of functions required by field users. However, it is the lack of good harsh environmental cases available for Android consumer devices that tip the scales in favour of Apple’s tablets.
With a Griffin Survivor- or LifeProof-equipped iPad, you have a highly water resistant (or waterproof) tablet computer at a much lower cost than a purpose built ruggedized Android tablet. And these devices hold up remarkably well on Canada’s West (Wet) coast. I know of one coastal consulting company that has about 5000 man-days of iPad field use without the loss of a single device due to moisture ingress.
If you require a device that will work in more extreme environments your only option is a purpose-built ruggedized tablet such as the Panasonic Android Toughtab or Motion Computers F5. These tablets are significantly more expensive than an Apple iPad equipped with a ruggedized case but you get what you pay for:
- Sunlight readable display – you will not find this with any consumer grade tablets.
- Dust and moisture ingress protection. Usually expressed as a Military Specification IP rating – learn more about Ingress Protection
- Physical protection – designed to withstand drops to concrete.
- Operation in extreme temperatures. Most consumer grade tablets are rated to operate from 0 to 35 degrees Celsius. Both Android and Windows tablets are available that will operate at temperatures below -25 and above 35 Celsius.
- In the case of Windows Tablets you get a great device for field use as well as a desktop replacement.
- The use of a fine tipped stylus is highly beneficial when detailed drawing is required. Available for most tablet PCs and some Android devices.
Choose an Apple iPad if you are looking for a relatively low cost (as little about $600 with field case) device that will stand up well in wet weather and mild temperatures with the addition of a ruggedized case. If you occasionally have to work in temperatures as low as about -10 Celsius you should not have any difficulties.
If you are already familiar with the Android operating system and do not need to use the tablet in harsh environments then a consumer grade tablet is a great option. You should be able to find an Android tablet to fit your needs for as little as about $300.
When a purpose built ruggedized tablet is a necessity and cost is a consideration then you could consider an Android tablet such as the Panasonic Toughtab. The 7” Panasonic JT-B1 can be purchased for about $1500. It fits nicely in your hand and is not too heavy. The screen is relatively easy to read even in full sunlight. My only caution on the Android tablets is that each manufacturer can customize the operating system. So set a standard to ensure that all the devices are from the same manufacturer running exactly the same OS or you could create a nightmare for supporting the devices.
In my opinion if only a ruggedized tablet will suit your business requirements then I would spend the extra money on a Windows device. Motion Computers makes great devices for field use that can act as desktop replacements. Their F5 model is about $2500. Don’t let the price of the device put you off, as the total cost of going with a Windows tablet can be less than Android or Apple devices if you factor in the cost of support. By going with a Windows tablet you can replace a desktop computer and limit your IT cost by having only one OS to support. However, if you are already using an Apple or Android phone then the additional cost of supporting a tablet running the same OS is minimal.
Choosing the tablet computer that best fits your business can be a daunting task. I have used all three OS – Apple, Android and Windows. However, for most of my field work I use an Apple iPad 3. It is well suited to most of work that I perform. If I was working for a corporation with in-house IT support or if I needed something that would work at -20 C then I would choose a Windows tablet for both field and office work.
If your business is already using Apple or Android phones then implementing the use of the same tablet OS is relatively easy. Also, these “consumer grade” tablets are relatively low cost. In a year if you find that the Apple or Android devices are not the best fit and decide to move to a Windows tablet you will be able to make a more informed choice because of what has been learned by using these tablets.
So why are you waiting? If you are continuing to manage your business with paper you are at a competitive disadvantage. Make your field staff more efficient by implementing the use of tablet computers.