One thing that became obvious at ABA TECHSHOW in Chicago this year was that lawyers are embracing tablet devices like the iPad in great numbers. Some people claimed that iPads even outnumbered laptops at the event. I’m not sure if that claim would have stood up to a head count but it was certainly plausible. The little tablets were everywhere.
So, fine, if you’re thinking about bringing a tablet device into your practice I have some advice for you.
There’s no getting around it – most tablet devices are barely useful without some kind of Internet connectivity. You can’t check your e-mail, can’t log into your cloud-based billing system, can’t research that case law. You know that nifty dictation assistant app you have? The one that tells you what the weather is and helps you navigate to the client’s office? You might as well be speaking Klingon if you don’t have connectivity – all of the popular mobile speech recognition apps require Internet connectivity to translate your words.
Wi-Fi is great, but you can’t always rely upon having good public Wi-Fi. As attendees at ABA TECHSHOW discover year after year even when wireless is provided it can be rather hit or miss. That’s why if your tablet is really a business machine you need to get down to business and get one that supports 3G (or now LTE for the newest models). When you have Wi-Fi access – great, use it. When you don’t (or when it isn’t secure) you’ll hopefully have a 3G or 4G data connection to fall back on.
Tablet devices annoy, irritate and even frighten IT people. Why? Well because users come in every other day with whatever gadget they bought at Best Buy last night and insist the IT guys integrate it into their line of business systems. IT ends up having to support 50 different devices with 6 different operating systems and users aren’t always very understanding when IT tries to explain that the glorified picture frame the user bought won’t run the firms’ entire practice management system. Add to that the consequences when a user leaves a tablet loaded with confidential firm (or worse, client) data in a cab or a bar…there are a lot of really bad things that can result.
So what’s the solution? Inevitably the solution is going to be virtualization. A return, of sorts, to the glass house where all of the data (and most of the processing power) actually lives in a data center much like the old mainframe days. Joe User, on his tablet device, won’t actually be firing up an app to check his e-mail or edit a document – he’ll just fire up his virtual desktop app which (after asking for his username and passphrase) will reach out through that network connection we talked about and connect to one of the servers back in the data center. That server will then provide Joe User with a virtualized version of his desktop – just like on his real computer.
From there he can launch apps, compose documents, handle e-mail, enter his time…almost anything he can do from his desktop machine. Except he’ll be doing it on a 9” screen and may or may not have anything resembling a real keyboard.
Since no data lives on the tablet it’s far more secure. The tablet is essentially just a portal to the virtualized desktop living on the server. Since the remote access apps are either browser-based or at least largely cross-platform there are fewer support headaches for IT (Until somebody comes in with a RIM Playbook or other oddball device).
Better Windows 8 Than Never
Don’t have a tablet yet? You may want to wait just a bit…in the next several months you should start to see Microsoft Windows 8 tablets hit the market. It’s hard to know yet how good they’ll be but if you’ve seen a Windows 7.5 Phone on a decent piece of hardware (like a Nokia Lumia 900 or HTC Titan II) you have to be intrigued by the possibilities. True, they may never have as many apps as an iPad does and if your primary use for the tablet device is to play Angry Birds, well, maybe an iPad is the toy for you. But for actual business users the Windows 8 tablets will almost certainly be worth a look.
You may still end up opting for an Android or iPad device after checking out the Windows 8 tablet, but if you can wait until they arrive to make that call at least you won’t have to look longingly at them and wonder when your colleagues show up with them.
The tablet platform appears to be here to stay. Make sure if the tablet is a tool for you that you get the right tool for the job and that you use it securely. Oh, and give your IT guy a break. It’s hard to already be an expert on a device that didn’t even exist last week.