Mobile devices have become so powerful and capable that they are the computer of choice for many business people. Desktop-class hardware, sizeable storage and ever-present internet connectivity has helped mobilise workforces allowing them to work from virtually anywhere.
With smartphones and tablets now regular fixtures in business, you may be wondering how to choose from the wealth of options available. The number of manufacturers, operating systems and device on the market has rocketed, making choosing the right device tricky.
In this guide, we're going to help you pick the right mobile device for your business.
Mobile device types
There are two main forms of mobile computing:
- Tablets. Originally viewed by many as 'just a big iPhone', the iPad spearheaded a new dawn of computing replacing cumbersome laptops with sheets of glass capable of running desktop-class applications. As a result, tablets are increasingly being used as laptop replacements for many businesspeople.
- Smartphones. The introduction of mobile applications (or 'apps', as they're now known) and increasingly powerful hardware has enabled the mobile phone to become a pocket powerhouses and a genuine alternative to traditional computing.
You'll note that laptops are conspicuous by their absence, and that's because we firmly believe the future of the mobilised employee lies with one or both of the above device types.
Smartphones are now accepted as an essential business tool. If you have staff who need to be contactable and productive on the move, they need a smartphone. And, even if you don't provide one, employees will almost certainly have one of their own (and may even be using it for work purposes).
You may, however, be undecided about tablets, so let's look at the pros and cons of tablet devices.
Pros of tablets
Tablets have successfully replaced bulky laptops for certain workers. Here's why:
- They're approachable. Tablets are designed with a pick-up-and-play mind-set. The user interface is usually paired-down compared to desktop operating systems and swapping the mouse for a finger is a far more natural way to navigate applications and web pages for many.
- They last all day. Battery technology has come on leaps and bound in recent years. Most tablets will last for at least 10 hours, depending on the task in hand.
- They offer built-in cellular connectivity. Tablets usually come with the option of built-in cellular connectivity, meaning you can simply pop in a SIM card to enjoy ever-present internet.
- Software developers take them seriously. A perfect example of this is Microsoft Office, which is now available in its entirety on the iPad. Some industry experts have even suggested that it provides a better user experience than its desktop counterpart.
- Tablets are inherently fun to use. Swiping, pinching, zooming and addictive user interface elements make for a pleasant and enjoyable working environment.
- They're compact. Tablets are getting thinner with every new generation and can be slotted into the tightest of bags.
- Viruses are history. Unlike desktop PCs and laptops, tablets (Apple iPads in particular), aren't usually targeted by viruses or malware.
Cons of tablets
Tablets may be viable laptops replacements for many, but they're not for all. Here are some of the potential downsides you'll need to bear in mind:
- Touch screens aren't for everyone. If you've spent decades using a keyboard, the transition to touchscreen may be challenging (although keyboard cases are readily available).
- Certain apps are watered-down. Not all tablet apps are as impressive as Microsoft Office. Some developers offer a paired-down experience which may not cut it for business use.
- No mouse. The lack of a traditional, physical input method may put some people off.
- They contain distractions. Tablets started life as couch companions, and that ancestry means you're never far away from a productivity-killing game or video-on-demand service.
Choosing the right mobile device for your business extends beyond the device. In fact, many would argue that the operating system should be the key consideration, and we'd be inclined to agree. We've picked out the three mobile platforms you should consider for your business:
Apple's mobile operating system.
- Easy-to-use. Apple's focus on making technology work for the masses is evident in iOS. A simple, guided setup process and hidden complexities result in a coherent user experience.
- Wide app support. iOS has been adopted by developers big and small, so there are very few apps you won't find on this platform.
- Deep enterprise integration. iOS' ability to slot seamlessly into business networks has come on leaps and bounds in recent years.
- A big bet is being made on augmented reality (AR) for future versions of iOS, which will offer compelling business uses.
- Closed. Apple doesn't like people fiddling with the internals of iOS which means that any customisation you want to make will be on their terms.
- Limited hardware choice. iOS will only run on iPhones and iPads, limiting your choice of hardware.
The mobile and desktop operating system from search giant Google.
- Wide device support. Android can run on a huge range of smartphones and tablets and many manufacturers have customised the platform to suit their devices.
- Wide app support. Just like iOS, developers take Android seriously.
- Highly customisable. Unlike iOS, Android can be customized almost infinitely, enabling users to create a fully-customised experience.
- Highly customisable. One of Android's benefits can also be its greatest downfall. Endless tweaking can result in an unstable device.
- Open. Unlike iOS, Android is an open operating system which can make it rather more susceptible to viruses and hackers.
- Learning curve. Android's near infinite configurability and manufacturer-specific modifications can make it more difficult to get to grips with.
What about Windows?
Microsoft's mobile operating system efforts have been plagued by poor decisions and slow adoption by developers. Windows 10, however, has been well received and appears to be a return to form for Microsoft. Our advice when it comes to Windows is follows:
- Smartphones: future-proof your business by opting for iOS or Android. At this point, Windows phones aren't supported well enough by app developers to make them a sound investment.
- Tablets: don't write off the Microsoft Surface. It is a genuinely compelling alternative to the iPad Pro and offers a more desktop-like experience for those who don't want to go all-out on tablet computing just yet.
What type of device is right for your business?
In order to choose the right mobile device for your business, you need to consider the type of work you intend to do, where you will do it and the types of apps you'll be using.
Mobile devices can be categorised as follows:
- Large screen devices. Tablets of anywhere between 7 - 13 inches in diameter. Smartphones have crept into this bracket too, with 'phablets', as they're known, regularly sporting 5-6" screens.
- Small screen devices. Apple's iPhone SE is a great example of an eminently pocketable computer with a screen measuring just 4 inches.
- Screen-only devices. These are mobile devices without any other peripherals, meaning all navigation and typing must be carried out on the touchscreen.
- Screen and keyboard devices. Apple's iPad Pro and Microsoft's Surface are examples of mobile devices with accompanying keyboards (that usually double as a protective cover).
Chances are, one of the device categories above will have caught your eye. If you can, spend some time hands-on with the device you think is right for your business in order to ensure the size and usability will work in practice.
Consider where you need to work. Are you out on the road regularly (in which case, a SIM-enabled device is a must). Does your line of work involve a significant amount of typing? If so, a screen-only device probably isn't for you.
Lastly, take into account the software your business relies on. Any mobile device you choose will need to possess app support for the tools you use daily. Make sure you check the app stores for iOS, Android and Windows.
Where to buy mobile devices
For smartphones, it is usually advisable to speak to your chosen mobile network, as they typically offer deals that combine devices with data plans. If you decide to plump for Apple hardware and don't fancy the network approach, buy direct from Apple for the best service and sales support. It also pays to visit an Apple shop to get that all-important hands-on time with the devices themselves.
iPhones start from around £360 off contract, while Android's wide choice of devices means you can buy very capable smartphones for as little as £150, fully unlocked (i.e. not tied to any single mobile network).
For tablets, go direct to the manufacturer (if choosing Apple or the Microsoft Surface) or opt for online retailer such as Ebuyer or Amazon. iPads retail from around £399 (for the lowest-spec iPad Mini), the Microsoft Surface starts at £419, while Android tablets can be purchased for as little as £60, although power, battery life and storage is likely to suffer at that end of the scale.
Finance and leasing deals for businesses are available, although it pays to shop around for the best interest rates.