Tablet portability boosts worker productivity

JP Gownder/Forrester Research
03 Apr 2013

Technology’s value to a business derives at least in part from its ability to increase productivity. The 1987 Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow demonstrated that technology increases the productivity of both capital and labor to create economic growth.

Some technologies radically reshape productivity. Take, for example, the cotton gin (1792), which fundamentally transformed labor. A quote from Wikipedia claims: “With a cotton gin, in one day a man could remove seed from as much upland cotton as would have previously taken a woman working two months to process at one pound a day.” By profoundly increasing worker productivity, the cotton gin revolutionized both the textile and agricultural industries.

We’re living through several technological revolutions of our own right now – in, for example, cloud services, mobility, and big data. One technology that leverages all three to some extent is the tablet, a device I follow very closely.

Tablets drive worker productivity through a variety of vectors. One of those vectors is portability. In our Forrsights Hardware Survey, we asked IT decision-makers who either support tablets today or plan to support them soon why they would do so. IT decision-makers’ #1 answer, at 62%? Because tablets are a “more portable form factor than the traditional laptop.” This response eclipsed end user preferences, ease of use considerations, and other possible answers.

So I&O is on board, but are workers taking advantage of this hyper-portability? In our Forrsights Workforce Employee Survey, we asked global information workers who use PCs and tablets (respectively) where they use each device in a typical week. We found that:

  • Tablets empower workers to be productive in (far) more places. The Figure below shows that information workers use their tablets much more often than PCs in heterogeneous locations. The differences are significant for use in a different room or building at work, or in another work location or client site. The differences are vast for truly mobile locations like coffee shops, or for use while traveling or commuting. Tablets span the gamut of locations, while PCs don’t.
  • PCs, in fact, dominate only in one spot – at the work desk. Workers’ desks haven’t gone away, even if 29% of workers fall into the category Forrester calls “Anytime, Anywhere” information workers. Today, 91% of workers say they use their PCs at their desks. Certain hardcore computing tasks – think the creation of complex spreadsheets – might optimally be accomplished on a PC (or Mac). But the growing picture is that of a primary computer used at one’s desk, but a highly flexible adjunct computer – a tablet – being used everywhere else.
  • And tablets are rivaling PCs as the go-to device for taking work home. The #1 spot where information workers who own a tablet do work on it? At home: 68% of tablet users say they do so, compared with 43% of PC users. For applications related to staying connected – email and instant messaging, for instance – tablets fit the bill nicely, obviating the need to take a full-fledged work PC home on evenings and weekends.

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