By Denise McLaughlin, Worldwide Integrated Marketing, Enterprise Business Group

I got into a disagreement the other day with a colleague of mine.  We are same age and have had roughly the same tenure in our careers, but we disagreed sharply on the pace and impact of the “tablet revolution” for business.   I think that the tipping point for business is well underway.  The tablet is the new “off ramp” replacing paper in many situations.  My colleague firmly believes it will be years before tablets really make any sense for business users; displacing laptops or displacing most printed documents.

My reasoning for believing that we are witnessing a dramatic shift for business is simply the blue-covered Apple iPad sitting on my desk (yes, BYOD).  I considered all the ways I’ve already begun to use it in my day-to-day practices.  I don’t take my laptop to meetings anymore, unless I have to project PowerPoint slides in the conference room  or over WebEx.  Otherwise, I take my iPad – good for notes, and of course, to multitask in all those meetings.Using tablet by MFP in the office

I find this to be true even more so than I did with my smartphone.  That’s because the line between my personal “fun” activities and business activities increasingly blur with the lure of  tablet-based apps.  With very few exceptions, I don’t use a laptop outside the office anymore, and once Microsoft Office is available for the iPad, there were be very few things I won’t do on my tablet.

While enjoying a sunny deck or cozy fire, I am a flipper. I flip from business email, to reading the latest Fast Company article in Flipboard to tweeting my latest blog. Then, I might hop onto a search engine to find marketing research for my next project, while downloading the latest issue of International Living, dreaming of a retirement house in Belize. After that, doing a quick search to see what to watch on Netflix later or look for recipe for dinner. Was I working?  Was I playing?  Yes and yes.  Would I have done the same thing with my laptop or my smartphone?  Certainly not as fluidly, or at all.

Ethnographic researchers at PARC even have a new name for this kind of emerging social and digital phenomena, they call it “Channel Blending.” When our work, personal worlds and rich media are colliding at a breathtaking pace, doesn’t it say business will follow the trend? In fact, Cisco has an entire portfolio focused on collaboration through multimedia communications channels  for business.

While all those examples are true, my colleague still disagreed with me, arguing that printed paper and laptops are here for the long haul because “everyday working people” aren’t buying tablet devices for themselves given cost,  today’s economy and not for use at work. She agreed that executives and highly mobile workers will invest or be invested in, but what about everyone else?

She insisted that not many people are true “mobile” workers. I thought about that. I started down the list. Doctors and nurses, medical professionals?  Not in the traditional sense of mobile, but they sure move around in their jobs.  More and more of them use tablets because it avoids error prone, cluttered paper records, protects confidentiality and collects and electronically stores information while sitting with a patient.

Recently, a small business owner at a fencing company told me that paperwork is still the common denominator when dealing with clients; he’s still faxing and keeping paper records.  But, he also does an awful lot of redundant data entry when he gets home on his computer.  He wishes he didn’t.

Right now, maybe a tablet is just a fancy accessory for a banker or accountant, until the day comes when they can get to all the data they need from a tablet. Hotel registration requires paper signatures, but for how long? Will a hotel concierge stop handing out pamphlets of information to guests?  Will that brochure display station by the front desk switch to a set of QR codes with a voice over display so I can flip through all them at my leisure?  I say maybe, and maybe pretty soon.

What do you think about the tablet revolution – are we at the tipping point or are laptops here for the long haul?