So far in the turning over a new leaf series we have focused on the desktop and notebook computers in your office. However, there is another wonderful device that you may wish to consider: the tablet.

Since its introduction, the iPad has changed the way people access their important information. Gone are the days when we had to lug around a 2kg notebook and wait 3 to 5 minutes for it to boot up whenever we wanted to access our calendar or look at a document.  With iPads, we got lightweight, instant-on access to our documents and essential applications, such as email, web browsing, diary, contact lists and so on.  But what we did not get was a full desktop experience. In other words, what we got was the ability to consume information, but not work with it extensively.

The good news is, the market for tablets has exploded in the past three years and we now have tablet computing devices that are just as powerful as a notebook computer! The question is now, what tablet is right for your business?

Just as with choosing a notebook computer, your first question needs to be: what do you want to do with the tablet? Another way of asking this is to say what applications do I need to run while I’m using the tablet? Let’s not confuse this question with the “how many applications in the App Store” debate that we see many technology journalists going on about. Instead what you should consider is what applications does your business need to be made mobile. For example, if you are running a customer relationship management (CRM) application, such as Act by Sage, and it only ran on the Windows operating system, then you may wish to use a Windows 8 tablet. This way, you could continue to access your customer database even when out of the office! However, if you are running a cloud-based CRM, such as Zoho, then you could choose any tablet that would run a web browser: and that’s pretty much all of them.  But, you need to make sure that the tablet always had wireless Internet connection.  The key thing here is that the business application must be at the forefront of your thinking about what type of tablet you get. (Although I would also argue that cloud-based applications give you much more flexibility in terms of what devices you can use with them.)

There are three main types  of tablet on the market: the iPad from Apple, which runs the iOS operating system; Android tablets, which are made by many different vendors, most notably Samsung, and its operating system is from Google;  and finally Microsoft tablets running Windows Eight. In fact, Microsoft has two different versions of its operating system for tablets: Windows 8 which is exactly the same operating system as you run on a desktop computer or a notebook, and Windows 8 RT, which only runs a limited set of applications from Microsoft’s special application store.

Each of these tablets have their own strengths and weaknesses.

The iPad has arguably the largest following, and its App Store is jam-packed full of useful and entertaining applications that you can download to the device.  Unfortunately, the majority of these applications are not necessarily oriented towards small business. However, like all tablets, it is an excellent device for accessing cloud-based business applications, and as I will argue later, you really want to be using cloud applications wherever possible.

Android tablets are arguably more powerful and flexible than the iPad, and cheaper to boot! They are configurable and their inclusion of ‘widgets’ makes them very productive tools.  However, there are many different vendors offering android tablets on the market. Some of them for rock bottom prices: I’ve seen android tablets as low as $95!  However, if you’re planning to use a tablet for business purposes, I would strongly recommend that you look at a tablet with a minimum of 16 GB of memory and 3G wireless data connection. This is because you will almost certainly want access to your information and applications while out of the office – granting mobility to business owners is one of the main advantages of tablet computing. Once you start looking at this level of tablet, you’re beginning to look at the $400-$800 range of android tablets, and King of that hill is currently Samsung, with Asus coming a close second.

The current batch of Surface  tablets from Microsoft are running Windows 8 RT. Unfortunately, Windows 8 RT has not proven to be very popular, largely due to the fact that it does not run traditional Windows desktop applications , Windows RT does run Microsoft office applications in a way that is both simple and elegant. However, I would strongly advise against going for a Windows RT device. For most business purposes, you’re really looking to the Windows tablets to give you a full Windows desktop / notebook experience, something that neither the iPad nor the android tablet will do.  If, on the other hand you want a tablet packs all of the functionality of a notebook or desktop computer, then you should look at a Windows 8 tablet from the likes of Dell, Toshiba, Asus or Samsung.  These full Windows 8 tablet devices pack an amazing amount of power into a truly mobile experience. If need to run desktop applications on your tablet, then Windows 8 tablets are definitely the way to go.

Once you’ve decided what applications you plan to run, and thus the “type” (operating system ) of your tablet, you can begin considering the different form factors for your new device . Form factor refers to the shape, size and physical features of a computing device.  We now have a plethora of different tablet form factors: 10”, 8”,  7” and 5 1/2” screens;   front facing and / or back facing cameras;  optional attached keyboards; the list is almost endless.

There is no one “right” form factor. The reality is that whatever device you think will work best for you is the right one. However, I would strongly encourage you to ensure that whatever device you procure has the capability of running a 3G wireless data connection, or alternatively you should be looking to procure a 3G wireless hotspot (we’ll discuss this more later) since you want to be accessing your applications and data while on the road.  A simple question you can ask is, will this tablet slipped neatly into my bag or the glove box of my truck when I am travelling?

Another thing that you will need to check is the battery life of the device. IPads give you about eight hours of battery life. Galaxy tablets will give you anywhere between 4 and 10 hours of battery life, depending upon the make and model. Windows 8 tablets tend to have the same battery life as Ultrabooks – around 6 hours. If you plan to be using your tablet extensively during the day, or alternatively using it over several days while on a trip, then you may wish to consider a tablet that has better battery life, often at the expense of computing power.

Finally, tablets have had a massive impact on the computer market. This year we have seen a 14% decrease in desktop and notebook sales globally as tablets have taken over! However, we are just in the first few years of this revolution. Tablet devices will get increasingly more powerful and more flexible over the next few years. So if you do buy a tablet today, be prepared for it to be superseded tomorrow. This is not a bad thing, but I don’t want you to have buyer’s remorse. When you buy a tablet you should think of it as a disposable piece of office equipment, much like a pen or writing pad. Tablets don’t last as long as desktop PCs or notebooks, and the market is changing every day. So treat them as a business expense rather than a business asset. And then start taking advantage of the mobility and flexibility they give you for running your business.