No, tablets won't replace PCs anytime soon

The list of what tablets can do is long and growing, but it's the list of what they can't do that's keeping most employees from using tablets as PC replacements

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Whether you're cutting and pasting information from a Web page into a document, clicking on a link in an email to open a Web page, or pasting an Excel chart into PowerPoint, having everything open in front of you makes a big difference. But you knew that.

(Of course, Galaxy Note 10.1 and the forthcoming Windows 8 Metro do include two-app split-screen capabilities, so window functionality may mature sooner than my three-year "foreseeable future." Let's hope.)

Tablet shortcoming No. 2: Screen real estate. An average desktop PC has more than 200 square inches of real estate on hand. A laptop has about half that, which is still twice what an iPad provides. If a desktop or laptop user needs more, adding a second monitor is cheap and easy.

Whether the employee is working with a big spreadsheet or a layout-intensive document, is moving information around from one application to another (using the windowing capability), or is accessing an application while viewing a scanned document, having enough screen real estate is a bigger deal than just avoiding eyestrain. It allows for certain forms of work possible that would be impossible in a more cramped situation.

But you knew that too.

Tablet shortcoming No. 3: Work that goes beyond text entry. Here are features I use all the time that aren't even glimmers on the iPad's horizon, whether your mobile word processing app of choice is Pages, Quickoffice, Office2HD, or Documents to Go:

  • Style-driven interparagraph spacing (although each app places space automatically between paragraphs, only Documents to Go users can specify the actual before and after spacing)
  • Mail-merge
  • Footnotes
  • Image captioning with automatic table and figure numbering
  • Cross-references
  • Document markup and commenting (although Office2HD on the iPad does Word-style -- and Word-compatible -- commenting and markup)

If you're sophisticated in your use of Microsoft Word, you knew all of this without my having to mention it. If, on the other hand, you're among those who say, with pride, "I only use 10 percent of Word's features anyway!" then you probably also say, with pride, that you don't know how to balance your checkbook.

Some advice: Learn more features. In this day and age, it's a hallmark of basic professionalism.

Tablet shortcoming No. 4: Printing. While you can print from iOS and Android devices, caveats abound. To put it simply, with a PC I can print without hassles, on the printer I already own, without requiring new software.

Tablet shortcoming No. 5: Document scanning. With a PC you can connect to any of a wide variety of cheap scanners or all-in-one devices. With an iPad, you can't. Sure, there are apps that "transform" your iPad into a scanner, but when it comes done to it, they don't cut it compared to what you can connect to a PC.

Tablet shortcoming No. 6: Pivot tables. I don't use pivot tables very much, but I know lots of people who do. If you perform or consume analytics at any level, this is a big deal. If you did better on your SAT verbals than math, you won't care.

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