Take a tablet for more mobile power

The AgNerds, Shaun Haney & Peter Gredig

THE SMARTPHONE BRINGS mobile management power to farmers of all description. But an internet-enabled tablet device is a perfect complement and more farmers are taking advantage.

If you already have a smartphone, you probably wouldn’t be without it. And if you’re like most smartphone users, you probably feel like there is still a lot of untapped potential to uncover with your iPhone, BlackBerry or Android phone. The last thing you want to hear is that you need to buy another device and go through that learning process again.

There is no disputing the multi-tasking power of the smartphone. The email, texting and instant messaging tools change the way you communicate with co-workers, family and friends.  Apps are available to make the smartphone even more powerful. Ag-specific apps are becoming more common and we’ll see more in the near future. So why would you consider a tablet device like an iPad?

The one glaring weakness of the smartphone is the screen size. Yes you can access web sites and view video on your phone, but it is not optimal. The primary advantage of a tablet device is that you have a larger screen and a much improved web and viewing experience. There are also apps designed specifically for tablets and they take advantage of that bigger viewing space.

The reality is that accessing the web has become primarily a mobile experience. It’s been reported that sometime in 2011, global access to the web using mobile devices surpassed desktop computer access. Smartphones pushed this along, but tablets take it to another level.   Another staggering statistic is that book publishers sell more digital books than paper-based books.  Tablets are what make this type of experience a reality. 

Similar to smartphones, tablet devices generally support one of the three main mobile platforms: Apple, Research in Motion, or Android. Apple offers the market share leading iPad. Research in Motion (makers of BlackBerry phones) has the PlayBook, and various manufacturers build tablets that run Google’s Android operating system.

Which one should you buy? Again, the choice is similar to the process of buying a smartphone, combine or a new vehicle.  There are many similarities between the makes and models, but minor differences swing consumers in one direction or another.  All the tablets offer similar functionality – they are great web surfing devices, handle email, and run various apps and programs.

iPad has been the leader in the tablet market and if you already have an iPhone, it’s the natural choice.

For BlackBerry users, the PlayBook tablet tethers to the smartphone to access the web when wi-fi is not available. This means you don’t need a separate data plan, but you must carry both devices together. The PlayBook had a tough launch and there were problems, but the arrival of a new operating system in February (OS2) addressed many of the early issues and allows PlayBook users to access tablet apps from the Android Market in addition to PlayBook specific apps. This is big. And with the cost of the PlayBook discounted versus the iPad and Android devices, it’s worth a look if you are loyal to BlackBerry. Dropping the price of the PlayBook kept it in the game. It is estimated that about 15% of tablets in Canada are PlayBooks.

Android tablets are grabbing more and more market share due to their open platform, a wide selection of devices and an exploding number of apps.  Many users also like the ability to customize the device to suit their specific needs. Like the Playbook, some Android tablets are less costly than the iPad.  Many people are expecting manufacturers like Samsung to link the TV and the tablet closer together to improve the user experience.  In 2012, Android app downloads will surpass Apple. The tablet race is on and it’s neck and neck between Apple and Android with Research in Motion trying to catch up. 

Due to the larger screen size and processing power, tablets serve functions that a smartphone never would. If you think in the context of an owners’ manual – instead of carrying around bulky books with terrible images, more and more equipment companies will offer digital owners’ manuals with high quality images and video to support their products.  A tablet is also a much better tool for data entry and record keeping tasks, document creation and for viewing formats like pdfs.

For farmers, it’s worth going with a tablet that has 3G capability-it makes the device so much more valuable and useable anywhere on the farm.

Shaun Haney and Peter Gredig are the AgNerds and they are obsessed with emerging technologies in agriculture. Watch their videos at www.realagriculture.com and www.themobilefarmer.com.  If you have a technology you would like the AgNerds to cover, send an email to info@themobilefarmer.com