Analysts are touting Apple's new tablets as the key to expanded business usage. But I'm not drinking that Kool Aid, because businesses are rolling out tablets without regard to what Apple does, making due with existing iPad models and alternative tablets. Let me give you several examples I've seen since August.
Arriving in Las Vegas for ITEXPO Las Vegas on a hot summer day, I picked up a vehicle through Enterprise Rent-A-Car. You can imagine my curiosity when Enterprise agents had tablets with electronic forms on the screen. My curiosity changed to delight when the checkout process to get wheels was cut from 10 minutes or more to under five minutes, with no waiting around for agents or printed paper to shuffle. A quick walk around the vehicle, some scribbled initials and signatures with my fingertip and I was done.
Previous visits to Enterprise at that location usually resulted in waiting around a couple of minutes for agents to file paperwork, pick up the paper forms, then march outside to go through the ritual of examining the vehicle, and using a pen to scribble at various points on the form before having the multi-part form ripped apart and pieces distributed between myself and the agent.
The process sounds simple and not that long, unless you are waiting for a car to get to your next destination or if you are an agent and do the same paper shuffling routine some multiple of hundreds during the course of a week. I can honestly say from the customer perspective that tablets make a big difference for Enterprise.
Arriving at the Rio hotel, I saw casino "ambassadors” taking drink orders via tablet. Benefits here are speed and efficiency, with drinks set up and ready to go in real time, rather having a waitress lug back a bunch of paper orders and have to either pull drinks from a setup or wait for drinks to be mixed before returning back to the casino area. Just-in-time drink ordering allows the casino to deliver drinks faster and keep tighter records on inventory.
Restaurant chains have also embraced the tablet. Bonefish Grill uses tablets for ordering, enabling a server to key in an order directly at the table, rather than writing down an order, then talking back to a central station to key everything in. Servers carry tablets around using a big ugly belt thing that doesn't look elegant and probably starts to get proportionally heavier as the end of the shift approaches.
I think the most effective use of tablets I've seen goes to Chick-fil-A. The popular fast food outlet sees the drive-through line backup around lunch time, with a bottleneck forming around the single speaker. Imagine my surprise when two employees came outside during the start of the rush, each equipped with an Apple iPad mini encased in an Otter Box and a hard-copy menu. The two employees are able to roughly double the order input rate, accelerating the drive through process so customers don't have to wait as long and more orders can be cranked through the drive-through window.
Despite Apple's bullish attitude to businesses, I'm not sure it will be able to grow and sustain market share in many segments. Apple builds elite hardware that retails for a premium price. The guys at Chick-fil-A and other fast food establishes will go with the most reliable and lowest cost solution, because the hardware is going to get pounded on at least 10 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week (well, six days at Chick), with people dropping tablets and all the built up wear. It makes the newer iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 expensive and unnecessary options unless Apple can demonstrate its hardware is more reliable under heavy use than various Android options.
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