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Tablet Computers and the CPA - Really

"The Tablets are Coming, the Tablets are Coming" is being considered as a movie to be released in 2012. It is not yet cast, but casting calls for the part of Steve Jobs have already been sent out to talent agencies. If you are thin, and can fit into slim jeans, call your agent. If you wear round glasses and look like a college undergraduate, try for the Bill Gates role. A lot of extras will be needed to appear as a GUI look-alike.

The use of tablet computers has engaged most tech-oriented gamers, anyone under 25 and a whole lot of people and companies. Right now, there are three kinds of people:  those who already own a tablet computer, those who want one and those who do not have time to be bothered with something different. Within the CPA community, there are users and there are people who believe that tablets are only good for to do lists or watching movies or playing games. Everyone gets to make their own fair assessment.

There is another hand to consider. I found and interesting opinion article from Newsweek Magazine. Here is an excerpt:

"But today, I'm uneasy about this most trendy and oversold community. Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.

Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works."

This article was published Feb 26, 1995. Clearly, the author had no expectation of the rapid and wide-ranging evolution of technology. In the 16 years since this article was written, cell phones replaced landlines; smartphones replaced cell phones; laptops replaced desktop computers; work-oriented laptops are being partially replaced by smartphones and tablets; student oriented laptops have been replaced by Xbox, Wii, tablets and smartphones. With the exponential growth of the internet, the collaboration among notebooks, netbooks, smartphones, and tablets all connected through wired and wireless connections is delivering mobile access to content, communications and applications that were not available in the 20th century.

The initiating question for this article - "Is there anything new and exciting about Tablet Computers?" My short answer is: New - always, Exciting - sometimes. The longer answer for me goes beyond the glitz and glamour from mobile entertainment: movies, games, books and all kinds of graphics applications. CPAs have a great opportunity to benefit from the the functionality of the tablet platform when integrated with all kinds of interactive web services. These include, and definitely not limited to: cloud hosted services, the world of apps, professional training videos, readable tax regulation guides, audit statements and workpapers. All of these applications and a lot more, will deliver better functionality with improved mobility.

One crystal clear fact is that the Tablet Computer is having a significant impact on the technology universe. Apple's iPhone was first delivered in 2007, iPad 1 in April 2010. In the past four years, the entire world has been ensnared with the development of mobile IT solutions through developments in cloud computing and virtualization. Consumers have made their own use of personal mobile devices part of their every hour existence. While the major use today of these graphics oriented devices is text messaging, games and video entertainment, there is a lot more functionality than entertainment, picture taking, and voice to voice communications.

Many research companies such as International Data Corporation, IHS iSuppli and Pew Research,make predictions for booming sales of tablets in 2011. The long coat tail is helping to drive a 57.8-percent increase in the shipments of mobile broadband devices that support high-speed wireless connectivity. In 2011, mobile devices are projected to climb to 157.9 million units, up from 100.1 million units in 2010. This growth is impacting suppliers, manufacturers, mobile network operators, third-party applications and service suppliers. The Tablet and its wireless interface is forcing innovations in how core chipsets and architectures are designed.

Consumer electronics led the way with embedded Wi-Fi capability. Consequently Wi-Fi access has expanded from your favorite coffee bar to grocery stores, hair salons, shopping malls and even inside commercial airplanes. Whether it will be 3G or 4G or 5G, the appetite for mobile data traffic will not stop

By 2015, the majority of mobile broadband devices will utilize the 4G wireless standard known as long term evolution (LTE), in line with consumer demand for faster speeds and, perhaps more important, lower latencies or delays from their mobile broadband networks.

Francis Sideco, Principal Analyst at iSuppli, says, "Growth in mobile broadband devices will drive an explosive increase in mobile data traffic, causing carriers to rapidly rethink their strategies for network and service deployments ... And as new players target the mobile device market, existing players at every node of the communications value chain will need to continually evolve their business strategies."

CPAs need to include the growing arsenal of Tablet tools within their strategic technology planning. For firms, clients, enterprises and individuals, it is clear that the future use of computing will be centered on Web browsing, applications and media consumption. The four-year explosion and adoption of smartphones and tablets are past their version 1 beta testing mentality.

There are a huge variety of applications designed for the business environment. The media tablet is proving to be something new, but the device itself is only part of the story. IT developers are in development or planning stages for where tablets will deliver information and media in ways that were not practical or too cumbersome before.

A recent example comes from my long-time friend, Stan, whose technology use stops with the use of TV remote controls, garage door openers, and basic cellular phone calls. He was in a shopping mall last month, picked up an Apple iPad and with no instruction was able to research information about a specific set of stocks. The tablet style interface is changing the way applications are being made accessible to users - business or personal, techie or non-techie.

Of course, security is and will always remain an issue. Depending on the application requirements, security will be solved. Regulatory burdened audits have to manage the over-riding issue of not just real security but the perceived sense of security. Within the audit process, ancillary work such as audit scheduling, collaboration with multi-office tasks, verification of asset values can be accomplished effectively on tablet computers as they evolve.

Clients will embrace tablet platforms for internal operations tasks such as inventory management, sales support, and a variety of transaction alerts. The Tablet platform will expand application portfolios through the new design features such as multi-touch and motion sensing integrated with web based portals and applications. Performance alerts, audit alerts, taxable transaction alerts will find their ways into financial and management systems. Business analytics and performance dashboards are another example that will fit on a tablet platforms.

While Microsoft introduced the concept of tablets in 2001, the commercial use of tablet computing was launched by Apple in April, 2010, less than 1.5 years ago. CPAs are talented and smart and therefore will explore the usable and useful capabilities of the tablet platform. Applications such as: tax planning, financial analysis, work-flow diagrams, client correspondence, content search, and more. Education is a natural - text-oriented, audio, video - have a significant role for better training materials and increased learning retention. Whether done as a group activity or self-directed learning, tablets are better than notebooks because of their better interface capacity.

The variety of computing platforms - servers, desktops, laptops, tablets, and web based - require decisions about the integration of mobile devices. As CPAs expand their efforts around the mobile world - at home, at the client and in the office - means added reliance on tablets and smartphones connected to and from the internet pipeline. Embracing mobile applications requires decision between thick-client application for a firm controlled single platform, or integrating Web technologies that are here or coming soon through Web 2.0 and 3.0. The growing use of web based applications will lead to the accessibility of more platform independence. The Mac vs PC competition will change.

Tablet computers deliver mobile computing in a significantly improvements since some of started using the Osborne 1 in the early 1980s. Whether your CPA practice is very conservative and do not use mobile applications or you have already started the integration of mobile technologies, take the time to explore the world of Tablet computing. You will find a combination of answers from no use to lots of use to part of some long-term future technology plan. The choice, as always, is yours.

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