Easy remote access to your systems without breaking the bank
If you've been wondering about how to best take advantage of mobile computers for the offsite quoting demands of Valet-style assessing centres, then there are many variations on the theme.
For years we have been tooling up our clients with mobile quoting computers ranging from plain and simple laptops through to high-tech tablet pcs and now the myriad of iPad-style portable tablets.
I've been using tablet pcs for many years now and have found them very useful except for the normal wait for them to fire up and be useful, as well as the small window of opportunity afforded by the battery life of the unit, sometimes as little as an hour or so.
Well, I'm happy to report that these two shortcomings have been addressed tremendously well now with instant-on technology and long battery life just like you get with your mobile phones, not to mention the built-in 3G wireless broadband which can get rid of the necessity to carry the much-maligned USB dongle everywhere you go.
I've been using an iPad now for the best part of a year and I must admit that I love it for its 'always-on' instant accessibility, along with the internal 3G SIM card giving me that 'work from anywhere' flexibility. BUT, and there's always a BUT isn't there, it has its shortcomings which can make the experience a little less than perfect.
To say it's flawed is probably an over-statement, bearing in mind we're comparing a slim and lightweight super-tablet that comes in under $1000 to the much heavier and more expensive tablet PCs that we've been selling for years, sometimes hitting the $5000 mark.
What I have found though is they can be a little hard to live with if you want to access your system remotely where the normally useful large keyboard can get in the way of your programs that run on the server. Also the internet browsing can be a bit stunted when viewing websites that use the common 'flash' type of display which is not supported by the iPad.
However, there are reports that some of the Quoting System providers are working on iPad 'Apps' that can work within the memory of the tablet to download into the quoting system when returning to the office, or even over the internet.
What is becoming obvious though is the fact that, although Apple's iPad2 is selling up a storm with some 9.25 million units sold in the last quarter, there is growing competition from the other manufacturers especially the new Google Android-based tablets coming from top suppliers like Lenovo, Acer, Toshiba and the like. HP are also releasing a tablet using the web-OS system since taking over the ailing Palm Corporation and look set to take on the business market.
These newer iPad competitors will have the same sort of screen size, slim case and work-anywhere mobility that Apple's tablet has pioneered, but are more likely to be able to work with remote access to your office-based systems and better internet browsing compatibility, meaning you'll be able to view more websites that you can with the iPad.
Many of these new tablets are including built-in 3G wireless broadband cards and, better still will also have features missing from the iPad like USB ports so you can plug in your USB flash drives along with integrated SD Card slots so you can download your images from your digital cameras.
Now, one of the biggest complaints of the iPad2 is that the built-in camera is of pretty poor quality. Not so for the new Android-based units, they're boasting 5-megapixel cameras that you can use to take photos straight on to the SD card in the memory. That means you'll be able to plug them straight into your card reader when you get back to work to download them.
What is apparent though is that you won't need to lumber your work PC with the heavy-old iTunes software just to transfer files to the tablet. Good as it may be for downloading all your favourite disco hits from the 70's to your PC, it can be a real beast for making your super-quick mega-PC that you bought only last month perform like something from the same era as your music downloads.
The new generation tablets look like they'll bring the real mobility benefits that we've been waiting for, without the draw-backs of having one that seems to be designed to line the pockets of the people who are making them, rather than those who are using them.
There are going to be a large number of software programs, or 'Apps' as they are called, available for the Android machines, although early days will only reveal a fraction of the 60,000 or so Apps that are designed for the iPad, probably numbered in the hundreds rather than thousands. The main thing is that the ones available for Android are independently designed and built without interference from Google, whereas the iPad ones are consistently controlled by Apple, often making controversial and less-than consistent moral judgements. Lets face it, Google produced a great voice recognition app but Apple blocked it, yet you can download a multitude of Fart Apps like iFart and there's even an App called iPoo which is a social networking program for people on the dunny!! Yes, I'm serious!
Out there in the mobile computing world there are those who will only ever worship at the iTemple, having to own everything that comes with an 'i' in front of its title, even stretching to buy the latest Hyundai because of its nomenclature. They would never be seen dead with anything other than a device that has the famous fruit logo on it.
But equally, you come across people every day who are put off by the controlling nature of the Apple range and will never buy into the whole iThing because of the perceived arrogance of Apple and its 'superior' attitude. The 'Apple-haters' are numerous and growing in number.
However you see the picture, the ability to do your quotes offsite, or walking around the workshop and car park, has never been easier. And now, you don't need huge arm muscles to carry the portable tablet, or the big wallet to pay for it in the first place. There are going to be those who are tempted by the chic design and fashion of the iPad, not to mention the fact that everyone else has bought one, but if you want a no-frills workhorse to help make you money there are many more options available now.
Don't get me wrong, I still have the iPhone and iPad along with the Macbook and the iPods for the kids, but maybe the time has come to consider the competition and how they can take you where you want to go without continually paying through the nose for everything that you need to add to it.
Who knows, maybe the worm in the apple is turning.