From the sleek iPad 2 to the virtually indestructible ARMOR rugged PC, tablets are about as varied as the people who use them. And they’re here to stay. Though the iPad is probably higher up on the wish list for both consumers and service techs alike, its heavy duty counterpart has been performing in the field for years. But the iPad can be credited for this year being dubbed the “Year of the Tablet” – a euphemism bestowed upon 2011 by Field Technologies Online.

As the new kid on the block the iPad may have mass appeal, but the rugged computer isn’t going out of style anytime soon. A hybrid of the less portable laptop computer and the mobile phone, tablet PCs are ideal for the service set because of their versatility, portability and ease-of use. A worker in the field can easily pull up a demonstration for a colleague or walk a customer through an inspection with the help of a tablet, a capability that is bringing enormous value to techs and their clients.

“We see a shift in platform selection from traditional rugged notebooks to tablets. Tablets are more user-friendly and can be built stronger, more rugged than a notebook,” Mark Holleran, president of Xplore Technologies, told Field Technologies Online. “Tablets are more compact than laptops, easier to mount, and easier to interact with via touch or pen rather than keyboard.”

Although field service workers can affix rugged covers to the iPad’s slim design, Apple didn’t design the device to withstand the drops and extreme temperatures that come along with working in the field. Unlike tablets specifically designed for the management of a field service operation, the iPad falters when running more than one application. Viewability in bright sunlight is another challenge Apple has yet to address. So while the ubiquity of the iPad has fueled the growth of the tablet industry, there are some fields where a consumer-grade tablet just won’t do the trick.

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ABOUT Sara Suddes

San Francisco-based contributor Sara Suddes writes frequently about small business, the economy and technology.