Tablet computers are the hot tech item right now, but one writer’s questioning whether they’re really all that special. PCWorld’s Al Sacco wrote a recent story titled, “Four Reasons Why You Don’t Really Need a Tablet PC,” a piece designed for the ordinary consumer looking for a piece of hardware for entertainment or convenience purposes, but there are some key takeaways for enterprise users as well. However, let’s go over the four reasons first before we get to Sacco’s thoughts on tablets in the field.

1. “Tablets Really Aren’t Particularly Portable”
Since one needs a bag or a case to carry a tablet (since they’re too big to fit in one’s pocket), Sacco says you might as well carry your laptop around with you since the size difference isn’t that great.

2. “Tablet is Just One More Piece of Hardware to Carry”
While tablets do some things better than smartphones and tablets, particularly surfing the web while listening to music on the couch, according to Sacco, they don’t replace smartphones (more portable) or laptops (better keyboard, larger display and more applications).

3. “Tablet Browser Limitations”
Since iPads don’t support Flash, and some websites identify tablets’ browsers as “mobile” and as a result run with limited features, browsing with tablets isn’t optimal. However, Sacco’s reasoning mostly focuses on his inability to watch streaming content on Hulu or Netflix, which probably isn’t the biggest priority for field service managers and service technicians. Well, managers, anyway.

4. “Tablets (Mostly) Aren’t Built to Last”
Here’s perhaps the most relevant of the four reasons for field service, and the reason why when some field service operations choose to go with tablets, they consider going rugged an easy decision. While Sacco lauds the iPads sleek, beautifully designed hardware, he questions its durability, along with competing tablets, noting how if any non-rugged tablet is dropped once or twice, the glass screen will shatter.

Forget Consumers, What About Field Service?

Sacco spends most of the article explaining why tablets aren’t really necessary for everyday consumers, most of whom are inundated with advertisements for tablets on a daily (if not hourly) basis. But The SmartVan isn’t worried about the people playing Angry Birds, but rather the workers using mobile devices to pull up customer data, enter work orders, find parts and make in-person sales. What’s the future of tablet computing for them?

In the future, I believe tablets will definitely find a home in some industries, such as healthcare, field-service work and for general on-the-go inventory management, etc. But I really don’t see your average field-service worker toting an iPad or PlayBook around, as much as they might like to. Tablets are just too unwieldy for folks who aren’t already toting a bag or other carrying solution. And they aren’t as cheap as smartphones, which can offer much of the same functionality.

What do you think? Do iPads and the like have a home in field service, or is rugged the only way to go? Or can service techs get by with smartphones? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear what people are using.

More about tablet computers on The SmartVan