It’s hard to miss the legal battles in the global showdown between Samsung and Apple over tablets. The fruit-themed technology giant is accusing its Korean rival of copying its product designs and the pair has been clashing in courtrooms all over
The biggest winners in the patent war so far seem to be the various law firms going head-to-head on behalf of the technology behemoths. While Apple gets a ruling in its favour in one country, advice another gives Samsung a nod, recipe and so the cycle continues. You know the whole thing is getting silly when one legal team is submitting Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as evidence – claiming the tablet computer makes its first appearance in the sci-fi classic.
These fights make for juicy headlines and copious column inches in your broadsheet of choice – but when it comes to small business, drug do tablets really have a place? We went in search of business owners that had asked that question and decided to try out a tablet.
Megan Bromley is the employee experience manager (a fancy name for human resources) at Red Balloon, a site that sells ‘experience’ gifts ranging from a few laps in a V8 touring car to arts and crafts lessons. She explains that, back in 2010, her boss Naomi Simson (CEO of Red Balloon) was toying with the idea of rolling out iPads to all of
“She trialed the iPad herself in the office for about six months,” Megan says. “She took it along to all of the meetings, she had her weekly one-to-ones on it, and she really saw that there were savings in time, paper and it made meetings a little bit more interactive for us.”
One of Megan’s responsibilities is making sure the office is an enjoyable place for staff to come to every day. So when the decision was made to make the move to iPads, she did it in a creative way.
“We celebrated our end of financial year 2011 with a trip to Fraser Island,” she recalls. “We kind of did it in a secret way. When everyone got to their rooms they had a branded Red Balloon towel on their bed – everyone was a bit excited about that – and then they lifted it up and there was an iPad stuck underneath it.”
Something that Megan and the team realised early on is that people are going to use the tablets in different ways. Roughly 10% of the workforce uses them every day, then there are others that use their iPad when they have to, and then there are a few that hardly use them at all.
“We have an annual performance review and I sit in on every one of them,” Megan explains. “In the past I would get out the projector and it was this long laborious process. Now you can literally sit in the coffee shop across the road and just reference the iPad – it’s more of a conversation.”
There have been other benefits that Megan has noticed, such as the weekly team meetings becoming more interactive as everyone brings their iPad along. Red Balloon uses Google Docs, so every staff member can quickly bring up a document in a meeting on their tablet. Staff iPads also have access to the internal sales system called Ping and the company’s email client.
John Stafford runs Jujo Baby, a site that sells woolen knitwear for babies and toddlers, with his wife Julia. They take their collection out to a couple of markets each year around Melbourne and were looking for a way to take mobile payments.
“We contacted our bank to see if we could rent an EFTPOS machine, but what was being offered was really prohibitive in terms of cost,” John says. “We had already got a contract with eWay through our website and it was drawn to our attention that eWay has an application that can take payment with an iPad.
“All you do is just input the credit card number, the expiry date, and the number off the back along with the name and it process it for you and gives you a receipt number,” John explains. “It’s worked really well for us and we have certainly taken quite a few sales through the iPad – it’s saved us considerable money. The only downside is we can’t take direct payments as we can only accept credit cards.”
When John and Julia aren’t using the iPad to process a payment, they have it sitting on their stall at the market displaying product images and screenshots from their website. It’s become a bit of a talking point with people visiting the stand and often leads to the pair explaining that they also sell items on their site.
Steve Bleakley is the managing director of Connect Recruitment, and he was looking at tablets as a complete business tool for his recruiters that are often on the road.
“We tested a number of different mobile devices and tablets,” he says. “Most enabled us to complete a lot of online work, but when it came to using the devices as a complete business tool they fell down.
“Browsing and using our recruitment system online was easy with all tablets, as was using Skype, but where all of them fell down was using the Microsoft suite of tools, which we rely heavily on,” adds Steve. “The Samsung Galaxy Slate was the only Windows-based tablet on the market at the time, and using a Microsoft-based tool, we were able to use all of our cloud apps and our desktop ones like Outlook, Word, Excel etc. With iOS or Android we always found ourselves completing 80% of the work on the tablet but always needed to revert to a laptop for other tasks.”
Steve has now switched the team across to Samsung Galaxy Notes, and it’s the only piece of kit they use. Rather than having to rely on a standard laptop as well as a mobile device, Steve and the team do everything on the Notes. While a full switch to a tablet won’t be possible for every company, there are many small business owners out there making tablets useful for more than just a game of Angry Birds.
Just for cats
Megan Bromley, employee experience manager at Red Balloon, and her CEO Naomi Simson, were interviewing for a newly created position of general manager of technology. The company had already rolled out iPads to staff and that was part of the discussion.
“It was supposed to be a really serious interview and we just ended up talking about Paint for Cats – an app that lets your cat paint a picture on your iPad with its paws. One of our values is a sense of humour and fun, so it all worked out.”