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The Top Trends for Small Business Tech in 2013

As spring approached this year, new tech trends for small businesses are starting to emerge.  Well, maybe not new, but there are some strong indicators that this will be the year for smart devices and big data.

Big Data

Sir Francis Bacon once said that knowledge was power.  It was true then and it’s true now.  Small business now have more access than ever to cloud-based analytical tools that help them dredge up useful knowledge from the sea of data out there. A study released by Intuit showed that access to data will increase 40-fold in the next decade.

This is important because that means consumers have an even more powerful flow of information coming their way.  As our information shifting habits evolve so will the tools to analyze what, when, where we are searching.  That is the trick that the small business must learn: how to best be present yourself on the web.

Smart Devices

The time is now for businesses to make their websites mobile friendly.  On personal note, I walked into DSW shoe store and all the sales representatives had iPad.  They were all able to log onto the store’s website and look up stock information, place orders, and show different styles.  Like the cash register, smart device will help people on the floor increase efficiency.

 

As the nation slowly recovers from its economic pitfalls, small businesses will need to work ever harder in this slippery world to stay on the curve.  As in the past, technology will lead the way.

An IT Guy’s Guide to Buying a Laptop

In this go-go world of ours, it seems like a laptop is now an essential for the small business.  Open any Sunday circular and you’ll be bombarded with ads for laptops.  So what to spend your hard earned money on?

Laptop vs Tablet

There are more and more crossovers between laptops and tablets.  For example, the new Windows tablet and the Asus Transformer both have the option to use a keyboard.  However, they still cater to two different crowds.  Tablets tend to be lighter and smaller since they’re designed to be really used with two thumbs or one hand.  This means there is less space for things like memory and processing power.  So a tablet would suite someone who’s constantly on the go and never to really has a home base.  Otherwise, the laptop still has the advantage and processing power and versatility.

The RAM has touched the wall

For the typical user 4GB of RAM is enough.  RAM stands for random access memory.  It’s essentially the amount of resources that your company has to do the tasks at hand.  Lots of deals in circulars advertise refurbished laptops with 2GB of RAM.  In this day and age, it’s not enough for a smooth running experience.

SSD is the way to go

SSD stands for solid state drive.  Unlike older hard drive technology, SSD has no moving parts.  This means that it lasts longer and is quicker.  Laptops with SSD tend to wake from sleep faster and have shorter boot up times.  The tradeoff is that they have less storage space.  However, with cloud storage being all the rage, 128GB of space should be plenty.

What about the processors?

I wrote this article under the assumption that the average small business owner uses their computer for excel, web browsing, and word processing.  Though if you business relies on photo editing or movie making, then a more powerful CPU or a dedicated graphics card would not go amiss.  However, the average user isn’t going to need the extra power or want the added cost.

Is Apple’s iPad mini good for business?

At a starting price of $329, Apple’s new iPad Mini should be looked at if you are preparing to deploy tablets to your workers. It’s price places it at 35% cheaper than its full sized brethren and 50% lighter too. Still, the 329 price mark is higher than the $250 (half price) that most people were expecting.

Google’s Nexus 7 is an attractive rival, especially at its starting mark of $199.  At that price, it has several edges over the iPad Mini.  Hardware wise it has greater pixel density for a sharper screen and a quad core processor to power it all.  Software wise, the Nexus 7 has turn-by-turn directions.

However, if you have the money, Apple offers some interesting functionality.  The iPad Mini has a rear facing camera and access to a significantly larger library of apps.  For a $130 premium, the little iPad can get 4G cellular connectivity.

Looking over the available data, we would have to say that the iPad Mini has limited appeal.  It would be ideal for the office that has already embraced Apple products.  The iPad Mini has excellent cross compatibility and sharing capabilities with products that share its logo. If you are planning on distributing tablets there are less expensive options out there.  Click here to learn deploying Apple products.

Smaller iPad May Come in the Fall

Since it was introduced, the iPad has been by far the biggest player in the tablet space. And it doesn’t just have a big market share—compared with a number comparable devices that have come out in the last few years, it’s actually really big.

The iPad has a 9.7-inch screen, compared with about 7 inches for the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire and the Samsung Galaxy’s smaller versions. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is preparing to introduce its own smaller tablet.

Citing unnamed sources, the story says Apple has told component suppliers to prepare for mass production of a tablet with a less-than-eight-inch screen in September. Rumors of a smaller cousin for the iPad have been floating for some time.

The tablet market is growing rapidly. Market research firm IHS iSuppli predicts that tablet sales will rise 85 percent to 127 million units this year. The iPad held a 62 percent share of the world market for tablets last year, and its dominance is even greater in work environments.

As more variations on the table theme—notably the Microsoft Surface Tablet and Google’s Nexus 7—roll out, Apple must be feeling some pressure to diversify its offerings. But being the big guy in the room comes with complications. One report last year found that the biggest competitor for the iPad is actually the iPhone, which, of course, has only a 3.5-inch screen. That raises the question of whether a smaller Apple tablet will function mostly to subdivide the company’s enormous market.

Scratching the Surface

Microsoft recently announced the release of the ‘Surface’, a laptop-tablet hybrid this Summer.  The Surface will come out with two distinct versions: one will run Windows RT which is optimized for tablet features and battery life, the other model will run a full version of Windows 8.  It’s the software giant’s first major foray into the laptop market, but will it be a success? It depends what Microsoft’s motives are.  Is just a business tool, a pivot point in the industry, or is it something else entirely?  That, all depends on the features.

The Surface will boast a full sized USB 2.0 port. It’ll also have an micro SD card reader. However, the most talked about feature is the kickstand, which allows users to prop the screen up. The second most talked about feature is that the Surface will have a 16:9 aspect ratio on a 10.3” screen that will support full HD.  Now the big question, should I order one for my business?

Well, I was on your IT team, I would say, I don’t know.  There are too many missing details about the Surface, chief of which is price.  How much this piece of technology will set you back has not been released, nor has the internal hardware list.  But it does have a keyboard, which gives a huge usability leg up on the iPad.  One member of the Surface development team said that the touch keyboard allows users to type at 50 words a minute.  With more and more offices converting to laptops only, this tablet could be an easy take-on-the-go machine, especially since it’ll have the full blown Metro system.  The user interface is not for everyone.  Windows Eight has the Metro system which has a bunch of tiles that display information and icons.  If you take the time to configure them, you can have the all the information you want at a glance.  All-in-all, I can’t recommend it either way.

Apple’s Retina Display: The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful

Apple has long been at the fore front of consumer aware innovation. That is to say that Apple makes products that buyers feel are technologically advanced. This is most evident in the iPad 3 and its retina display, which was unveiled with the iPod touch and phone. The display packs 326 pixels per square inch, which translates to a contrast ratio of 800:1. There’s dispute whether or not that this is the most pixels a human eye can handle, (hence, the name retina display) but with its LED ambient light sensitive backing; it’s pretty damn good. Because the screen adjusts to its surroundings, the iPad 3 will reduce eyestrain. That’s a huge boon to IT support Boston, Chicago, NYC, Washington etc. professionals who sometimes have to work on these things all day. A display that’s so crisp may be a game changer. At the very least, it proves that Apple has an impressive manufacturing network.

To date, Samsung makes all the 2048X1536 displays. LG and Sharp are also on deck to pick up any slack. Even though Sharp was rumored to have failed Apple’s inspection process, they are said to be very excited to put their eighth generation fabrication production facilities. They’ll all have to be burning the midnight oil. Analysts are estimating that Apple will ship out an upwards of 18.7 million units by the forth quarter. What does all this mean to you?

Well, if you want an iPad 3 you’ll have to spend somewhere between 499 and 829 dollars. That’s a pretty hefty price for more pixels than your eye can even see. The problems might not stop there. Apps will have to double in size to keep up with the display. That could cause a lot problems since Apple does not allow apps larger than 20 megabytes to be downloaded over 3G. It’ll still work over wi-fi and 4G, so it’ll be on your dime but not AT&T’s. Bigger apps will mean more throttling problems for data users. It’s becoming very clear that data usage and demand for bandwidth is outstripping our current infrastructure.

Overall, the iPad 3 will boast the best display in the retail arena. It’s quite the technological feat. However, Beta had a better display than VHS. Price is still a powerful limiting factor in deciding to make a purchase. It’ll be interesting if Apple’s brand loyalty can trump this. Judging by these pictures, probably.

 

A New Tablet Contender: Windows 8

At the World Mobile Congress, Samsung unveiled a new tablet which runs on Windows 8. It’s poised to become an actual contender against Apple’s iPad, which currently dominates with 57 percent of tablet market. Windows 8 brings an impressive array of tools to the fight including: better functionality, Skydrive capabilities, and backwards compatibility. Microsoft has an up hill battle, but it may be able to gain an edge in the business arena.

Functionality will be key for Microsoft if they wish to break Apple’s hold on the tablet market. While the iPad totes brand recognition and a large library of apps, it does have the connotation of being a toy rather than a tool. It’s a similar dichotomy that the iPhone has with the Blackberry. Microsoft can get down and be all about business. The Windows 8 user interface will use the Metro system which was introduced when the Windows Phone made its debut in 2010. This system displays tiles that depict information like temperature and stock prices. They are constantly updated to keep the user informed on changing situations. It would be interesting to see if apps are created for IT support services and other customer service industries to keep track of open and incoming tickets. This is just one of a whole host things that Windows 8 can do to appeal to the business sectors. They’ll have to work that angle to compete. If the Apple commercials with Justin Long teach us anything, it’s that Microsoft never be as cool.

Staying on top of being productive, the Windows 8 client will also have Skydrive. Skydrive is a cloud service with over 10 petabytes of storage space. This service will permeate the PC version as well as the mobile. Thus, data gathered in field can seamlessly be accessed at the office without any lag time. Microsoft is also pushing for all its apps to use Skydrive. It’s clear that this move is to match iCloud’s quest to make all electronic devices become one.

The final piece of the puzzle is backwards compatibility. Tablets running Windows 8 will be able to run Microsoft Office programs in their fullest form. This could be deal maker for small to medium businesses. For example, an accountant at the main office can go to an off site vendor and run Excel to keep the books with all its features. Windows 8 also supports mouse and keyboard use, unlike the iPad, so anywhere can become a convenient office.

Android may have fallen flat on its back. It has only sold about 12 million units compared to 48 million units of iPad sold last year alone. The door is wide open for a new contender and Microsoft seems ready. The days of bygone eras have returned. Windows 8 appears to be a business oriented construct to duke it out with iPad’s suave demeanor.

 

Is the Desktop Dead?

Sounding the desktop death knell as mobile devices edge them out of the market

In the past, a cost chasm separated the laptops from the desktop. Mobility, it seemed, came at a price. Businesses opted to buy the more pricy laptops for those who needed it most, furnishing the rest with the more reasonably priced desktops. The dropping prices of laptops reduced the gap in price to a mere $50. A mere $50 it seems, that most companies are finding it easier to justify.

It’s not just the competitive pricing that’s contributing to the untimely demise of the desktop; a growing trend to bring your own device to work (BYOD) has seen companies save on hardware costs as employees prefer to utilize their own devices instead of the trusty old desktop. Cloud technology provides centralized functionality that helps to promote the use of personal devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops.

This year’s sales figures reflect the changing landscape with laptops taking 68% of the market, up from previous years which saw a more even 50/50 split. There are several inherent advantages to owning a laptop:

  • Mobility: the smaller, thinner and lighter the laptop gets, the more portable they become
  • They take up less desk space
  • Increased productivity as employees are able to take them home to work
  • Negates the need to work late at the office which increases employee satisfaction
  • Telecommuting is possible as the employee does not need a computer at home and at the office

The laptop is not the only device that is giving the desktop a run for its money. Tablet sales increased by 150% over the last quarter, making it one of the fastest growing hardware markets in the business. Microsoft will be developing Office applications for the iPad which will bolster support for this emerging technology. Cloud technology negates the need for large software purchases or large volumes of information to be stored in giant desktop hard drives.

It’s not only the emerging technologies that threaten the denizens of the desk; it’s also their old nemesis, the Apple Mac. Apple Mac sales have increased by 20.7% while desktop sales dropped by 5.9% overall. This means that Apple managed to take a large bite out of the PC pie. Those who love their desktops need not fear. The good old desktop isn’t dead just yet. It still has its advantages over the new devices which include:

  • Large screens which are important for those who spend lots of time on the computer and like to see all the little details
  • Ergonomics; good office chairs and desktops are far more comfortable than hunching over a laptop
  • Storage on a desktop can’t be beat
  • Typing on a real keyboard is much easier than a laptop’s often cramped keyboard can afford

It seems the days of the desktop dominance are numbered, so enjoy them while you can.