By Greg Andrews, contributor
FORTUNE -- Tablets are compelling devices that have captivated much of the tech industry over the past year. Most tablets are slick, portable, equipped with a bright touch screen, and priced lower than a typical desktop or laptop. Detractors have said that while tablets are innovative devices, they fall well short in functionality to a desktop or laptop PC. These critics are raising serious business and technology questions. What are tablets really going to be used for in large enterprises? What are their practical uses beyond viewing content and email? How much money can be made making and selling tablets?
Here are seven promising applications for tablets according to our findings at Accenture based on ongoing interactions with clients, coupled with industry research and analysis. The common thread underpinning these applications is that tablets are especially relevant for people on the move who need real-time, economical access to critical information virtually anywhere, anytime to accelerate communications and improve customer service.
Healthcare, Hospital, and Medical Applications
Doctors, nurses, administrators and patients are finding tablets particularly useful to reduce costs, accelerate transaction times, streamline information access, reduce paperwork, and simplify the overall healthcare experience for workers and patients.
Tablets are attractive for hospital use because, lacking keyboards, they are easy to wipe down and disinfect. They also provide quick mobile access to the latest information about clinical best practices. Tablets also enable doctors and nurses to read and record blood pressure and glucose levels while in a patient’s room rather than at a desktop or laptop computer in another location. The devices can connect wirelessly into a hospital’s electronics patient record system and a doctor can use a tablet to review a set of patient test results.
Radiologists can read films from their tablets from virtually anywhere. Doctors can show patients exactly what the test or diagnosis or x-ray reveals in real-time.
Sales people are finding tablets appealing because they tend to offer more features and applications than netbooks, and are smaller, weigh less, and are less cumbersome to carry and use than laptops in face-to-face customer meetings. As such, sales people can swiftly and easily access, display, and enter essential data on their tablets and provide on-the-spot and updated product and price quotes, and order requests.
The entertainment industry, particularly cable TV and broadcast network companies, are exploring tablets as another medium for content delivery beyond PCs and smartphones, Cable and content providers are ascertaining the affect it will have on TV viewing habits. A tablet is large enough to offer easy viewing of TV shows and movies. In addition, using tablets for gaming, photography, video and illustration is appealing. Using the tablet screen to view TV tracks with recent Accenture research that found consumers are rapidly turning to consumer electronics products such as smartphones and tablets to view media.
In-store tablet use allows retailers to efficiently integrate online and in-store inventory in real-time, obtain a 360 degree view of consumers by receiving and analyzing shopping and browsing behaviors, and creating an interactive, media-rich store experience. Tablets help consumers buy goods, check inventory, and compare products in real-time from anywhere in the store.
Among the most promising use of tablets in education today involve disabled children. Tablet’s touch screens have proven to be especially appealing for these children because they provide instant gratification, more control, and independence. Similarly, children with poor fine-motor skills find the touch screen simpler to use than a desktop computer which requires the use of a mouse. For students with vision impairment, the sharp, bright screens are easier to read. And recent reports suggest that mathematically challenged students find solving problems on a tablet more enjoyable than working with textbooks.
Tablets are likely to have a big impact on the publishing industry particularly in the education arena. One of the most noteworthy developments recently has been the launch and distribution of a $35 tablet called AaKash to India’s students. At this price point, tablet computing becomes much more accessible to many more students in India*. The Indian Ministry of Education is purchasing approximately 100,000 tablets to subsidize the costs so students can buy them for $35. Students will be able to browse the access e-textbooks they could not afford otherwise. Students from elementary through graduate schools will eventually have most or all of their textbooks online; many will access them on their tablets. In many other countries around the world tablets are likely to be used by the publishing industry. A growing number of school textbooks are going to be installed on tablets. Students from elementary through graduate schools will eventually have most of their textbooks on tablets.
A tablet can be an ideal engineering field tool, recording data from sensors, taking photos, adding notes, and drawing sketches. The tablet’s multi-touch feature also makes it ideal for map-reading. A user can move from a global view to a street-level view, and zoom out again. Similarly, schematics on a tablet can be zoomed to a full device view, down to the individual component level, and back again. Instruction manuals can be stored on a tablet for quick access and viewing. A construction company can have its field workers use tablets to diagnose quality issues on site; to store and share material; and relay audio, digital photos and documents.
*How a $35 Tablet Could Revolutionize Classroom Learning,” Audrey Waters, October 13, 2011, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
Greg Andrews is a senior executive with Accenture’s Electronics & High-Tech group.