Affinity Consulting Blog

The iPad's arrival in 2010 was supposed to herald the beginning of the post-PC era. While the iPad's initial success was notable, and it remains the best device for some tasks lawyers do, iPad sales have slowed.

This may be because "real work" for most lawyers still requires a personal computer (Windows or Mac). This can be a desktop, traditional clamshell laptop, or, increasingly, a 2 in 1 convertible like the Microsoft's Surface Pro series.

There are many possible explanations for the decline in tablet sales. Many tablets, particularly Apple's iPad and Samsung's Tab and Note series, are so good at what they do that users find insufficient reason to upgrade.

For example, the iPad 2 came out in 2011. That is ancient history in tech. Yet many lawyers, other professionals, and consumers are remain content with what these older models offer. Making a device that is "too good" can cut in to "upgrade" sales. I have a 4th generation iPad (the last one before the iPad Air was introduced). It still does everything I need it to do despite being introduced over three years ago.

To be fair, PC sales are also down, although not by as much as tablets. Yet the same factor may be present. There have been relative few leaps in PC technology since the introduction of Intel's Core i series of processors around 2009. For the type of office productivity work done my lawyers, a five year old computer may still do the job. And many can take advantage of Microsoft's free upgrade to Windows 10. I upgraded two older laptops to Windows 10 (a low-end HP Core i3 with 4 GB of RAM from 2010 and a higher-end ThinkPad Core i5 with an SSD and 8 GB of RAM from 2011). Both work very well and I could use either to do all of my legal work. With old hardware running a new operating system so well, there is less pressure to buy a new computer.

Another factor cutting into tablet sales may be the rise of the "phablet." That clunky term was coined to describe large-screen smart phones that retain all of the functionality of a phone while having a screen large enough to serve as a tablet. Today, most "flagship" smart phones from all leading manufacturers feature 5.5" to 5.7" screens. Most can use a passive rubber or conductive cloth tipped stylus for writing or drawing. Some, like Samsung's Galaxy Note series, feature an active stylus to make screen navigation, drawing, and note taking even more efficient. If you have a 5.5" to 5.7" smart phone, you may be less likely to buy a tablet.

For lawyers, a desire for simplicity may be a factor in reduced tablet sales. The practice of law can be complex and difficult. Lawyers want technology to simplify their workflow, not make it more complex. Adding an additional device to the mix that already includes a laptop and a smart phone is not what most lawyers want. Getting documents and data to reliably sync between two devices can be hard. Add a tablet to the mix and the lawyer could be embarrassed, or worse, if he/she arrives at court carrying only an iPad and discovers it does not have the required case documents.

In a perfect world where lawyers and law firm staff receive adequate training on their tablet devices, and where the right Cloud storage and synchronization apps and services are used (OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, SpiderOak, etc.), this should not happen. All documents are updated and available on all devices. But this is not a perfect world. Experience proves that the lack of proper technology training remains the most serious tech-related shortfall in law firms.

Into this imperfect world marched stodgy old Microsoft, a company widely criticized for buggy operating systems (Windows Vista and Windows 8 being the most recent examples) and bloated productivity software (the Microsoft Office suite of applications). To the shock of most observers, Microsoft suddenly became interesting again with advances such as Office 365 and Windows 10. On the hardware front, it pioneered the 2 in 1 convertible computer that can function reasonably well as both a laptop and a tablet depending on the user's need at the moment. After several lackluster hardware introductions, the mid-2014 launch of the Surface Pro 3 turned the corner on this type of device. 2015's Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book advanced the form factor to almost mainstream status and other PC manufactures are adding their own 2 in 1's to a growing market.

A 2 in 1 laptop computer features a touch screen display that can detach from the keyboard for use as a tablet. Some even include dedicated styli that perform much better than the passive rubber-nib styli used most often with the iPad and other tablets. But until recently, a 2 in 1 involved compromises that made it less useful as either a laptop or a tablet. In the last year, improvements in keyboards, touchpads, hinges, and battery life are reducing those compromises.

The newest models, such as the Surface Pro 4 and models from Lenovo, Dell, and HP, are viable choices for a lawyer who may need to work in laptop mode most of the time, but wants a tablet at least some of the time. All of the familiar Windows applications including MS Office and various time/billing and practice management programs will run on these new Windows 10 convertible 2 in 1's. This provides lawyers and other business users a comfort level that no iOS or Android tablet can offer, even with an optional keyboard connected to the tablet.

Another advantage is that the best of these new 2 in 1's have processors, RAM, and SSD storage sufficient to serve as a lawyer's primary (or only) computer when "docked" to a full-sized keyboard and mouse and driving a pair of desktop flat panel monitors. Most 2 in 1 makers offer a dock designed for their devices that include connections for power, network, USB devices, and at least two monitor outputs. There are also third-party docks (aka port replicators) that can be used with any 2 in 1 laptop that has a USB 3.0 port (as all do). The simplicity and convenience of a single device to use at the office, home, and on the road is appealing to busy lawyers.

So with all of this going for the new 2 in 1 form factor, why bother with a tablet? There are some things tablets do better than any 2 in 1 functioning in tablet mode. If you are a litigator, the iPad in particular is a tablet to seriously consider. There are litigation apps for the iPad that are not only cheaper than similar programs that run in Windows or OS X, but also far better and simpler to use. The LIT software trio of apps (TrialPad, TranscriptPad, and DocReviewPad) are prime examples of iPad apps that are affordable compared to Windows and OS X counterparts, but actually work better. For trial presentations, an iPad connected to the courtroom projection system will nearly always put a PC or Mac to shame.

A tablet may also have advantages for document (or transcript) review for litigators and appellate lawyers. Lawyers who have to meet with people outside the office to have documents reviewed and signed may also prefer a tablet. With the right apps, documents can be shown to clients and signed on-screen.

The device you choose will depend on how you practice law. Most lawyers will probably be happiest with a single do-it-all device. Given the strides made by the form factor recently, a 2 in 1 convertible laptop may be the best choice. If you are less concerned about true tablet mode, a touch screen ultraportable where the keyboard can swing all the way around behind the screen for occasional tablet-like use may suffice. The best example of this type of device is the HP Spectre x360. With either a 2 in 1 or a ultraportable, buy a docking station or port replicator so you can comfortably use it at the office or on the road as your only computer.

If you are a litigator who does courtroom presentations or an appellate lawyer who reviews thousands of pages of transcripts every month, having a tablet as an additional portable device makes sense. Of the available tablets, Apple's iPad remains the top choice for lawyers because of the wide selection of terrific and cost-effective legal-specific apps available for that device.

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