IT and business professionals like their iPads, it is clear. They use their iPads, it also seems clear. Whether a productivity gain occurs is much more questionable.

Fully 51 percent of IT decision-makers say they “always” use their iPad at work (and a further 40 percent say they sometimes use it at work), IDG reports after conducting a survey on tablet use for work. Tablet business use

Though iPads seem to be used for a variety of purposes, content consumption seems to be a dominant business application, though significant percentages of business users also say the tablet displaces some amount of smart phone use as well.

Web browsing, reading and news consumption are the top three usage contexts identified by professionals worldwide. Some of us would argue those are trivial contributors to productivity, at best.

It might not matter if tablets displaced all use of either smart phones or notebooks and PCs, but that does not seem to be the case. People might prefer use of a tablet at times, but at other times need to use smart phones and PCs or notebooks.

Some would point out that smart phones make more sense, in terms of productivity, for example. Whether a new way to “read” is a big productivity contributor or not, is questionable.

That is not to say people like tablets; they do. It just isn’t sure whether we mostly ought to view them as a perk, and stop pretending they actually contribute to “productivity” as much as to worker “satisfaction.”

IT and business professionals say they “always” use their iPad for work communication (54 percent) than for personal communication (42 percent). Of course, what else would a respondent say, if that respondent wanted to keep their employer-issued tablet?

The IDC findings suggest that tablets, as used in work settings, mostly overlap and complement existing tools, including PCs and smart phones. The exceptions might arguably come in field operations, where the portability of a tablet makes it a much-better tool than a smart phone or notebook.

With a few exceptions, including Australia (where browsing on iPads is less popular than average), and South America (where iPads are used slightly more intensively for personal communication than work communication), there are some broad common patterns.

Some 79 percent of IT decision-makers saying that they “always” use their iPads “on the move”.

By contrast, only 54 percent say they “always” use their iPad at home. But to what extent is this usage leisure-related? Only 31 percent say they “always” use their iPad for entertainment; only 42 percent say they use it for personal communication. The caveat is that it is counterproductive for a business respondent to point out that the work uses of an expensive tool are nil.

The picture that emerges from this survey involves IT and business professionals using their iPads as dual-purpose work and leisure devices, with a relatively strong emphasis on work functionality, and an extremely heavy emphasis on on the move usage.

Despite this, only 29 percent say that they “always” connect via mobile networks. This suggests that the iPad has become a tool for IT professionals to consume time-shifted content (previously sideloaded, or app-derived) while in transit between locations. Notably, 75 percent of respondents say they use their iPad for “reading”.

Predictably, this survey confirms that iPads are better suited to consumption, rather than generation, of content.

Like consumers, IT and business decision-makers are finding that the iPads can be viable replacements for laptops in some scenarios. Over 10 percent of respondents say that their iPad has “completely replaced” a laptop. Over half say it has “partly replaced” their laptop.

Another way of looking at matters is that in 90 percent of cases, tablet users also need their notebooks. So a tablet becomes another tool, not a replacement tool, in the overwhelming percentage of cases.

The survey also suggests that tablet computing is transforming patterns of content consumption. iPad-owning IT and business professionals are rapidly migrating away from newspapers and printed books, toward digital alternatives.

In terms of “productivity” analysis, note that use of the iPad hasn’t prompted the majority of IT and business professionals to abandon any other device. Only 12 percent say that their iPad has “completely” replaced their laptop. Just six percent say it has supplanted their PC.

For most, the iPad isn’t a substitute for an existing tool or device. Instead, it’s a supplement, albeit one with functionality that overlaps with other devices.

As a result, the iPad seems to have carved out a niche for itself at the partial expense of several rival form factors. Relatively large numbers of respondents say that their iPad has “partly replaced” laptops, PCs, smart phones, MP3 players, TV/DVD recorders and even games consoles.

Interestingly, 43 percent describe the iPad as a part-substitute for their smart phone, with higher than average substitution levels occurring in South America (67 percent).

Nearly three-quarters say that owning an iPad has reduced the frequency with which they purchase newspapers and books.

Half say that owning an iPad means they are less likely to purchase films on DVD. That’s a somewhat odd finding for a device that respondents say is used for reading and other content consumption.

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