Tablet computers are not new, but the Apple iPad has changed everything. Because of their versatility, portability, ease of use, and image quality, tablets have already started to change some of the ways that photographers do business.
How a Tablet Differs from a Notebook
Let's be honest: Before last year, tablet computers have not worked well. They have been large and heavy, tried to do too much, and have usually required the use of a stylus. The developers did not seem to understand that a tablet was a different beast than a notebook.
The iPad from Apple changed all this. It is small, but has a screen size big enough for serious work. It is fairly light and has an excellent battery life. It runs an operating system specifically designed for touch. It does not need a stylus to use, though some are available. It is instant on and off. Installing applications is so easy. And, users feel a little safer because Apple plays the role of gatekeeper in approving apps. Plus, the image quality is great.
Until recently, Apple has had the tablet-computer scene to itself. And really we are still waiting for the competition to actually hit stores, though that is starting to happen. Competition is good because it will not only bring choices but also ensure that things will usually change for the better.
HP has their Windows 7 based Slate out and looks likely to have a Web OS based version out in 2011. Other companies either have or will bring out other tablets based on various platforms. This is great as it will give us choice.
Uses for Tablets in a Photography Business
The key to determining how a tablet fits into your photography business is to understand both what it is and what it is not. A tablet is not a high-powered laptop, so you won't be Photoshopping images on one. It is a highly portable viewing system, communication system, and document-creation tool.
I recently released an iPad app version of my book "Photography Wisdom" (you can find it on the App Store under photography titles or by searching for Photography Wisdom). It has only been available for 10 days, but is selling well.
Some people who already had the print version of the book have told me that the images look so much better on the iPad. These comments mirror my own feelings, but it is nice to have the confirmation. You know yourself how good images can look on your LCD computer screen, and tablets offer the same type of view.
We all know the frustration of trying to get what we see on screen to appear on paper. It is tough for the fundamental reason that a screen emits light while paper reflects it. HP and other companies do a great job with printers these days, but there is still that fundamental difference. Tablets let you present your images to clients (art directors, advertising execs, company management, brides, mums and dads) in a way that matches the way you work on your images in Photoshop. Furthermore it lets you take a huge number of images with you wherever you go, so those chance meetings with potential clients can be exploited immediately. And we all know immediacy is one of the keys to sales.
Great prints are still immensely important, but why not have more ways of doing things? A digital portfolio that you can carry with you can be more useful than a great print portfolio on a shelf in the studio.
So a tablet can be a portable portfolio. It can easily hold different portfolios for all the different areas of photography your business may cover. The touch interface of tablets is natural for flipping through images. People get the hang of it quickly and it is a much more intimate feeling than clicking a mouse or touch pad button.
The onscreen keyboards of tablets are probably not going to be your first choice for typing lots of text. But the keyboards are perfect for things such as filling in forms or writing to-do lists.
As a documentation and organisation tool, a tablet is wonderful. I use a range of software like Things on my iPad to keep track of shot lists, reminders of things to shoot if I come across them, and location details. Depending on local laws, keeping model and property releases on a tablet can be far more convenient than on paper.
Many tablets will offer constant connectivity to the Internet and many will have GPS built in. This is a great combination for location scouting and documenting and can be better on a large screen than a smartphone.
When shooting on location, using the larger screen of a tablet can be a better way to judge image quality than using the screen of your camera. In fact there are ways to use a tablet to control your cameras.
One key advantage of tablets over laptops is that you can easily use them standing up. This matters to photographers, because when we’re on location or even in the studio, standing is often our standard mode of working. Being able to make notes, show a portfolio, or document where you were when you took that shot is a great productivity benefit.
Another key difference is that a tablet is more like an appliance than a computer. It is on and off in a flash and lets you do the task you need with little interference and no fuss. With the model I currently use, I have experienced very few crashes and have had no issues with viruses.
Eventually all computers will offer multi-touch interfaces and gesture recognition (as seen in the movie "The Minority Report"). But for now, tablets are as close as we can get. You really do need to use one to appreciate the power they offer for photographers.
If you have started using an iPad or other tablet computer in your own photography business, I would be interested in hearing your comments on how you are using it and what you like best about it.
Unless there are other topics you would like me to address, this will be the final post in my Photography Business series. The other posts are as follows: