How We Use iPads at Work

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 3 min read

Are iPads really just a fad? That's the question that has been asked a few times this week as we just hit the 5 year anniversary of the original iPad unveiling. Sales are leveling out, and some of the grand visions we had for tablets have not quite come to pass. Are iPads really on the way out, or do they just need more time to grow up? I can't fully answer that question, but I can add a data point to the conversation.

I want to summarize how we use iPads (and all iDevices) at my workplace, Target. None of this information is confidential, and it should go without saying that nothing I say should be taken as an official statement from the company. Okay, now that that's out of the way...

iPads have not completely changed the way that we work at Target, but they have taken over many, many tasks that used to be accomplished by desktop and laptop computers. There is very little time spent sitting still in the world of retail. We're battling other retailers, both physical and digital, and sitting in front a computer all day simply doesn't happen. We're mobile at all times.

Starting at the bottom, we have iPod Touches for every team member in the store. These devices are fitted with a scanner and linked with our inventory system so we can accomplish most of our daily tasks with them. These rolled out in the past 6 months and replaced our PDAs that were big, slow, and ran a wildly old version of Windows Mobile. While the change has had some challenges, using an iOS device to do our work is much faster and easier than ever before. In addition to letting our teams manage our in-store inventory, they also have all of iOS's features, so we can pull up a map to show a guest how to get to a nearby store or set reminders so we don't forget to do certain things. There's even a proprietary task management app that alerts us when and new task from headquarters comes in.

In some specialty areas, like Electronics, maintenance, and Cosmetics, some stores are also using iPads. Our maintenance leaders use iPads to follow up on their projects around the store as well. They have multiple iPad-native apps installed on their tablets that help them get their work done. What used to require a lot of back and forth between a computer and the actual task at hand has been streamlined by an iPad mini.

Moving up the chain, iPhones have become the main communication platform for store managers. Apps like GroupMe and iMessage have become really popular channels for informal communication, while email is both triaged and responded to from the Mail app. There is still a reliance on PCs for a lot of daily tasks, but most of those seem to be there due to momentum more than anything else. If we were to start from scratch today, I suspect a lot more would be done on iPads and iPhones.

We sometimes get visitors from the district and corporate-level, and one of them are always brandishing an iPad. It's a hell of a lot more portable and easier to use while walking around than any laptop, and the software is much more helpful than handwritten notes.

Even third party vendors and regulatory people use iPads. Again, for such a mobile job, the iPad's form factor is a huge asset. Laptops are getting smaller and lighter, but I still see far more iPads with these guys and girls than laptops.

So once again, this is just a data point, and I'm sure this isn't representative of the entire corporate world. But I think it's a relevant one. We're converting more and more of our business to mobile devices and away from PCs. There are still things that we simply can't do on iOS yet, and maybe we won't for years, but that list is getting smaller all the time. The iPad may feel like a fad to those who don't use it regularly, but the iPad is simply a part of my life at this point, and I prefer to do as much of my work on it as possible. If we move our workflow back to Windows PCs, it would feel like a big step backwards.