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Are iPads Still Cool?


The clever “I’m a Mac vs. I’m a PC” television commercial produced by Apple is having its storyline rewritten by apartment industry property management professionals.

Launched nearly a decade ago, those popular ads aimed to show that Apple was the up-and-coming provider of personal and even office computing, replacing Microsoft. But today, some apartment management professionals are playing out a new version with the tablet craze, and Microsoft is perhaps turning the tables.

Its Surface product is differentiating itself from the iPad, which many tech enthusiasts who worked onsite for forward-thinking apartment management originally embraced.

No, this article is not a commercial for Microsoft, and there are many communities out there who are more than happy with their desktops or laptops. This review describes why Hunington Residential uses the Surface for reasons such as its greater versatility, compatibility and the opportunity to save money by managing only one personal tech device.

Meeting Multiple Needs With One Device

“For many years, I used an iPad along with a laptop so I could take advantage of the unique features of each,” says Kate Good, Partner, SVP of Multifamily Development and Operations, Hunington Residential, Houston. “The laptop covered my business functions and the iPad [mini] was used for social media, Internet surfing and watching movies on airplanes.” [She flew more than 14,000 miles last year!]

But Good says she rarely used her iPad for email because the keyboard on the screen “was a real pain” to use when writing lengthy emails.

“When it was time for a new laptop, I gravitated toward the Surface, hoping I could eliminate a device. I tested the Surface and decided it worked for me, and that it would also provide the technology we need onsite for various functions.”

Hunington builds, markets and manages multifamily and retail properties in Texas and Colorado. Its new property, Vargos on the Lake, was coming out of construction, so Good says she wanted to see how they would work, and provided tablets to her four-person team when pre-leasing began in November.

“The staff likes being able to take their computers home with them so they can respond to leads and hot prospects after hours,” Good says. “And a few people in the home office are giving it a try, instead of automatically ordering a new laptop.”

Good says she questions whether iPads can provide all the business functions that her company needs. So instead of providing staff with a laptop, too, she is saving $450 per workstation by not having to rely on two devices. And this takes into account that the Surface costs a couple of hundred dollars more than many customary laptops, depending on how many gigabytes are provided.

“Not to sound like a Microsoft commercial, but Surface allows us to have full function of all Microsoft office programs we need to manage apartments,” Good says.

She adds that its keyboard’s functionality is comfortable, and the USB port and the kickstand are beneficial extras.

“We want to be a paperless office; the Surface comes with a battery operated ‘digital’ pen that allows customers to physically sign the lease and application on the tablet screen,” Good says.

Making the Change

Are these tablets really the “next big thing,” to borrow a phrase from another trendy tech device brand? Well, not all employees eased into the transition, Good says.

“[One community manager] was immediately frustrated by the positioning of the screen and keyboard,” Good says.

This employee was used to using a tower computer with a large external monitor. She also was comfortable with her old laptop–one that weighed more than 12 pounds–Good says, which included a large built-in screen. The Surface is 1.76 pounds (iPads weigh 1 pound) and can easily be carried in one hand. It has a 12-inch screen.

“Starting out with Surface, she had to lean down in an uncomfortable position to use the Surface,” Good says. “We bought a docking station to help the positioning, but still had to prop that up so that she could comfortably type onto the Surface.”

With time, it became more comfortable.

Good says transitioning from the newer line of thinner laptops (such as a MacBook Air) improves the transition to a tablet. And she says her younger colleagues were more comfortable with the Surface because they are accustomed to touch-screen navigation.

The Surface’s battery life is shorter than the iPad’s, Good says. Continuous use of an iPad runs about 10 hours and the Surface claims it runs for nine hours.

“The team needs to remember to charge the Surface for a few hours each day while they are at their desk so that it does not die while on a tour,” Good says.

She says Surface also suits her office make-up “because being a smaller firm without a full technology staff, we are able to send our team to the Microsoft store for free training on the hardware.”

In January, Apple reported that it is embarking on a redesign of the MacBook Air. According to 9to5Mac website reporting, the redesign focuses more on the design, and not the applications within. In fact, the new model, which is rumored to ship mid-2015, is even slimmer we a reconfigured keyboard and USB ports.

First and foremost, the decision to use tablets comes back to the device’s transportability while onsite.

“We have WiFi coverage throughout the property, so using a tablet during prospective resident tours helps to sell the apartment, share information, answer question, search for alternative available units, and demonstrates the prevalence of WiFi,” Good says.

Good says property management software providers are working toward improving their products to stay with the times.

“For Surface users, I feel the guest card functions that the industry software companies offer need to be updated so that we can use the Surface pen to write on the guest card screen,” Good says. “Without that, when guests come into our leasing office and we start to type in their information, it feels too much like a business transaction,” she says. “It prevents us from fully having a customer-centric focus, which is essential for rapport-building and ‘need’ searching during the initial leasing interview.”

What are Others Saying?

“A majority of our clients still rely on Apple products. Although each client’s needs vary, possible explanations for this are that the Microsoft platform currently has fewer options for mobile apps, and that most of their staff are already trained to use Apple products thanks to the use of their personal devices. it’s only a matter of time until tablet or mobile device usage supplants the need for a secondary desktop or laptop.”-Damon Gacicia, Vice President, LeaseStar

“iPad usage is continuing to grow among apartment communities. We don’t foresee this slowing down anytime soon. Android usage among communities seems to be a distant second to iPad, with Surface use at a very distant third. That being said, there are still many communities not using any type of mobile solution.”-Kyle Brogdon, Product Development Manager, Site Pad, Property Solutions

 “Because of the versatility of a Window-based system (tablet, notebook, laptop), this will be our choice. We are researching different devices. I liked the Dell Venue Pro 11 with embedded Verizon card and a docking station. This gives full functioning device like a desktop, and can go mobile if needed. It is touch screen also. We are looking into the Surface Pro 3 and a similar HP device. The device of choice is to be determined shortly, but it will definitely be a Windows-based device."-Jeffrey D. Rines, Director of Information Systems, Continental Realty Corporation 


More industry comments and opinions on tablet popularity and preference will be included in issue of units Magazine.

Paul R. Bergeron III, Director of Publications for NAA, can be reached by email or 703-797-0606. Some details and opinions shared are based on a May 22 review of the iPad Air and Surface Pro 3 published online by PC Advisor.