It is claimed that in 1899 an employee at the US patent office leaned back in his chair and announced: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Fast forward over a century of ingenuity, creativity and technology and you can just about hear said patent director weeping over the sound of your iPod.

As the industry constantly evolves and IT jobs become more competitive, companies are falling over themselves to produce whatever the natural successor to the smartphone is in the must-have technology stakes. This year, it is the tablet that everyone is hoping for in their stocking come Christmas morning, and for good reason. A tablet is a mobile computer, usually with touch screen controls and the ability to play music, record high definition video and hold thousands of apps. The production of these fantastic gadgets has seen a surge in jobs for IT developers as companies try to keep up with demand.

It is very easy to get caught up in the moment when seeing a tablet for the first time, handing over your card and trotting home with this shiny new addition to your gadget collection within half an hour. But there are some questions you need to ask yourself before you invest in a tablet, and this guide is here to help.

Is it actually a laptop that you want?

Before you even think about buying a tablet, ask yourself whether you actually need a new laptop. Tablets are brilliant for browsing the Internet and using any one of the multitude of apps available, but for work-based tools like Word and Excel, you would be better investing in a new laptop. You can get applications like Google Docs on your tablet to help you with your workload, but when it comes to the serious stuff, a tablet cannot compete with the power of a PC or laptop.

3G or not 3G?

You can access the Internet using Wi-Fi with every tablet on the market, but many also offer a 3G-enabled model that uses a SIM card similar to the one in your smartphone – to enable you to access the Internet on the move. But remember, you will have to sign up to a monthly data tariff for this type of tablet, so ask yourself whether you want to be tied to a contract.

What operating system does it run?

There are two main operating systems to consider when buying a tablet, iOS and Android 3.0. iOS is the more popular system which runs on Apple products such as the iPhone and iPad, while you will find Android 3.0 on the majority of other tablets on the market. Your best bet is to sample both in the shop or play around with a friend’s tablet to work out which one you like best.

How many apps does it offer?

Tablets are all about the apps, so take the time to do some research on what different tablets offer. The Apple app store has over 300,000 apps available, while Android 3.0 (because it is a newer operating system) only has a couple of thousand specific applications.

Answer these questions and you will be able to make an informed on what tablet is perfect for you. Then all you need to do is get your new best friend home and start to enjoy everything this new technology has to offer.