Too Many Tablets, Not Enough Enterprise Interest to Go Around?

Ann All
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12 Hot New Tablets Hitting the Market

Analyst and IT Business Edge contributor Rob Enderle is in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, expecting to see plenty of candidates that could overtake Apple's iPad in the enterprise market. Among those he mentions are devices made by Research in Motion, HP, Samsung, Vizio and Lenovo.


Yet despite all of these new products on the horizon, a recent Changewave Research study found that more than three-quarters of companies that plan to buy tablets for their employees in 2011's first quarter expect to purchase iPads. Apple commands an 82 percent market share of the 7 percent of companies that already outfit employees with tablets.


Unlike Enderle and others (including IT Business Edge contributor Carl Weinschenk, who covers the mobile and telecommunications markets for us), I don't expect any of these iPad alternatives to gain much traction in the enterprise, at least not this year.


One who shares my opinion is Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler, who outlines on his blog three reasons why the iPad will continue to dominate in 2011:

  • The slow pace of corporate procurement. Many employees buy iPads for consumer use and then bring them to work, a (relatively) unchecked pattern that will slow when corporate IT gets into the act and begins its usual, not-so-speedy cycle of requesting budget, evaluating options and determining specs.
  • Folks are just not into what Schadler calls "anything-but-iPad" tablets. Consumers and corporations want very different things in their devices. It remains to be seen whether any manufacturer can produce a tablet with the right balance between cool and corporate.
  • Apple is a year ahead in tablet and accessories and even more ahead in apps. Apple alternatives will have to woo ISVs and carriers (and developers, I'd add). As Schadler points out, the tablets being introduced now are "competing with iPad 1.0, even as Apple prepares iPad 2.0."


That doesn't mean IT professionals shouldn't begin exploring iPad alternatives. Schadler suggests piloting some of them. (Looking at the numbers in the Changewave Research study, it looks as if some companies plan on doing exactly that: buying multiple brands of tablets.) He also advises looking for laptop replacement opportunities, and for business situations in which tablets make more sense than other devices (operating rooms, construction sites, etc.).


Realistically, IT organizations will end up supporting multiple devices running multiple operating systems, writes Schadler. So, he says, "build flexibility into your device security and management platform, application development strategy, carrier selection, reimbursement practices, and dual use or employee-provisioned policies."


In fact, as Enderle points out in his post, most employees may want a device that's not even on the market yet-not a tablet at all, but rather a lighter laptop-like device with a longer battery life. He wrote:

Watching how many people have married their iPads to wireless keyboards, I'm thinking the latter may actually be the case. A product that could do both might have an advantage.

IT organizations might do well to adopt a practice suggested by Sam Gross, VP of Global IT Outsourcing Solutions at Unisys, which I passed along in a post on bring-your-own technology programs. Some Unisys clients poll employees about their technology preferences via Web-based surveys, then present them with a "white list" of approved technologies and support options. As Gross said, this lets IT organizations have it both ways, "put[ting] a corral around the 'Wild West' of technologies, but also mak[ing] your employees feel empowered that they have choice-increasing productivity and lowering costs at the same time."


IT departments should also plan to upgrade internal wireless networks to accommodate tablets and other devices, wrote IT Business Edge contributor Mike Vizard. Last week he shared advice from a Cisco executive who said a new generation of tablets, such as a new iteration of the Cisco Cius, will be optimized for enterprise-class wireless networks. Upgrading to an 802.11n network will solve a lot of bandwidth issues, but IT organizations should also pay attention to radio interference issues and keep an eye on how peer-to-peer Wi-Fi Direct connections might play a role in how people use emerging mobile devices.

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