At least that is what competitors and IT folks trying to block the iPad are likely saying after Apple's stunning launch today. Apple is now sneaking into the business. You know you've got trouble when the leading software-as-a-service vendor, Salesforce.com, gets on stage supporting a new Apple product (this spiked Salesforce.com's stock, which will likely drive other business vendors to endorse the iPad) and the CEO says that's what he is using. With testimonials that include health care providers-which are typically extremely security-focused-it will be nearly impossible to keep this thing out of your shops now.
The good news is that orders don't start until March 11th. The bad news is that it is hardly enough time to plan a vacation, let alone put in place a process to accept a breaking wave of employees and their now more-reasonable requests. To gate the insanity, you may want to first carve out areas where the product will do the most good and the least damage and make sure folks aren't trying to use it for things that aren't appropriate.
As with all devices with embedded cameras-the iPad 2 now has two of them-if you have issues with camera phones, you may want to make sure policies call out this device now. I just wrote a post on two products-Citrix and FileMaker - that can be used to provide more security, and with companies like Salesforce embracing the iPad, staying secure is becoming much easier. Currently, Apple's products have a vastly better security profile than Android at the moment, which is its strongest competitor.
The tablet is a consumer-driven, not IT-driven, device. A Windows tablet is the only way to limit the iPad's penetration into the business, but that's not happening successfully at the moment. And then there's the Xoom, which is incomplete, the TouchPad, which isn't yet shipping, and the PlayBook, which is the closest to being competitive out of this group. The new iPad 2, with a dual-core processor, an estimated 9x improvement in graphics, a reduction in weight and an even more attractive industrial design, is currently garnering more interest than all of these other products combined.
It is unlikely now that any competitor can take this market away from Apple unless the company stumbles badly. The iPad 2 has two shortcomings: It doesn't support Flash and it doesn't yet support 4G. But the lack of Flash support wasn't a huge problem for the first iPad and given that 3G was only used on about 10 percent of the first generation of products, it is unlikely that it will create a major problem. In addition, it is possible that the iPad 2 may get a running 4G upgrade much like the Xoom will get once the radios are ready. We should know in a few weeks. It would seem that the only way to beat the iPad is to flank it.
Microsoft, Lenovo and Notion Ink
Really, there are only three companies that could surprise Apple and, this year, probably not by much. Microsoft owns the PC market still, and the tablet and PC markets are converging. If the convergence is driven close to Windows, Microsoft could reclaim lost ground, but it hasn't executed at Apple's level across all areas since the launch of Windows 95. It would need to up its game as a company.
Notion Ink has the hardware product that most aggressively addresses the iPad 2 and every other tablet's shortcomings with regard to reading with its outdoor viewable display called "Adam." But the display's resolution may not be good enough to be competitive and the company is clearly overmatched by Apple.
Lenovo has the size and reach, and its LePad comes the closest to bridging the tablet and laptop need that has emerged. It will be introduced in March in China and is expected to be in the U.S. in June. It will have to overcome Google's issues, but Lenovo's ThinkPad remains the single most popular business laptop line with influencers, and it has HP's old, Apple-trained head of advertising as its CMO, David Roman. If anyone can do this, Lenovo can, at least as a business alternative this year.
Microsoft in 2012?
Microsoft is the only firm with the scale, market share and potential to really take the iPad on, but it's very late to market with a solution and not expected to be able to do much this year. Rumors have started that it will have a stop-gap measure in market by June. Microsoft did have, in Origami, a potential alternative, but it never finished it. Windows 8 may be its true answer. Apple is eventually expected to bridge its PC and tablet code bases, suggesting that both vendors are on the same path. Odds favor Microsoft in having a true alternative to market by late 2012, but not this year.
Wrapping up: Is the Tablet a Fad?
Unlike the iPod, I do think the tablet as it currently exists will be an unsustainable fad until it blends with the PC for a total solution. The reality is that people simply won't carry two devices in this class and eventually will leave behind the less capable. A device that blends the PC and the tablet better than even the iPad 2 does is where I expect the market to eventually settle. The Lenovo LePad and the less viable Motorola Atrix may provide ideas as to where that eventual product will emerge. Until then, start thinking about how you will safely integrate tablets into your business. A lot of companies are already quietly testing deployments and this is probably a wave from which you can't hide.