The SMB Tablet Revolution

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

10 Hot New Tablets

New and notable tablets for business and commercial users.

Small- and medium-size businesses have always been in a unique position. They follow the big companies in terms of technology adoption but, cumulatively, they represent the largest segment of the market. And, the way in which SMBs get their hands on the technology is quite a bit different than how enterprises do.

The feeling that SMBs are up for grabs has intensified during the past decade as the emergence of the Internet and, subsequently, broadband made two things possible. The first is that SMBs, if they play their cards right, now are more capable of looking like enterprises and grabbing business that they formerly didn't have a shot at for geographic or other reasons. It runs the other way as well: The access provided to SMBs by broadband means that it suddenly makes sense for vendors and service providers to go after this group.

Thus, any new trend will be played out on the SMB, as well as enterprise, front. And today, there simply is no greater battle brewing than the tablet wars, which I wrote about recently over at Unified Communications Edge. The iPad currently is the leader but, as Shakespeare pointed out in Henry IV, Part II: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

Last week, TWICE reported that Staples will start pushing tablets. At the same time, AMI-Partners released research tracking the use of tablets among SMBs. The use is light now, but as an InformationWeek piece on the research points out, the current penetration-about 3 percent-occurred in just a year. The story says that the trend clearly is upward. An IDC analyst says that use among companies with 1,000 or fewer employees will reach 30 to 35 percent by 2015. He says that the research, which included input from about 7,800 SMBs, suggests that the tablet is not pushing other devices out the door:

[McDonald] doesn't see the devices as a near-term threat to desktops or laptops in the workplace. "It's absolutely a complementary device," he said. "I would compare it more closely to a smartphone." McDonald said that, at current prices, it's unlikely that tablets will be widely distributed within SMBs, but rather to select employees such as senior executives, salespeople, and mobile workers.

On one level, the attractiveness of tablets shouldn't be different for enterprises or SMBs. After all, workers-whether their checks are signed by a two-office firm or by a huge multinational-want products that help them do their jobs. But, in the real world, there are differences. Channelpro looks at tablets and SMBs. The main difference may be the way in which they reach those employees. Writer Lauren Gibbons Paul quotes IDC Research Director David Daoud on the importance of the channel when it comes to pushing a product such as tablets to the smaller companies:

Not everyone has the go-to-market capabilities of an Apple or an HP. You will have the need for resellers to support this space. Reaching out to SMBs is not an easy task, so they will need the channel to be part of that.

The bottom line is that the tablet revolution will play out at the SMB level as well as the enterprise. It is a vital category. While vendors' goals are the same-sell as many devices as possible-it is apparent that the tactics will be significantly different.

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