Awash in a Sea of Tablets

Wayne Rash
Now that Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is over and everybody is back from Las Vegas, the much-anticipated tablet announcements have begun. Just this week Hewlett-Packard confirmed that its long-awaited WebOS tablet will be announced on Feb. 9. T-Mobile has announced that it will start selling a 4G tablet based on its really fast HSPA+ network. The worst-kept secret of the week is that Apple will announce a new version of the iPad in April.

Meanwhile, there are other tablets that were announced at CES that are making their way to the market. HTC, the company that makes seriously cool smartphones for every carrier on the planet, has announced that it will have a tablet soon. Vizio, the maker of low-cost flat screen televisions, is about to release a tablet. Some people are suggesting that Amazon may convert its hot-selling Kindle into a tablet. If we were to collect all of these in one place, we'd probably be crushed by the weight, even if they do weigh only a pound or two apiece.

So how does your IT department turn this torrent of tablets into something it can manage? Partly, the IT folks need to separate out the tablets that don't require any significant effort to support. The new iPad, for example, appears to be focused on features that are primarily of little consequence to IT. While the new iPad will have a better screen than the current model and a couple of cameras-one for videoconferencing and one for taking pictures-it's still an iPad, and if you can support it now, you shouldn't have any trouble supporting the new one.

The same is true of many of the new generations of Android tablets announced at CES and by carriers since then. If you're already supporting Android devices, which you probably are, then it's not a huge leap to support Android tablets. The biggest difference from the IT end of things is that most of these can't make phone calls. All you really have to do is make sure that the Android tablets that your employees show up with have the same security that you're used to working with in the related phones. If they do, you're good. If they don't, then you may have to tell the employee that their shiny new toy is just that-a toy.

The real challenges will come when something new shows up, such as the new HP WebOS tablet that's being announced in a couple of weeks, which will ship in March. While it's likely that you've already dealt with WebOS in your enterprise in the form of Palm devices that have been sold over the last couple of years, the tablet will come with an all-new version of WebOS. Right now, we don't know whether it's enterprise-friendly or not.

The one cause for hope is that HP is already heavily integrated into the enterprise business, and it would seem unlikely that the company would ship something that wasn't at least able to work in an enterprise environment. In addition, Palm's phones were well-designed to work in an enterprise environment, supporting enterprise e-mail and access better at the time than the iPhone or the then nascent Android devices. While the Palm Pre and Pre Plus have had their challenges, they did usher in such things as the ability to handle multiple Exchange servers, Wi-Fi hotspots and other corporate requirements.

Hopefully, HP will keep this trend alive. But right now, you can't be sure. This means that when your employees start showing up at work with their new HP tablets, you're going to have to actually confirm that they meet your security and access requirements. This means, of course, that it will take some time to confirm that they're safe to use in your company.

Fortunately, it's likely that HP will provide most of the information you need in advance of the actual ship date. But by then you'll need to have a plan for acceptance, and a list of things that need to be supported by the device for it to be used. But this is a good thing because the flood of new tablets isn't going to end with HP, so you might as well plan to use it for all of the other new stuff when it shows up. No matter how you look at it, the next few months will be very busy indeed.

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