Keeping up with the Tablet Explosion

Wayne Rash

The eagerly anticipated Motorola Xoom tablet device is shipping at Verizon Wireless stores and online starting Thursday, Feb. 24. The device will up the ante on Apple's iPad by essentially offering everything you can get in an iPad, and several things you can't, at least not now. The cost of the Xoom is about the same as an iPad with a similar configuration, and it's available without a contract for $799.99. You can get it with a 3G contract for two hundred dollars less.

The Xoom was launched with a direct shot across Apple's bow with a commercial that brought back memories of Apple's famed '1984' commercial. In the original Macintosh commercial, the target was obviously IBM, but in the Xoom commercial, it's equally obvious that it's Apple.

But considering how much of an upgrade the Xoom appears to be when compared with the first version of the iPad, it's clear that Apple couldn't just let it happen. This may explain the rumors that the Apple iPad 2 will be announced on March 2. The new iPad is expected to have two cameras oriented much like the cameras in the Xoom, which has one facing forward for taking pictures and HD video, and one facing the user for videoconferencing. The new iPad will also have a faster processor, it may have an SD slot and it will probably have a faster processor when compared to the original.

But the new iPad 2 won't have the high resolution Retina display that is featured in the iPhone, and it probably won't have some of the multitouch features that are arriving in the Xoom. The problem for you and your IT department is how to keep up with what is certain to be a steady stream of tablet releases over the next few months.

The Xoom runs Android 3.0 in the tablet-specific Honeycomb version. It is loaded with enterprise support, and while the Android Market might not yet equal Apple's App Store, it's gaining ground. The app stores for various platforms are very important for consumer use of a device, but for the enterprise they're not as much of an issue as long as the enterprise capabilities are there. So the Android mail needs to sync with Exchange, you need to enable security features and you need to be able to invoke some functions, such as videoconferencing.

With the iPad, you're stuck with AT&T's 3G network (although that could change), meaning you can only do videoconferences if you're in range of a Wi-Fi signal. The Xoom uses Verizon's 3G network, with a free upgrade to 4G within a couple of months. That device will apparently support video chats from anywhere that has a signal. This could be an important feature for traveling business people since hotel Wi-Fi isn't always the most reliable networking around.

But there's more on the way. Samsung is expected to release a 10-inch tablet sometime this year. HP will release its long-anticipated WebOS tablet this summer. Chances are you'll be asked to integrate them into your enterprise. Then there will be a flood of other Android tablets, some good, some not so good. Those will need to be evaluated as to their suitability for the enterprise, but chances are fairly good that those based on Android 3.0 will be just fine. With earlier versions, you'll need to test.

It's going to be a busy time in the IT shop, but with the right tablet, your staff can become more productive and more connected. Of course, your job will be more complex, but that's been the case for information systems since the first computer. Why change now?

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