The chances are pretty good that you don't actually own an iPad yet. You may not own anything that could be considered a tablet computer just yet. It's also very likely that there are few if any in your enterprise, at least not yet. But despite their relatively small numbers, you can assume that you'll be buying and supporting tablets in fairly large numbers, and that you'll be doing it in the fairly near future.
I realize, of course, that referring to the iPad as being here in relatively small numbers is just a matter of scale. Apple has sold about three and a half million of the devices so far. They'd likely have sold more except for supply issues. Those issues should be solved soon.
Amazon, meanwhile, has sold nearly as many of its Kindle e-readers, according to analyst reports, and Barnes and Noble and Sony have also sold large numbers. Of course, e-readers aren't exactly tablet computers, but they're very nearly the same thing. They're not general-purpose machines to the extent that the iPad is, but they do more than just provide a means of reading books and we're already seeing new computer-like features starting to appear. It's pretty easy to see that there will be a time, not too far away, when e-readers and tablets essentially are two sides of the same thing.
Right now, even if there are perhaps eight to 10 million of these devices out there, they are still a novelty. But now is just the right time to start thinking about how you're going to manage them when their novelty status wears off, and their workday lives begin. That time will probably come when Hewlett-Packard releases its next generation of tablet computers early in 2011.
The reason for this time frame is that a number of factors will come together at the same time. HP's new tablets will benefit from the company's years of experience in making true enterprise-quality business tablet computers. When HP's new tablets show up running a choice of Windows or Palm's WebOS, it's a safe bet that they'll also be enterprise-ready out of the box.
Meanwhile, a number of Android tablets are just starting to appear, and should be reaching significant production numbers around the same time, and of course, the iPad should have ramped up by then. The market will be flooded with tablets and tablet-like devices.
I mentioned the e-readers above because they demonstrate that the iPad isn't the only solution that buyers are seeking. In reality, people are willing to spend their money on the delivery of information in a highly portable format. This can mean an e-reader if the goal is to deliver written material quickly and easily. It might be a more traditional tablet if you need more than just reading material. But regardless of the need, it's clear that for the right price, tablets are a product with very high existing demand.
This means there's no doubt that you're going to be faced with satisfying that demand in your organization. Knowing that, you might as well start now to formulate your policies. Fortunately, the iPad is enough like the iPhone in its support requirements that you can probably adapt whatever you're doing there. But what about all of these other devices? Your only choice seems to be to start learning about what they can do, how they can be managed, and how well they fit into your enterprise.