There's no question that the iPad dominates the enterprise market and will likely continue to do so for some time. In fact, some have suggested there's not so much a market for tablets as a market for iPads.
So it's small wonder that recent announcements about tablets have gone out of their way to mention how they're designed for enterprise deployment. Take, for example, this article on Lenova's recent entrance into the market, the Thinkpad Tablet:
The Role of Tablets in the Enterprise
Tablets may one day soon take their place alongside PCs and smartphones as standard-issue IT equipment.
The ThinkPad tablet is clearly aimed at the enterprise and offers support packages as well as VPN support. Lenovo executives said that the ThinkPad Tablet is set up so IT managers won't have to sweat accessories and integration points with other devices. The ThinkPad Tablet has full-sized USB and SD card ports.
That made me curious: Is integration a big issue for tablets?
What I learned is, not only is it an issue, but tablet vendors are actually counting on integration being their gateway into the enterprise.
Last month, ZDNet took a look at what tablet makers are doing to make gains into corporations. The article acknowledged costs could be a consideration, but predicted that vendors would package tablets with other software and hardware, making it more likely to be a nice add-on than a key purchase. This will provide them with a way into the enterprise without actually having to make the case for tablets as a separate investment.
That's going to require partnerships and, of course, integration. And that's exactly where vendors are already moving. The ZDNet article offers more details, but here's a cheat sheet on what each vendor is offering in terms of integration:
RIM Playbook: RIM is "tight with SAP," ZDNet reports, so look for that to be one way it sells to the enterprise. Other integration partners: Cisco, Citrix, IBM and HP, with all planning joint-sales efforts.
HP Touchpad: Integrates with Google Docs and Web-based services.
Samsung's Galaxy Tab: Another SAP partner, along with Polycom and Citrix. Samsung is also adding middleware into TouchWiz that will allow its Galaxy tablets to easily connect with enterprise backend systems, TechRepublic reports.
Dell Streaks: ZDNet says Dell is targeting verticals such as health care markets by providing integration with niche IT tools.
Apple iPad: "Apple also doesn't have an enterprise bundle to sell," the article notes. "Apple has a small enterprise swat team that targets verticals like legal and convinces them to go with the iPhone-iPad juggernaut." But this swat team is also promoting intriguing use cases, including a deal with SAP.
But when it comes to integration, the player to beat may be Microsoft - particularly when Windows 8 arrives. ZDNet predicts:
Integration also matters for enterprises, which is why Microsoft can become a tablet player despite sitting out the first and second waves in the industry. If Microsoft can integrate with Office, SharePoint, SystemCenter and legacy apps better than any other tablet maker it has a good enterprise chance ahead.
There's another class of tablets, though, that may also integrate their way into the enterprise: Cisco's Cius and Avaya Desktop Video Device (ADVD) both offer tablets that are designed as unified communication endpoints. These tablets can be used for video and teleconferences and target enterprise phones, according to TechTarget.
One thing to note, however: The ZDNet article was written in June, when Android tablet vendors and their fans had every reason to be optimistic about enterprise adoption. A Good Technology report released this month may temper that optimism, however.
Good Technology helps companies manage mobile device networks and 49 of the Fortune 100 companies are among its clients. The company's survey shows iPad or iPad 2 tablets represent over 95 percent of total tablet activations and 27.2 percent of all new tablet Internet activations were for Apple's iOS, not only beating out Android tablets - which declined slightly - but also beating out new Android smartphones at 24 percent.
So, Apple will be the company to beat now and in the foreseeable future. That's probably because, thus far, tablets are consumer tools that are being brought into the enterprise and not something that companies acquire. Will integration - whether via support for integration with backend systems or native support for software - change that? It may be the only thing that can.