What makes a great enterprise tablet?

Rob Borley
on 09 October 2012

As various venders make a play for the enterprise market I wonder what it is that makes for a good enterprise tablet. Apple’s iPad is the king of the consumer market but with Microsoft still placed as the enterprise technology incumbent there is real potential for Windows 7, and now Windows 8, based tablets to gain a foot hold. And what of Android? Google’s mobile operating system is installed on the widest choice of kit provided by various manufactures. Can they become the enterprise tablet of choice?

What each of the providers have recognised is the enterprise market is the next growth area to be exploited. The explosion of tablets as a consumer object of desire and, more than that, something which has been found to be indispensable to those who own them, has shifted the expectations of the workforce. There is a changing expectation in how technology should be used and interacted with in enterprise scenarios. This has fuelled the growth of BYOD schemes but has also caused headaches for IT teams around the world. How can we possibly integrate these devices with the IT structures that we have in place? But I digress, BYOD is the subject of another article.

Different enterprise tablet strategies

There are some very different strategies emerging from those developing the tablet products. And, from what I have seen so far, I wonder if some may be missing the point.

A tablet is not, and never will be, a replacement for a laptop or desktop computer. Don’t misunderstand me, many consumers will replace their home computers with a tablet device. This, however, is because a vast majority of home computers are massively under utilised. Most home users check email, use Facebook, manage their digital photos and play solitaire. But that is about it. These are tasks that a tablet is perfect for. In fact, a tablet enhances many of these tasks with it’s touch interface and portable, shareable nature. However, this is not true of work based usage of the PC.

In a work environment a tablet is not a suitable replacement for a laptop or desktop machine. These machines are used for creative tasks; writing, image manipulation, design, programming, etc. A tablet can be used for these tasks but it is not ideal. Apart from the limitations of size and interface, they simply do not have the power to effectively run today’s modern creativity software packages.

There are, of course, a number of roles where a tablet is a perfect replacement for a PC or laptop. A sales team on the road, a warehouse team picking orders, machine management and reporting to name a few. But these roles have quite different requirements from that which are demanded by the creative tasks above.

Are enterprise vendors missing the point?

Looking at what is being offered to the enterprise market at the moment, I fear many do not understand this difference. For example, the new HP Elite Pad seems to be trying to replace a laptop or desktop. The dock provides a myriad of ports to allow it to interface with other devices; screens, input devices, disks, etc. However, they seem to have failed to realise that for users who would require all of those options the tablet is an inappropriate device. On the other hand, users who will switch to tablet use have very little need of such expansion options.

My feeling is that Apple have the potential to crack the enterprise market with the very same strategy that has seen them become kings of the consumer market. They will market the same device to both. The iPad, with is focus on design, interface and desirability, is perfect for the roles that will switch to tablet use. Other members of the workforce will also want one to augment their laptop or desktop; not to replace them but to use in meetings or when they are on the road, etc.

Apple appear to be going about their infiltration of the enterprise market very quietly. But they are also being very deliberate. Every ad contains at least some shots of people using the iPad in a business environment. They are quite deliberately placing these devices in such situations to spark the imagination of the individuals within the enterprise space. Many of whom are already using iPads in their personal lives.

Of course, you cannot yet rule out Microsoft. They have a captive enterprise audience and understand how this market works. They too, with the Surface, have taken a slightly odd approach to drive tablet adoption in enterprise. Again, I don’t think that pushing for a full substitution of PC’s for tablets is the way to go. But they also have other vendors using the Windows mobile software to drive their tablet devices and the Windows approach is a genuine alternative to Apple’s iOS. While iOS and Android use very similar design ideas, Windows has gone in a different direction which may yet prove to be its strongest move.

Problems with enterprise tablet adoption

The problems of enterprise tablet adoption are largely political and economic. Is there a cost effective way for enterprise to roll out tablets and update their approach to software and systems to make the most of them? Can a mobile device ever be considered secure enough to be allowed full access to sensitive servers and data? Can the success story of consumer tablet adoption, which is based largely on the personal and often emotional connections that users have with their devices, be translated to an enterprise environment that requires the secure separation of personal and work data, systems, and services?

These are the problems that an enterprise tablet needs to address. Providing some more ports to plug in a keyboard and monitor does not do that.

What is your experience of tablets in enterprise?

What do you think? Has your workplace introduced tablet computers? Has it been a success? What problems have come up? Get in touch and let us know.


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