For Tablets in the Enterprise Opportunities Outweigh Challenges

By  Jessica Binns — August 01, 2011

Two years ago the phrase “tablet PC” conjured up images of a clunky device that relied on a stylus for input. In less than 24 months, Apple, with its sleek, intuitive iPad, has changed the public’s perception of what a tablet can be and do—and in the process, has upended the mobile computing landscape for good.
 
Indeed, tablets have eroded PC sales, with many consumers and enterprises replacing desktops and laptops with the slate devices. And 86% of Fortune 500 companies are deploying or evaluating iPads, Apple reported in its most recent quarterly earnings call. But research shows that despite tablets’ booming popularity, many enterprise users want improved functionality before they would consider abandoning their traditional PCs altogether.
 
Discover how Apple—not known for being a business-friendly company—has managed to stay at the head of the class when it comes to tablets in the enterprise. And learn why it’s facing increased competition from Samsung and its feature-packed Galaxy Tab devices, which are being deployed by a leading airline and piloted at a southern university.
 
What IT leaders want
Although Apple first won the tablet war in the hearts of consumers, it’s also winning the battle with IT. Peter Crocker, founder and principal analyst, SmithPoint Analytics, says the battle started with the iPhone. “The company has clearly established the iPhone as the leader in the smartphone market and many IT departments have begun supporting iOS,” he explains. “Apple’s strength and leadership also reduces the risk for IT managers to buy and support Apple products.”
 
According to Denise Lund, senior analyst, Yankee Group, IT leaders prioritize tablets that:
  • Can easily connect to corporate systems and applications (58%)
  • Feature security and management capabilities (48%)
  • Have a strong battery life (78%)
  • Include a high-quality touchscreen (75%)
  • Feature an intuitive operating system user interface (68%), and
  • Include data security features (68%)
 
“With IT decision-makers deeming [these] factors most important when considering a tablet for employees, it is not really a surprise that there is a smaller percentage having deployed or considering deploying the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tabs,” she adds. “You can see how enterprises can be challenged in thinking through which tablet to purchase. The two current leaders in the enterprise win for different mixes of [these] criteria.”
 
 
The Yankee Group Enterprise Decision Maker Survey, July 2011 found that 51% of IT decision-makers are looking at the iPad for tablet purchases, while 18% are eyeing the BlackBerry PlayBook, 17% are considering the Motorola Xoom, and 11% are testing the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
 
What users want
Users agree that there’s room for improvement in the current stable of tablets. In a recent survey by Keypoint Technologies, users cited poor predictive text, auto-correction, and copy-and-paste functionality among the top concerns with slate PCs. These issues hinder document and content creation on tablet devices.
 
Mary Ellen Amodeo, a partner with public relations firm Amodeo Associates, relies exclusively on her iPad when traveling for business. She says she’d feel much more comfortable using the tablet as her primary computing device if its autocorrection and predictive text funcionalities were better. “Sometimes the word they come up with is more obscure than the one I was going to type,” she says.
 
Still, Amodeo says she gets 80% functionality out of her iPad. “I can rely on it for communication and that’s the number-one thing I need to do on the road. And I can use it to create content.
 
“What I can’t use it for is more in depth, longer, more publishable documents, which I tend not to need to do on the road. But for what I need, the tablet works well,” she continues.
 
Amodeo also wants to see improved organization on her iPad. “I wish it worked more like what I’m used to in terms of the way I find files and where things are stored,” she explains. For example, she searched in vain under “movies” for a video she recorded, only to find it was located under “photos.”
 
It’s not all about the iPad
American Airlines is rolling out thousands of Samsung Galaxy Tab devices across various aspects of its business in what’s likely the largest non-iPad consumer-grade tablet deployment to date. Tony Winston, senior manager, mobility solutions for American Airlines, says the company finally decided to pull the trigger on deploying tablets after carefully evaluating the devices’ readiness for the enterprise. Among AA’s initial tablet concerns: 
  • Tablets didn’t support a true operating platform
  • Security and VPN technology were not as robust as desired in terms of mobile device management and provisioning 
Finally, the necessary device management technology is available through providers such as SOTI and AirWatch and it makes sense to incorporate tablets into the corporate device landscape, says Winston. AA is deploying the Galaxy Tabs in field service, maintenance, and engineering to improve inventory management, asset management, and baggage services.
 
In addition to offering Galaxy Tabs as in-flight entertainment, AA also is using the devices to create value-added services for customers at the gate, where staff can help passengers with flight change requests or assist with finding a customer’s next flight. In those scenarios, a tablet is an excellent use case where it adds value to the customer experience, says Winston. AA is working on creating new apps for the Tabs and mobilizing legacy ones.
 
So why did Samsung win out over other vendors? The answer is twofold. Winston cites the “state-of-the-art” Galaxy Tab devices themselves, with their dual-core processors, high-resolution screens and cameras, robust battery life, and fundamentally sound overall architecture. “It’s one vendor with multiple form factors (7.0- and 10.1-inch devices, with an 8.9-inch Tab in development) and one service management methodology,” says Winston. The choice of form factors was critical in AA’s decision; the iPad is a one-size-fits-all device, says Winston, and the airline, for example, doesn’t find that size ideal for an operations staff member who’s assisting a customer.
 
Equally important was Samsung’s flexibility during negotiations. The vendor willingly offered technical insight and access to anyone able to answer AA’s questions regarding device architecture and design. “It was refreshing to see a vendor step up and go above and beyond,” Winston adds.
 
Unlocking a Galaxy of possibilities in education
Education has been a hot vertical for the iPad. Earlier this year Knoxville, Tenn.’s Webb School announced that it’s requiring students in grades 4 through 12 to use 16GB iPad 2 devices in the classroom, with an eye toward phasing out paper textbooks and focusing on interactive learning over the next few years.
 
In higher education news, the University of Southern Mississippi is piloting 1,000 Galaxy Tab 10.1 devices with a select group of students. “Tablets are like the Swiss Army Knife to academic excellence. By leveraging this new technology, we are committed to transforming the way students interact, engage and learn in the classrooms,” Homer Coffman, CIO for the University of Southern Mississippi, said in a statement.
 
“The iTech department at Southern Miss is continually challenging itself to support emerging technology and find new ways to put information into the students’ hands,” he added.
 
Moving professors and students to the same technology platform will improve information and file sharing information and facilitate a collaborating learning environment.   
 
What are they waiting for?
Like any other mobile device, a tablet should be deployed to solve a business need—and not because it’s the cool new kid on the mobile device block. (Though we’ll grant an exception to the CXO who just wants his shiny new toy.) Businesses that haven’t yet rolled out tablets likely haven’t found a reason to. “I think more enterprises have not embraced the tablet because the use case has not been well defined yet,” says Crocker. “Until real ROI can be realized from the use of the tablet, more risk-adverse enterprises will hold off on investing in tablets.
 
“I also don’t think the tablet is right for every application, and IT leaders need to have a better understanding of how to effectively deploy the devices,” he concludes. 
 
Competitive advantage, enhanced sales presentations, increased operational flexibility—what’s your reason for deploying tablets? E-mail jessicab@mobileenterprisemag.com with your tablet experience and share why your business is using the devices, or why it’s holding back for now.  

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