The Tablet (R)evolution

By  Martha Walz — March 07, 2011

Enterprises and their employees want real-time, on-demand access to content, the Internet, and business applications. As such, the tablet is emerging as an alternative to the laptop and the smartphone to provide access to these business functions.

According to preliminary results of a survey by Mobile Enterprise and The 451 Group conducted in February 2011, 41.2% of respondents’ companies allow tablets in their enterprise, 5.7% said that tablets are not allowed, and 53.1% have no stated tablet policy or are currently evaluating their policies towards tablets.

According to our survey, drivers for enterprise use of tablets include mobilizing business processes, improving customer responsiveness, increasing levels of collaboration, increased competitiveness, improving sales, and note-taking at meetings.

The Yankee Group released its first-ever global tablet forecast in January 2011, predicting that the total global revenue from consumer-grade tablet devices will increase from $16 billion in 2010 to $46 billion in 2014. Annual U.S. tablet sales will more than triple between 2010 and 2015, growing at a CAGR of 31%, from roughly 8 million units in 2010 to 30 million units by 2015.

 “Although some commentators view tablets as underpowered media-consumption toys suitable only for consumers…in 2011, more than 25% of all tablet computers will be bought by enterprises, and that figure is likely to rise in 2012 and beyond,” predicts Deloitte in its annual technology sector forecast.

Revolution or evolution?

How did tablets make their way into the enterprise? The enterprise tablet market has been in existence for about a decade, but enterprise adoption on a large scale didn’t start taking off until last year.

“In the ’90s, tablets were mostly used as handheld replacements,” explains Matt Miller, president, MobileDemand. “In the early 2000s, convertible rugged tablets were used as  laptop/notebook replacements. Now, they are replacing handhelds and laptops because they can be integrated with other devices to make them more useful in businesses: barcode scanners, RFID, credit cards scanners, cameras, etc.”

“We began our company selling tablet PCs to police departments and first responders who were afraid of computers,” says Mark Holleran, president, Xplore Technologies. “Now, here we are, more than a decade later, and tablet PCs have taken off. An amazing industry-wide transformation...has now taken place.”

Today, Holleran sees the success of Apple’s iPad in the consumer market as an indication that the tablet PC industry is poised for wider acceptance and accelerated growth. “The iPad’s success has signaled an industry shift that will continue to expand in the years to come.”

“The iPad really served to educate users about the tablet device,” agrees Martin Smekal, CEO, TabletKiosk.

“Since its launch…the iPad is redefining how organizations leverage mobile technology in the enterprise,” says Alan Snyder, CEO, BoxTone.

“In the past 18 months there has been a huge breakthrough,” says Mike Stinson, VP of marketing, Motion Computing. “People have become more comfortable with touchscreens with the increased use of kiosks and smartphones. This is transferring to their being more comfortable with tablet devices as well.”

“Tablets initially mirrored smartphone adoption in the enterprise, but on a much faster pace,” explains Chris Hazelton, research director, mobile and wireless, The 451 Group.

“The tablet is a compelling form factor for the business world, enterprise-grade more so than consumer-grade. They are finding their niche in the enterprise,” says Miller.

Enterprise vs. Consumer

As mentioned before, enterprise-grade tablets have been on the market for about a decade, but consumer devices have grabbed the spotlight more recently. While consumer-grade devices might be sufficient for companies that want to extend the life cycle of the laptop for employees who only need to perform basic tasks, like document editing, research on the Internet, and answering e-mail, enterprise-grade tablets go beyond these basic functions to provide a fully mobile PC that integrates with existing business processes.

“To TabletKiosk, a tablet PC is a full fidelity, full productivity device,” explains Smekal. “It’s not just for information consumption.”

In addition, many enterprise-grade tablets use Windows OSes, which are familiar to IT managers. Consumer-grade devices use new mobile OSes, which are fragmented and can be difficult to manage for those who haven’t worked with them before. In addition, they can be expensive to maintain.

“Our enterprise-grade tablets use Windows OSes,” explains Miller. “This gives a benefit over consumer tablets not just for field apps but for traditional business apps since the software integrates with the same OS that the rest of the business runs on.”

The ruggedness of enterprise-grade tablets also sets these devices apart for use in the field.

Another drawback of consumer-grade devices is that enterprise development cycles for new device planning and deployment can be affected by the short upgrade cycle on consumer-grade tablets.

“Typical enterprises have a 24- to 36-month cycle for new device planning and deployment,” explains Smekal. “With the iPad, there is a new version released every 18 months. Other current consumer tablets are refreshed every 12-16 months. The product is already obsolete by the time it gets into the deployment phase in the enterprise.”

However, Hazelton sees benefits to having consumer-grade tablets in some cases. “While Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab can’t stand up to the punishment regularly dealt to ruggedized tablets, consumer-grade tablets are significantly cheaper to replace,” he explains. “The iPad’s friendly touch interface means limited training for users. The downside for using consumer devices are their shorter battery life compared to ruggedized tablets, which is due to poor power management—prioritizing user experience over functionality.

“Ruggedized cases for consumer tablets answer most needs, but some use cases with government/military security clearances or (non-) combustible environments will still shy away from consumer devices,” he says.

 “The chasm between the consumer and enterprise tablet marketplace will continue to grow,” predicts Smekal.

Tablets in action

The use of tablets in the enterprise will only increase. “With the consumer world raising the profile of tablets, momentum will carry forward to vertical markets. This large increase in awareness will lead more enterprises to think in terms of tablets instead of laptops or other handhelds,” says Miller.

Indeed, the healthcare industry is taking the lead in deploying tablets in the enterprise. Other large tablet deployments are occurring in the financial space as well.

One unique application of a rugged tablet is with the Red Bull Racing Team crew that races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The crew uses MobileDemand xTablet T7000 Rugged Mini Tablet PCs to monitor tires and fuel consumption and track timing and scoring to give the team a competitive edge by communicating more quickly and more efficiently.

The tablets are predominately used by the spotter, tire specialist, and the gas man to record and compute data. Integrated barcode scanners assist the tire specialist in organizing the race tires throughout the competition.

“Tire specialists will scan the tires and collect wear, temperature, and pressure data which will disseminate the information back to the engineers in real time,” says Jimmy Elledge, crew chief for the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota. “The spotters will use them up on the spotter stand for real-time timing and scoring and to view on-track activity. The race teams are always looking for the latest technology to give them a competitive edge.”

Looking to the future

Some analysts are touting the tablet as a netbook killer, others as a laptop killer. While no one thinks they will completely replace the smartphone, some believe that they will replace other handhelds in the field.

“Tablets have increased performance and increased ROI over many other handhelds,” explains Miller. “The larger screen gives more data to the user,” which increases its functionality and usability.

Tablets will not only replace these devices, but they will also fundamentally change the way we work.

“Tablets will streamline operations,” says Stinson. “For example, in construction, it will increase collaboration. During the construction of a building, all items that were used in the construction can be barcoded. When the project is finished, the construction company can just hand the tablet over to the new owners of the building instead of 20 binders of paper documentation. Now if the owners need to find information about a part used in construction, they can just scan a barcode. It connects the builders to the management of the building.”

New input technologies will continue to evolve on tablets as their business uses increase.

“Looking to 2015, 2020, there will be a change in how we interact with these devices,” says Smekal. “Tactile feedback, voice recognition, digital pen/digital ink technology—all of these input methods are very important in enterprise. The tablet will become an integral part of overall computing experience.”

One thing is certain: tablets have penetrated the enterprise, and they are here to stay.

A Brief History of Tablet Computing

Today’s tablet computers evolved from pen computing technology, which started as a way to capture handwriting with stylus devices. Here is a timeline of major events in the evolution of tablets.

A U.S. patent was granted to Elisha Gray for an electrical stylus device for capturing handwriting.

A U.S. patent was granted on a handwriting user interface with a stylus.

A U.S. patent was granted on a touchscreen used for handwriting input.

The Styalator electronic tablet with pen is invented; it is the first tablet that resembles the tablet computers we use today.

Early 1960s:
The RAND tablet (also known as Grafacon) was invented; this is often misidentified as the first tablet device. It sold for $18,000.

1966: Crew members on Star Trek carried large, wedge-shaped electronic clipboards, operated through the use of a stylus.

Pencept introduces a general-purpose computer terminal using a tablet with handwriting recognition.

The GRiDPad from GRiD Systems was introduced, running on MS-DOS.

GO Corp. developed the PenPoint OS for tablet coputers. NCR released the Model 3125 pen computer running on MS-DOS and the new PenPoint OS.

: Apple Computer releases the Newton PDA. IBM releases the ThinkPad, its first commercial portable tablet PC. AT&T releases the EO Personal Communicator with wireless communications.

Motion Computing ships its first tablet on Microsoft’s Tablet OS.

PaceBlade releases the PaceBook Tablet PC. Fingerworks develops the touch technology and gestures that are later used in the Apple iPhone.

The Samsung Q1 UMPC (ultra-mobile PC) is released.

The touch interface becomes mainstream as HP releases its multi-touch capable TouchSmart tx2 series.

2009: The Asus tablet netbook EEE PC is released with a multi-touch screen. Always Innovating introduces a tablet netbook with an ARM CPU.

2010: Apple debuts the iPad.

At the Consumer Electronics Show, more than 80 new tablets are announced.


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