What Tablets Need (Hint: Great Mobile Apps)

By Tony Rizzo, Editor in Chief — February 09, 2012

The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show has come and gone, and along with it so has much of the "news" momentum of new tablets and ultrabooks that made up most of the CES buzz from a mobile perspective - from both the consumer and enterprise view of things.  Mobile World Congress (MWC) is up next in several weeks, but this is a major mobile-focused event where we do not anticipate hearing much in the way of new hardware.
Rather, we are anticipating hearing a great deal about new mobile software development capabilities, especially as it relates to the enterprise. We also expect Microsoft will begin to share (at least behind closed doors) what Windows Phone 8 will look like. WP8 is going to be a very critical release and represents Microsoft's true smartphone operating system.
We can expect Microsoft to significantly step up both advertising and marketing around WP8 - and look for Microsoft to tightly couple WP8 to Windows 8 itself. Within the context of the enterprise, that won't center on devices however (though it will on the consumer side) - it will be about building new mobile enterprise applications and about tight application integration with all of Microsoft's existing backend technologies. The point here is - it's all about the mobile enterprise apps, not the mobile hardware.
There are lots of "mobile" issues that are presented as being serious impediments to scaling up tablet-targeted mobile apps and their use in the enterprise. Chief among them are the following:
  • The notion that tablets are not secure
  • The notion that in the case of Android, operating system fragmentation is too onerous an issue to rely on Android as an enterprise tablet platform for building apps
The reality, however, is that neither of these seemingly critical issues is all that critical - or even really an issue. Let's take them in reverse order.
Android fragmentation is a non-issue for several reasons. First, there simply aren’t enough early Android tablets present in the enterprise to matter. Second, also related to enterprise presence, as Android inevitably grows its enterprise footprint, that growth will consolidate around Ice Cream Sandwich (v4) as the enterprise baseline  - which is entirely enterprise-worthy. Future releases of the OS will ensure far greater and more stringent containment of fragmentation issues.
Yes, it's true that Google allows its vendor partners to make proprietary changes to Android, and each vendor can add their own top level UIs and custom look and feel. But enterprises should look to the immediate future and ensure that Android is taken into account when developing mobile application strategies. Enterprises should feel comfortable and confident that Android fragmentation is already a non-issue (though it still makes for good headlines).
As far as tablet security is concerned, our view of it is that this is also a non-issue. Sure, security is absolutely top of mind with most enterprise CIOs and CTOs - as it needs to be, but the state of the mobile device management (MDM) market is such that enterprises now have a good deal of MDM flexibility and choice. There is enough MDM choice to cover every angle - from basic services to the highest level of government-certification. All of the MDM players offer secure device environments and there is no excuse for any enterprise to not have rock-solid MDM capabilities in hand - not only for tablets, but of course for smartphones as well.
Security is only an issue for those enterprises that choose to ignore it. Or, as we've pointed out in "Find Your Security Holes," do not understand where their security risks are hiding. Any mobile security risks can be mitigated - if you know what those risks are and where they lurk.
Tablet Mobile Apps - Go Large!
The key to creating successful enterprise tablet mobile applications is to not think of tablets as limiting application capabilities in any way. Smartphone and small tablet screen form factors do limit functionality (the tradeoff of course is greater portability), but our goal here is to not look at tablets smaller than an iPad 2 (which both excludes RIM's PlayBook from consideration and strongly suggests that RIM needs to deliver a larger PlayBook ASAP).
Tablet applications need to have the same scope and breadth of capability as laptop applications do. There is no reason to limit capabilities, and if shown a tablet app screen, anyone viewing that app should not be able to discern that there is a tablet powering the app. The potential functionality that can now be built into these mobile apps is such that they can - and should - rival desktop implementations. Take a look, for example, at the following screen:

There are clues here of course that this is an iPad-based app, but the overall functionality of the app is very impressive. The ability to render detailed 3D images in the field may seem like an application all by itself, but it is part of a set of significant additional capabilities. The app does a great job of demonstrating what is possible today. More details on this app are available in our special report on Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (MEAP). MEAPs are critical to the notion of "going large" with mobile apps.
Our recent article on the Top Ten Mobile Apps in the Enterprise provides an excellent sense of what organizations are now looking to build out. Utilizing large format tablets as part of the base strategy for building these mobile apps creates far richer possibilities - and opportunities - than what smartphones will allow. B2B apps, and business intelligence apps that benefit from the rich graphics tablets deliver, are the key mobile applications companies will build out in 2012-2013.
Circling back to our opening paragraph, look for Mobile World Congress to put a spotlight on enterprise mobile application development. As a final thought here, Mobile World Congress will also put a spotlight on LTE (Long Term Evolution) and enhanced wireless network bandwidth, speed and greatly improved wireless data latency reduction. This is the final piece of the puzzle that comes together simultaneously with tablet emergence.
For the enterprise it is an entirely win-win scenario.


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