Tablets in the enterprise: more than just a toy
Deloitte predicts that in 2011 more than 25 percent of all tablet computers will be bought by enterprises, and that figure is likely to rise in 2012 and beyond. Although some commentators view tablets as underpowered media-consumption toys suitable only for consumers1, more than ten million of the devices will likely be purchased by enterprises in 2011. Consumer demand for tablets is forecast to remain strong; however, enterprise demand is likely to grow even faster, albeit from a lower base.
Four main factors are driving tablet adoption in the enterprise market.
First, and already the most apparent, many consumers initially buy tablet computers as personal media devices, but quickly discover they are also useful for work. Employees are asking their firms to support tablets for various work tasks, including accessing the enterprise network. Furthermore, some people who end up using their tablets predominantly for work are asking their employers to cover the cost of their data plans, or even the cost of the device itself.
By the end of 2011 it appears a significant number of firms may be willing to pay for their employees tablets and data plans. By some estimates, 70-80 percent of Fortune 500 companies will support at least one tablet variant for some portion of their workforce2 ; millions of prosumers will have their tablet data plans at least partially subsidized by their employers; and millions more tablets will be purchased by companies as PC alternatives3.
Second, certain industry verticals seem poised to start using tablets in fairly large numbers over the course of the year; in fact, trials are already underway. The retail, manufacturing and healthcare industries are considered the most likely early adopters, primarily due to the tablet’s ease of use, long battery life, lack of moving parts, minimal need for training and rapid app development environment. Deloitte predicts that during 2011 up to 5 million tablets could be deployed in retail and healthcare alone.
In retail, a tablet can serve as both an easy-to-use, constantly updated catalog, as well a point-of-sale terminal (when equipped with an optional card reader). These compelling applications make it likely that retail will be the largest enterprise tablet market in 20114. Healthcare will probably see a number of trials, but the traditional conservatism of healthcare authorities, administrators and practitioners will likely mean that fewer than one million devices will be deployed in healthcare environments by the end of the year5.
Third, enterprise software providers are rapidly responding to Fortune 500 customer requests for tablet-specific software. Large players in ERP, ECM, CRM and other enterprise applications are combining with desktop virtualization providers to create secure enterprise-grade apps that can seamlessly and rapidly be deployed into even the largest company’s existing IT environment6. Enterprise software providers are also embracing the new technology themselves, with one company rolling out tablets to 35 percent of its employees in 20117.
Fourth, the tablet form factor itself is driving adoption in the boardroom. Unlike laptops and smartphones, both of which create an obvious physical barrier between the user and others in the room, a tablet can be placed flat on a conference table and accessed unobtrusively8.
These four growth drivers are likely to foster significant tablet diversity. Although certain form factors and operating systems dominated the market initially, the different requirements of various enterprises mean that one size will probably not fit all. Fortunately, tablets will be offered in multiple sizes in 2011. For use as catalogs in retail, a 10 inch diagonal display might be optimal; but for processes requiring portability, such as accident inspection, a smaller 7 inch device would be lighter and probably less expensive.
Some enterprises and their IT departments have strong preferences for certain operating systems (OS), and strong aversions to others. Assuming that tablets will be connected to the rest of the enterprise IT environment, it is reasonable to expect that OS market shares in enterprise tablets might closely mirror OS market shares in smartphones and PCs.
For an enterprise, a key challenge will be deciding whether to support multiple types of tablets or standardize on a single type. Employees often prefer to choose their own devices; however, IT support costs rise with device diversity. Balancing the IT department’s desire for a single, cost-effective solution against employees’ desire for freedom of choice will likely be just as challenging with tablets as it is with smartphones.
Price is a very important issue for enterprises, especially in the current economy. Enterprises (and tablet manufacturers) will need to carefully weigh the various trade-offs. Do enterprise tablets need cameras? Do they need to have the largest possible screen? Is Wi-Fi good enough, or do they need a more expensive 3G radio — and the data plan that goes with it?
The new breed of tablets is not designed to be particularly rugged. In the past, a variety of ruggedized tablets9 were available; however they tended to be 2-3x heavier than the new tablets and 3-5x more expensive10. Although they continue to have their devoted fans, they were not mass market devices. For those who worry that the new tablets might not be tough enough for constant use in the field, it is worth remembering that workers sometimes treat ruggedized devices less carefully, which can make such devices even more prone to damage. Ultimately, the most effective “ruggedization” is to produce a machine that the workforce values and takes care not to break.
Security is already being discussed as a potentially big issue for enterprise tablets. In some ways tablets are more secure than PCs – at time of writing no tablet-specific virus has been reported, and most don’t even have USB ports, eliminating a common security weak point. On the other hand, tablets are small, portable and a popular target for thieves. As a new device, tablets should probably be presumed insecure until proven otherwise.
App development will need to be monitored closely. Cost per app can range from $5,000-$500,000 (depending on complexity), so not all enterprises will be able to develop an app for every type of tablet; nor will they be able to fund a large number of custom apps for employees. Although some firms are proposing the deployment of web apps that run through a browser and therefore work on any tablet, the likely reality in 2011 is that only native apps will provide the full tablet experience and be capable of interacting with the devices’ built-in cameras, radios, calendars and push capabilities11.
1 Tablets are Toys (Not Mainstream Machines), ReadWrite Enterprise, 4 August 2009:http://www.readwriteweb.com/enterprise/2009/08/tablets-are-toys-not-mainstream-machines.php
2 Sprint Says 4G Tablet Coming In 2011, 80% Of CIOs Want To Buy Tablets, Forbes, 9 December 2010:http://blogs.forbes.com/elizabethwoyke/2010/12/09/sprint-says-4g-tablet-coming-in-2011-80-of-cios-want-to-buy-tablets/
3 AT&T to sell the iPad to Businesses, Mashable, 15 October 2010: http://mashable.com/2010/10/15/att-ipad-businesses/
4 iPad Poised to Revolutionize Retail Industry, Advertising Age, 21 April 2010:http://adage.com/digital/article?article_id=143416
5 With the iPad, Apple may just revolutionize medicine, The Washington Post, 11 April 2010:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/09/AR2010040906341.html
6 SAP NetWeaver on iPad, SAP website, 5 July 2010: http://en.sap.info/apps-ipad-citrix-office/35854/print
7 SAP To Deploy Up To 17,000 iPads In 12 Months, ZDNet, 7 September 2010:http://www.zdnet.com/blog/sybase/sap-to-deploy-up-to-17000-ipads-in-12-months/414?tag=mantle_skin;content
8 Gartner to CEOs: Seize the iPad Opportunity Now, Gartner, 4 November 2010:http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1462813
9 Rugged Tablet PC by MobileDemand: http://www.ruggedtabletpc.com/as one example
10 The 2010 Group Mobile Best Sellers Guide, GroupMobile Website;http://www.groupmobile.com/bestof.asp
11 Web Apps vs. Native Apps, GigaOm, 30 September 2010: http://gigaom.com/2010/09/30/mobilize-2010-native-mobile-apps-will-be-with-us-for-some-time/