Apple’s iPad may not have been the world’s first tablet computer, but with its multi-touch interface and elegant UI, it was certainly the best. The release of the product stimulated huge interest among senior executives eager to find a portable solution to carry between meetings.
“Tablets would replace everything,” the zealots cried.
Five years on and this still doesn’t appear to be the case, so where are we now? Are tablets yesterday’s effervescent remedy to problems people never really had, or are they slowly staking a niche space in enterprise IT?
Where are we now?
In many cases, the screen size and portability of tablet devices brings a good balance for many work-related tasks. With the addition of a Bluetooth keyboard, taking notes, catching up with email, research, working while in transit and offering up presentations all make sense to enterprise users.
“The tablet is this decade’s corporate status symbol as well as a useful productivity tool,” said Deloitte in its ‘Understanding the BYOD Device Landscape’ report.
Tablet devices are also building usage cases on their own account. Air crew use them to manage passengers and carry flight data; we’re seeing increasing use of these devices in hospitals, doctor’s surgeries and operating theatres; oil, gas and infrastructure managers are also using these devices, attracted by their ease-of-use, portability and connectivity. Entire industries are developing effective usage cases for the things, as a swift exploration of the IBM website illustrates.
There’s a changing technology landscape that impacts any user’s daily life. While the enterprise environment was previously dominated by multiple hardware device vendors running only one OS, the present and future technology environment will be far more heterogeneous: Microsoft, Apple and Google will provide the OS. Currently, the iPad dominates enterprise tablet computing: it accounted for 81% of new enterprise tablet activations in Q1 2015, according to the 2015 Good Technology Mobility Index Report.
Apple’s iPad Pro range with their support for keyboards and a stylus has clearly widened the logical market for these things. Google’s recent introduction of Android for Work illustrates another approach. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to develop its own tablet offer, recently revealing a 56% year-over-year increase in quarterly revenue from Surface products.
Microsoft’s decision to offer its alternative take on tablets on a low cost monthly deal seems to be bearing fruit among enterprise users. Canalys claims Surface Pro 4 to be outselling the iPad Pro in the UK's enterprise market: 275k versus 107k for the iPad Pro.
The big advantage Microsoft has here is Windows, which makes it a little easier for enterprise users to continue to support legacy systems. The other advantage is that incumbent Windows-centric tech support teams are more likely to favor Microsoft’s solution. (IDC thinks sales of two-in-one devices like the Surface will increase even as overall tablet sales stagnate).
Google’s Chromebooks may also be an emerging threat, given how used millennial employees are to Google’s software and services. “Just as phablets have eaten away at the smaller end of the tablet spectrum, the gulf between PCs and tablets is shrinking every day,” said Strategy Analytics’ senior tablet and touchscreen analyst Eric Smith. “Major vendors are pushing the boundaries of all three major mobile operating systems and hardware configurations to transform the tablet into a content creation device.”
This feeds directly into adoption, as the capabilities of the hardware and operating systems improve, so too do the apps made available for them. Put very simply, this means an increasingly broad range of enterprise computing needs can be met by these devices.
Apps have it
Of course, the appearance of key productivity apps (not just Skype or Word, but hardcore enterprise focused apps from the likes of Salesforce, Oracle, IBM and others) is essential to this digital transformation. Tablets are seeing wide adoption as a result.
The impact of mobile solutions and BYOD on working patterns is widely recognized. Employees demand much more autonomy and in exchange for this are prepared to work in much more flexible fashion, fitting their productive time in ways to maximize effectiveness while enabling a better quality of life.
CIO’s are well aware of the challenges of mobility on enterprise security systems. Security remains one of the hugest challenges to any infrastructure deployment, and rapid change in the security landscape is favoring Apple above others at this time. A recent Tech Pro Research survey gives Apple a commanding lead over Google in terms of security, with Microsoft’s Surface range’s built-in Windows support making that tablet a viable choice.
Where it’s at
Gartner in 2014 predicted that by 2018, more than 50 percent of enterprise mobility users would use a tablet or smartphone first for all online activities. That’s pretty much how things are panning out - more than half of employees use a tablet for work at least once a week, according to Forrester (though in some cases they are using their own devices to do so).
Despite this, tablets don’t yet seem to be complete PC replacements, partially because they are not yet capable of handling every piece of bespoke legacy software.
This barrier should shrink as enterprises move to adopt cloud-based solutions. You cannot underestimate the significance of the cloud transition – in layman’s terms so long as enterprise cloud solutions are built using established Web standards, then in future tablet devices should be just as capable of accessing and working with those systems as any PC.
Read about how Orange Business Services helped Darty, one of France’s biggest electrical retailers with its digital transformation, including introduction of tablet-based retail management systems here.
Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.