Tablet Invasion

You probably thought the consumerization of IT was a big trend even before Apple sold 15 million iPads in the device's first year. Now, seemingly overnight, tablets have overrun IT. Just about every smartphone and PC maker has announced a near-iPad tablet of its own, and they're all due any day now. Gartner predicts that 69 million tablets will be sold in 2011. And here's the part that matters most to you: Forrester analyst Ted Schadler estimated in a March report on tablets in the enterprise that about half of those first 15 million iPads are commuting to the office every day.

It's inevitable, because tablets fill a need for users. No other device handles meetings as well. Tablets are light -- even compared to netbooks -- plus they have long battery life, and they're less off-putting to colleagues because you can type almost silently and your face isn't obscured by the display. And their screen size gives them an advantage over smartphones. Ever tried to whip out your smartphone in a meeting to check something on the Web? A phone is too small to pull down menus and press navigation buttons comfortably. What usually happens is that the conversation passes you by. A tablet like the Apple iPad or the Motorola Xoom offers a better overall design for use during meetings.

Tablets are also a good fit at companies where employees travel frequently or move about all day, and in fields like healthcare, financial services, manufacturing and retail. A tablet is an excellent small-meeting presentation device, especially in intimate settings like restaurants. And while both Forrester and IDC don't expect tablets to replace laptops, I have to wonder whether that outlook might change in a couple of years.


Like any new platform, tablets bring with them a host of concerns for IT leaders, and you're probably not yet prepared to manage and support them in the enterprise. My advice: Don't delay.

If you haven't developed a bring-your-own-technology policy, do so now. If you have such a policy but it isn't well evolved or hasn't been well communicated to employees, get to work.

As always, you can't neglect security. It may surprise you to learn that most experts consider Apple's iOS 4.3 to be acceptably secure for typical industries, while Android still needs work. Whichever platform you use, Forrester's Schadler recommends limiting the amount of data stored on tablets (by keeping it on a server or in the cloud) for both security and e-discovery reasons.

But apps, of course, are a big part of the tablet experience, so these might be the questions that enterprise IT organizations need to consider most closely: Do you go with a vendor for an enterprise app store? How do you deliver support for your internal applications? How do you handle legacy apps? (And that, by the way, might be desktop virtualization's true point of entry.) Do you build native, cross-platform or Web-based apps? Do you limit tablet support to one platform? Is HTML5 a strong part of the solution? (Not in the short run.)

Still thinking you can avoid those headaches by saying no? Then consider this: Tablets may also represent a significant customer-facing business opportunity. In a March report about tablets in business, Gartner analyst David A. Willis wrote: "If you can think of an application for tablets, your competition may well be thinking in the same way ... and acting on it."

So while you have to consider management and support, you also have to recognize that tablets could deliver significant ROI or even revenue. And you can't afford to say no to that.

Scot Finnie is Computerworld's editor in chief. You can contact him at and follow him on Twitter (@ScotFinnie).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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