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Q&A: Talking RIM, security and Windows 8 with ABI Research’s Jeff Orr

by Doug Drinkwater

October 28 2011

Jeff Orr is the senior analyst of mobile content at renowned analyst firm ABI Research, and recently spoke exclusively to TabTimes about the emergence of tablet PCs.

TabTimes: ABI Research recently concluded that media tablet shipments rose above those of netbooks for the first time. Talk us through this trend…

Jeff Orr: This milestone was reached after Q2 of this year. Device vendors shipped more media tablets than netbooks for the first time, and the news represents an interesting change in leadership in the mobile space.

Was there any particular market where this trend was more apparent?

The common new adopters for any new technology tend to be Western Europe, America, Japan and Korea. These regions give an early indication of how technology might be adopted in other regions and generally prosper because they have advanced broadband services and a high PC penetration in the home. These people are richer and also have multiple devices.

That said, netbooks are not going away and continue to grow as a lower-cost product for countries with a lower PC penetration and no Wi-Fi in the home.

Could tablets overtake laptops in becoming the secondary, more mobile computing device, while laptops replace the desktop in the office?

Vendors like Apple have spoken about the post-PC era, but I don’t think we can say for certain if this is the case. What I can say is new form factors, like tablets, are now being considered when people look to buy a new computer.

We increasingly see households are willing to try out a new form factor, when it comes to replacing or updating their personal PC. Obviously, this is money that is not going towards the PC.

The question is, when the next PC upgrade is due – two years down the line, whether people will decide that a tablet is good enough on its own. I think it will depend on what tablets are available, and what applications can be successfully migrated to each device.

What sectors do you expect to benefit from the rise of the tablet? We’ve seen early case studies of deployment in education, health and retail…

Healthcare and education tend to come up on any new technology.

The reality is that education adoption only occurs when there is a funding source identified to make this happen. The sector typically lacks funding, and I would say that tablets are not necessary high on the list of devices to deploy.

Tablets could be used in education, but there is no guarantee of their success. We’ve seen unsuccessful experiments of eReaders at universities, where most students ended up handing the devices back, in preference of regular textbooks, and the ability to highlight and annotate work.

What about healthcare?

Healthcare is quite different. It has a great need for technology but tends to be one of the slowest segments to act on it, due to privacy and data security regulations. This slows deployment down and removes the opportunity for the sector to experiment with tablets.

Do you think it’s easier to adopt tablets in small business, than in large corporations?

The idea of red tape, bureaucracy, and having to include your IT department of procurement group, certainly does restrict deployment in large business, while you can make a quick decision if you have a sole proprietor.

We definitely see some adoption by those working in home offices, as consultants, insurance agencies or estate agents. These people have a local budget and are willing to buy and try to see if tablets make them more productive.

If this is the case now, what is the future of adoption among medium and large-sized companies?

I expect enterprise to come around to tablets. Large Fortune companies are doing evaluations and they need to, so to understand how these devices can change work patterns.

However, what we’re not seeing with tablets in enterprise is any cut-over behaviour. We’re not expecting organisations to replace laptops or smartphones at present. Tablets are a currently an experimental, incremental asset.

What is driving tablet adoption in the enterprise space?

I think there’s a desire for the individual to have a fun work environment with tools that they can engage with. People are looking for the user experience of a touchscreen and the freedom of a handheld device.

Are content and applications being overlooked in tablet adoption? Are companies too focused on the hardware?

If you look at it like it’s just another piece of hardware, obviously you are taking the wrong approach. You need to look at what job functions can benefit from tablets.

Apps and services should be the driving requirements which determine what hardware should wrap around that application.

You probably heard about the delay of the PlayBook 2.0 OS this week. Where do you stand on RIM and their future in the tablet market? Researchers say that the firm’s ODM has no plans to make hardware beyond this year…

RIM has a really good focus in terms of the Playbook product, and its evolution of hardware, software and services. The challenge is that everyone wants to compare RIM to Apple and that comparison should not be drawn.

I am encouraged by the product and software, and PlayBook OS 2.0, and while no-one wants to talk about delays, RIM was doing the right think of waiting, rather than heading to market with something that doesn’t work. RIM will be a very viable player in the enterprise market for tablets.

What are your first impressions of Windows 8?

Windows 8 is something of an unknown at this point, and we don’t really know Microsoft will get from running a pre-data demo on some handsets to something suitable for the marketplace. There is also a question of launch priority between the desktop and tablet versions.

I don’t expect to see Windows tablets in enterprise until the second half of 2013, maybe the first half of 2014.

Businesses are worried about security, with many consumer tablets now being used for business. Where do you stand the security issues that enterprises will face?

IT organisations can take one of two possible options to consumer devices – either accept it and understand how they can be used, or to block it off completely. This kind of situation exists in all forms of devices coming to enterprise, and is not just to do with mobiles or tablets.

This suggests that there needs to be a re-examination of the trust model in the workplace. I am not talking about standards, but rules need to be introduced that set out trust for the user, the device and the location.

International Editor of TabTimes

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