Enterprise tablets are just approaching the starting line

December 5, 2011

It occurs to me that we’re all just now crossing the starting line as we cover what will surely be a grueling race to crown the top finishers in the bid for tablet supremacy.

For as many entrants with their toes just off the starting line, champing at the bit as they head into the first turn, there are many, many more still on the sidelines trying to decide both whether—and at what point—their companies will join the race.

It’s a competition that is going to be long and complicated, with players constantly altering and rewriting the rule book. And then there’s this: right now, at the beginning of December 2011, the use of tablet computers in business still feels oriented more around receiving content than anything else.

High-end retailers are hiring whip-smart designers to come up with dazzling set pieces to sell high-end real estate or couture collections in the B2C marketplace. It’s all about consuming content at a sales call or on a retail floor. For now.

What will change the game?

There are some major game-changers waiting in the wings, though. Take Windows 8. Or will you? At least one major research firm says the market will do a 180 when Microsoft’s highly-anticipated OS hits the shelves.

Expectations are that Windows 8 will enable content creation in a manner that far exceeds current usage. That is, workers in the enterprise, or in a mom and pop grocery store, will be able to use their tablets to articulate their needs, their point of view. The OS will enable workers to create their orders, their reports, their marketing collateral, and more.

Yet, one really smart developer I dined with last week said at this moment Windows 8 isn’t even on his radar. Why? Because iOS is so freakin’ dominant that no one will catch up. Ever. (But then again, this guy’s jam is all about creating transplendent selling tools to please the eye and close the sale. And he does a great job at it.)

What this split opinion says to me is obvious. The story for a plethora of use cases for tablets hasn’t even been written yet. Yes, there are those companies who primarily will use them to display merchandise and tell stories to the retail market. But in all likelihood, just as many companies will be (or already are?) buying tablets in the tens of thousands for their workers.

For these companies, the ability to communicate with one another in the field about inventory management, or to relay critical information up and down the line, or to collaborate in real-time, isn't paramount. It's smart business.

Mature market = tablet differentiation

Yet to be discussed (at least at sites I visit) will be the upcoming market share battle between tablets designed for one-hand use and those to be used with both. Guys and gals out in the field, dangling from poles, I’m pretty certain will want one-handed tablets into which they can punch data easily and safely.

Add to this the possibility that Amazon could someday decide to offer up a Kindle Fire Pro. Or that Apple’s next iPad-iOS combination could enable heretofore unseen enterprise functions. All of a sudden, we’re talking about machines that could conceivably offer up all the content creation capacity a Fortune 500 company could want, but at a greatly reduced price.

I haven’t even thrown other variables like durability or security concerns into the mix. Suffice it to say that size, end-use, weight, customer focus, among other preferences, are already creating a diverse tablet ecosystem with many facets. We’ll even see some tablets custom-designed for or by companies with very specific needs, such as the military.

So, when we marvel at weekly iPad2 shipment numbers or wonder about HP-level flameouts, I, for one, will try to remember that most of the players haven’t even really suited up yet. And that many use cases have yet to be imagined.


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