A reassessment of tablets in the enterprise: Where do things stand?

Late last week, analyst house Gartner published numbers on the state of global tablet computer sales – and it didn’t make for pretty reading.

2012 saw 116 million tablets sold globally; 2013 saw 195m sales. 2014, however only saw 216m shipments, an increase of only 10%. Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal described the drop last year as “alarming”, but with sales of 233m and 259m predicted for 2015 and 2016, it seems like the honeymoon period is certainly over.

Atwal puts this down to a variety of factors, such as extended lifetime for tablets, software upgrades, particularly for iOS devices, as well as a “lack of innovation” in hardware.

But with this in mind, what is the state of enterprise tablets today? Is there a case for the smartphone taking away the workflow of the tablet?

Workflows, not devices

Back in October 2013, Magic Software UK MD David Akka wrote in this publication: “With the ability to provide access to enterprise systems with full functionality via mobile apps, even when offline, a key barrier to the adoption of tablets has been removed.

“There may not be a single killer app for tablets in the enterprise, but we know what we want to achieve and it’s all about finding the device that best fits that.”

Almost 15 months on, the last sentence could not be more prevalent. It’s not about the device, it’s about the workflow. If you’re a sales professional, for example, and you can send emails, make presentations, keep appointments and sign contracts with your smartphone, why bother carrying a tablet around? Unless you get a separate keyboard, tablets aren’t even good for heavy duty typing, although some companies, such as Dryft, aim to change this.

A recent survey from YouGov, on behalf of FeedHenry, found only 19% of American employers polled allowed BYOD usage for tablets. Good data storage and memory capability were the most important features for both consumer and enterprise tablets, while camera and touch ID were a turn off.

Figures from Piper Jaffray released last week found similarly; tablet penetration in the enterprise is at 18%, yet 50% said they expect tablet deployment of some kind in 2015. So is there a tipping point?

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

If there’s a company at the moment which is changing the face of tablet computing in the enterprise, it’s Microsoft. Under CEO Satya Nadella’s remit, the tech giant has moved away from the Ballmer-Jobs walled garden era between Microsoft and Apple, offering freemium Office 365 on iPads. Now that offer has been extended to Android tablets. It’s worth noting as well this isn’t just a half-baked port to a different OS leaving a horrible user experience – these are bespoke, nicely designed apps.

Closer to home, Microsoft is expected to launch its Surface Pro 4 tablet later this year, with analysts expecting a further pushtowards a hybrid laptop-tablet of the Pro 3.

Microsoft isn’t the only vendor going this way. Last month Fujitsu announced the launch of a series of next generation tablets, with a light weight (1.47lbs), attachable keyboard, 11 hour battery life, and is “particularly beneficial for corporate workers and government personnel, as well as educators who require office-like productivity, regardless of their location.”

So what is needed to make tablets a success in the enterprise? Panasonic and VDC Research carried out a study in June, and found six key tenets:

Longer battery life, with more than half of firms surveyed reporting at least occasional issues with tablet batteries not lasting a single shift
Application lifecycle management which pervades complete device strategy
Hidden costs, such as support requirements
More allowance of training for employees
Proper implementation of add-ons, such as bar scanners
Ensuring the right workplace environment, such as lack of exposure to sunlight

Employee education was important when Amsterdam Airport Schiphol migrated over to BYOD, with Good Technology, the firm which helped mobilise the airport, offering the option of using tablets. Many employees agreed.

It’s not just about the tablets, either. Mitch Black, president at MOBI Wireless Management, argues the need for a tighter ecosystem to allow tablets to thrive.

“This is especially true of the complicated connectivity ecosystems being developed in enterprises,” he tells Enterprise AppsTech. “Making sure next generation collaboration applications speak across all devices will contribute to the success, efficiency and productivity of all employees.”

But what about the role of the desktop in all of this? Should tablets not be cannibalising the smartphone, but the desktop? For your HR department, it may still be easier to perform such tasks as accounts on desktop, but Jeremy Roche, CEO at Financial Force, argues mobility should eventually push the desktop out completely.

“You should be able to perform core work functions from your mobile device,” he says. “This will be an expectation among the next generation workforce.

He adds: “Desktops aren’t going to go away completely, they’ll still serve a strong purpose, but looking forward we’ll start to see more consolidation between mobile business applications that perform separate functions, and overall deeper functionality that enable professionals to do far more with their smartphones and tablets.”

 

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