Love 'em or hate 'em no one can deny that tablets are coming. Consumerization has brought them to the enterprise, but now it is time for the enterprise to influence tablets to make them more useful.
What does it take to make the tablet successful in the enterprise?
For the end user, five basic areas should be in place to enable meaningful work.
PC content tools run the gamut from HyperCard to Microsoft Word to Adobe Photoshop and beyond. Department managers shouldn't expect this kind of sophisticated software for end-user tablet content creation soon, as developers struggle to produce basic functionality. Today, a staffer can't use her iPad or Android to create complex, interactive, multimedia expressions with video, sound, and graphics. While tablets are fine for basic note-taking or rudimentary presentations, they don't support significant content creation as does a PC. For the foreseeable future, tablets will be oriented for Web content viewing.
In this fast-moving field, which doesn't always have enough manufacturer support, it's hard to find IT talent with the skill level to build tablet applications. One outstanding skill challenge is to correctly combine the interface with the coding so the user experience fulfills the capabilities of the touch-centric experience. A business manager wants an interactive, touch-centric application that accepts queries as the PC does, but the tablet isn't really there yet.
Absent content and application authoring tools, there isn't much of a market for native collaborative tools. Document collaboration, mark-ups, and other (hopefully new) collaborative formats will be available as content authoring improves. Sharing via the Web, using Google, Dropbox, or other applications, is the best way for tablet users to collaborate.
Mainframe application access:
Tablet access falls under the established mobile device management (MDM) in enterprise IT, which provisions, configures, and sets policy for smartphones and mobile devices. Here, large enterprise users have an advantage. Companies have to build their own integrations, just as they have done for mobile laptops, but the work's being done.
For the enterprise, tablet security also falls under MDM, with the same set of requirements as mobile PCs, smartphones, etc. Again, large enterprise users have an advantage. For consumers, security is like a PC using HTTPS for Web communication. All of us are at the mercy of application developers regarding how data is stored on the device.
So what are the next steps? The tablet isn't yet ready for prime-time business usage, and it can't replace the PC as the company workhorse. Maybe it's not intended to. Androids and iPads are great for viewing commercial content, and basic apps are being written by technologists, but tablet evolution to a comprehensive business device needs about another couple of years. With the innovative touch-centric interface, Web connectivity, and application development models, we can and should expect new and better ways to do old things -- and, of course, new things to do.
You're hitting the heart of the matter right now. The current generation of tablets are most effectively used as content consumption devices, with limited authoring capability depending on the nature of the work (i.e. you can probably write to your heart's content on one with an external keyboard hook-up, but it would be awkward to perform advanced financial modeling, graphics design, etc.).
Early adopters like tablets in part due to the convenience and form factor, and for some, the cache (especially with iPads) of owning one. Some of these users really don't do much beyond consume content anyway, so they are not necessarily losing much in the way of functionality transitioning away from laptops, or perhaps less frequently these days, desktops.
But as consumers bring the tablets in the Enterprise is going to be forced to deal with them. The applications are driving this as well since they offer solutions that include auomation and as stated in the original post for annotation and collaboration. Highly mobile and fnctional.
Tablet use requires a special kind of purpose and a special kind of person. Some apps work great, the same apps that I enjoy the simplicity of on my iPhone, and other jsut wont cut it. In my opinion tablets are good for simple correlated data viewing/malipulation, browsing the web, and Angry Birds. They are a round peg that fits very well in a round hole.
"Speech driven applications or other user interface enhancements, along with more computing power and the ability to run simultaneous applications would make the tablet useful for many roles and types of work, except perhaps very hard core data crunching, programming and the like."
@zentropist -- agree, and well said. Time is going to tell the story, but there are many stories to potentially tell.
@catalyst - If a programmer works hard to create applications which can do multimedia, videos, etc. then I suspect it can be done. But none of the tablets claim to be a replacement for PCs in terms of content creation because they can't do it yet. It's like the first Mac - one writing and one graphics program. It took years to get MSFT to adapt its Office suite to the Mac, and for other developers to offer packages for people to take advantage of the visual point-and-click interface. For tablets, it has to be built, except for some included rudimentary applications. It's a great viewer of multimedia.
But no, I can't really see myself dealing with complex spreadsheets with a touch interface...
I've spent a good portion of my computing life wrestling with and taming Excel. And I don't think the way we create, manipulate, and make sense of data on Excel is ideal. There must be a better, more visual, more natural way to make sense of lots of data. I think a tablet-based solution for data creation and manipulation will force the issue. And I'm looking forward to someone to develop a brilliant solution.
The tablet in its current stage of maturity may not be "enterprise ready" as an all around replacement for laptops and desktops, but within a couple of years, I'm not sure that this will be the case for many work-related applications.
Speech driven applications or other user interface enhancements, along with more computing power and the ability to run simultaneous applications would make the tablet useful for many roles and types of work, except perhaps very hard core data crunching, programming and the like.
People tend to choose convenience over practicality oftentimes, and I believe that tablet adoption rates will reflect this...
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