Media tablets present a variety of new opportunities for business, while supplementing traditional uses of notebooks and smartphones. Tablets present a new design point for applications, and require a new set of policies, technologies and skills.
This special report highlights Gartner's research and advice to customers on best practices for business uses of the media tablet. Running throughout 2011 with periodic updates, it describes why media tablets matter to business and government, how to deploy them, and how to deliver applications to them. The phenomenon will change the future of computing in business. Read ahead to get up to speed on what is happening in a very fast-moving area, and to get insight on what your next move should be.
Media tablets seem to be everywhere. The iPad brought to life a new model of computing centered around Web browsing, applications and media consumption, which is a smash success. It makes computing practical in many new locations where a laptop or a smartphone just wouldn't cut it. The convenient-to-use, instant-on, responsive media tablet is not the tablet PC experience we first saw: It is not merely a touchscreen or pen interface bolted onto the PC. It has spawned a huge variety of applications designed for the unique environment. The media tablet is proving to be something new, but the device itself is only part of the story. The packaging of hardware and software that Apple created with the iPad, along with the ecosystem of applications and media that surrounded it, has made the real difference.
The iPad, and an anticipated larger wave of media tablets, has captured the imagination of business leaders. Some companies have issued them to business and IT leaders in the spirit of exploration. Others see areas in which they can use media tablets to bring computing into settings that were not practical or were too cumbersome to use traditional approaches. For the consumer, the iPad brought a casual but rich experience onto the living room couch, or the train, or while waiting in line at the bank. In turn, IT organizations are finding new places where tablets can deliver information and media in ways that were not practical, too cumbersome or just too unwieldy. Tablets remove the burden of computing and let the user merely act — and get useful work done.
The devices may be beautiful to hold and use, but there are critical aspects of Apple's approach that are more important than the device itself, such as the supporting ecosystem of applications and media content, and the developer ecosystem behind it, and the consistent design principles that create a compelling experience for the user.
Although they have suddenly appeared in many visible locations, the absolute numbers of media tablets are relatively low. Media tablet shipments are expected to be approximately 69 million in 2011, which is only a small fraction of the total number of application-capable mobile devices, such as smartphones. Yet the impact in the minds of the public is much greater than the numbers alone describe, and the design impacts on other forms of computing will be great. IT leaders themselves are among the most visible users of media tablets. In large sessions at Gartner conferences in 2010, we estimate that more than one-quarter of attendees were carrying iPads.
CIOs are determined not to make the same mistakes they made with smartphones, which were often written off early as expensive and frivolous toys, or executive status symbols — which then left room for more inventive leaders who saw the competitive advantage that mobile applications would bring. They are also more willing to see that they don't need to supply and manage every device that employees use at work: Consumerization is here to stay, and moving very fast. If you can think of an application for tablets, your competition may well be thinking in the same way — and acting on it. As we noted in "CEO Advisory: Seize the iPad Opportunity Now," it is time to explore the use of media tablets in business.
Infrastructure support teams, which have always been the most resistant to new devices, are also embracing the trend faster than any other major computing shift we have seen. They anticipate broad adoption in their companies. At Gartner's December 2010 Infrastructure and Operations Conference, 85% of the audience stated they expect to support media tablets, and 48% were already supporting them within six months of the iPad's launch (see "Managing the Next Generation of Client Computing" ).
Companies that had already recognized the flood of consumer devices coming into business, and had figured out a way to leverage it rather than fight it, have been more prepared to embrace media tablets. Those who embraced managed diversity (see "Use Managed Diversity to Support Endpoint Devices," and figured out how to manage and secure iPhones, were developing strategies to manage and keep iPads secure — not after months of study, but within weeks of the iPad's launch.
As originally noted in "iPads: Not Notebook Replacements, but Still Useful for Business," media tablets provide a different user experience than laptops. Rather than a full replacement for conventional PCs, they are a convenient supplement. By activating instantly, they allow a user to get right to what he or she needs immediately, without long and frustrating startup times. With few mechanical parts, media tablets have exceptional battery life. The best are responsive, tactile and inviting. In a common mobile-worker scenario, employees may travel with a media tablet during the day, but then return to their laptops in the after hours for heads-down data entry or content creation.
The design principles used in media tablets have already impacted mobile design in a big way, and over the next couple of years, the design of notebooks and desktops will change at the device level, with technologies such as multitouch and motion sensing, and at the application distribution level, with users subscribing to applications within an ecosystem via a portal.
This working model has distinct advantages. In mid-conversation with a client, a sales agent can open up a media tablet as naturally as opening up a book, and then casually walk through documents and videos — avoiding the awkward, finger-drumming delays of booting a laptop and launching applications. Many sales leaders are clamoring to adopt them in their workforce. And it won't stop there: Next will come customer relationship management systems, order entry and sales configuration applications. For sales managers, media tablets will be a natural platform for business analytics and performance dashboards.
In other settings, the intimacy of using a media tablet supports more personal interactions. Doctors, nurses and medical technicians find they can sit down with a patient and help a patient understand a diagnoses, walk through a medical procedure and describe a therapy with them. Retail clerks can use tablets to display customized clothing for a customer. Conference attendees can take surveys with no training required (for one such example, see "Medtronic: Making better decisions faster" ).
Business processes where people need information while they are walking or sitting down are good candidates for media tablet applications. Modest form-based data entry systems are easy to create. Extensive data entry is not advised, at least not without external keyboards, at which point the dividing line between the smallest notebook computer and the media tablet becomes very fine — a subject which we will attack in an update to this special report later in 2011.
Just as media tablets don't replace PCs, they also will not replace mobile phones as voice devices, even in the smaller form factors, such as those with 7-inch displays. As noted in "Media Tablets as Communicators Are Not Quite a Category Killer," there will be opportunities to use media tablets for communication and collaboration applications in a shared office setting, such as a conference room or a fixed desk location (especially for video). Here they do not compete in the same space as the general-purpose media tablet, such as the iPad (although a future general-purpose device could make these devices unnecessary). They may play a part in a broader integrated unified communications (UC) strategy. We've looked at two early versions, from Cisco and Avaya (see "Cisco's Cius Is Targeted at Moving Users Beyond Voice to Video and Collaboration" and "Avaya: A New User Experience, and an Android Conferencing Device to Run It" ). We believe these are early examples of purpose-built tablets targeted at special uses for business.
But although media tablets are not generally replacements for notebooks or for smartphones, they still have enormous potential in the workplace. They can be a convenient replacement for tasks where a notebook seemed to be the only option (e.g., reading and otherwise consuming data). They can also serve as data entry devices for short tasks where a smartphone is too small, such as for simple forms entry. Another interesting set of uses centers around tablets permanently mounted in a physical location, such as a kiosk, vehicle or elevator.
Apple may have redefined what a computing tablet is, but others are also joining in. For Apple's often well-capitalized competitors, this will be a high-stakes battle. Not only will Google compete via Android (working with many hardware manufacturers), but so will Research In Motion (RIM) with QNX, and HP with WebOS. While Microsoft and Nokia have each been holding their cards close to their chests as of this writing, they will surely enter the game during 2011. And all the while, Apple is not standing still (see "RIM Adopts QNX Platform Strategy, Announces Tablet," "A Perspective on Android 2.2 for the Enterprise" and "iPad 2 Will Stay on Top of the Tablet Market by Delivering a Richer Experience" ).
Fundamentally, the market battle will not hinge on features and specifications, on the fit and finish of a given device, or even on a device at all: The platform that will prevail will have a strong supporting ecosystem of developers producing a wide range of applications. And in this area, Apple is far ahead of any competition. Not only does it have a first-mover advantage in the device itself, but it has built a curated application distribution mechanism in the App Store that is notable both for how users hold it in high regard and how detractors see it as a limitation. In the end, Apple's lead will be very difficult to beat.
Done properly, and with a new strategy, managing media tablets need not create a huge burden or put the organization at risk.
For now, Apple is at the center of the media tablet discussion. The fact that it is already in demand by end users, has a curated application experience that mitigates business risk and shares an approach with other iOS devices, especially the iPhone, makes it a good and safe choice for businesses.
The conventional wisdom about Apple's position in the enterprise isn't always true: You can manage iPads and iPhones securely to a level that is sufficient for most companies. A business can deliver its own applications and avoid most of the tight restrictions of Apple's consumer App Store. And at this point, Apple devices are priced competitively. Apple merely has a strategy for enterprise support that is a different approach from what the traditional IT suppliers offer. For device management and security, Apple provides capabilities for third parties to provide full mobile device management and security, as explained in "Apple Delivers Major Upgrade to Enterprise Capabilities in iOS 4."
For a more general view of security, see "Four Architectural Approaches to Limit Business Risk on Consumer Smartphones and Tablets" and "How to Support Corporate E-Mail and Other Applications on Personal Devices," as well as "How to Secure the Corporate Data on Your iPad or iPhone."
Application licensing is another consideration that organizations must understand. Devices like iPads owned by users and used off-premises are licensed differently, and may be less expensive to license than iPads owned by the organization (see "Ensure Apple iPads Are Licensed Correctly to Use Microsoft Products to Avoid Problems" ).
Longer term, a general device management strategy that combines both traditional and mobile computing may prevail (see "Managing Client Computing Through 2015" and "Managing the Next Generation of Client Computing" ).
The unstoppable trend of consumerization is forcing leaders to rethink their mobile policies and provide more choices for users, even going as far as opening up to any device the user may want to choose. The tradeoffs between a tightly controlled and more-open approach are examined in "New Approaches to Managing Mobile Users and Smartphones."
The variety of platforms is creating a very active market for mobile device management, as noted in "Mobile Device Management 2010: A Crowd of Vendors Pursue Consumer Devices in the Enterprise."
Organizations that actively embrace mobile applications will have some tough choices to make. Is it better to build a highly functional thick-client application for a single platform, or is it better to use Web technologies, or is it better to use cross-compilation technologies and tools that support more vendors, even with fewer features? We examine these tradeoffs and rank the vendors in "Magic Quadrant for Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms."
The new style of application delivery found in Apple's App Store, which now spans not only mobile devices, but conventional desktops and notebooks, will also change application delivery, software distribution and employee portals.
To gain the most competitive advantage, many organizations will find that merely using off-the-shelf applications will not be enough, and will decide to pursue custom applications. But the world of media tablet and smartphone development is very different from the world of conventional static applications, so new tools and disciplines are in order.
For application developers, media tablets present a new design point, which sits between a pocketable smartphone with a small screen and limited input options versus a luggable notebook PC with a large screen and traditional mouse/keyboard input. More importantly, it is one that emphasizes softer aspects that technologists tend to ignore: empathy, feel and even emotion. New design factors are discussed in "From iPads to Portals: A World of Doors and Windows." A broader analysis of the Apple approach to design that can be applied to many aspects of architecture and development is described in our work on design thinking and empathetic design (see "Gain a Foundation in Design Thinking to Apply Gartner's Hybrid Thinking Research" ).
Because of the complexities and hazards of developing applications for specific platforms, widespread availability of mobile broadband and gradual improvements in HTML5, we anticipate many organizations will elect to create more thin-client applications as their principal strategy (see "Mobile Architectures, 2009 Through 2012: A Trend Toward Thin" ).
HTML5 will not be the answer to all problems, as noted in "HTML5 and the Future of Adobe Flash." When it is necessary to deliver applications to two or more target platforms, especially when advanced device features and offline capabilities are needed, cross-platform tools will play a more important role, as described in "Cross-Platform Mobile Application Development Tools: Interest and Capability Expected to Grow." An overview of the available tools for smartphones (and, by extension, some media tablets) is available in "Choosing Development Tools for Smartphone App Store Applications."
You'll find more on developing applications for the mobile environment, especially for smartphones, in "ATV: Guide for Mobile Application Development, Sourcing and Support."
By getting computing out of the way of what the user wants to do, media tablets prove that automation doesn't have to be a tortuous and difficult experience for the user, requiring extensive training for poorly designed and nonintuitive environments. It doesn't have to be complex. In future updates during 2011, we will go even deeper into the areas of business applications for media tablets, as well as device management, application delivery strategies and application development.