In Search of the Business Tablet

A discussion in the Tablets session at Interop last week once again brought up a favorite topic of mine – what about a tablet built for business?

I had the privilege of filling in for Maribel Lopez (my Co-Chair at next month's inaugural Mobile Connect conference in Boston, on the Tablets Panel at last week's Interop conference in Las Vegas. I was very pleased that my old friend and colleague Tom Henderson was also able to be on this panel, along with Professor Terri Griffith of Santa Clara University, and as panel Chair the always informative and entertaining Michael Dortch. Needless to say, this session was a lot of fun, covering the both the technical and business aspects of tablets in the enterprise.

While the discussion was wide-ranging, Tom and I were both all over the lack of a "business" tablet in the market. Granted, the consumerization of IT (CoIT) is now in full swing, and there's nothing fundamental that a consumer-grade tablet can't do in the enterprise. I think, though, that it boils down to a question of emphasis on the part of the tablet manufacturers.

Just for fun, take a look at what Apple thinks an iPad in business needs. Go ahead, I'll wait. Or just let me summarize what you'll find at the previous link: there's an app for that. SharePlus. Goodreader. Dropbox. The iWork suite. QuickOffice. Etc. In other words, you're on your own. I use FileBrowser to access the office network here; it's quite primitive compared to what comes standard in a real OS today. At least it's cheap. But it should be free, as in, included as basic functional in iOS. And will Microsoft port a version of Office to the iPad? They would if they were smart, but they're not. Unless, of course, Windows 8 turns out to be the guts of a business tablet. So maybe they are.

My point here is that a real business tablet would have an operating environment more like what we find on notebooks, at least in terms of capability. But it might also include some form of unified communications and better integration with enterprise IT (security, integrity, management, etc.) than consumer-grade devices. Both Tom and I mentioned the Cisco Cius as an example, not because it's ideal in this role by any stretch of the imagination, but rather because it's designed and sold as a business tool, not another instantiation of CoIT. And both Tom and I lamented that Cisco has under-marketed and undersold this device; just try to buy one. One audience member noted that such is no big deal; just call your Cisco sales rep and place an order. But if you don't have a sales rep, good luck in finding anybody who will sell you just one Cius.

I still believe that "business tablets" will appear over time. These might be iPads with a more enterprise-centric software environment, undoubtedly sold as an app, or refinements of the Cius concept. Or maybe, just this once, Microsoft will surprise me to the upside.

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