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2011: Year of the Tablet


If 2010 marked the tablet eruption, then 2011 will be the year the tablet hits the mainstream. Info-Tech estimates that the tablet market will explode to 40-50 million units in 2011 – somewhere in the range of 300% growth over 2010. Apple’s iPad will continue to lead in market share, but the approximate 90% share it enjoyed as the first to market in 2010 will drop to 60-70% (24 million to 35 million units). While most tablets will still target the consumer, there will be some business-targeted devices. More importantly, the increasing adoption of consumer technology in the enterprise will lead to widespread tablet adoption for business use (for more information, refer to the Info-Tech solution set, “Manage the Invasion of Consumer Technology”).

Apple Blows up the Market

When Apple announced the iPad in January 2010, many naysayers mused that it was merely a toy with no place in business. Some even anticipated that it would mark the beginning of the end of Apple’s meteoric rise that started with the first iPhone in June 2007. Since the day that Apple announced the iPad, Info-Tech’s point of view has been that that the tablet form factor and functionality would find a place in the enterprise (for more information, refer to the Info-Tech video and brief, “iPad Adoption: A Viable Enterprise Option”). This has played out in several high profile deployments across vertical markets, as well as in discussions with many Info-Tech clients.

As we near the end of 2010, few can argue against the fact that Apple has introduced a truly disruptive product. The iPad has created a new category of personal computing and addressed a market demand that has resulted in almost 7.5 million iPads shipped in its first five months. The busy fourth calendar quarter will likely see that number exceed 12 million. Sales of the iPad exceeded those of iMacs and MacBooks in the quarter ended September 30th – the first full quarter of iPad availability.

The Year that Was

While Apple started a viable tablet market, it isn’t all about Apple – it’s about a new category of personal computing device and a still nascent, but rapidly growing new market. What has happened in this emerging space is akin to what occurred with smartphones in 2007-2008 and netbooks in 2008-2009.

The smartphone story continues to evolve, and the market continues to explode. On the other hand, the last chapter of the netbook story has been read a mere three years after the Asus EEE netbook made its first appearance in late 2007. Did the tablet put the last nail in the netbook coffin? It certainly did. Figure 1 clearly demonstrates that the introduction of the iPad – and tablets in general – completely cannibalized the delicate netbook market.

Figure 1. US Retail Notebook (Netbook) Y/Y Unit Growth

 2011 Year of the Tablet

Sourced from CrunchGear

Before Apple announced the iPad, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stood on stage at the January CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and announced three tablets destined to be running Windows 7 in the coming months. The most compelling of the triad – the HP Slate 500 – finally shipped in late October, missing the estimated second quarter timeline significantly.

While it looks like a compelling Windows 7 tablet, the $799 price tag and general lack of touch-friendliness in Windows 7 resulted in a very small initial production run (estimated at as few as 5,000). The first production run sold out immediately to HP’s enterprise customers. The Slate 500 was the first purpose-built enterprise-class tablet to ship, albeit not widely.

Then there are the myriad crossover tablets: devices that are aimed at consumers with business appeal. You name the computer manufacturer, and they have all announced or launched tablet devices. There are far too many to name here, but those that stand out are the Dell Inspiron Duo convertible netbook/tablet (custom skinned Windows Home Premium - $549), the Samsung Galaxy Tab (Android 2.2 Froyo - $599), and the Archos 9 PC Tablet (Windows 7 Starter - $430). Archos also has a stable of Android-based tablets on offer. Nary a day goes by that we don’t hear of another tablet hitting the market.

The Year to Come

Expect to see more enterprise-targeted tablets in 2011. Cisco (Cius – less than $1,000, availability Q1 2011), Avaya (A175 - $1,500, no ship date), and BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion (PlayBook – less than $500, availability Q1 2011) have all announced tablets targeted at the business market. The Cisco and Avaya offerings seek to serve a specific niche in the video/unified communications space, while the PlayBook will be compelling for both work and play.

The 2011 line of tablets will see evolution in a few key areas:

  • Cameras. Particularly front facing cameras capable of video conferencing. For organizations making use of video conferencing infrastructure, this will be a welcomed addition and increase the business value of the tablet.
  • Speed. Dual-core processing will take hold and eventually dominate. One early example is the BlackBerry PlayBook which touts a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processor. Initial impressions are that the PlayBook is a multitasking master due to its dual-core processor.
  • Varying form factors. Info-Tech is already seeing a showdown between 10 inch and 7 inch tablets. Next year will see everything from diminutive 5 inchers (ala Dell Streak) to near notebook-sized 11+ inchers (ala Avaya A175). The majority will land in the 7 or 10 inch category, but there will be a size to suit almost everyone.
  • More ports. While Apple’s original iPad kept the ports to a minimum, Info-Tech is already seeing tablets with USB and HDMI ports. This will become the norm in the 2011 lineup.
  • More and updated mobile OSes. HP has announced a WebOS-based (from the Palm purchase) tablet for early 2011, an updated, tablet-friendly version of Android dubbed Honeycomb (version 3.0) will be released in 2011, and of course Apple iOS will see at least one major revision next year. RIM’s QNX OS powers the PlayBook and may find its way onto BlackBerry smartphones when dual core processors become practical for smartphones. Microsoft would be wise to adapt one of its OSes (either Windows 7 or Windows Phone) for the tablet form factor, but nothing has been announced.

We know that the iPad 2 will be announced (likely in January) for launch in the first or second quarter of 2011. It will almost certainly sport a front facing camera, at least one USB port, and possibly an HDMI-out port. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer will once again take the stage for the opening keynote at CES in January to announce at least a small handful of Windows 7-based tablets (and possibly an OS adapted for the tablet). Hopefully Microsoft will have better luck getting something more compelling to market in 2011.

Tablets are for Consumption, not Creation

In Info-Tech’s hands-on review of the iPad in April we addressed some comments from clients around tablet use cases and applicability. This commentary is worth repeating here, and has been validated over the past eight months.

“In general, I’d like to reiterate that this particular device, and this class of device, is not appropriate for all verticals, organizations, roles, and/or users. It does not replace the desktop/laptop or the smartphone. It falls somewhere in between. Here are a few more specific examples:

  • Healthcare – for years hospitals and healthcare facilities have tried to incorporate early generation convertible tablets with resistive touchscreen displays for bedside care. The 4-5 pound devices were heavy, the resistive touchscreens required a stylus, the touch capabilities of the operating systems were abysmal, the batteries lasted two hours, and doctors and nurses hated them. Most hospitals already use Citrix, so they are used to deliver applications through a virtual/presentation server. Everything changes when you can deliver the necessary applications to a 1.5 pound tablet with a capacitive multi-touch display and ten hours of battery life.
  • Education – Students currently pay a lot of money for text books that are very heavy to carry around – back strain from carrying 20+ pound backpacks is common. The books kill a lot of trees and cost a lot to manufacture. The era of the bound, paper text book is nearing an end. If it’s not a multi-function tablet device like the iPad, it will be an e-book reader like the Kindle. The Kindle has some advantages on this front, but what it’s missing is the multi-function part. Students can use a multi-function tablet to connect to the Student Information System, do research online, communicate and collaborate, and view video lectures. This type of device will almost certainly find a place in higher education.
  • Professional services – Consider real estate agents using this device to research and view properties in real time with their clients while travelling in desired areas. There are several situations where opening and booting a laptop is not ideal, but carrying a 1.5 pound, instant-on device with a 9.7 inch display and WWAN connectivity would be ideal.
  • Field services – The possibilities are endless for this role. All service manuals can be stored and kept current on the device. The field service application can be live so the technician can immediately enter information on the service call, then be routed to the next call immediately and efficiently. How about an insurance adjuster or a building inspector?
  • Retail – This class of device quickly and easily becomes a mobile POS terminal. Rather than customers queuing up at cash registers, store associates can go to the customer, assist them, and accept payment without the customer ever standing in a line. If you’ve never been to an Apple store, they do exactly this. They use iPod Touch for mobile POS terminals, and there is not a queue to pay anywhere in the store.

If you think about it, there are several scenarios where this type of device is appropriate in the enterprise. Is it for the knowledge worker creating content? No, it’s not. This is a content consumption device, with the capability for input and light content creation. Again, it does not replace a desktop/laptop, it augments where appropriate. If you can’t think of a single situation where this class of device (don’t get stuck on the iPad) would be useful in your organization, there’s a good chance it’s not for your business.”

Pick Your Poison

At the end of the day, you want to know which of these tablets are/will be a good business fit. In a nutshell, here are some guidelines for tablet selection:

  1. Pick iPad or Windows 7 if you need to manage it. Apple’s iPad is quite manageable using Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync and the iPhone Configuration Utility (IPCU). For stricter environments, third party solutions like those from Good Technology, MobileIron, and Sybase (SAP) iAnywhere Afaria provide additional management rigor. Windows 7 tablets can be managed using the same infrastructure as existing Windows PCs and notebooks. Android allows for some basic IT policies through ActiveSync, but it is not a complete management solution. Android will likely make progress on this front with Android version 3.0 (aka Honeycomb), but it’s not there yet.
  2. Apps and development platforms are key. Ensure that the applications that users need are available from the applicable app store/market/world. If you are developing mobile apps for internal use, it’s important to consider for what platform(s) to develop. For more information, refer to the Info-Tech solution set, “Develop a Mobile Application.”
  3. Size matters. Screen size is an important consideration and is in large part user/use dependent. Some users will prefer a 7 inch device they can comfortably hold in one hand, but some use cases may call for the larger 10 inch screen. There will be sizes in between, but the important consideration is how the user employs the device, what applications are running on it, and how it is being transported (i.e. bag, folio case, pocket).
  4. Where do you need connectivity? Clearly, those that need anywhere connectivity will want to choose a model with WWAN (3G now, 4G coming in 2011) connectivity. But not everyone may want to pile on another data plan, and a WiFi model paired with a smartphone may do the job. For instance, newer Android devices turn into a mini WiFi hotspot to allow connectivity to the WWAN. The BlackBerry Playbook is not initially shipping with WWAN connectivity; it will be WiFi with Bluetooth tethering to a BlackBerry smartphone. Finally, there are mobile hotspots like the Verizon MiFi and Sprint Clear Spot.
  5. Test use cases. Pick two or three tablets that have the features and functionality users will need and let them test in the real world. If it’s a salesperson keeping in touch with the office and presenting to clients, let one or two testers take a couple of models on the road with them and see which one meets their needs best. If it’s a doctor, nurse, field technician, restaurant server, retail associate, or travelling executive, give them a couple of options to test and see which model really helps improve their productivity.

Bottom Line

Early in 2010, Info-Tech predicted that it would be the year of the tablet. Was the prediction accurate? It was, although many vendors have not moved as quickly as expected getting their tablets to market. By the end of 2011, every major (and minor) consumer and enterprise technology manufacturer will be vying for a share of the rapidly growing tablet market.

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