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Companies should ‘experiment with tablets’

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Media tablets are presenting a variety of new opportunities for businesses, but they are also requiring a new set of policies, technologies and skills for businesses, according to Gartner.

"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," says David Willis, research vice-president at Gartner. "They are also more willing to see that they don't need to supply and manage every device that employees use at work: Consumerisation 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. It is time to explore the use of media tablets in business."
The impact of the media tablet in the eyes of the public is much greater than would be believed from the number of units shipped. Gartner expects media tablet shipments 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 already the impact of the device on other forms of computing is great.
The media tablet device itself is only part of the story. Gartner analysts say 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. Media tablets present a variety of new opportunities for business, while supplementing traditional uses of notebooks and smartphones.
"The iPad, and the 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," says Willis. "For the consumer, the iPad brought a casual but rich experience into the living room, or the train, or while waiting in line at the bank. In turn, IT organisations are finding new places where tablets can deliver information and media in new ways."
Willis points out that companies that had already recognised 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 support media tablets. Those who embraced "managed diversity" and figured out how to manage and secure iPhones, were developing strategies to manage and keep iPads within weeks of its launch.
Gartner has long maintained that media tablets are neither "better laptops," nor "better smartphones," but complement both. When compared with laptops, media tablets activate instantly, allowing a user to get right to what he or she needs, immediately, without long and frustrating start-up times. They have exceptional battery life and are responsive, tactile and inviting. However, in a common mobile-worker scenario, employees may travel with a media tablet during the day, but then return to their laptops in the evening for heads-down data entry or content creation.
"Sales leaders are clamouring to adopt media tablets with their sales teams, as a more engaging way to share sales collateral and promotional materials. And it won't stop there: next will come customer relationship management systems, and order entry and sales configuration applications. For sales managers, media tablets will be a natural platform for business analytics and performance dashboards," says Willis. "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 that patient understand a diagnosis, walk through a medical procedure and describe a therapy with them. Retail clerks can use tablets to display customised clothing for a customer. Conference attendees can take surveys on their own, with no training required. The opportunities are huge."
However, just as media tablets won't replace PCs, Gartner does not believe that they will replace mobile phones as voice devices, even in the smaller form factors, such as those with 7-inch displays. Nevertheless media tablets still have enormous potential in the workplace, although who stands to benefit most from the phenomenon remains to be seen.
"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," Willis says. "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."