The future of the tablet computer in the enterprise

Tablets come in all manner of profiles and on a variety of platforms – but which will shape up as the workplace favourite of the future?

Tablets come in all manner of profiles and on a variety of platforms – but which will shape up as the workplace favourite of the future?

Tablets will play an increasingly critical role at work. They will find their way into the office either through direct purchasing by organisations or through bring your own device (BYOD) programmes for staff.

In an effort to differentiate their products from their competitors’, tablet suppliers increasingly offer a variety of products varying by screen size, operating system, connectivity and accessories.

For example, in June 2013, Samsung announced its Galaxy Tab 3 offerings – a 7-inch, 8-inch and a 10.1-inch tablet. This broad array of tablets has become efficacious, in part, because buyers do not hold uniform preferences on tablet sizes.

Surveys of US online consumers reveal a distribution of preferences. Many buyers gravitate toward "traditional" tablet sizes.

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When asked directly, 61% of consumers who own or have interest in tablets say they prefer tablets between 8.9 inches and 10.1 inches, which includes models from Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD (8.9 inches) to Apple’s iPad (9.7 inches) to Samsung’s Galaxy (10.1 inches). Given that Apple’s original iPad invented the tablet category at this size, the fact that 39% of consumers do not prefer this screen size is noteworthy, suggesting room for a wide array of devices.

Smaller form factors capture some preference share. However, 16% say they prefer tablets between 7 inches and 7.9 inches. Amazon’s original Kindle Fire HD device, at 7 inches, blazed the trail for this category. Apple’s iPad Mini has become an increasingly important element in its iPad portfolio since its introduction in November 2012. Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 operating system (OS) and RT 8.1 OS release will empower 7-inch and 8-inch tablets, a significant development as Microsoft continues to seek the right market niche for its tablet offerings.

Scenarios for Tablet use in organisations

  • Employees’ own devices - Some 7% of global information workers say they are willing to pay the entire cost of a tablet to take to work. But an additional 17% are willing to pay a proportion of the price with their own money to get the tablet of their choice.
  • Vertical scenarios - Company-owned tablets increasingly fit into vertical scenarios. In healthcare, for instance, the hyper-portability of tablets empowers doctors and nurses to use them for patient-facing scenarios (such as showing X-ray results) as well as for treatment-related scenarios.
  • Specific business roles - IT and business decision-makers see the value of tablets as a tool for specific roles, including executives, travelling salespeople and other heavy travellers, and field workers.

Larger variants of tablet devices

Larger tablets find an audience, too. Although few tablets currently available exceed 10.1 inches, a number of touchscreen tablet or tablet-like devices will emerge over the coming months. At the extreme end sit devices such as the Lenovo IdeaCenter Horizon, a 27-inch furniture PC that has tablet-like characteristics. Buyers have some interest in larger tablet form factors, with 11% preferring tablets larger than 10.1 inches.

One in eight buyers is not sure what they want. Fully 12% say they do not know which size tablet they want, reinforcing the importance buyers place on in-person retail experiences and trying out devices first-hand, before purchasing.

Although tablets come in all shapes and sizes, the greater source of fragmentation in the tablet market comes from operating systems, as tablets comprise a major battleground in the overall competition between platforms.

Apple iOS

Apple iPad remains the market leader with the iOS operating system. Apple – the inventor of the modern tablet market – has now sold over 140 million units. Apple sold 100 million iPads in the first two and a half years of the product’s availability. In comparison, it took Apple five and a half years between 2001 and 2007 to sell 100 million iPods and four and a half years between 2007 and 2011 to sell 100 million iPhones. In the future, iOS looks set to maintain the lead, albeit at a diminished plurality of market share, due to the incredible ecosystem of applications and support for the platform.


The Android and forked Android OSs continue to gain share. Android had a slow start in 2011, with many failures, such as the Motorola Xoom. Today, Android has gained share. Among global information workers, a quarter say they are using an Android tablet for work, while another 9% chose forked Android in the form of Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD. Most of the success for Android comes from two suppliers — Samsung and Amazon — who will continue to lead the Android and forked Android product segment.

Windows 8

Microsoft is looking to carve out its own market share with Windows OSs. As of the second quarter of 2013, Windows had not made a strong impression on global information workers, with Windows 8 (2%) and Windows RT (1%) garnering minimal share. On the other hand, as of the fourth quarter of 2012, 20% of global information workers said they would prefer to use Windows 8 on their next tablet. Forrester believes that Windows will find a foothold in the tablet market, but it will require great improvements in the ecosystem – particularly in the number and quality of modern interface apps – for this to happen.

BYOD strategies

Tablets will inevitably make their way into workplaces. The vast growth of the consumer tablet market – to an installed base of 738 million by 2017 – lays a fertile foundation for BYOD behaviours. But when legal or compliance issues, or other reasons, invalidate BYOD as an option, follow a co-opt strategy. Purchase tablets on par with the best consumer devices on the market to delight workers.

This does not always mean giving them consumer devices; their jobs might be made easier with a less obvious choice. This is the pitch for many suppliers of Windows 8 tablets, as they tout the power of Windows applications such as Office, alongside the hyper-portability of a tablet form factor. But it does mean providing a great user experience and educating the worker about why the tablet you have chosen – hopefully with their input along the way – best fits the bill.

The second option for the IT team is to accommodate  workers’ wishes by creating a BYOD policy supported by management tools. To make BYOD behaviours work for your firm, codify a set of policies, published rules and processes that will allow workers to bring their own devices with minimal difficulty. Invest in management systems such as mobile device management, enterprise mobility management or a device management and deployment system. Providing concrete guidelines along with management tools will lead to a more organised, secure, and business-friendly device environment instead of device anarchy.

This is an extract from the Forrester Research report: Business And Consumer Tablet Forecast Update, 2013 To 2017 (August, 2013) by principal analyst J. P. Gownder.

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