In-Depth: Is this the year of the tablet?

With Blackberry the latest manufacturer to produce a tablet device adding to an expanding list of household names with products available this is shaping up to be a turning point in the market.

With Blackberry the latest manufacturer to produce a tablet device adding to an expanding list of household names with products available this is shaping up to be a turning point in the market.

Those who predicted that this was going to be the year of the tablet already seem to have been vindicated with the iPad flying off the shelves and other vendors following Apple's lead announcing and launching products of their own.

RIM's decision to launch a Blackberry tablet means it joins Apple, Samsung, Avaya, and Dell which have already launched products that are being given a boost by the change in corporate attitude to devices with the increasing spread of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach.

As a result of BYOD iPads are cropping up in enterprises and the traditional resistance from IT departments to fresh technology is being side stepped by users keen to embrace the market.

To some in the channel the hardware is only part of the story and the reason for the success of the tablet has a lot to do with developments in the software and networking worlds.

David Angwin, director of marketing EMEA at Wyse Technology, believes that the reason tablets matter is because cloud computing makes much more practical sense for business and consumers.

"We can live and work in the clouds because infrastructure is finally available in both the cloud and in our hands literally. Cloud client computing on a new wave of devices is going to be the great IT trend of this decade," he says.

And as you might expect the vendor has already developed its own solution to harnessing the emergence of the iPad et al.

"Tablets are already driving our cloud client software business for Apple and Android platforms. Wyse Pocketcloud turns the iPad and its rivals into the ultimate thin client for accessing virtualized enterprise applications and data," he adds.

But even a great infrastructure can only go so far and Matthew Cockerill, senior designer at Seymourpowell, argues that the products that are now on the market deliver a user experience previous attempts at tablets have never managed to do.

"From the tablet PC's of the last decade (that Bill Gates famously predicted would be the most popular form of computer by 2005) to ultra mobile PC's and netbooks.

"All made the same fundamental mistake, rather than starting with people and looking at what they would need or desire in the future they looked at the existing paradigm, namely the PC and tried to replicate its functionality," he says.

"In doing so they compromised the products core usability. The interesting thing with the new generation of tablets is that their origins can be traced back to the mobile space and smart phones in particular. These smartphones have been a great proving ground, identifying what people really want," he adds.

But he still won't go as far as to trumpet this as the year of the tablet, pointing out the latest devices are a signpost on a journey to a greater destination.

"Whilst Apple's introduction of the iPad earlier this year (and the plethora of manufacturers now jumping on the bandwagon) is significant in establishing a credible tablet paradigm (much in the same way they did with the iPhone) it is wrong to think this is the 'year of the tablet'.

"It is however the beginning of something very exciting. A time where the devices we use fit seamlessly into our lives, using intelligence to know us and what and who we like, and helping us to have richer more rewarding experiences."

From the point of view of those that are focused on the mobile industry the tablets have pointed the way to demand for a different kind of functionality

Roberto di Pietro, VP of marketing and business development at Qualcomm, highlights the demand users have for devices which combine convenience, always-on connectivity and all day battery life.

"2010 has been a year where the fundamental building blocks of these devices - the technologies that allow for increased power efficiency, mobile broadband connections and appealing mobile apps - have converged in tablets and other devices," he says.

"There's no doubt that the iPad has been a success, and there are many more devices on the way. At Qualcomm, we have been working with customers since 2009 on tablets as well as other form factors; by Christmas, we expect there to be a range of different devices on the market, as manufacturers look to launch devices that appeal to a range of users.

"Perhaps it's more accurate to say that 2010 is the year where there has been a shift towards mobile devices that use smartphone-like data connections and user experience to deliver apps and a richer content experience that's very different to a traditional PC. 2011 is when we will see the category really take off, with a greater choice of form factor, features and price point," he adds.

But having established that the tablet has benefited from the cloud and the development of better designed products there is a continuing need for that helpful collaboration to continue in order to ensure the success of the tablet in the long term.

Tony Rizzo, who blogs as Mobile Master no.1 for Antenna Software on the Mobile Masters Community website, believes that the success of the tablet both this year and going forward will hinge upon its ubiquity which requires other players to come into the market.

"Of course a key player is Microsoft which needs to avoid thinking of itself as an OS Player and instead focus upon establishing partnerships with key enterprise partners to become big in this space (such as Dell). If they can crack enterprise mobility then consumers will follow," he says.

Rizzo has an entire business plan that he could imagine Microsoft following to deliver a strategy that would give a much greater market for the tablet.

"I believe they need to create a solid collection of high end Dell/Microsoft WP7 smartphones with all the gizmos. And they need to think thin. Realistically, both Dell and HP will look elsewhere for tablet OS options which will open up the market. In the enterprise give me a SUPER THIN (1 mm thinner than an iPad will do) 10″ WP7 tablet with that tight and highly secure back end connectivity already built in.

"Key to opening up the tablet market will be creating the world's best mobile browser experience. Get HTML5 out the door today but keep Flash. Silverlight? Well... The world isn't about any one of these - it is about all of them," he says.

"Next, Microsoft needs to follow the promise of tight integration with Sharepoint, Office, Exchange - who else can make that best happen with some of the key staples of enterprise software? Uh...that would be Microsoft!

"Having said that, Microsoft shouldn't think of Win 7/Win 8 as its do or die platform for mobility on all things other than smartphones. I believe that would be a major mistake. Win 7 is the enterprise OS for laptops and other heavy duty hardware. It can't really be optimised or otherwise scaled back for tablets. What to do? Maximise WP7 so that it becomes lightning-quick and powerful on tablets and advanced enterprise smartphones," he adds.

"The corporate and enterprise IT message then becomes: Hey enterprise world, check out the Microsoft/Dell WP7 devices - we offer substantial device choice, super tight enterprise integration, the world's best mobile browser, and nothing short of the best enterprise mobile security," Rizzo concludes.

But already there are signs that tablets are cropping up in the workplace whether there is an official policy encouraging it or not. The BYOD programmes that are starting to be rolled out in the large enterprises will only develop this trend further.

Morten Moland, CEO of CloudGroup, expects slate PCs to start appearing in the hands of employees whether the business likes it or not.

"The whole 'bring your own PC' movement is gathering pace, and for companies it can either be a big headache to support, or an opportunity to cut their IT overheads and let workers bring in what they like. The growth of virtual desktops actually makes these devices more useful in a business context. Moving a customer onto a "desktops as a service" model means that it does not matter what end device is being used, while the customer does not care about the back-end infrastructure and support for the device either," he says.

"For the partner, there is both the opportunity to sell new and attractive hardware if the customer wants to bring in tablet PCs, but it can also host the back-end infrastructure on behalf of the customer for a monthly fee.

"Applying this pay as you use model is attractive for the customer, and also provides the reseller with a healthy long-term revenue stream. The idea of offering a DaaS model is to centralize management, improve security and hence being down costs.& For the business, they only have to worry about the corporate PC identity," he adds.

Moland sums up the current situation commenting that although there is not too much of an opportunity for the channel selling the tablets themselves, "it is the services that can be added around these new devices that are more important for the future, as well as a knock-on effect on other IT strategy decisions".

James Coulson, European Marketing Manager, ViewSonic expects tablets to emerge that are sold on a vertical basis, which could be a strong channel play: "The future tablet market is set to be segmented further, and we will see an emergence of devices aimed at specific target audiences.

"Resellers need to try and evaluate them based on personal experience over a period of time and not a pre determined demo because a tablet is a very personal thing, more so than a notebook. The challenge is to emulate the experience that customers expect."

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