CES Tablet Debutants Likely to Cause IT Support Trouble

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-01-03

CES Tablet Debutants Likely to Cause IT Support Trouble

As the opening of the Consumer Electronics Show approaches on Jan. 6 in Las Vegas, word is leaking out that dozens of new tablets will be shown at the trade show. Some of them are simply new versions of existing tablets; some are new versions of existing platforms (there will be a lot of new Android tablets); and some are totally new.

With all these new devices comes another level of complexity for the corporate IT departments that will be expected to integrate them into the enterprise-computing environment.

Most of the new tablets are Android devices intended to compete with the Samsung Galaxy Tab devices already on the market. These devices will come from existing tablet vendors, including Verizon Wireless, which has just reduced the price of its existing Galaxy Tab, perhaps to make room in the tablet lineup for something new. There are also vendors new to Android, such as Vizio, which is said to be launching a new smartphone and a new Android tablet at CES. There will also be producers of Android tablets from little-known manufacturers, some of which will offer very low-cost tablets with limited capabilities.

Meanwhile, there will be other tablets. Hewlett-Packard is expected to be showing, and perhaps announcing, the availability of, its long-awaited WebOS-based tablet device. The company has already had a few showings of prototypes, but at CES, many observers expect to see something along the lines of what will actually ship in the near future. Lenovo, meanwhile, will be announcing a tablet, but, so far, there's no word on whether this will run Android, Windows or something else.

Of course, everybody knows that Apple will be releasing the iPad 2 this spring although it likely won't be at CES.

So the problem for IT is going to be how to integrate these tablets, or perhaps more specifically, whether to integrate all of them. While nearly everything being released is Android-based, all versions of Android are not equal. There will likely be some corners cut that could affect the usefulness of these tablets in the enterprise.

For example, there are already a couple of low-cost Android tablets available at discount stores that suffer from very poor implementations of the Android operating system. These perform poorly (if at all). Their ability to handle enterprise-class security is unknown. Considering that these devices run outdated versions of Android and usually don't have access to the Android Market, they're unlikely to be good choices for serious use.

There's a similar situation for consumer-electronics makers who are suddenly jumping in the Android-tablet market. Vizio, for example, is known for making low-cost television sets. How well will this translate into making an Android tablet? While they can no doubt make a touch screen, does the company have the experience to create a secure enterprise-capable device with the features required for it to be useful in your business?

CES Tablet Debutants Likely to Cause IT Support Trouble

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This has become a significant question now that the first exploits and the first malware have appeared for Android devices. While it's easy enough to get the necessary protection from the Android market, if you can't get to the market, then it's useless. The same is true if you're unable to get timely updates to the Android OS. Even if you know there's a vulnerability, that's not much help if you can't get an operating system update that eliminates it.

In regard to the non-Android world, there are mostly a lot of questions. The iPad 2 isn't really one of them. While there is a lot of speculation about screen resolution and what cameras may or may not be there, what matters to the enterprise is the integration of the device. If Apple follows its practices in the past, there should be few surprises. Perhaps the biggest advantage to the new iPad will be access to 3G carriers other than AT&T. That would provide a great deal of flexibility to enterprise users.

The other tablets are mostly questions. Nobody really knows what to expect from Lenovo or HP, for example. While HP has a long history of making tablets running Windows for industrial applications, the new tablet won't be one of those. And while WebOS has been a good smartphone platform, nobody really knows how this will translate into a tablet environment. We know even less about the tablets from the other computer makers. One would assume that they will build in enterprise features given their market position, but until you see one, you really don't know.

What this means to the IT department is that there will be a lot of requests over the next few months about whether or not users will be able to connect their new tablet to corporate networks. Proceed with caution. Just because the device runs Android, for example, doesn't mean it will support the security you need. Nor does it mean that it will support features like remote wipe. You'll need to confirm this with every variation of every new device that shows up. It'll take time.

It's probably best to set expectations now by issuing a tablet acceptance policy that lists specifically what the tablet must support in order to be used on the network, and by making sure it's available to everyone well before the flood of tablets starts washing up on your office door. Besides, you have to think about how you're going to adapt all that specialized software so that it will work with those tablets or you need to decide that you won't spend the money to do that. But that's a different decision.

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