Tablets are in the enterprise, whether put there by management or brought in by employees, and they’re becoming as indispensable to workers as smartphones.
This was the message at the second annual TabTimes Tablet Strategy conference in New York April 30, where IT decision makers, tech experts, vendors and industry leaders came together to discuss how to manage and implement tablets in solutions, as well as how tablet solutions are changing, or need to.
Below are a few snapshots from the day.
Tablets In Classrooms: Learning From Experience
In March 2011, a professor at Framingham State University in Massachusetts posed the question, “What is the impact on teaching and learning if iPads are introduced in the classroom?” Since then, the university has continued to explore the answer. It set up an annual $30,000 grant awarded to faculty or staff for “the purpose of designing new instructional techniques and programs.”
The first year, three staff members split the grant—one used the budget, which went to iPads and software, including Camtasia, Poll Anywhere, BlackBoard Mobile and Evernote Pro, to do things like enable students to share cloud-stored notes or flashcards and video record lectures and let the instructor push out real-time polls, or even exams, during a class.
A second staff member, in the art department, used mobile technology to explore “the potential for creating digital comics and graphic novels,” while a third staff member, in the English department, used iPads to answer the question, “Can creating social communities and cultural emersion assist learning?” The class created something along the lines of a Victorian-era Facebook and had researched appropriate topics and responses.
Deborah Moschella Saks, director of user services, said that the various pilots have proven that the benefits of mobile technology in classrooms are real but not yet entirely straightforward.
“Tablets definitely have a role in higher education,” she said. “But you can’t just throw them in and say ‘teach.’ You have to adjust the way you teach [to the tools you’re using].”
The Challenges of Managing a Tablet Project
“It’s very scary right now to be a mobile strategist,” said Stephen Vilke, co-founder and CTO of application mobilization company Framehawk, during a conversation about challenges, referring to how quickly the mobile market and user preferences can change.
In what would be a recurring theme of the day, Vilke touched on the idea of a tablet only being as good as the full solution of which it’s a part. Great apps, he said, will be necessary for tablets to lose their reputation as primarily content-consumption devices.
“The average time of use for these devices is eight minutes, versus eight hours for laptops,” said Vilke. “If you want to use it more as a primary [than a complementary] device, more innovation is necessary.”
Still, regarding whether tablets are here to stay, Ragu Kantamaneni, a chief evangelist with unified communications and collaboration company Damaka, told a story about a colleague whose wife wasn’t tech savvy and “didn’t really even use email.” Then the colleague bought an iPad, left it home with her for a day, and in a few hours’ time she was iMessaging him and “doing everything.”
“When a device makes it that easy, I don’t see how that doesn’t translate to the office,” said Katamaneni.
Regarding whether Apple will remain dominant, Vilke admiringly pointed out that Apple’s apps “aren’t going anywhere.”
“Apple is crazy like a fox,” he said. “They built a tablet with a screen size that’s perfect for 20 years of legacy use.”
Hewlett-Packard Wants to Be ‘All-In’
Hewlett-Packard, the global leader in PC sales, wants to be “an HP-sized player on the tablet side, as we are in PCs,” said Omar Javaid, vice president of product management.
Javaid presented a case study of Emirates, which uses HP tablets and a solution that enables the airline’s 16,000 crew and flight attendants to see photos and profiles of the colleagues they’ll be working with on a flight—people who are often new to each other. Given the global clientele the airline caters to, flight staff can also use the tool to check mid-flight—via a search of the profiles—if someone on the staff speaks a particular language that a passenger speaks.
HP is growing out a portfolio of tablets, from its ElitePad to, soon, a $169 Android-running HP Slate 7, as well as an accessory line that includes a rugged case, a battery case a tablet can snap into, a tablet pen and an “expansion jacket,” for adding things like a USB port or a credit card swipe.
“We have a long and successful relationship with Microsoft, but our customers are looking for more than Microsoft solutions, and we are developing those,” said Javaid.
When an audience member asked if he was alone in feeling frustrated with what often comes with using Microsoft—the need to also purchase security software, frequent software crashing and systems dying—Javaid said that Microsoft is trying to address certain issues.
“The kind of thing you’re talking about is definitely not lost on us,” Javaid added. “The tablet market has a lot of the use cases of PCs but the growth characteristics of smartphones, and we have to be careful not to have the baggage and annoying stuff that comes with it.”
Tablets, the Enterprise and the Road Ahead: Event Summary
Google and Its Moonshots
Alan Masarek, director of Chrome and apps at Google, pointed out several industry macro trends: The Web is becoming the winning platform. BYOD will become the norm, versus enterprise control. In a world where people are working anywhere and any time, a multi-screen world will be the norm. And, maybe unsurprisingly, Masarek expects Chrome to win out over other browsers.
Pointing out that Google had seemed crazy to be working on a browser at a time when Microsoft’s Explorer was wildly popular, Masarek said, “These moonshots are really working.”
He also suggested that tablets are a fit for most people. “For the bottom 90 percent, the key functionalities are email and PIM, Web surfing, media consumption, light productivity and a way to collaborate with others.”
The “top 10 percent” are the biggest content creators and wouldn’t dream of parting with their laptops.
Masarek acknowledged that Google has some things to work out, like fragmentation in the different versions of Android. “But it’s gotten easier,” he said. (Others during the event urged Google to add a security later, instead of leaving so much to manufacturers.)
But Microsoft, as it explores the tablet world with the Surface and RT, has bigger challenges on its hands. Namely, should it function like it’s a platform company or a software company?
“A platform company protects its platform. So do you keep the goodies inside Windows … or do you bring them out on iPad and Android, too?” said Masarek, clearly not envying Microsoft’s position. “They’re in a tough spot, but they’re smart guys. They’ll figure it out.”