Apple’s iPad and Amazon’s Kindle are effectively two sides of the same coin. They are highly portable in their own right, and they are well-connected, meaning the information they need to make them useful is highly portable as well. Of course, tablets and e-readers are different devices-they are aimed at different markets, have differing capabilities and perform different, but related, functions.
It should be no surprise that the sales of both are similar. Apple has sold about 3.5 million iPads. Amazon has sold about 3 million Kindles if analyst reports are correct. And, of course, there are other e-readers also selling well. The iPad costs quite a bit more than the Kindle, but it does more, so again, no surprise. But in reality the story of tablet computing goes beyond the iPad or the e-readers.
What we’re seeing right now is the first ripple in what will eventually transform much about how information is consumed. The explosion of tablet sales is probably a few months away, but when it happens, a great deal will change, and you can see the beginnings in how these devices are being used now. We’re already seeing the iPad make inroads into the enterprise, for example, and the Kindle is changing how the written word is consumed-content for this device is already outselling traditional print at Amazon.
But it’s what’s going to happen next that matters most. Once the tablet format becomes generally available and more fully capable of being integrated into the enterprise, you can expect that it will form a new niche for hardware at your company. It’s similar in some ways to what happened when laptop computers started becoming affordable enough to take the place of desktop computers-they started selling in huge numbers and have now topped the older format in sales. Tablets will eventually do this to laptops.
But this does not mean that tablet computers will kill off laptop computers, any more than laptops got rid of desktop machines. They will coexist and form a third tier of hardware that you will need to support, and that will need to become part of your enterprise. But you can be assured that they will come.
The reason, of course, is that the people who work for your company need information readily available, and they need access to that information if they are to keep up with the pace of business. With the business world moving to a 24/7 model, the people who live in this world need information all of the time. This is why they’ve bought laptop computers in record numbers and why they will buy tablet computers in numbers that are at least as large.
IT Managers Need to Start Setting Tablet Support Policies Now
The essential issue is access to information. You need that access whether you’re in a meeting, on the way to work or wherever. You’re already expected to have all of the information necessary to do your job at your fingertips all the time now. This need will only grow more intense.
This is where tablets, regardless of what you call them, really shine. They’re smaller and lighter than a meeting folder, they hold vastly more information, and they can be updated in real time. They’re not the best platform for content creation, and there are some things they’re really not much good at, but that’s beside the point-the tablet format is very good at the one thing that people need most, which is access to information.
Exactly how this shakes out remains to be seen. Apple has a big lead in that part of the market that’s aimed at things you’re likely to need in a consumer setting. This setting can also include some types of office use and some roles in the enterprise. But just as the iPhone isn’t used by everybody, so the iPad won’t be the only solution to the demand for tablets.
It’s a safe bet that HP’s long history of meeting stringent compliance requirements will give it a leg up in business roles that are governed by compliance demands. And it’s a safe bet that Android tablets will appear for those people who don’t want an iPad. But what’s also clear is that this market is on the verge of exploding as soon as a few minor supply and distribution problems get worked out. It seems like the tablet tsunami will come pounding down upon us in six months or less, perhaps by the end of 2010.
This, of course, has big implications for you and your enterprise. You’re going to have to decide what tablets will be acceptable for your company, and what you’re going to be required to do to make them work with your enterprise. You’ll also have to decide who is going to buy the device, how it’s going to be managed, and what you’ll need in terms of staff and resources to manage it.
In some ways, the challenge will be closer to handling smartphones than laptop computers, but not completely. And at times, you’re going to have to get tough with the rules so that you can avoid those pesky compliance auditors and their questions. But however you look at it, you can’t avoid the rise of the tablets.
My suggestion is that you start learning as much as you can as quickly as you can. Set up a means of testing them when they become available, and buy a couple copies of those that have promise. Start figuring out the answer with a couple of iPads, since you can get them now. You’re going to need all of the head start you can get.