Early Tablet Adoption a Must for Enterprises: Gartner

Tablets stand to offer big benefits to consumers, manufacturers and enterprises - though to get ahead, says Gartner, they'll need to start exploring now.

It's time for businesses to start using tablets, like the Apple iPad, according to Gartner analysts.

Complementing laptops and smartphones more than replacing them, tablets offer opportunities for exploration, solutions for tricky deployments and a way of getting ahead of competitors, Gartner said in the April 5 report, which echoes the findings of a March 4 Unisys report that called on enterprises to make a fundamental shift in their thinking about employee-owned devices.

While the fast-rising adoption of smartphones by consumers saw IT managers scrambling to keep the unsupported devices out of their enterprises, IT leaders, "in the spirit of exploration," should figure out how to support tablets and leverage their perks rather than fight them, Gartner said.

"CIOs are determined not to make the same mistakes they made with smartphones, which were often written off early as expensive and frivolous toys, or executive status symbols-which then left room for more inventive leaders who saw the competitive advantage that mobile applications would bring," Gartner Vice President David Willis said in a statement. "They are also more willing to see that they don't need to supply and manage every device that employees use at work: Consumerization is here to stay, and moving very fast. If you can think of an application for tablets, your competition may well be thinking in the same way-and acting on it. It is time to explore the use of media tablets in business."

Willis added that companies that figured out how to secure and leverage the iPhones arriving through their doors each morning were able to also develop a strategy for the iPad within weeks of its launch.

"Sales leaders are clamoring to adopt media tablets with their sales teams, as a more engaging way to share sales collateral and promotional materials. And it won't stop there," he said. "Next will come customer relationship management systems, and order entry and sales configuration applications. For sales managers, media tablets will be a natural platform for business analytics and performance dashboards. ... The opportunities are huge."

Gartner expects media tablet shipments to reach 69 million by year's end-compared with 2010's 16 million. In February, Morgan Stanley raised its 2012 estimate to 100 million units.

Such growth is additionally benefiting component makers. An April 5 report from IDC showed worldwide revenues for the semiconductors used in tablets and e-readers to have grown more than 2,000 percent in 2010, to $3.3 billion. And there's no sign of slowing down. With Google's tablet-optimized Android 3.0, dubbed "Honeycomb," newly launched, dual-core processors coming to market and increased bandwidth available to consumers as 4G networks expand, IDC expects media tablet and e-reader semiconductor revenues to grow by 120 percent year-over-year in 2011.

While tablets have affected PC sales, with customers, curious about forthcoming tablet offerings, temporarily delaying PC purchases, Gartner doesn't expect tablets to replace either notebooks or smartphones.

"In a common mobile-worker scenario, employees may travel with a media tablet during the day, but then return to their laptops in the evening for heads-down data entry or content creation," the report stated.

And while Apple was first to market, in the end the big winners in the tablet game, said Gartner, won't be so much determined by device "fit and finish" but the ecosystems that manufacturers develop around their hardware.

"[Apple] has built a curated application distribution mechanism in the App Store that is notable both for how users hold it in high regard and how detractors see it as a limitation," Gartner said. "In the end, Apple's lead will be very difficult to beat."

Ultimately, adds the firm, it remains to be seen "who stands to benefit most from the phenomenon."