If 2011 was the "Year of the Tablet," 2012 was the year tablets moved from geeks' backpacks and coffee shops into the enterprise. While tablets were a unique and somewhat rare site in the halls of the average company last year, they're now fairly commonplace, and bringing a personal tablet to work is no longer a major endeavor.
Similarly, the market for the devices themselves has matured. Where 2011 saw new players emerge and just as suddenly exit the tablet market (the HP TouchPad was on the market for a mere 49 days), 2012 saw the major players grow more deeply entrenched. The major upstart of 2012 was Microsoft, the company that pioneered tablet computing a decade ago and then seemingly lost its way.
Let's review some of the major trends and their impact on the enterprise.
The market thins
Whereas 2011 saw new tablets in new outlets, ranging from online stalwarts to the corner drugstore, 2012 saw deeper entrenchment of Apple and the major Google partners. Even with the latter's OS being available to essentially anyone, companies like Dell exited the Android tablet market in search of greener pastures and presumably less-crowded markets. Despite a consolidation of partners, Android finally began hitting its stride on tablets, growing increasingly capable and stable and offering a viable alternative to iOS.
Perhaps the most interesting development on the hardware front was the emergence of Amazon as a tablet player in late 2011. The company that dominated online retail provided consumers with a low-cost device in a smaller form factor than most competitors, essentially using content sales to subsidize part of the cost of the tablet. The device took off with consumers and arguably helped create the market for smaller tablets in the 7-inch range.
With Amazon's heavily modified Android tablets making waves, Google and Apple certainly didn't sit out the rise of the smaller tablet, with Google firing the first shot with the high-quality and well-priced Nexus 7. Apple had a flurry of product releases in 2012 as well, none unexpected, with the iPad gaining a high-resolution Retina display and the much-anticipated iPad mini making its appearance. In a major sign of the growing maturity of the market, the Apple products were essentially refreshes of the original iPad rather than major innovations, with specs like speed and screen resolution headlining the debut of each release.
The surprise of 2012
This brings us to the other much-anticipated tablet-related event of 2012: Microsoft's full-scale reentry into the tablet market. While tablet and touch-centric features in the Windows 8 OS were expected and obvious, Microsoft building its own hardware was not. I've spent time with Microsoft's Surface RT tablet, and oddly, the software stalwart seems to have hit the hardware out of the park, yet it struggled on the software front.
While Microsoft is still an entrenched enterprise player, Windows 8, the RT edition, and the Microsoft tablet all represent untried commodities that will have an uphill battle gaining traction in the enterprise. While IT staff might feel comfortable with Microsoft, in many companies, IT is no longer in complete control of IT spending, especially around highly personal and mobile devices like tablets. Microsoft is going to have a tough time selling a VP of Marketing on Surface when he or she looks at the mature app market, large user base, and proven OS of an iOS or Android device.
Wrapping it all together
The big challenge for IT leaders in 2013 is largely the same as 2012: How do I manage a variety of diverse devices and get my enterprise applications to work with this hodgepodge of platforms? Where managing tablets in the enterprise has evolved is that many IT leaders are moving beyond the vision of "one tablet to rule them all." Many companies are allowing end-user supported BYOD initiatives and divisional or job role-based standards that access a limited portfolio of applications rather than attempting to enforce a single device or OS and migrate applications in what remains an uncertain environment.
What do you think 2013 holds for tablets in the enterprise? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.