Tablets

Predicting the future of tablets in the enterprise

Patrick Gray offers some insight about what we can expect to see next for tablets, particularly in the enterprise space.

Tablets are still fairly young, even in the fast-paced world of consumer technology, but in many senses, they are starting to reach early maturity. Contrasted to this time last year, a new tablet company isn't arriving on the scene every other week, and seeing tablets out in public is no longer a novelty (although I'm not yet ready to retire the hearty look of skepticism that I can't help casting towards anyone taking a picture with a tablet in public). So, what's next for tablets, particularly in the enterprise space? Here's my take, based solely on rumor, speculation, assumption, and pure guesswork.

Faster, thinner, lighter

Hardware-wise, it seems like we've settled on a slate form factor, with the occasionally useful variations -- Asus' Transformer with its keyboard dock being notable. A few manufacturers have tried things like dual screens, but sales numbers indicate that we're going to stick with the slate/clipboard tablets for the foreseeable future.

Like notebook computers, most of the hardware innovation will fall into making the devices thinner and lighter and enhancing screen size and resolution. Apple and Samsung seem to be the most capable of striving towards thinner and lighter, but I would guess that we're going to be in a form-factor rut until something really innovative happens. While currently more science fiction than viable prototype, we may eventually see full-color, paper-like roll-able displays.

Voice

With little massive change on the hardware front, most of the "magic" will happen in software. Apple brought a touch-based interface to the masses and is now attempting to do the same with its new Siri voice recognition product. I haven't personally tried Siri, but the demo videos appear fairly impressive.

In the enterprise space, being able to find the nearest Chinese restaurant isn't particularly relevant, so what's really needed is an interface that interprets spoken queries into something an enterprise application can understand. Calendaring and dictated e-mails are here today, but it would be really compelling to be able to ask your device to "Pull up this quarter's P&L" and have that interpreter layer know to go to your enterprise financial package, run the appropriate query, and dump a spreadsheet.

Pen 2.0

Perhaps I'm being nostalgic for the unfulfilled promise of Microsoft's Tablet PC, but I still see a place for the pen, especially in the enterprise. Intelligently combined with touch and voice, a pen would enhance the tablet experience rather than hinder it. Note taking, completing forms, drawing, annotating documents, etc., are all better accomplished with a pen than my pudgy fingers, and while there are options for pen input on the current crop of tablets, most are a kludge at best. It's far more natural to collaborate around a whiteboard-like device than tap away at an onscreen keyboard, and there could be some very interested applications around pen-based collaboration.

Like notebook computers, it seems we've arrived at a place where hardware is no longer the constraint or source of innovation. A lot of consumers and purchasing managers stopped caring about the nuances of the various processors in the average computer, since any of them are more than capable of running current business applications. Similarly, tablet-processing power and storage are relatively abundant, and the ability to connect to "big iron" housed elsewhere dramatically increases the capabilities of even the most humble device.

While the above three items are little more than speculation, there's no harm in preparing for some of these innovations today. Experiment with small scale tablet devices, and prepare to key enterprise applications to talk to other devices in the near future. While we're still some time away from telling our device to pull yesterday's numbers, reporting through a tablet-compatible web portal is available today, and it delivers immediate benefit as well as preparing current systems for some of these innovations.

About

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 ...

5 comments
rhonin
rhonin

Voice in usiness is generally filled with unique terms, words and acronyms specific to the environment ou work in or interact with. You will need a SIRI super genius 4th gen for this to be really effective. Personally, I have seen nothing from SIRI that says "not gimmick"

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Faster, Thinner, Lighter: I think the drawback here is that the thinner you go, the more fragile the device--unless you intend to attach it to a clipboard, the device it's intended to replace. While I do agree with some that certain tablets may be too heavy, you've got to find that sweet spot between durable and fragile. Too fragile, and it's not even worth owning the thing. Too durable and it gets as bulky as a notebook with little added benefit. Until "transparent aluminum" can be made cheaply enough to use as a tough case for a tablet, expect them to run about 1 pound, plus or minus a few ounces. Voice: Voice is useful in some circumstances, but not all. Other forms of interface such as keyboard, touch or pen will remain necessary probably for the foreseeable future. This doesn't mean that voice control and AI apps like Siri can't be effective, but they're not the kind of thing that would make your family happy at home or you bosses and co-workers in the office. Pen 2: Up to a point I have to agree with Steve Jobs on this one: "If you have to require a stylus, then you've failed on the OS." Sure, styli are great for accurate touch on very tiny buttons, but the ability to zoom eliminates that problem and makes the use far more efficient. Where the stylus is most effective is in handwriting recognition and perhaps some painting/drawing programs. If you as a user absolutely need a stylus, then obviously you don't need a tablet. No, the idea of a tablet is to support and supplement a desktop, where most of that heavy computing belongs. We're already seeing how the current style of tablets has become very effective in the corporate, medical, automotive, sales and construction industries as well as in non-profit organizations. But until users realize that a tablet can be effective support tools, they'll continue to be under-utilized and misconstrued.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... but that doesn't mean Siri doesn't have its own purposes. Personally, business is the last place I'd even try to use voice.

rhonin
rhonin

Whoa! White boards or hand drawn notes with annotated process flows rock! On a tablet, drawing is in!

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... to type an email, view a web page, click a link? Many devices flat needed a stylus to do literally anything on the screen, and that's what I'm talking about. A stylus can be and is a great supplemental device, but I see no absolute necessity for one in normal everyday usage.

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