Tablet trends and game players in 2012

Patrick Gray makes some predictions for tablets in 2012, including general trends and the companies who will dominate the playing field.

With the calendar poised to tick forward another year, what lies ahead for tablets in the enterprise? Here's what appears in my crystal ball:

General trends

Tablet hardware seems to have chosen its final form factor: the now-ubiquitous slate. In the same vein, we seem to be reaching a plateau in terms of size and weight. Whereas 2011 offered obvious reductions in thickness and dozens of grams in weight, I see 2012 bringing more academic reductions than compelling moves forward. Until battery and screen technology change dramatically (think of thin, flexible "electronic paper" that likely will not be commercialized in 2012), not much new will happen.

Manufacturers will continue to deliver ever-more ridiculous acronyms for higher resolution display technology -- and while more is always better, I don't see current screen resolutions being much of an impediment to tablet adoption in the enterprise.

With size and form factor settled on, we will likely see some innovations similar to the Asus Transformer, with detachable keyboards, "convertible" tablets, and the like. With the arrival of Windows tablets, we'll likely see even more keyboard concepts, which will be a welcome addition for enterprise users.

Microsoft reenters the fray

The big news of 2012 will be the return of Microsoft to the tablet battle. While they never actually left the market, the Windows tablet seemed to be the unloved stepchild of the Microsoft family, until a recent refocusing pinned on the arrival of Windows 8. Microsoft's main selling point is a compelling one: all the perks of a tablet -- like quick booting, size, and weight; "glanceable" information; etc. -- with the huge benefit of running existing Windows applications.

For the enterprise, add a heaping helping of staff with decades of experience with the Windows OS, infrastructures designed around it, and Microsoft's experience with the enterprise market. There's a lot to like on paper, as conceptually Microsoft could deliver what amounts to an iPad that runs Windows apps, but it's going to be challenging to implement a "jack of all trades" OS successfully.

Windows 8 also represents a dramatic departure from previous generations of the operating system, presenting a large adoption cost to the very enterprises most interested in the new generation of Windows tablets. Until I get a Microsoft tablet in my hand, I'm reserving judgment -- but this is the obvious device to watch in the enterprise space for 2012.

Apple goes corporate

While Microsoft prepares for the massive effort behind introducing a new operating system, Apple will continue to "go to work" in 2012. Several CIOs I've worked with have the sense that Apple has been dragged kicking and screaming into the enterprise space, where concerns like manageability, security, and integration are being foisted on a company that's more concerned with elegant design and lifestyle-based marketing. While this may be the case, Apple has never been a company to ignore a sales opportunity, and they seem to be ramping up the enterprise functionality in their OS and the support organization within the company.

While the iPad misses a key feature vs. Windows 8 (the ability to natively run Windows applications), Apple has a large catalog of existing applications and the advantage of a fairly mature and stable platform. The challenges that come with any large OS release might give Apple an opportunity at Microsoft's expense.

Apple will likely release a new iPad, and the consensus among Apple watchers is that we'll see a higher-resolution screen and likely a negligible decrease in thickness. Apple has been good about maintaining backward compatibility, so if you have a compelling need for an iOS-based tablet, I would not let an impending iPad 3 stop you from laying the groundwork now.


Google remains a bit of a dark horse in the enterprise space. Their operating system is seemingly more open and extensible than iOS, and it uses more traditional application development tools your staff may already be familiar with. The main challenge with Google is the hodgepodge of hardware manufacturers, operating system releases, and vendor-specific customizations that lay atop the OS. Turn on your ASUS and Acer tablets, and you'll have a fairly dissimilar experience vs. the familiarity of Windows or iOS.

Additionally, Android has taken a fair number of lumps in 2011, due to malware and other nefarious applications. Security risks are largely a measure of the success of a piece of hardware or software, and Android's openness and increases in market share have it becoming more of a target.

The good news is that Android seems to mirror the rest of Google's offerings. It is bleeding edge technology, rapidly updated, and with patience able to solve all manner of computing problems. If your company has experience with Google software and uses Google's other tools, Android makes a great deal of sense, and device costs are below Apple's (and most likely Microsoft's) offerings. In short, if you like the way Google operates, Android will likely continue to outstrip Windows and iOS in terms of rapid technical evolution, and its increasing market share translates into more applications.


2011 was a landmark year for tablet evolution. Most manufacturers delivered a new generation of more refined and mature products, and all of them seem to understand that the enterprise is interested in these devices and has some unique needs that are now being incorporated. The playing field seems to be down to the three companies I highlighted above -- Microsoft, Apple, and Android -- with RIM and HP largely losing the tablet battle.

2012 promises to be a bit less frenetic, and with third-generation hardware products on the radar, refined operating systems, and a refocusing on tablets by enterprise veteran Microsoft, there should be interesting times ahead for CIOs considering a tablet deployment.


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 ...


I want Win 7T (as in Tablet). It is a tablet-only Windows OS with touch interface that does not require the power of, and therefore is NOT built to run on, any Intel/AMD PC. It has the Metro interface and will never see a mouse - natively. It will be instant on and fast to the web, my mail, and all things "glanceable". It is NOT for running the current array of vertical-market, LAN-based applications. Sounds like any other tablet, right? Now the fun part - It will have a license to pair, IPSEC/iTune-like, with one PC with a reasonably priced option for additional pairings. This license will come with two apps - a display driver and a secure vnc/rdp utility. Here's how it is used: Scenario 1: I am working at my PC. The tablet rests on a pedestal and is connected via a USB and/or Display Port to my PC. This makes it an extended second screen for my desktop PC - hence the display driver app(and the native mouse remark). To disconnect from this mode, I simply un-extend the screen and close the display driver app. Scenario 2: I am working at my PC. This time, the tablet rests on my desk, or on the aforementioned pedestal but, without the direct cabling to the PC. Thus, it is a standalone tablet that is connected via wi-fi to my network and the internet. It is used for gathering and displaying information which I use while working on my primary PC. Scenario 3: I get up from my PC and carry my tablet downstairs to a meeting. I can do tablet stuff - take notes, do web searches, provide content to the room projector, etc. If I forget something from my desktop I simply one-touch remote (rdp, vnc) back to my PC and get what I need. Scenario 4: This is Scenario 3 for sysadmins - from across the city or country via 4G. Through the secure vnc, I can keep an eye on the database rebuild I started at 4:00 a.m. The beauty parts: 1. As soon as I connect to one of my pre-configured 'home' wi-fi networks, the remote connection is automatically made available with one click. 2. I now have remote, secure access to a honkin' fast PC - faster than any tablet will ever be. Let's be honest here, the faster tablets get, the faster desktops will already be. It's the law of supply and demand. 3. Whether paired with the office, or the home, PC, I have remote, secure access to important business, or personal, data and yet I am not carrying it with me. Kinda takes the sting out of losing a tablet at the airport - kill the pairing, kill the access. Again, please note this tablet OS does not have to natively run any of the programs which we have spent billion of dollars developing to use on the hundreds of millions of Windows PCs that are installed today. For CIOs and small business owners, it does not even whisper "rip and replace". Quite the opposite, it is the almost perfect mobile companion to these PCs and it gives us the time and flexibility to adapt to a more mobile environment without the bloodshed and angst. If it has not yet become glaringly apparent, this tablet OS does not have to come from MS. Granted, because it mates to their already dominant desktop OS, Microsoft does have the inside track. But, the other two could become major SMB and enterprise darlings with their own versions if they can make this a seamless offering. P.S. The reason I like the VNC-type connection is that when it is broken, you lose nothing on the PC and no logoff is triggered. All you have to do is simply reconnect. -- Hi, I'm Kevin and I wasn't asked to design Windows 8 --

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