Tablets investigate

The 2013 tablet holiday guide

Patrick Gray offers a quick review of what's new in tablets and what he's still waiting for.

Tablets

One of the benefits of the reorientation of IT toward the consumer is that hardware and services are now refreshed on an annual cycle, with major releases coming just in time for the holiday shopping season and right in the middle of budgeting for next year for companies on a calendar-based fiscal year. Here’s a quick review of what’s new in tablets and what I’m still waiting for.

Fresh Apples

The headliner on the tablet front is usually Apple’s iPad, and the company recently released an anticipated refresh to its iPad and iPad mini lines. The refresh follows the track record of a post-Jobs Apple, with most details leaking in advance of the announcement and incremental improvements to the hardware rather than major changes.

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Enterprise users will like the lighter weight and slightly improved battery life on the iPad Air and a higher quality screen on the iPad mini. The major caveat for enterprises is the inclusion of iOS 7, which has only been in the wild for a few months and already experienced a few security-related patch releases. Missing from the new iPads is Apple’s fingerprint recognition technology, which first appeared on the new iPhone 5s. While I’ve heard somewhat mixed reviews, workable biometric authentication on a mobile device like a tablet would be a boon to enterprises.

Kindle Fire HDX

While it’s tempting to completely dismiss Amazon’s tablet offerings, and I won’t recommend a Fire for the vast majority of enterprise users, the Fire HDX deserves attention for some of the groundbreaking services that it offers. Amazon has cracked the nut of moving applications and the OS out of the way of the user and is using its Fire platform to disseminate and sell content. The company is also innovating with live video chat and a support agent who can take control of the tablet to offer assistance. Imagine connecting your field personnel with a live agent who could help them repair a down unit in the field, demonstrate a product on the other side of the world, or capture troubleshooting information in real time.

With enterprise tablets, too many in IT are worried about nuances of operating systems and development environments rather than taking an Amazon-like approach and looking at the tablet as a platform to deliver new and innovative services.

Android and Windows

There haven’t been many new developments for the holiday season on Android tablets, other than continued innovation in form factor by the variety of Android OEMs. In contrast to Apple’s two tablet offerings, the various Android-based tablet manufacturers offer a host of screen sizes, laptop-like and convertible tablets, and even devices that run “regular” Windows in one mode and Android in another. While Android offers more extensibility and access to its OS, Apple has received the majority of the attention from enterprise software providers like Salesforce and SAP, although that's quickly changing as Android gains market share.

On the Windows front, Microsoft continues to pitch its Windows RT variant, which has become a bit more exciting with a recent update that includes “real” Outlook and other components of the Office suite. Microsoft has refreshed its own Surface hardware, and recently-acquired Nokia has also announced an RT tablet. Microsoft has also refined the experience of transitioning between the traditional desktop and the more touch-friendly Modern interface, continuing to make a play for one device that does it all. I like Microsoft’s vision for a single device that marries the best of the tablet and desktop into one device, but the company is still lagging behind due to its initial struggles with execution and lack of market share.

What's missing in tablets?

As another year draws to a close, the major innovation on the tablet front has been Microsoft’s rocky launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT. Apple and Google have refreshed their tablet operating systems, but both were refreshes or user experience overhauls rather than fundamental shifts in tablet technology.

We’re still missing a high-quality ink experience, save for a few Android and Windows tablets. Perhaps I’m a Luddite, but I still see taking notes and annotating documents with a pen being preferable to a finger or “squishy” capacitive stylus.

Seamless local collaborative technology also seems to be missing. I’m amazed that I still walk into meetings in 2013 and spend the first 15 minutes wrestling with projectors, emailing missing handouts, and often resorting to printing hard copies. As tablets increasingly appear at meetings, it’s unfortunate that I can’t easily share documents wirelessly to participants and projectors, without dealing with network configurations and proprietary protocols.

As tablet form factors and operating systems have largely stabilized, hopefully more attention will be paid to these enterprise-friendly features. While Apple and Google may be hesitant to acknowledge the enterprise market for fear of forsaking the consumer, 2013 was most definitely the year tablets became a routine participant in my meetings rather than a noteworthy and unusual item.

What tablets due you think will gain the most love this holiday shopping season? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.


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. Patrick has...

22 comments
TechinLife
TechinLife

Where's the beef - um, I mean the guide?

RobertMoore12
RobertMoore12

Not much of a guide. What a waste of my time.

gevander
gevander

As a "guide" there is very little "guidance" here.  People who want a GUIDE (like me) are looking for something to compare features of the available tablets, not a two-to-four sentence run-down of the features each of the main brands possess.

And what is the idea of grouping Android and Windows tablets into one section?  Why not Apple and Windows (since they are the two "big dogs" in the PC market) or Android and Kindle (since the Kindle uses the Android OS)?

Now at least, I know I can't look to TechRepublic for information to help me make a purchase.

geofnet
geofnet

I think the Surface is the only serious enterprise device. The concept that Apple has, that a device only functions on a single subnet and needs no print function or diagnostics for wireless connectivity or any compatibility to scanners, printers, multi-functions or even memory is bizarre. The lack of a real server on the backend and no OS changes allowed, make Apple difficult for integration. There really is no integration. I'm surprised that Apple can't even attach peripherals.

We even had an Apple approved UPS that needed a windows device to configure the alerts or a Linux hack to make it not alert. Apple couldn't communicate with it.

Saud Hassan Kazia
Saud Hassan Kazia

before I read the article I think techrepublic will always give love to anything apple

wilgreer1948
wilgreer1948

Its the same old tech hardware tail. Bait them with juke and then make them Waite for the really good hardware. Just waiting for the price of the Surface Pro 2 to drop.

Joshua Morden
Joshua Morden

It'll be between the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire just like last year. Since the Kindle Fire is going for cheaper than the Nexus 7 in some stores, I'll put my bets on it winning out the holiday shopping.

tsmyther
tsmyther

News flash:

No one, except old people and artists, want handwriting input on a tablet. In most schools, they don't even teach cursive writing, and pay only passing attention to handwriting as a whole. The whole world has embraced the keyboard, and soon voice will take that mantle from it for most general input. Stop wishing for something that will never get here. Yeah, I loved handwriting on my Newton, but it still paled in comparison to typing on the external keyboard. And by the time the final version of the operating system was out, the handwriting recognition was miles better than anything I've seen on any recent platform - portable, desktop, or handheld. (And if all you know about the Newton is the Doonesbury and Simpsons references, you have no validity as a commentator on the accuracy of the system.)

And those who think that keyboard has to be 1) Physical and 2) always available have not understood the promise of the tablet and smartphone. Fire up Dragon Dictation, even on a first gen iPad or an old iPhone and talk your message. You'll be stunned by the speed and accuracy of the speech-to-text conversion Nuance has done. On newer hardware, the data transfer is almost instantaneous, even over cellular data speeds. Dictating messages in your car is unbelievably fast. A voice assistant that sends messages or can dial a phone is also infinitely better than trying to type in a search, then hit a tiny button with a stylus.

stjr
stjr

You can almost believe all of the "goodness" being written about the Fire HDX....almost.....until you read some of the poor reviews written on Amazon's own website. I know that no PC is perfect (and this cerainly true for tablets); but the way product reviewers have been gushing over the HDX you would think it was the be-all/and-all of tablets. Read the reviews and you will quickly learn it's not. The point I'm making is; do your research carefully and read ALL the reviews. Don't just read and listen to the "good reviews" (like I almost did). You could be one of those writing your own poor review.....based on first-hand experience.

RobertMoore12
RobertMoore12

I'm beginning to believe the author is a shill for Apple. He seems to completely ignore various tablets that DO use a stylus for writing notes, almost all are android or windows and work great, unlike Apple.

DavidHarrisLH
DavidHarrisLH

I wish you'd address an international audience: the rest of the world calls this season Christmas. Holiday tablets are for taking on summer holidays!

khaled
khaled

Thanks for the article but I was expecting more comprehensive details about the latest tablets in the market. I agree with previous comments about the fact of ignoring other state of the art tablets such as Samsung Galaxy 10.1 2014 edition which contains a stylish pen that will enable you to write comments or draw sketches.

106600.3363
106600.3363

So the new "proper" Windows 8.1 tablets with Intel x86 (Bay Trail)  such as Asus Transformer T100, Dell Venue 8 Pro, 11 Pro, Toshiba Encore and soon Lenovo 2 8 Miix don't feature in an article on 27th November called "What's new in tablets". Who is this man? Why would anyone bother to read what he writes if he knows so little.

rpluciani
rpluciani

Patrick, I'm sure you know that the surface and surface pro with MS Onenote provide an exceptional note taking combination capable either preserveing your handwriting or immediately converting it to typed text. It also also writing on MS Word docs, PDF docs, email and a host of others.

I'm curious as to why the ap

lj63190
lj63190

Is all your promotions for Apple finished now. How can you write this article about holiday buying guide and mostly talk about Apple. Funny how the section about Apple was only Apple. Then the section about Android and windows had half of it comparing it to Apple. Apple is equipment for half a brain consumers, and way overpriced. Is it no wonder why they have so much money. They hire slave labor and charge out the wazoo. Maybe you should change the article heading to tablet improvements of 2013. Give relevant info for consumers so they can decide what tablet is right for them and not how much you love Apple. Being you made mention of Microsoft release of windows 8 and no mention of the massive problems cause by IOS7. If you lived Apple so much, stop praising them and drive their prices down.

tuba2
tuba2

Minor but "What tablets due you think"   DO

KrizzlinBizzay
KrizzlinBizzay

Why is there no mention of the new Nexus 7??

That's a top quality 7" Android device that's been updated recently and yet you claim there are no new developments

legend9
legend9

@DavidHarrisLH  I agree completely.  The reason for the holiday season is Christmas.  Why deny it?  I also get annoyed (today in particular) with vendors (many outside the US) having "Black Friday" sales.  I know it relates to the US Thanksgiving holiday yesterday, but the rest of the world does not celebrate it.  Today is just an ordinary Friday.  Black Friday has a very different meaning here in Australia.

ronmc
ronmc

@legend9 @DavidHarrisLH  "Black Friday" has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. It has to do with retailers finally going into the "black" after 10 months of red ink. This weekend is supposed to make it or break it for retailers.