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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.