Tablets

Enterprise tablets: HP, Cisco, and BlackBerry all have the itch

While the Apple iPad's value as a business machine is still unproven, the race is on for tech companies to build the best enterprise tablet.

The Apple iPad sold over a million units in its first month and some pundits called it beginning of the next stage of computing. The iPad is likely to be the first of a slew of new touch-based tablets. There will be lots of copycat tablets coming later in 2010 and into 2011, most of them running the Android OS.

Despite the fact that the value of touch-based tablets in business is still unproven (read my review of the iPad from a business perspective), some of the biggest names in enterprise technology are reportedly working on touch-based tablets aimed primarily at the business market.

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These companies don't want to miss the boat and let Apple steal a big chunk of the enterprise market, if this tablet thing turns into a real phenomenon. That's why we're hearing an increasing number of reports about enterprise tablets in the works.

Here are the three biggest players to watch, along with a summary of what's been reported about their tablet plans so far.

Hewlett-Packard

The one company that we definitely know wants a piece of the enterprise tablet action is Hewlett-Packard. HP has been in the tablet market for a decade, as one of Microsoft's primary partners in the ill-fated Tablet PC experiment, which was built on pen-based tablets.

At CES 2010 in January, HP and Microsoft showed off a touch-based tablet that was supposed to run Windows 7 and do many of the things that the iPad can do, and a few that it can't (Adobe Flash and video conferencing). But HP reportedly killed the project at the end of April due to problems with battery life.

In April HP also bought Palm, with the rumored intention of using Palm's webOS to not only power future smartphones but future tablets as well. While the Palm purchase apparently derailed the Windows 7 tablet, it's not clear whether it will also kill HP's plans to build an Android tablet. Whatever the case may be, look for HP to deliver a tablet aimed at business users by early 2011.

BlackBerry

One of the most surprising tablet rumors has been that Research in Motion, the company behind BlackBerry, has plans in the works for a tablet aimed at mobile professionals. It is surprising because RIM has remained laser-focused on smartphones throughout its history.

However, a tablet has apparently been in the works at RIM for years, while falling in and out of favor at different times, similar to the way the tablet project at Apple did. Naturally, with the success of the iPad, the BlackBerry tablet is back on again.

The RIM tablet has been rumored to be everything from a basic Android tablet to a BlackBerry companion similar to the Palm Foleo. The latest scuttlebut has RIM's "BlackPad" slated for the very end of 2010, or more likely, the beginning of 2011.

Of course, unlike HP, the BlackBerry tablet is not a forgone conclusion. If the BlackPad does not come together or if the iPad cools off in the second half of 2010, then don't be surprised to see RIM pull the plug on its tablet. After all, the company has its hands full in the highly-competitive smartphone market.

Cisco

The fuzziest tablet rumor -- and perhaps the most intriguing -- is the one attributed to Cisco Systems. It came in April from an anonymous tipster to CNET's Buzz Out Loud (CNET and TechRepublic are both part of CBS Interactive). The gist was that Cisco was planning its own Android tablet that would serve as a multimedia collaboration device.

Cisco jumping into the tablet game would not be a surprise at all. The company has been trying to break out of its traditional niche in networking for several years, as witnessed by its acquisitions of Pure Video (maker of the Flip) and WebEx. Cisco also delivered an excellent WebEx app for the iPad, right at launch, so it clearly appreciates this space.

That said, the company has no expertise in building PCs or mobile devices, so Cisco would either need to partner with a really good OEM or do another acquisition to bring this type of expertise in-house.

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About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

32 comments
The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

that these 'new' devices will be fully blown PC type systems and not a vendor locked in, disabled device. Read iPhone v HTC Desire to see what I mean.

kronckew
kronckew

the question is wrong. there is always a place for one in business, even if it's only for one in the failed experiments junk drawer. a better question is there a business requirement that can be better served by a tablet in business? use as a status symbols doesn't count.

merumaru
merumaru

I'd love to have some Tablet PC made in Taiwan. HTC for example.. bet its gonna be cheaper than what cisco/apple/blackberry/google has to offer

merumaru
merumaru

sorry not tablet pc, but some ipad like device, but HTC made.

bill.tkach
bill.tkach

All they use is tablets... you never see some dude typing at a computer, they're always poking and sliding some shiny lines or data bits around a screen. I think a combination touch tablet speech recognition would be perfect. A perfect solution would be a high gain mic that was placed near the mouth of the user, so that they can whisper or make motions with their mouths and have that information interpreted by a computer.

Bret Caruso
Bret Caruso

This technology has already been in business for over a decade in public safety, service dispatching, medical and other mobile workforce verticals. Several issues have been important when looking at these devices: Ruggedness, battery life, and applications to run on them. The hype about these devices is that Amazon came out the the Kindle with it's "killer app" for eBooks. Then Apple came out with competition to it, and promised more functionality. And they marketed them heavily. These and the ones promoted will not work well in the space I described above, since they are not rugged enough for those environments. Though as the price comes down, and function goes up, there will be a trade-off as to where they will be used. All in all, this is a good thing for the business community, and new areas of opportunity will present itself.

Hazydave
Hazydave

Tablets have been doing just dandy, as you mention, in various industrial and professional applications. Thing is, these are an entirely different breed of tablet: rugged, usually either single-purpose (UPS's package tracking and signature taking tablets) or Windows-based. And expensive... which is one thing that's limited them to applications not served well at all by a plain old laptop. The new series, both dedicated and "applications-based" are consumer oriented, and at least in theory, lower in price than laptops. Some is publicity: Sony and various others had dedicated eBook reader tablets long before Amazon came along, but Amazon was loud, and high profile. Apple's iPad isn't really a Kindle response (in fact, once you're outdoors, the iPad is a lousy eBook reader), but simply an expansion of Apple's iPod/iPhone franchise, eBooks just being one application that's better on a larger screen. We'll see a much better mix of these devices as they advance beyond proprietary systems like Apple or Amazon, and become open systems... all that's really needed is "open" in the sense of Windows (eg, proprietary tech, available to any company) for the floodgates to open. Maybe Android does this for tablets, maybe something else, but it's coming. Why now? You can point at the iPad, but there were a dozen tablets being shown off at CES several weeks before the iPad debuted. You can point at the Kindle, but it's been around for years, as have the other eBook readers. No, the reason is really a nexus of technology that makes these things possible. First, you have low cost enabling technology, much derived from $200-$300 netbooks. Next, a viable alternative to x86, in ARM, that's now matching x86 in performance at the point where tablets and netbooks live. And, just as the iPad grew out of smartphones and media players, so do these OSs: Android, WebOS, maybe some flavor of Linux tweaked for small devices. The tech is really ready this year. We'll see about the software, but the iPad's going to emerge as weak and underpowered based on the kinds of chips already available. Not to mention that Intel's now set to push x86 into these same tablets and into smartphones, believing they can match the all-day operation that the tablet offers versus the laptop. We'll see... sure is fun to watch!

pcrx_greg
pcrx_greg

The major factor limiting tablet useage in the enterprise today, is durablity. I think that the reason that tablets are not being put into common useage by most businesses is that companies are afraid that the durability needed for a large handheld device just isn't available yet. Let's face it, if you spend $500 - $1000 on a portable device that won't survive being dropped on a concrete floor, then you aren't going to invest heavily in these devices no matter what they are capable of doing.

zbyte
zbyte

The iPad will be THE device of the decade. Just looking at what it does and the apps available for it now will tell you that. What I don't understand about you folks at Tech Republic is your anti-Apple bias. This has been going on for years (although I would agree to a lesser degree now). The iPad is here and now. That IS the Enterprise tablet. Why go for wannabe's? Bill Gates said that Tablets would be the NEXT big thing (in 1999). Well, what happened to that enterprise tablet? Why is it that a product with an Apple logo cannot be an enterprise device with you folks. I have been in IT for over 30 years folks, I have never seen a WIndows network as solid or as secure as a Mac OS, Linux or Unix network. Get with the program folks, an HP tablet? Ha! HP used to be the pride of quality and American manufacturing. That was before Carly Fiorino destroyed the company. The products that HP has put out since are simply garbage. Apple has the iPad, the quality, the apps. That IS the enterprise tablet. No need to look anyplace else. Ben

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

....shaking my head. The iPad is a non-multi-tasking toy. But you keep your blinders on and never look someplace else. Just stay happy and secure wearing your Apple pajamas while the rest of us opt for something better.

BBaldwin803
BBaldwin803

I am at a loss as to why some people think that saying stupid and childish things in response to others ("blinders" and "wearing your Apple pajamas") helps their argument in any way shape or form. From what I've seen and read, that usually happens whenever a responder's head has exploded because someone makes some points that oppose their own position to which they do not have an intelligent response. That, or they are just immature idiots who THINK they are smart and superior. So, which one are you? You won't be taken seriously until you take others seriously, but my guess is you've already cussed me out and said to yourself, "what does he know?" and dismissed my point because I'm obviously an inferior moron who sleeps in Apple PJs and dreams dreamy dreams of Apple-land.

Lfraz
Lfraz

Um, the IPAD is not enterprise or business ready. Too many limitations. IPAD 2 might be if it offers Printing, multi tasking, better USB support and domain login support... You know, all those little things that one needs in a business environment. The IPOD touch in most businesses is not considered a business tool. The Macbook or even airbook can bue used in the Enterprise. But the IPAD? You make me laugh.

Hazydave
Hazydave

For real enterprise, something like the iPad is probably fine, hardware-wise. There are dozens of problem with the iPad for other uses, but you don't need eBooks on a beach, or interface to camcorders, for the likely information access uses that we're going to see in Enterprise tablets. But what they do absolutely require is Enterprise software management. The IT department is going to push a button, and every tablet gets their update, their new app, whatever. They will have the ability to buy enterprise-wise software from vendors, and, sure enough, restrict users' access to other apps. I'd never require that latter thing within my engineering group, but it's precisely one of those things that's having Enterprises perk-up any time a non-PC computing platform comes around the bend. In short, Apple will fail completely as long as "iTunes Store" is their only answer for application distribution. They will demand the ability to push apps to thousands of tablets, enterprise-wide; apps developed in-house or bought site-license from outside developers. Neither of these class of apps will be run past the iTunes store for approval. If Apple's serious about Enterprise, they'll support this kind of thing. Until they do, serious Enterprise and Education use are not really figuring prominently in their plans.

BBaldwin803
BBaldwin803

The company I work for has a custom built application that currently runs on the iPhone and iPad. We do not have to go through the iTunes Store to distribute the application, nor the updates. We simply post the appropriate update file on the company intranet and when a user downloads the update and then double-clicks on the file, it "installs" the application into their iTunes directly (without going through the iTunes Store) and the next time the device is synced, viola..!!! While I realize this isn't exactly a "push" process, I just wanted to make sure folks knew that you DO NOT have to go through the iTunes Store to install every application. That process is for public distribution of applications via the iTunes Store. If your IT department develops your own enterprise application (as ours has) then you DO NOT have to submit it to the same process of iTunes Store approval to be able to install it on your enterprise devices.

yhaile001
yhaile001

Provision of video conferencing by inclusion of video camera in the tablet might be the key feature deciding who wins the dominant base in the mobile handset market.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

"Some pundits" also believed that Columbus discovered America. Why are folks pretending like that iPad is the world's first tablet computer? Anyways, I'd love to see WebOS on a tablet. It's almost wasted on the Palm Pre Plus with it's small screen and shoddy hardware. A WebOS tablet would definately be an iPad killer.

mpayton
mpayton

I've yet to see anyone give figures that establish that Tablet PC sales qualify as "ill-fated" or "failed", the term more commonly used among so-called tech journalists. If it is a failed product, why do major manufacturers such as Lenovo and HP (not to mention Dell, Fujitsu, Toshiba, and others and Tablet specific companies such as Motion and TabletKiosk) continue to produce new models year after year?

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

In 2001, Bill Gates said of the Tablet PC: "It's a PC that is virtually without limits and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America." That's a pretty high bar. The mass market rejected tablets, mostly because of the high price and the fact that pen computing was not very intuitive or useful for average users. As a result, Tablet PC has been reduced to use in a few niche verticals (medical, field workers, etc.), where it makes perfect sense and works pretty well. But, that's a far cry from the initial expectations of Gates and Microsoft.

NexS
NexS

Seems he's not the magical FarSeer of the technological future. I believe that everything has it's place and shouldn't be forced into a place that has no need for it.

MrRich
MrRich

You say that Cisco has no PC hardware experience - but they have come out with an interesting line of servers to run virtual machines. The merit of those boxes is that they do not have consumer baubles to get in the way of business needs. In this case it seems to be out of Cisco's comfort zone - because such a tablet device would require a lot of marketing to individuals (consumer bling). HP can make a pass at it, but I just don't see Cisco getting the marketing right. I don't like HP consumer boxes, but they do have marketing ability. If these tablets are intended to complement Cisco's VM servers, that is an interesting angle... But I'd say they should just get Dell to manufacture and market the devices. Re: Cisco servers, I wonder why they didn't just buy Sun instead of making their own product?

Vandy-SJ
Vandy-SJ

I can see tablets used in the Health Care industry (hospitals, clinics), but they usually need to be Windows-based with .NET compatibility. Many Health Care EMR applications require a full Windows client, and a wireless Windows tablet is a prime platform to fulfill that need. Not all EMR applications at tablet-friendly, but for 'making rounds' or 'roaming between exam rooms' a portable tablet is an ideal solution.

Richard2
Richard2

As a long time user of the HP (Compaq) TC1100 tablet it is about time. Of course limiting functionality just to get touchscreen is not the best goal.

karl.swass
karl.swass

If tablet PC's can prove to be more affordable than Laptops I believe businesses will equip mobile users with them. At the end of the day business is driven by dollars and companies are looking to cut costs to help drive profits. If the next gen tablets prove to be cost effective and more efficient than laptops users will eventually switch.

NexS
NexS

I definitely believe there is a place for tablet computers in business, but I remain solid to the fact that it will not be in all flavours of the business world. I can imagine a place for tablet computers as a stepping stone to the things we see in movies, even as ridiculous and unrealistic they make them in film. If they had a place in business today, I believe it would be a very specific purpose. In most cases, a desktop PC would still be the most cost effective, work effective and efficient platform to work from. Also, in regards to the news/rumours of Cisco, HP and RIM jumping into the tablet game; I don't find it surprising at all. Though the end product from each different brand would be different (or so I really hope!). I would put a few dollars on the fact that RIM and Cisco would have the upper hand in the business and enterprise markets. Good luck to them.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

Imagine going to the doctor's office and instead of him flipping through your charts, he brings in his WebOS-powered HP tablet and pulls up your Electronic Health Records (EHR). The only barriers to this is that all of the big EHR systems run on Microsoft platforms already.

psmith
psmith

Every one of my doctors already used a tablet PC to review case data, collect new data and even to originate prescriptions which are directly routed to pharmacies. These are all Windows based tablets running a version of XP specifically designed for tablets. So what's all the foofahraw about some new development? Using these tablets involves native apps interfacing networked data sources, as interface platforms for network hosted applications, direct web access and inter-communications with external applications using various protocols, mostly, but not exclusively, centered around https. So what's supposed to be so new and different about new offerings, eh?

NexS
NexS

Just not so widely used. I suppose I can only speak from my experiences. But the hospitals/doctors sound like it could work well. As for the EHR - I've heard about them, but as yet, I don't think it's a worldwide standard (as far as i know). Unless i'm thinking of something else (i'm thinking of the idea that you carry around a "swipe card" with access to your data sitting up on some database somewhere... Like a bank keycard)

eric.schultz
eric.schultz

I would like to see Cisco, just because of the reliability of the hardware. When searching the forums on Android, and non-phone use, but like the I-touch, Archos 5 is what generally comes up. When reading reviews, the #1 complaint, is the quality of the hardware, not the OS...this is what is hurting linux, and will hold it back from over taking Apple's share of the market in terms of Apples I touch and Ipad.

mousejn
mousejn

Verizon and Google are said to be developing a Android Tablet. With the Droid overtaking IPhone, a Droid OS Tablet should beat out the IPod.

melias
melias

I do not want to see HP or Apple dominate this market, simply because both companies tend to make everything as proprietary as possible. I would like to see a new player who helps setup industry-based standards which would make maintenance of these devices easier, much like MOST desktops now. I realize that is very difficult to do in a small sized device, but NOT impossible. Also, I would prefer a system that can integrate into my infrastructure with a minimum of changes to my current systems and setups. Talk to Windows, or have a simple black-box solution.

NexS
NexS

I would rather see Cisco ahead of the game. I would hope that their history in networking would help them to create something more secure and networkable.