If we could do a scientific poll to find out how many of the people who have purchased the Apple iPad so far got it primarily to use for business, I suspect the number would be at least 50%.
That doesn't mean that the professionals who buy the iPad are only using it for email and business meetings. They also use it to read books and watch movies, especially on business trips. The point is that business is driving a lot more of the iPad's success than you'd think by watching Apple's promo videos and reading the iPad coverage in the media -- or, at least most of the media.
However, the iPad's business story is not lost on everyone. I got a reliable report recently that shows how much Apple understands this dynamic. And, this week at CTIA Wireless 2011 I found out that Samsung gets it, too, because Samsung is putting a lot of resources on the line in order to get its newly-expanded line of Android tablets in the hands of business users.
In terms of Apple, I've recently heard from reliable sources that Apple has been holding a series of meetings and training sessions with systems integrators about helping businesses deploy and/or support the iPad. Apple has never been particularly friendly with businesses (Steve Jobs even famously explained what he hates about the enterprise), so this is a significant step for Apple that has been preluded by the steps it has taken in recent years to make the iPhone a lot more enterprise-friendly.
On the other hand, Samsung isn't hiding its tablet strategy for the enterprise in private meetings or back rooms. It's going after it with all the resources it can throw at the problem, and it gave enterprise integration and business-friendly features a prominent treatment in the CTIA presentation of its new 8.9-inch and 10.1-inch tablets.
We can break down Samsung's enterprise plans into three categories:
- Enterprise middleware that it's building into TouchWiz
- Business development with enterprise partners
- Development of a sales infrastructure for the enterprise
One of the first things Samsung is doing is building software into TouchWiz that makes Samsung tablets easy to connect to backend enterprise systems. That's not just to support IT deployments but to make it easy for the tablets that consumers purchase and want to use for business to connect with corporate software and be palatable to IT.
"We think there's the need to support the acceptability of these devices into the enterprise," said Gavin Kim, Vice President of Mobile Content and Services at Samsung. Kim said the stuff Samsung is building into its Android tablets via its TouchWiz software is akin to enterprise middleware.
At its CTIA press conference on Tuesday, Samsung made the enterprise-friendly features of the new Samsung tablets a big part of the presentation.
- Built-in support for Cisco SSL VPN (the first Android devices to offer that)
- Device management with Exchange ActiveSync
- Hardware encryption (Samsung has also added a separate processor to its tablet just to handle the encryption and decryption of data)
- Lots of support for enterprise software, including Citrix, Polycom, Sybase, SAP, and more
"It's not bullet-proof, but it's a good step, and we're just getting started," said Kim.
In addition to the software partners just mentioned, Samsung's Ken Daniels, Director of Strategic Alliances for Enterprise Mobility, said the company is talking to virtually "everybody" in the enterprise software space about making their stuff work with Samsung tablets.
Samsung is also reaching out to much smaller developers of business software, including vendors who focus on vertical markets and line-of-business apps, to help educate them about Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and 3.0 (Honeycomb) and encourage them to develop apps for Android tablets and find ways to make their systems work with Samsung tablets.
Right now, when big companies want to buy smartphones and tablets in large quantities they are typically going through the telecom carriers that they already have contracts with. Samsung is going to support that with a sales force that will serve as advisers and evangelists for companies that want to do large-scale deployments of Samsung tablets. Samsung will help them make the right product choices and then let them buy the tablets from their carriers of choice.
On the other hand, Samsung sees a new opportunity developing where large companies will want to purchase Wi-Fi-only tablets directly from Samsung -- for example, a hospital system buying 10,000 Wi-Fi tablets that don't need mobile broadband because they will only be connecting to the hospital's campus-wide WLAN. Samsung is setting up a program to make it easy to drop-ship large numbers of tablets directly to these types of enterprises.
Another thing Samsung is doing to make its tablets more business-friendly is developing its own line of accessories aimed at professionals -- desktop docks, hardware keyboards, bluetooth accessories, and cases -- and partnering with companies like Belkin to make professional accessories for Samsung tablets.
Clearly, Samsung sees a huge opportunity for tablets in the enterprise and is making a lot of smart moves to grease the wheels for business adoption. Apple looks like it's ready to avoid the mistakes it made with the Macintosh and be a lot more proactive about working with the enterprise on iPad adoption. And, don't forget about Motorola. Even though the Xoom still needs to be refined, Motorola has a long history of building strong relationships in the enterprise. RIM, of course, wants a piece of this space as well with its forthcoming BlackBerry PlayBook, but it's facing an uphill battle since it is badly losing the mobile ecosystem game to Apple and Android.
Ultimately, the enterprise tablet race is going to be an important undercurrent to watch in 2011.
Samsung's new 8.9 and 10.1 inch tablets were headliners at CTIA Wireless 2011. Photo credit: Jason Hiner
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).