At TechRepublic Live 2011, I discussed the forces driving the enterprise adoption of tablets. In my presentation, “Tablets: Accelerating IT Consumerization,” I walked attendees through the history of tablets, IT’s initial reluctance to see them as anything but a consumer toy, and ways to successfully navigate the tablet flood.

TechRepublic members remain divided on the tablet’s usefulness, but the number of those who believe the devices are merely a passing fad is falling. Nearly 40 percent of respondents to an April, 2011 poll think tablets are the future, and 32 percent were on the fence. Only 28 percent felt that tablets were a fad.

Adoption drivers

When it comes to the drivers behind tablet adoption, I outlined four factors:

  • Increased processing power
  • Growing storage capacity
  • The Cloud
  • IT consumerization

Advances in mobile processors and GPUs haven’t put tablets on par with PCs yet. But quad-core mobile processors, such as the Nvidia Tegra 3 (Kal-El), will go along way to close the performance gap. Along with significant improvements in processing power, tablets’ storage capacity is also growing. It won’t be long before 128GB and 256GB tablets are commonplace. The Cloud is also changing how people work with their devices. For example, online storage services can take the place of large, local hard drives. As more “tasks” are handled in the cloud, traditional PCs, with their focus on local computing, become less necessary for the average user.

Adoption barriers

Despite the factors pushing tablet adoption, device manufactures must still overcome several obstacles before tablets can replace PCs. I cited the following four:

  • Price
  • Limited peripheral support
  • Lack of standards
  • Incompatible software ecosystems

As tablet manufacturers such as HP and RIM have discovered, price matters. Entry-level corporate desktops run about $500–the same price as most 10″ tablets. With the exception of Apple’s iPad, retail consumers and IT pros aren’t convinced they should spend the same amount for a tablet that they would for an average PC. Why? Because, they still don’t believe tablets are as “powerful” as PCs. And honestly, they’re right. But as I point out above, this is changing.

The enterprise adoption of tablets is also hampered by a lack of universal support for peripherals (keyboard, mouse, and printers). Sure, many tablets support some of these devices, but the level of peripheral standardization in tablets isn’t the same as it is the PC market. Along these same lines, the current crop of tablets lack standards when it comes to ports and connectors.

Lastly, there’s a dramatic difference in tablet software ecosystems. Apple’s App Store is the oldest and most fully developed. The Android Market is growing rapidly. And, Microsoft will be shipping Windows 8 with an integrated “Windows Store”. While not a complete roadblock (Macs can’t natively run Windows software), this software segmentation may restrict app creation as developers pick and choose which platforms to build on. HTML5 however, may be one way around this barrier.

It doesn’t really matter what the “box” looks like

Ultimately, most users don’t really care what their computing device looks. Sure, some users are more style-conscious than others, but most just want a device that makes their jobs (and lives) easier. Within five years, I believe many office workspaces will consist of a docking station, keyboard, mouse or trackpad, and large monitor(s).  Each morning, you’ll come in, place your tablet in the dock, and turn on the monitor. You’ll still use the keyboard, mouse, and monitor for creating content, but you’ll actually be doing it on a tablet (or maybe even a smarthphone).