Tablets have finally made it through the struggles of childhood and are now entering their rambunctious teenage years. We've weeded out the "me too" products and are left with three major players in the tablet market: Apple, Google, and a resurgent Microsoft. The products from the former two are reaching a state of maturity, where they can reliably serve enterprise computing functions, while Microsoft is gearing up for a major push into the market it once owned. With the market maturing, how might tablets evolve and be serving the enterprise in the coming three years?
Just as mobile phones and laptops have increasingly become tools of personal expression, tablets have continued the trend. This has created a difficult task for CIOs, who are now asked to allow any and all devices into the corporate network while simultaneously maintaining security. I believe users will win out in terms of bringing their personal tablets to work, but we'll increasingly see software that allows the devices to act differently based on context. At work, a user's preferred device might present a corporate-approved series of applications and access rights, while at home the device "opens up" as it abandons access to critical corporate data and applications. We're seeing software like this already, but it's too clunky, essentially creating two computing environments in a single device.
The big complaint with the current crop of tablets is that they fail to offer adequate tools for content creation. An iPad may be perfect for web browsing, but it's severally lacking for the unglamorous yet ubiquitous task of writing a long email or jockeying a spreadsheet. Hardware has already responded with everything from detachable keyboards to transforming tablets, but by 2015, we'll see better software and evolved storage, the biggest remaining obstacles to content creation on mobile devices.
Cloud-based storage has hit its stride, along with the increased uptake of mobile devices, but it's still neither ubiquitous nor seamless. By 2015, users will likely purchase blocks of storage from a handful of cloud providers, just as we now purchase a hard drive from a vendor. This storage will be accessed in a standardized manner that's transparent to the user, as opposed to today's variety of incompatible services that each require specialized software on every device. Once our content is universally accessible, we'll demand the ability to view and modify it from any device.
The end all device
Tablets also have the potential to become many users' primary computing device. I foresee the tablet acting in a traditional content-browsing role, then being plugged into a docking station at work and acting as a traditional desktop. A power user might even have augmented processing power in that dock, allowing him or her to browse the web while sitting on the couch, then dropping the same tablet into a dock and doing high-performance video editing the next minute.
Smartphones are increasingly becoming small tablet computers with augmented communications abilities, and we'll start seeing manufacturers further integrating the two. It's borderline technology sacrilege that my iPhone and iPad effectively ignore each other, just as a Nexus tablet and Samsung Galaxy barely acknowledge each other, despite running complementary operating systems.
While predictions about the future are little more than educated guesses, it's safe to say that the era of the tablet will continue for the coming years, and it has a high potential for becoming most users' primary computing device. With ubiquitous storage and integration to other devices and corporate computing environments, an already personal device is about to become an inseparable part of our computing lives.
What do you think the future holds for tablets? Do you agree with my predictions? What did I miss? 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.