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.
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.
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.
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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