One of the key questions that IT has to determine when developing a tablet strategy for the enterprise is what tablet is right for the company. Technical considerations certainly enter into that, but so do user expectations, the impression the company wants to make on its customers and investors, and security concerns.
For instance, Android tablets are much lower cost upfront than either iPads or the potential Windows 8 tablets that are expected to enter the market in 2012. But most Android tablets have less screen real estate than iPads, and they come with concerns about exactly what user data Google and its partners may be gathering on users. Companies that do not allow employees to use Google Docs as part of their jobs, for instance, may have concerns about Android's inherent security.
IPads have 10” screens and possibly more functionality, although Android is not far behind in that department. They also send a different image to customers and business partners. But companies that adopt the iPad as their standard tablet also get Apple as a business partner, if only because the only way to get their business apps on their iPads is to work through the Apple app store. Android, in contrast, allows multiple app stores. Apple is certainly trying to penetrate the business market and can be expected to be open to publishing those business apps now, but down the line that attitude could change. And at the least it leaves an important part of company policy under the control of a third party, which is a suboptimal situation.
Both Android and iOS have the disadvantage of being basically unknown technologies in corporate IT. Windows on the other hand is a well known entity. Almost all IT shops have experience with Windows, and many have staff or consultants who can write and edit code for the Windows platform. And in business everything runs on Windows. Windows tablets can run the same applications, starting with Microsoft Office, that are on business laptops today.
However, because iPads and Android tablets are subsidized heavily by sales of consumer apps and services and entertainment media from books to videos, while Windows tablets will be sold on the older business hardware model, Windows tablets will be more expensive. Also, having full applications running on those tablets implies that business data will also reside on them, and tablets are much more vulnerable to theft and breakage than even laptops – closer in that respect to the experience with smartphones. That certainly is a security issue, both in terms of the higher expense of replacing the tablets themselves and in protecting the data. Android and iOS tablets, in contrast, are basically user front-ends to cloud services, which lets the business keep its data in the data center or cloud service, where it is relatively safe.
The enterprise cellular provider is another consideration. Presumably most tablet users will want cellular connectivity, and outside sales and support will absolutely need it. That will limit the tablet choices to those that the carrier supports. The only want around that is to link the tablet to the user's smartphone via bluetooth or a physical cable, which may or may not be in violation of the carrier's terms of service. It certainly would create problems for instance for salespeople who want to use their tablets online while talking to customers on the phone through a bluetooth headset.
The result may well be that different groups of users will need different tablets. Management, for instance, may use iPads in part to send a message of corporate power and financial resource. Sales and service personnel may be able to replace their laptops entirely with Windows tablets, thereby cutting the incremental cost of moving to tablets to nearly zero. Other user groups may be adequately served by less expensive Android tablets. This strategy, however, leaves IT supporting three different tablet technologies, which again is a suboptimal situation.
Whatever tablet or tablets the enterprise chooses, one very desirable addition is a safety strap positioned so that users can strap the tablet to their wrist whenever they use it. This can prevent both damage from dropping the unit accidentally and from snatch-and-grab theft and actually is a professional photographer's trick for protecting valuable cameras and lenses.
Action Item: The corporate standard tablet should meet multiple requirements including security, technical concerns, corporate image support, and of course support from the enterprise cellular carrier(s). What IT does not want is a proliferation of different tablets that will greatly complicate support and the basic delivery of business services in a secure manner.