Let’s Talk About Tablets… Again

by Don Willmott 

Back
in May
, I wrote somewhat dismissively about tablet computing finding a
happy home in mainstream enterprises. Why, I wondered, if have they never caught on despite decades of talk and at least
five years of usable, if somewhat heavy, pre-iPad designs? Sure, tablets have
been deployed in all sorts of verticals, but the rest of us have continued to
carry our laptops to get our work done.

Let's Talk Tablets... AgainA few months and 3 million iPads later, I’m revisiting
this touchy topic (get it?) because the headlines have
started screaming about an upcoming tablet deluge that will force IT
to bring them into the fold once and for all.

The action starts over in the BlackBerry universe, where RIM
has finally leaked some solid information about its upcoming plans. In November, the
Blackpad tablet will arrive and captivate you (RIM hopes) with its 9.7-inch
screen, its Bluetooth, its WiFi, and its tight connection to BlackBerry
smartphones that can then connect it to the Internet via 3G. In other words, it
will be the ultimate BlackBerry accessory. The idea is to get this on the
market fast, before Apple can rev the iPad. As another swipe at Apple, RIM is
also planning to release the BlackBerry 9800, its first touch screen model with
a pop-out keyboard, in August.

Things are getting equally interesting in the Microsoft
camp, where CEO Steve Ballmer revealed last Thursday that Microsoft is prepping
to help allies such as HP, Dell, Asus, Lenovo, and Toshiba by
providing Windows 7 running on Intel processors (rather than mobile
Windows). “It is job-one urgency around here. Nobody’s sleeping at this
point,” Ballmer told a group of analysts. He’d better come up with
something that will make us forget the aborted “Slate” project, a
joint effort with HP that died in January. Microsoft just can’t seem to catch a
break when it comes to hardware. Maybe this time will be different.

Then there’s the Android OS camp, filled with other hardware
manufacturers, including Asian outfits like LG and lots of other familiar names
(see
a complete collection of rumors here
). Even Google may have a tablet
up its sleeve, and that’s one I’d really like to see.

Okay, so the tablets are coming, the tablets are coming. Let’s
take a deep breath and think a minute. Why is this happening? There’s more to
the phenomenon than the simple fact that the iPad is very cool and therefore
very successful. Remember: the iPad is not a great tool for information
creation. It’s mainly designed for information consumption. That was my main
gripe about tablet computing in general: You can’t type on them. But perhaps I
was missing the bigger picture. There are so many amazing things that the
Internet can now deliver, with geopositioning at the top of the list, that we
are all going to want – and maybe need – a good info consumption device that can
handle our work-related endeavors. Our smartphones are Okay, especially for
e-mail, but not for watching presentations, getting a quick look at a spreadsheet,
or looking at maps. Our laptops can do all that, but tablets weigh 75 percent
less.

Maybe Steve Ballmer is smart: A cool tablet that’s also a
Windows tablet may have relatively easy entry into the data center, where IT
will at least be familiar with the OS and may be able to integrate the devices
into the workflow without too much drama – and certainly
without having to bend to Apple’s famously controlling ways. And maybe RIM is
smart too. After all, everyone has a BlackBerry already, right?

I think I’m going to write this column again in December.
The tablet landscape may look very different by then. I’ll try to keep up.

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