The battle for tablet dominance in the business space had already begun when Microsoft launched the Surface Pro. For the past few years, tablets that were initially purchased for their consumer draw have found their way into the business space. It’s not clear who will come out on top, but I do know there are a few principles that end users are looking to find in their business tablet of choice.
The war between Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft is in response to the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative in business. The trend is only natural – you buy an iPad for its form factor, beautiful display, and connectivity to apps and video content. You want those advantages to extend to other, arguably more important, parts of your life – such as your job.
The deeper trend here is referred to as the Edison Effect: regardless of how innovative a new technology is, at first it is applied to old use cases. Only later is the new technology leveraged for new things. It’s a pattern that has played out again and again throughout history (the printing press was initially used to supplement monks copying bibles for decades until it began to really impact the way information was stored and transmitted in general).
It appears the Edison Effect is at work with tablet computing, and the big players in the space are scrambling to become the standard tablet business tool. As I work with business teams who are looking to use collaborative technologies and visualization to their advantage, the role of a tablet in a business meeting seems to be more and more important. Folks at these companies with titles such as collaboration technology manager and meeting technology specialist are doing a lot of thinking about the tablet platform they will adopt across their business.
Microsoft is obviously aware of the prize, a viable replacement for all those IBM ThinkPads and Dell laptops is a great market, Android-based tablets seem to more prevalent in the enterprise, and I can’t count how many times someone has asked me, “How do you share your iPad’s content in a meeting?” But which of these platforms will win?
I don’t know which platform claim victory in World War T, but I can share the underlying principles that must be part of the tablet’s arsenal if it is to win:
- Secure distribution of authenticated apps: there are lots of great companies that are working in this space, including MobileIron, AirWatch and Citrix. No tablet has an advantage here yet.
- Open access to files and data: this is where Android really shines, with a real and accessible file system and the ability to move important data, such as a PowerPoint presentation or a video, onto my phone for use in a meeting later. This is definitely one of the major challenges with the current iPad line. Have you ever tried to copy a corporate video onto your iPad? If you’re clever and patient, you can move it through Dropbox, wait for it to cache, and store it on your photo roll. Can other apps use it, such as your presentation tool? Probably not. Compare that drawback to a Surface Pro with a USB port for file transfer. Android and Windows clearly have the edge here.
- Ability to display data to colleagues during a collaborative meeting – I’ll admit I’m biased here because of the type of work I do, but I am constantly exposed to folks who are tired of the pass-the-video-cable game in a multi-participant meeting. If a tablet (or any other computing platform) is going to play a role in tomorrow’s business conference room, then it has to be able to share its display seamlessly. Each of the platforms has its own technique to sharing pixels over a network. The iPad has its own proprietary AirPlay protocol; Android has adopted Miracast, an open standard for screen mirroring over WiFi Direct; and Microsoft Windows can be shared using a variety of techniques ranging from traditional desktop remoting to our own Solstice. The key here is to recognize that as tablets become important in meetings, they need to seamlessly connect to the enterprise display infrastructure without specialized/dedicated hardware (Apple TV) or hoop-jumping. Furthermore, the connection method can’t be proprietary or it’ll be difficult for businesses to adopt the single platform. Miracast/Android has somewhat of an edge here, but it’s not adopted as a cross-platform technology (Miracast won’t support your Windows laptop).
In summary, World War T is just heating up. The winner will be the tablet that recognizes the opportunity to embrace business users and enable a secure, data friendly, and shareable screen platform for the enterprise.