Tablets Rising?

Where do I click for technical support?

When I attended IBM’s Lotusphere in early February, I was struck by the number of people who were using an iPad.  Indeed, a significant number of attendees did not seem to have brought a laptop at all, and were relying on the tablet to take notes, keep up with work e-mail, and of course, tweet the proceedings.  The number of the laptop-less was still dwarfed by those still typing away on their traditional laptops, but tablets are clearly beginning to establish themselves as a viable mobile computing solution.

Despite the fact that the first tablet was introduced in 1989, the tablet market is still in its infancy.  Today, the iPad dominates the landscape thanks to its legions of Apple-fans, an early start in the market, a plethora of apps, and a polished and popular user interface.  Other companies are pushing out tablets at a furious pace, with options set to explode as numerous Android-based devices, BlackBerry’s PlayBook, and HP’s TouchPad (running Palm’s webOS) hit the shelves.  Not to mention yesterday’s unveiling of the iPad 2.

Tablets are clearly making inroads with knowledge workers.  Some companies who see value in the form factor and the mobile capabilities are providing the devices for employees, or simply extending support to employees’ existing devices.  The New York Times reported last week that General Electric has distributed ca. 2,000 iPads internally and has developed applications for approving purchase orders and monitoring transformers in the field.  The article also cited companies such as NBC Universal, Hyatt, and biotech company Life Technologies that have begun both supplying and supporting employees’ iPads.  Just this week, the FAA approved the use of iPads to replace paper charts for pilots who fly for Executive Jet Management, a charter company.  Although the approval is limited to just one company, it is indicative of tablet computers moving into professional settings, even those under strict regulation such as the aviation industry.

As noted previously, tablets aren’t new.  What’s changed is that they actually work well and, unlike earlier versions, can tap into the Internet and a vast store of business apps that will support everything from e-mail to CRM systems to enterprise social software.

A glance through past issues of Basex:TechWatch shows the launch of business applications for the iPad from the likes of Confidela, IBM, iEnterprises, Jive, NewsGator, Open Text, Oracle, Salesforce, and Sybase, to name a few.  And this is just in the last year.  Even the competitors are getting in on the action; at Lotusphere, the BlackBerry PlayBook was showcased as a secure and viable business tool that features tight integration with Lotus offerings.

Although it is unlikely that laptops will go by the wayside, tablets are increasingly being added to the knowledge worker’s toolkit, and will only increase in prevalence as more use cases and business applications are developed.  If only I had written this column on a tablet…(hint hint).

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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