Computerworld

Enterprise Buyers Guide for Tablets: Connectivity, Pricing and Contracts

Your guide to choosing the best tablet PC for your small or medium business

At least 40 per cent of tablets sold in 2014 will be linked to a communication service provider (CSP) contract, according to Gartner. The research firm said CSPs will shift their current subsidy strategy for mobile broadband from notebooks to tablets to take advantage of the hype surrounding these new devices.

Tablets are likely to benefit from the subsidies already seen for high-end smartphones with enterprises focusing on Wi-Fi only devices.

Gartner analyst, Carolina Milanesi, said some enterprises will prefer Wi-Fi only devices as a way to contain costs. Milanesi said tablets subsidized by a CSP are likely to be linked to 24 or 36 month contracts which means organisations will upgrade when the contract is up for renewal.

Gartner expects the average selling price for a tablet to drop below $450 from 2012.

WAN 3G/4G: Many tablet users require WAN capability. Integrated offerings typically include High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA), Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), WiMax or Long Term Evolution (LTE) technologies. These capabilities permit data to be transmitted and retrieved in real time. Gartner warns the addition of these technologies tends to increase cost and reduce battery life.

LAN 802.11n: Wi-Fi capability is inherent in most tablets, but the 802.11n standard is the fastest version available and operates at more frequencies. Selection of this standard feature should come at a negligible cost.

Connectors: The desire to make tablets as thin and lightweight as possible has led many vendors to place only a single connector on the device. However, if additional connections (through capabilities such as USB) are required, more connectors are essential. Also, if it is necessary to project video out, a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connector is desirable.

Bluetooth: Although most smartphones have Bluetooth support, many tablets make this optional. Bluetooth 2.1 is essential if unified communications features are involved via headset. Bluetooth 3.0 is relatively new and is focused on file transfer. However, file transfer may be accomplished via a number of alternative means, such as Wi-Fi.

Virtual Private Network (VPN) Cisco/Juniper: Because of their high security, VPNs must be ported to any platform and thoroughly tested. Two of the more popular VPNs, from Cisco and Juniper, appear on some operating systems. If broad access to back-end systems is needed, these VPNs must be supported.

A guide to application management

One of the most compelling features of tablets is their ease of use, for which this technology raises the bar. However, Windows tablets have been slow to gain market share, especially when compared to Apple’s iPad.

Gartner analyst, Ken Delaney, said this is because the Windows interface struggles with the optimization of pure touch interfaces for pen input. Also, the traditional controls of Windows do not perform well on small screen sizes.

Legacy application support

Enterprises that invest in tablet applications find that some vendors do not support previous versions of applications as they introduce new products, forcing them to recompile or change the applications. Delaney said it is important to obtain from vendors a commitment of support for applications through at least two iterations of a product.

Adobe Flash

Many tablets are based on non-Windows operating systems forcing enterprises to port Adobe Flash to show offline video. Apple has chosen to support HTML5, instead of Flash. However, many legacy web sites still employ Flash. For some applications, Delaney said the inclusion of Flash may be essential until HTML5 is more widespread.

Many organisations rely on virtual desktops or server-based legacy apps to avoid storing sensitive data on tablets. Gartner recommends secure access clients such as Citrix Receiver or Wyse PocketCloud.

Manageability

Most tablets have only basic, bundled device management and security capabilities such as Exchange ActiveSync. Delaney said third-party products usually supply more sophisticated management and security products.

“A key evaluation parameter for some buyers is whether the device being acquired is supported by the most popular management and security toolsets,” he said.

Over the page: Market roundup -- Operating system road maps

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Market roundup: Operating system road maps

Google’s Android

Android’s share of the market is expected to grow accounting for 38.6 per cent of the market by 2015. Gartner analyst, Carolina Milanesi, said the ecosystem of applications for tablets is becoming more competitive and above all, platform flexibility will enable lower price points.

While Google’s decision not to open up Honeycomb to third parties will prevent fragmentation, Milanesi said it will slow the expected decline in the average selling price (ASP) of Android tablets and ultimately cap market share.

RIM’s QNX

Gartner believes Research in Motion’s (RIM’s) opportunity with QNX will remain limited to enterprises that have already invested in a BlackBerry server. With the migration of BlackBerry devices to QNX in 2012, Milanesi said RIM will be able to offer users a consistent experience across its whole product portfolio and create a single developer community.

“Despite QNX being a strong platform that delivers on performance, graphics and multi-tasking features, success in the tablet market will be driven by richness of the ecosystem,” she said. “Also, RIM will need to move to the 10-inch form factor and implement a new, more competitive UI through its acquisition of The Astonishing Tribe (TAT).”

Milanesi said it will take time and significant effort for RIM to attract developers and deliver a compelling ecosystem of applications and services around QNX for it to be a viable alternative to Apple or Android.

As an established enterprise player, she said interest will come from organisations that already have RIM infrastructure deployed. “RIM can meet stringent security requirements better than its competitors and is also suitable for enterprises that have banned the iPad,” Milanesi said.

Microsoft Windows

Gartner expects Microsoft to bring to market a tablet-specific version of Windows 8 in 2012. Milanesi said Microsoft’s main limitation in this market is the late arrival of its products.

“Although the IT department will be happy to integrate Windows-based devices in their portfolios, many organisations will have already selected a platform,” she said adding that Microsoft could appeal to the late adopters who will opt for an OS that is familiar.

HP’s TouchPad

In the short term, Milanesi said HP’s approach to rolling out its TouchPad will remain cautious. The vendor will focus on sales on selected markets in Europe and North America rather than the Asia Pacific, as this is where it plans to concentrate its smartphone sales.

Apple iPad

It is not an exaggeration to say that the iPad has completely reinvented the tablet market. Put simply, it dominates the tablet market and Gartner expects 40 per cent of first generation iPad users to upgrade to iPad 2. The research firm expects Apple to continue to own the market through to 2015.

Milanesi said vendors try to compete with Apple by first delivering on the hardware and then trying to leverage the platform ecosystem. “They are prioritising hardware features over applications, services and the overall user experience,” she said. “This is a mistake, the focus should be on the ecosystem that is what has made the iPad so successful.”

The smartphone factor

Smartphone users will want to buy a tablet that runs the same OS as their smartphone. This will enable users to share applications across devices. Gartner believes platforms with a weak smartphone presence, such as MeeGo and WebOS, will have limited appeal.

Glossary of Terms

ASP: Average Selling Price

CDMA: Code Division Multiple Access

CSP: Communication Service Providers

HDMI: High-Definition Multimedia Interface

HSPA: High-Speed Packet Access

LTE: Long Term Evolution technologies

VPN: Virtual Private Network