The postulation is not academic: millions of dollars in upcoming IT budget now ride on this question: Can (should) CIOs start cutting netbook budget allotments in favor of tablets? And that in turn raises a more foundational question: What has shifted the once derided and certainly ignored tablet into the category of must-have technology?
First a fact: Lenovo’s COO Rory Reed recently told news agency Reuters that the Chinese computer maker is planning on the death of the netbook and its replacement by tablets, which Lenovo believes will claim 10 to 15 percent of the overall PC market.
Meanwhile, it is just about 10 years since Bill Gates said he had seen the future of computing and it would be tablets and pretty much exactly nothing happened until Apple introduced the iPad in spring 2010. Certainly, there were ruggedized tablets (think UPS) that won favor in specialty markets but for most users tablets were a big yawn.
Then it all changed.
That is why there are now 10 reasons every CIO needs to eyeball his or her upgrade programs to find a place for tablets:
1. “Technology has moved so far ahead from a size, weight, power perspective,” said Tom Puorro, director, product manager at Cisco and the point man for Cisco’s Cius tablet. His point: today’s tablets have as much in common with 2001 tablets as we do with Neanderthals. “Technology has let us miniaturize so much and that means we can be portable.”
2. Instant tablet booting is a big advantage in today’s fact-paced world, said Mark Gilmore, president of IT consulting firm Wired Integrations in San Francisco. “One client pointed out to me that non-existent boot time was the deal closer for his executive staff. Being able to access the data instantly as opposed to waiting for a system to boot has made all the difference to them.”
Few netbooks can match that speed.
3. Single purpose, easy to learn and use apps like the kind made for tablets are also winning favor over complicated Swiss Army knife programs such as Microsoft Office. For now, users seem to prefer apps with their quick learning curve and this is nudging them towards tablets.
4. Cloud computing is key to the advance of tablets, which become, in effect, portals through which corporate networks are accessed. Limitations on tablets – slim on-board storage for instance — do not matter very much in a cloud universe. On-board processing power matters less and less as more of the heavy-lifting happens at a server level. Suddenly, with today’s infrastructure, a scrawny client can be a 900 pound gorilla of computing. That paves the way for tablet adoption.
5. More enterprise-grade tablets are coming to market, said Cisco’s Puorro who of course has a dog in the fight. But BlackBerry is there, too, and other enterprise-friendly devices are on the way. With enhanced security features and beefed up remote device control/monitoring, IT will find few reasons to object to new-breed tablets, predicted Puorro.
6. Built-in 3G connectivity is a major tablet plus, said Akshay Vazirani, CEO of Dreaming Code, a Boston-based Web technologies firm. Netbooks of course have WiFi, but leading tablets genuinely deliver ubiquitous connectivity via 3G (the cell phone network) and that is a game changer.
7. More peripherals — external keyboards and mice, for instance — are coming to market and upping the capabilities of tablets. This closes the gap with netbooks (making tablets de facto netbooks).
8. Smart tech vendors, increasingly, are helping CIOs sort through the cluttered maze of tablet apps — well over 300,000 for iPad, for instance. This is letting CIOs procure tablets tailored to their specific industry, said Brian Corey, president, Enterprise Services for wireless industry services provider Brightstar in Miami. Corey said he is seeing tablets customized for, say, construction or healthcare or hospitality. That is producing a much more business friendly tablet, he added.
9. Tablet prices will fall. Right now, there remains a gulf between netbook and tablet pricing (the latter often has a 100% premium) but there’s wide agreement among experts that with literally dozens of tablet makers bringing devices to market, prices will begin a steep, sharp tumble.
10. The last reason? Employees are clamoring for them. Tablets continue to be the tech bling of the moment. Netbooks seem nerdy, tablets are cool, and right there is why a lot of employees won’t go quietly unless they leave the CIOs office with a tablet in hand.
Robert McGarvey – As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1500 articles for many of the nation’s leading publications―from Reader’s Digest to Playboy and from the NY Times to Harvard Business Review. McGarvey covers CEOs, business, high tech, human resources, real estate, and the energy sector. A particular specialty is advertorial sections for many top outlets including the New York Times, Crain’s New York, and Fortune Magazine.