By Brian Albright, Field Technologies
Tablet computers are rapidly becoming the device of choice for enterprise deployments thanks to their flexibility and ease of use.
Tablets are rapidly becoming the go-to mobile form factor for new enterprise mobility applications. Both consumer-grade and rugged tablets have gone through an evolution over the past several years that has resulted in tablets supplanting notebooks and laptops at many companies.
An October 2014 Frost & Sullivan survey of more than 1,000 IT decision makers in the U.S. and Europe revealed that in almost half of all companies, employees are using tablets for business purposes—and that number is expected to increase by more than 10 percent in the next two years. Frost & Sullivan also found that tablet unit shipments would experience a compound annual growth rate of 42.4 percent from 2012 to 2016.
“In recent years, tablets have really taken over where laptops left off,” says Mark Holleran, president and COO of Xplore Technologies. “Laptops took computing out of the office and into the world. Tablets really brought computing into the field and into motion. Without any moving parts, tablets can more easily be mounted for use in vehicles. There are fewer things that can go wrong with a tablet — you don’t have keyboards and hinges. They’re simply more mobile and versatile and are better equipped to work the way humans want to work.”
Tablets are a far more flexible form factor, and the devices are easier to use for longer periods of time. More business applications have also been optimized for the tablet form factor, and they are typically less expensive to deploy and support. Employees also seem to adapt to the devices more quickly than to other platforms.
“It has gotten to the point where you really don’t need to train users how to use a tablet, as many have one at home and are familiar with the form factor,” says Jon Rasmussen, senior director of research and development at MobileDemand. “Historically, mobile devices and the applications written for them were very limited for specific tasks due to screen size, and a custom application was needed. We have entered a new age where the mobile worker is a knowledge-based worker who needs access to a wide range of resources and is efficient at navigating to the information they need to make decisions on the spot.”
That ease of use and flexibility have made tablets more attractive for companies deploying the devices for both field and office employees. “Our customers consistently express the need for durable, secure, and versatile tablets for employees who work in nontraditional office settings to keep them productive in any environment,” says Eric McCarty, vice president of mobile product marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “These employees use the tablet as a portable and efficient tool that allows them to complete their responsibilities on the go. When supplemented with enterprise-ready accessories and applications, a tablet can transform from a document-creation and mobile-productivity tool to a purpose-driven business device for a specific industry or role.”
“The ability of employees to work seamlessly and easily on tablets cannot come at the expense of enterprise security.”
Eric McCarty, Samsung Electronics America
Sought-After Tablet Characteristics
User requirements are evolving right along with the devices. Field service organizations want tablets that can offer reliability, performance, connectivity, wide application availability, lighter weight, and security.
“Security is a top priority for our customers,” McCarty says. “The ability of employees to work seamlessly and easily on tablets cannot come at the expense of enterprise security. This is particularly important in situations where employees use a single device for both work and personal needs, whether BYOD or corporate-issued.”
Customers also want longer battery life so that field service technicians can work a full shift with minimal charging. “Beyond that, they want accessories and the ability to use the device in and out of the office,” Holleran says. “In the office, they want mice, keyboards, and displays, but then they want to be able to take them [the devices] quickly out of the office and into the field.”
“Laptops took computing out of the office and into the world. Tablets really brought computing into the field and into motion.”
Mark Holleran, Xplore Technologies
Companies are also looking for varying levels of durability and ruggedization in tablets, based on their organizations’ specific application requirements and operating conditions. “For instance, some companies only need rugged and not sealed because their users don’t work outdoors in the elements,” Rasmussen says. “Others really need a sealed solution because they have to do their job no matter what the weather. Customers really want a solution that fits their needs, so you need a much wider range of solutions (especially relative to screen sizes) to truly satisfy each customer today.”
Full-Scale Performance In The Tablet Form Factor
Tablet technology now allows employees to access desktop or laptop-like functionality on a much more lightweight and slim device. “The massive advancement in software applications, coupled with technology advancement, has allowed tablets to truly become content-creation devices,” says Steve Carpenter, CEO of Entegra Technologies. “This is a boon to users, as they get the benefits of a lightweight, convenient form factor to use and to enterprises, as more productivity can be gained at the point of transaction by their users.”
A wider range of employees is using a wider range of tablets, including in many cases whitecollar employees who are adopting the same devices as the field technicians. “Tablets are lighter, capable of running laptop/desktop applications, and provide a great user experience with the touch screen, so they can take all that power right to where the action is,” Rasmussen says. “So now white collar users are going the tablet route, and they typically need smaller, lighter, and less rugged solutions with fewer data collection/capture options.”
Rugged tablets feature the same high-end CPUs as mainstream devices, along with larger amounts of memory. “Screen technology has also significantly improved — not only in resolution but also in sunlight readability and multitouch capability that works with fully gloved hands, which is important for tablet operation in harsh conditions,” Holleran adds.
The Future Of The Tablet
According to Carpenter, tablets are shifting from being a form factor to being a real mobile computing platform that can serve as a hub for other mobile devices. “Tablets are becoming platforms to build upon for current and future-use cases and business models,” Carpenter says. “Tablets and phones become complementary screens to each other. With responsive software design and current wireless standards, we see this as a natural evolutionary path, as many of us will or do carry both types of these devices.”
Device interconnectivity is just one progression that the vendors interviewed for this story said would be coming to the tablet space in the near future. Tablet users can expect more LTE support, 3D camera functionality, new types of charging options, faster processors, and even better batteries.
“Microsoft is bringing out Windows 10 to harmonize the experience across all forms of devices, which greatly reduces the user training and IT support,” Rasmussen says. “3D is going to open up lots of possibilities. A great example is to think about what you can do with depth in images. You can verify real sizes of products and packages, determine damage, verify delivery/service performance, and so much more.”
Tablets may also become more modular and easier to upgrade. According to Carpenter, tablets will behave more and more like enterprise software, changing rapidly to suit the needs of the workforce.