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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tablet Computers to Begin Displacing Laptops

Tablet computers, such as Apple's iPad, are making inroads into corporate settings, but only a small percentage of corporate employees today are using them. This will likely change, however, as tablets and tablet-like devices evolve in their capabilities and form-factors.

Market Definitions Blurring

The market for tablet and tablet-like devices is developing quickly, but there is still quite a bit of confusion. For example, in Intel's most recent quarterly conference call, CEO Paul Otellini wondered out loud about the definitions of the various types of new tablet-like computers coming on to the market.  He said,
When you start seeing an ultra book with a detachable touch screen, is it a tablet? And [if] it's based on [Intel's next generation processor] Haswell, is it a tablet, an ultra book or a convertible? I don’t know. We’ll have to invent some names for these things as we go along but what I can tell you is the level of innovation there is unbounded.
Later in the call, he answered a question the potential for tablets to cannibalize sales of personal computers and laptops.
Pressed by one analyst on how much of the slowdown in consumer PCs was related to timing of Windows 8, versus how much was related to cannibalization by tablets and phones, Otellini said that “I think it’s a bit of each.” Otellini said that once Windows 8 ships, and consumers begin to try it out, “and we have all of the touch-based ultrabooks out there, we’ll know a lot more so we’ll try to quantify that a bit more for you in 90 days.”

In other words, the line between laptop computers and tablets is blurring. Moreover, tablets themselves are evolving in their form factors and capabilities, enabling them to begin to encroach on sales of laptops.

Corporate Penetration of Tablets Low But Growing

When considering the issue of cannibalization, Intel and other suppliers are considering both consumer sales and business sales. But the evidence so far shows adoption of tablet computers is much stronger on the consumer side than the business side.

As shown in the figure nearby, our research at Computer Economics indicates that about one-third of business organizations are supporting tablet computers to some extent among their user populations. However, the percentage of corporate employees actually using tablets is quite low. At the median, less than 5% of business users carry company-supported tablet computers today. These statistics vary, of course, by industry and size of organization.

Although tablet penetration into the corporate workforce is quite low, there are signs that the usage rate will increase sharply in the coming years, based on the percentage of organizations considering these devices or planning additional investments. 

Tablet Capabilities to Mature Rapidly

To this point, corporate PC makers have not had much to worry about in terms of tablets taking market share away from personal computers. Today, most tablet computers, specifically the market-leading iPad, do not have the capabilities of laptop computers. For example, cutting and pasting text on an iPad is cumbersome.

iPads today, therefore, supplement laptops and desktop computers rather than replace them. As the market leader, Apple can afford to deliberately limit the functionality of the iPad so as to not cannibalize sales of its own MacBook laptop computers. However, as other tablet manufacturers catch up and even surpass the functionality of the iPad, Apple is likely to expand the capability of its tablet computer line.

The maturation of tablet computer capabilities will come sooner rather than later. Microsoft's introduction of Windows 8, a touch-enabled operating system that will run on PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphone and other handheld devices, is a full-featured platform. It will be able to run Microsoft Office, the core desktop application suite for most business organizations, as well as single-purpose mobile applications that are so popular on today's tablets. Tablet manufacturers will leverage these capabilities to introduce devices that are much more capable of replacing laptops than the iPad is capable of today. This will force Apple to follow suit if it wants to continue to make inroads in corporate settings. Makers of Android-based tablets will no doubt do the same, as has been rumored.

Tablets Will Begin to Displace Laptops in Corporate IT

Corporate IT organizations are not the ones taking the lead today to push tablets, or tablet-like devices, into the workforce. In most cases, it is individual business units that are forcing the IT organization to support these devices. The pressure generally is coming from sales organizations, field service, or top executives directly, who want these devices to perform simple tasks while traveling, such as checking email, scheduling appointments, entering expenses, and performing workflow approvals.

Tablets are just the latest example of the "consumerization of IT." In this regard, adoption of tablet computers in business will likely take a similar path to the adoption of personal computers over 30 years ago. When personal computers first made their appearance in business organizations, IT organizations were quite happy with having employees use IBM 3270 green screen terminals. It was business leaders that bought those first PCs and then turned to the IT organization to support them. Ultimately, IT organizations took over the procurement and management of desktop computers and addressed issues of connectivity with the corporate networks.

Likewise, today, it is business leaders who are buying tablet computers and pushing their IT organizations to support them. As these devices mature, they will become a standard part of the IT portfolio of most business organizations. At that point, we will see tablets and tablet-like devices take a serious bite out of laptop and desktop sales.

That day may come faster than IT leaders imagine.

Related Posts

Laptops Displacing Desktops: Impact on Support Costs (Computer Economics)
ERP in the Lead, But Mobile Apps Gaining Ground (Computer Economics)

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by Frank Scavo, 10/17/2012 11:50:00 AM | permalink | e-mail this!

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 Reader Comments:

Tablets for sure. But is the bigger shift back-fitting all devices including the desktop for 'Touch'?

The convenience of save a few seconds launching an App on Windows 8 before sitting down and using granular business applications with a keyboard and a mouse then seamlessly 'touching' thru a big data report.

The spanner in the works may end up being Intel, who despite successive generations of mobile processor, is still far from the low power of ARM architecture. Evidenced by MIcrosoft producing an ARM version of Windows 8 for the very first time.
 
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