Tablets in the enterprise: Pros and cons

Tablets in the enterprise: Pros and cons

Summary: The enterprise is the next big frontier for tablets, but these issues must be addressed to make it happen.


It's safe to say that tablets are here to stay, something not clear when the original iPad hit the streets. Analysts are mostly in agreement that tablet sales will keep growing, with Apple and Android leading the way. With Windows 8 and its tablet focus coming up soon, eyes are turning toward the enterprise for the next big tablet market.

That may happen, but there are some clear issues that the enterprise will have to deal with to welcome the tablet into the workplace with open arms.

Tablets in the enterprise: The pros

No moving parts. The one tablet feature that IT staff of major enterprises tell me most excites them is the lack of moving parts onboard. Tablets have no moving hard drives, no hinges or latches that can be broken when used. They are one piece devices that are fairly durable compared to current options currently used.

I am told by the IT folks that if a computer, laptop or desktop, has a mechanical part that must be used daily, a fair number of the devices will fail in the field. Whether it be the laptop screen hinge that stops opening or closing properly, or the hard drive that refuses to spin anymore, a certain percentage of them will fail.

This is a problem with large enterprises that deploy tens of thousands of computing devices to employees. If even a tiny percentage of the devices have mechanical failures, it is a big problem for corporate IT departments to deal with.

Low cost. Corporate folks looking into major deployment of tablets over laptops/ desktops are excited about the low cost per unit of the tablet. They expect volume purchases to bring the cost per unit down far below that of conventional devices, and that can be a big thing to big companies.

Easier to lock down functionality. Major enterprises are big on restricting what employees can do with company computers during the day, and most of them lock down deployed systems. They restrict the things employees can do with them, especially online, and I'm told they expect tablets to make that even easier.

The IT folks I have spoken to about tablet deployments believe they would do so with some sort of restrictive kiosk environment in place. This would present a narrow set of capabilities for employees to do what they need to do online and nothing more.

Keyboards not really needed. The tablet is missing something all other computers in current use has, the keyboard. While that eliminates the tablet as a viable choice for employees who input a lot of data such as reports, many employees don't really need a physical keyboard.

Tasks that require a small amount of input can be done just as easily using onscreen keyboards of the tablet. While most employees would likely prefer the real keyboard due to familiarity, with a little practice the virtual keyboard is just as good for the amount of input most employees do regularly.

Tablets are consumption devices. We hear this all the time about tablets, and it is largely true. The fact is, the vast majority of employees at major corporations spend most of their time looking up information, not creating it. That is the very definition of consuming information, and tablets are a very good way to do that.

The tablet will never be appropriate for those employees who create a lot of content, be that reports or spreadsheets, but in reality how many of the tens of thousands of employees of major companies do that? I'm guessing far fewer than you might think.

Tablets at work: The cons

Employee resistance. People don't like change, and replacing the desktop/laptop with a tablet will be a big one. Losing the keyboard will be the biggest change that employees resist, and companies will have to find a way to deal with that.

Physical security. Corporations have big concerns about security of the computers deployed, and while tablets should pose no bigger threat than current devices the same isn't true about physical security. Desktop systems in the workplace are fairly safe due to the difficulty to steal them, but tablets are a different matter.

One company I spoke with spends a lot of effort keeping laptops deployed physically secure, including a policy requiring them to be locked down in the office with physical constraints. Theft of corporate laptops outside the workplace is a big concern, and something that happens far too often.

Tablets are even easier to steal than laptops, and that has the IT people really worried. How to secure them in the workplace is a hot topic, and keeping them safe outside the workplace keeps some IT folks up at night. This is a genuine concern when mass deployments of tablets start taking place, and one that will have to be dealt with.

One company I visited recently is already using Windows tablets in certain areas, and while it works well for the intended purpose it's not without security concerns. The tablets are physically attached to the desk, and must be used accordingly. It's not the best method, but necessary to keep them from walking away.

Proprietary software conversion costs. Many big companies use proprietary software to keep their operations running smoothly, and most of that is based on Windows. Switching lots of employees to mobile platforms will come at a cost to convert these proprietary systems. This is an area Windows 8 tablets will have a distinct advantage over Android and the iPad, as it should be easier/cheaper to convert existing systems over to the Windows-based tablets.

Tablets in the workplace are coming

The pros and cons of deploying tablets in the workplace will play a big role in how fast such deployments take place. The enterprise must deal with the described issues to make wide-scale deployments, and this will not happen quickly. The benefits of replacing conventional computers with tablets outweigh the downside, and I expect we will see such deployments ramp up next year.

Related: Seven ‘must have’ productivity apps for the iPad | Apple’s next-gen iPad: New battlefields emerge | Microsoft’s business pitch for Windows 8 depends on tablets | Apple’s New iPad In The Enterprise: Laptop Replacement Gets Closer | The new iPad’s great but what’s wrong with a good, inexpensive Android tablet? | CNET: New iPad hands on | CNET: All CNET iPad coverage (roundup) |iPad HD will surpass laptops on key features

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

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  • List seems a bit incomplete

    Additional con for tablets: higher heat. Even more so than laptops, tablets depend almost exclusively on heat sinks to dissipate their heat. Desktops (& even some laptops), however, can take advantage of fans & better case airflow to help keep the components cooler...because high heat causes components to go bad, just as much (if not more so) than moving parts. Note, too, that most cooling fans, even the ones in the really cheap price ranges, are rated to last for years before going bad. Speaking as someone who's seen their personal & business PCs have hard drives fail due to poor cooling rather than bad "drive spinners", that becomes a concern for me.

    As for the "consumption" argument as a pro, I think you're going to find that you have to take a really close look at industries & company fields before you can start saying that 'content creators" are in the minority now. Even in call centers, where the employees' primary duties involve speaking with customers & "researching" the particular technical issue, there's still the need to enter detailed notes into a ticket tracking system so that the next CSA doesn't have to guess at what troubleshooting has already been done. The more usual "office worker" has even more writing to do: responding to management emails, creating & filling out forms, writing letters....all activities that are [b]much[/b] easier to do with a standard-sized physical QWERTY keyboard than a tiny "virtual" touchscreen where the keys are smaller than the tip of your pinky finger.
    • Bluetooth keyboards are fine with iPad and other tablets

      You could write War And Peace on a tablet perfectly.

      So this James' quote "While that eliminates the tablet as a viable choice for employees who input a lot of data such as reports" is not correct.
      • At that point...

        they might as well just carry around a laptop if they are already lugging a tablet and seperate keyboard. Tablet + keyboard = laptop (basically).
    • Higher heat??

      Your not talking about the iPad right?? I can make it a little warm during a game but rarely warm otherwise. No where near as hot by a long shot as my Dell, which can keep my coffee warm if it's near the vent.
      • No, I wasn't singling out *any* particular tablet

        What I was pointing out was that, given identical hardware, a tablet (lacking fans) will [b]always[/b] run hotter than a desktop (which even on the low end comes with a processor fan & 1 case fan). Less heat = longer hardware lifetime. Or did I miss some "expert" stating that heat was "good" for computer hardware?
      • What you're pointing out is not correct

        An iPad is not capable of running as hot as a laptop computer. How did you know that the hard drives that failed were due to high heat? You have had multiple heat-related hard drive failures but you think tablets are worse? Nothing of what you say makes much sense.
    • Forms are easy when tabbing between fields using a keyboard

      I had a legal client years ago that used Multimate on 8086 Amstrad computers. We were trying to get them to use Word for Windows 2 on 286s, but the fact was they they could open, clone, edit and close a form letter for a particular client faster using only the keyboard than it took for WfW to start up.

      Even though the QWERTY keyboard layout was designed to slow down typists because they would overload the mechanicals, they are fast compared to having to switch between input modes, including having to move between a field and a virtual keyboard.

      To work, virtual keyboards have to be the full deal, not porta-potty versions.
    • Samsung Slate shows i5 power doth not a radiator make

      It comes down to the technology used, which has moved on.
  • Tablets in the enterprise: Pros and cons

    Two problems with this list:
    Low cost - I don't see see $829 being low cost. Its more expensive than a laptop.
    Easier to lock down functionality - I wouldn't think it would be any easier than pushing a group policy like you find on the desktop.

    One thing not mentioned under cons:
    Support - one more device to support in the enterprise. Trying to standardize on hardware that is supported, then the company decides to buy a bunch of tablets and throws a wrench right into that plan.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • 829??

      So you pick the most expensive iPad.. Come on, the iPad starts at 399 and goes up. You pick whats appropriate.
    • Business iPads unlikely to need the maximum memory

      And some may only need WiFI, such as for health workers in a medical facility.

      That lowers the aggregated cost substantially.
  • Get real

    [i]Employee resistance. People don???t like change, and replacing the desktop/laptop with a tablet will be a big one. Losing the keyboard will be the biggest change that employees resist, and companies will have to find a way to deal with that.[/i]

    That's not going to happen, so...

    -Screen size way to small.

    -And as you said, tablets in a work enviornment can't be physically secured and bolted down as thick and thin clients can.

    -Keyboards are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Virtual keyboards as they currently are just don't cut it.

    There's a need for portable devices in some circumstances and there's a need not to have any portability at all. It's not an either/or affair.
  • I think tablets in the enterprise will be great

    I think users of desktop PCs could be given Windows 8 tablets as document consumption devices. Therefore. e.g., in lieu of printing out and distributing documents, employees could be given tablets to read, comment on, and collaborate around these and other documents. MS OneNote could become increasingly indispensable when it comes to creating, sharing, and collaborating around notes. Someone making a Powerpoint presentation during a meeting, could distribute the presentation at the start of the meeting, and allow users to mark it up and include recorded sections of the meeting. As indicated above, tablets really could revolutionize the office.

    Users of laptops could be given convertible tablets, while users of desktops could be given straight tablets or convertibles to use in addition to their desktops.

    It is important to note that unless someone does activity which includes heavy typing, a physical keyboard is not necessary. Generally the only app that needs a physical keyboard, is a word processor type app. Virtually every other app requires only light typing. This is why tablets are gaining traction in the consumer market, where heavy typing is generally not necessary. Therefore it is very much possible that straight tablets will be successful in the workplace for a large segment of workers.

    I don't really see much of an issue with tablets in the workplace. Tablets could have cheap, built-in tracking systems, which silently or audibly alert people when they are moved out of their operational areas - to address the problem of theft.
    P. Douglas
  • Hmm...

    How's that enter button on the bluetooth keyboard working with the Messages app in the iPad? I guess functionality is a bit of an issue huh?

    What about the mouse? People like the mouse, it is fast, easy and convenient...

    Also, Ergonomics are a huge issue to have to face and these tablets create problems in this area.

    Screen size? People want larger, not smaller when it comes to workstations... We can get $600 thin clients with 19" monitors, keyboards, and mice so, why go with a 10" tablet that doesn't fit the need?

    You really need to stop trying to force fit our iPad into the enterprise, it has places it will work but as a desktop replacement, that is not likely.
    • Touched based desktop PCs

      I believe touch based desktop Windows 8 PCs will be a big hit. I believe touch based all-in-ones and desktops with touch monitors which swivel, will be much more compelling than today's PCs. These PCs will offer touch screen / stylus based user interaction, along with physical keyboards / mice - giving you the best of both worlds. I don't believe tablets will displace large form factor PCs. I believe however, there is benefit to most office workers having tablets, in many cases, along with large form factor PCs, because this facilitates more efficient work scenarios.
      P. Douglas
      • Touch awkward if not almost horizontal

        Vertical touch is fine for only the occasional touch, but very tiring for extended use.

        A normal keyboard allows a lot of micro rests, whereas touch requires a lot of hovering, especially of the whole arm if the display is vertical.

        However, almost horizontal touch screens have a big problem: dust accumulation.
      • Touched desktop

        You know Mr Douglas: Why in the world would you want to touch your screen when it's so much easier and faster by just laying your hands on the keyboard and moving a few inches instead of a few feet. you try doing that repetitive motion on your monitor a few hundred times and you will be begging to find your old keyboard and its shortcuts.
    • It's a mixed bag really..

      The meeting warriors are the ones pushing for iPads because long battery life and accessibility to documents is important to them. Developers, etc are pushing for multi screen pc's, etc. As a unix admin(me), I'm kind of in the middle. I use a PC at my desktop, but will use putty to ssh into a machine in a heartbeat while in a meeting or while about on my iPad. But now that I read your last sentence I agree, it would be a hard sell for a lot of people as a desktop replacement. But I do see people who could use it way more then there desktop(sr staff, sales, etc).
  • The problem with the keyboard...

    for tablets is over stated. If necessary tablets will eventually be docked with external graphics cards to drive larger monitors and to plug into much larger horizontal interaction surfaces.

    Also, because many tablets have GPS, IT worriers could make corporate info disappear off tablets once they have left the GEO fence surround the workplace.
  • The problem with the keyboard...

    for tablets is over stated. If necessary tablets will eventually be docked with external graphics cards to drive larger monitors and to plug into much larger horizontal interaction surfaces.

    Also, because many tablets have GPS, IT worriers could make corporate info disappear off tablets once they have left the GEO fence surround the workplace.