The next tablet battleground: The enterprise

The next round of tablets aiming at Apple's iPad won't necessarily be looking to go toe-to-toe with the device. Instead, tablets from HP and RIM will be deemed a success if they can keep Apple out of the enterprise.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

The next round of tablets aiming at Apple's iPad won't necessarily be looking to go toe-to-toe with the device. Instead, these tablets---namely from the likes of Research in Motion, Samsung and Hewlett-Packard---will be deemed a success if they can keep Apple out of the enterprise.

Here's the calculus if you're aiming for the iPad dominated tablet market:

  • You're not going to beat Apple at the iPad game. Most challengers will be happy to scream "we're No. 2!"
  • The enterprise is another story. Apple has traction in the corporate world with the iPad and is rumored to be ramping up an enterprise push. However, Apple won't have the sales
    army that traditional business technology players can bring.
  • If HP, RIM and Dell can get traction in the enterprise, they will chalk up a key win and defend their core businesses. And it's unclear whether Apple even wants to play in the enterprise.
  • Samsung is going for partnerships with Cisco for VPN's to garner enterprise interest.

Add it up and you have a bit of offense mixed in with a lot of defense in a core market. We'll soon find out how this grand plan plays out for iPad challengers. RIM will launch its PlayBook April 19. And at the CTIA conference in Orlando, Samsung talked up its latest Galaxy Tabs. Both RIM and Samsung arrive with competitive price points.

Related: RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook prepped for April 19 launch

The goal for RIM and HP (and to a lesser degree Samsung) is to play the enterprise game.  HP CEO Leo Apotheker and RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie may talk about the consumer benefits for their respective tablets. But the real aim is to defend the enterprise.

Last week, Apotheker was asked repeatedly about the tablet market. He said:

HP is the world's largest provider of PCs by far; PCs of any type -- desktops, notebooks, notebooks, etc. And HP happens to be the world's largest provider of printers, bar none. Laser printers, inkjets, personal printers, commercial printers, you name it. So from that point of view we have a position of scale that is unmatched in the industry.

We just announced our new devices -- the touchpads and the two smartphones. We haven't shipped them yet so right now we don't compare really well with anyone because we haven't done anything yet. But going forward we don't intend to play in the junior league in this business either.

Apotheker also noted that HP would ship WebOS tablets as well as Windows versions. These tablets will inevitably be pushed as part of HP's overall IT stack and cloud computing plans.

RIM's strategy has been clear. Balsillie has talked up the PlayBook's consumer capabilities, but we all know this tablet is about business. In December, Balsillie said:

CIOs understand and trust the BlackBerry Enterprise Server security model and are pleased that security will be extended to the BlackBerry PlayBook. We're committed to ensuring that the BlackBerry PlayBook is enterprise ready for launch by delivering on key customer requirements, including pairing between BlackBerry smartphones and BlackBerry PlayBook, secure enterprise VPN, true multitasking, document viewing and editing, and a best-in-class web browsing experience. PlayBook offers numerous opportunities to transform businesses and our partners are eager to explore how BlackBerry PlayBook can help transform their business operations and customer engagements, with some customers delaying their plans to deploy other tablets in anticipation of the PlayBook launch.

Analysts have followed up on that theme and noted that there appears to be pent-up demand for the PlayBook.

Dell has a similar story with the enterprise focus. The company is tailoring the different flavors of its Streak at verticals such as healthcare. The rest of the field---ranging from Samsung to Motorola Mobility---also see tablets as a way to do business.

The wild card for all of these tablet players will be luring just enough consumers to be cool. Let's face it: The days of handing out a device to employees are largely over. Workers are bringing their own gear to work and increasingly that means Apple, which may step up its enterprise game just a bit. After all, 80 percent of the Fortune 100 are testing or piloting the iPad. The challengers---HP, RIM, Motorola Mobility, Samsung and Dell---have the sales teams, CIO relationships and know how to cater to the enterprise, but they still have to produce tablets that will appeal to the average worker.

In the end, the next round of tablet battles will be fought in the corporation.

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