When we start to talk about using tablets in an enterprise, one of the first things that must be understood is that the tablets we all know and love are not industrial-strength designs focused on the needs of a commercial organization. Rather, these are consumer-first products that have real limitations when it comes to using them for business. And this isn’t just a hardware discussion, although there are some key hardware differences.
1. Operating System
The first large difference that has to be addressed is the operating system. And the operating system is dramatically impacted depending on what the tablet is used for. Consumer tablets are for browsing, running little apps, games, and generally “light-weight” work.
Commercial devices will be running Office, in-house developed line-of-business apps, security tools, and other substantial applications. This means that one of the key differences is the need for a truly full-function OS like Windows 8 — not Windows RT, iOS or Android, but full-blown Windows 8. Now I’m not saying RT, iOS or Android has no place, but for usage models where the tablet is going to be running the standard application load for an organization, full Windows 8 is the right solution.
The next big difference between the consumer and commercial tablet is the services that surround the actual tablet itself. To be blunt, the consumer devices create an IT nightmare on this count. Let’s start with delivery. There is no custom software loading by the manufacturer, something common on 90 percent of enterprise PCs. And when it comes to hardware service and support, it would be laughable if it didn’t cause so much pain for a commercial user. Going to user groups for answers or hoping to find a real 18-year-old “genius” in a store isn’t exactly efficient.
Depot service where the device disappears for weeks doesn’t cut it. These are things we put up with in 1979 in the PC business, but by 1983, the world had changed, and support and deployment services had made a giant improvement. As it will for the tablets. Commercial tablets need sub-one-day service options and skilled professionals that can provide immediate telephone support.
Now let’s look at the product. And there’s a few key features that are needed. Security is a primary difference. Let’s start with encryption of stored data. Next is two-factor authentication, it’s necessary sooner rather than later and needs to be supported. This is a key requirement for many larger firms and nearly all government use.
And ports! USB ports must also be included, with both micro and standard connectors. Plus, we need encryption for those USB and SD cards. Finally, a full-featured docking station is required for real commercial use. As connecting a larger monitor is essential, and the need for a full compliment of traditional ports.
We’re starting to see the first of the real commercial tablets come to market. Lenovo’s new ThinkPad Tablet 2 is one of the products that is a manifestation of the difference between consumer and commercial tablets. In the early days of the PC, the distinction between work and play machines was limited, but soon became very clear. That is happening right now in tablets .