Businesses Should Experiment with Media Tablets, Gartner Says

Media tablets present a variety of new opportunities for business while supplementing traditional uses of notebooks and smartphones, according to Gartner, Inc. As a result, Gartner recommends that business IT leaders begin experimenting with media tablets without delay.

“The iPad, and the larger wave of media tablets, have captured the imagination of business leaders. Some companies have issued them to business and IT leaders in the spirit of exploration. Others see areas in which they can use media tablets to bring computing into settings that were not practical or were too cumbersome to use traditional approaches,” said David Willis, research vice president at Gartner. “For the consumer, the iPad brought a casual but rich experience into the living room, or the train, or while waiting in line at the bank. In turn, IT organizations are finding new places where tablets can deliver information and media in new ways.”

The impact of the media tablet in the eyes of the public is much greater than would be believed from the number of units shipped. Gartner expects media tablet shipments to be approximately 69 million in 2011, which is only a small fraction of the total number of application-capable mobile devices, such as smartphones. Yet already the impact of the device on other forms of computing is great.

An Additional Tool

A media tablet is a device based on a touchscreen display whose primary focus is the consumption of media. The devices have screens with a diagonal dimension that is over five inches and may include screens that are as large as is practical for handheld use, roughly up to 15 inches. The media tablet runs a lightweight OS that is more limited than, or a subset of, the traditional fully featured OS such as Windows.

Gartner has long maintained that media tablets are neither “better laptops,” nor “better smartphones,” but complement both. When compared with laptops, media tablets activate instantly, allowing a user to get right to what he or she needs, immediately, without long and frustrating startup times. They have exceptional battery life and are responsive, tactile and inviting. However, in a common mobile-worker scenario, employees may travel with a media tablet during the day, but then return to their laptops in the evening for heads-down data entry or content creation.

Sales leaders are clamoring to adopt media tablets with their sales teams as a more engaging way to share sales collateral and promotional materials. And it won’t stop there: Next will come customer relationship management systems, and order entry and sales configuration applications. For sales managers, media tablets will be a natural platform for business analytics and performance dashboards,” said Willis.

“In other settings, the intimacy of using a media tablet supports more personal interactions. Doctors, nurses and medical technicians find they can sit down with a patient and help that patient understand a diagnosis, walk through a medical procedure and describe a therapy with them. Retail clerks can use tablets to display customized clothing for a customer. Conference attendees can take surveys on their own, with no training required. The opportunities are huge.”

The Time Is Now

Just as media tablets won’t replace PCs, Gartner does not believe that they will replace mobile phones as voice devices, even in the smaller form factors. Nevertheless media tablets still have enormous potential in the workplace and present a variety of new opportunities for businesses.

At the same time, media tablets are requiring a new set of policies, technologies and skills for enterprises. Willis pointed out that companies that had already recognized the flood of consumer devices coming into business, and had figured out a way to leverage it rather than fight it, have been more prepared to support media tablets.

“CIOs are determined not to make the same mistakes they made with smartphones, which were often written off early as expensive and frivolous toys, or executive status symbols — which then left room for more inventive leaders who saw the competitive advantage that mobile applications would bring,” said Willis. “They are also more willing to see that they don’t need to supply and manage every device that employees use at work: Consumerization is here to stay, and moving very fast. If you can think of an application for tablets, your competition may well be thinking in the same way — and acting on it. It is time to explore the use of media tablets in business.”