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8.8 Million Tablets In Use At SMBs

Half of the tablets deployed inside small and midsize businesses were originally purchased by employees for personal use, according to a Techaisle survey.

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There are nearly 9 million tablets in use at small and midsize businesses in the U.S., roughly half of which were purchased by employees as consumers and later brought into the office environment, according to new research conducted by Techaisle.

Techaisle estimated that 8.87 million tablets are used regularly inside SMBs, based on a recent survey of 1,356 companies. When the research firm last looked at tablet adoption in October, it focused on the small companies with between 1 and 99 employees. Its most recent survey added companies with between 100 and 1,000 workers to the mix as well. Techaisle CEO Anurag Agrawal said in an interview that just in the six months or so between studies, there has been a noticeable increase in tablet adoption -- particularly among the small businesses.

"There is a general uptick in the demand [for] and the penetration of tablets within SMBs," Agrawal said. He added that the most noticeable activity is among the smallest businesses (1-19 employees), which have increased their tablet adoption upwards of 10% when compared with Techaisle's October data. That's roughly double the rate of businesses with between 20 and 99 employees, according to Agrawal.

Echoing other recent research on SMB tablet adoption, Techaisle found the Apple iPad dominating the current market -- a fact the firm also links closely to the consumer-driven usage.

Agrawal allowed InformationWeek to take a closer peek at some of the data beyond what it has released publicly. Techaisle offers the information as part of its SMB Mobility Adoption and Trends Reports. It shows that, indeed, the iPad reigns supreme among SMBs, especially in the small business segment: 84% of small business with tablets have iPads, compared with just 20% using Android. (The percentages don't total 100 because roughly one-third of all SMBs are using more than one tablet OS in the same office.) However, Android-based devices are gaining something of a foothold in midsize firms: Though Apple has a similarly dominant penetration rate in the segment -- 86% -- more than 40% of midsize businesses also have Android tablets in the office.

"The midmarket businesses are more open to using Android as well," Agrawal said. "They're experimenting a lot with Android tablets, and we're seeing the mixed environment of operating systems."

Although employees may be shoving Apple's iPad and other tablets into their company's tech infrastructure, that doesn't necessarily mean IT is welcoming the devices with open arms -- especially in smaller companies. Some 58% of small businesses have no IT policy for supporting tablets. Midsize businesses appear to be formalizing their tablet strategy at a faster clip, with close to half (48%) reporting they have a policy in place.

One of the primary obstacles to greater tablet penetration among SMBs is application maturity and compatibility, Agrawal said. "In terms of applications, most of these organizations have mentioned that they do not find appropriate business applications, which is hindering widespread adoption," Agrawal said. "Almost all of them have mentioned that it is extremely important for their current software vendors to support tablet PCs." Price, security, and the lack of a keyboard are the other chief concerns of SMBs when considering tablet purchases, according to Agrawal.

Another intriguing finding: Among those SMBs included in Techaisle's survey that said they plan to purchase at least one tablet in the next 12 months, 77% will be repeat buyers. Agrawal said that means SMBs are either going to replace first-generation tablets with newer models or, more likely, they're planning to deploy the devices to additional users within their organizations.

Currently, tablets are largely complementary hardware in SMB environments: Less than 30% of respondents reported replacing a notebook or other form factor. But Agrawal noted a desire among midsize businesses, in particular, to test tablets as PC replacements rather than just an extra device in the IT portfolio. But he said that at this stage they're doing just that -- testing to ensure the devices meet their business needs and deliver a quantifiable return on investment. "It's not a slam-dunk decision for these companies," Agrawal. "What they saying is: We'd like to do some more analysis whether tablets are really right for the environment or not."

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