Businesses are embracing a new generation of tablets, but they require IT support and potentially development resources.
The market for tablet computers, which sputtered with an earlier generation of devices, is growing rapidly this time, thanks to Apple's iPad. And it's not just a consumer phenomenon, as doctors, lawyers, and other businesspeople adopt the iPad for a range of mobile applications.
James Gordon, VP of IT at Needham Bank, initially wondered if the iPad wasn't merely a glorified iPhone. "The answer is yes--but it's a really good glorified iPhone," he says. In addition to providing iPads to senior executives at the bank, Gordon gave one to the committee responsible for checking on construction projects before releasing loans to builders, enabling that group to do more of its work from the field.
Gordon didn't hesitate in approving the iPad for enterprise use, because the bank had already established device management and information security policies for the iPhone, which uses the same iOS operating system.
That's a common uptake pattern, according to Dave Dahlberg, chief marketing officer at Model Metrics, which helps companies extend Salesforce.com applications for mobile use. Companies that already went through an enterprise evaluation of the iPhone are giving the iPad their stamp of approval in weeks, rather than the months it took for the iPhone.
Hyatt Hotels, Medtronic, and Wells Fargo are among the companies that have purchased iPads for some employees. SAP indicated it could buy as many as 17,000 of the devices.
Apple ignited this tablet excitement, but it won't have the market to itself for long. Samsung and other manufacturers are selling the slim, portable devices based on Google's Android operating system, Research In Motion is developing the BlackBerry Playbook, and Microsoft will be getting into the market, too. This generation of tablets tends to be smaller and lighter than before, with touch-screen rather than pen-based user interfaces, and daylong battery life.
So far, the iPad is the runaway favorite and the one building a track record within the enterprise. From a security perspective, the iPad even has some advantages, says Andrew Jaquith, CTO of Perimeter E-Security, a provider of managed security services. For example, whether through the Apple App Store or a corporate applications portal, the distribution of software is tightly controlled, so malicious software "is unlikely to be a problem the way it has been on the PC," he says.
Many basic security concerns--the loss of data if a device is lost or stolen, for example--can be addressed with encryption, a remote wipe capability, and a policy mandating that data get wiped after four or five incorrect password attempts. If important information on the device is synchronized with an enterprise data store, such mishaps do little harm, he says.
In some cases, enterprise data is viewed on the device but not stored there, using a remote access utility and encrypted connection. Needham Bank, for example, uses Array Networks' DesktopDirect for that purpose, while other companies we talked to employ Citrix Receiver. Beyond that, Jaquith sees a market opportunity for companies like Perimeter to provide managed security services for tablets.